Monday, May 29, 2006

What Dawn Did, pt. 1: Africa, Lower Greenville Baptist Community, and kids

I want to be clear here, and have some things on the international electronic record, about how Dawn Thames fits into the emerging church story, and how the Lower Greenville Baptist Community story is so much hers.

To start with, we had no intention of being involved in the emerging church in the First world. For one thing, our adult lives predate, by ten years or so, the emerging church in America. We spent [those] ten years prepping to go to Africa, to be involved with the churches emerging there. On the way, Dawn got an African studies degree, edited the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky's adult education material for their partnership with a diocese in Ghana, learned how to make west African symbols on fabric (or walls), hemmed the pants of an important Nigerian (nothing untoward, there), and cohosted a Bible study with a French woman chemist, a gorgeous Afrikaaner couple, and a professional couple from Uganda.

Yet, though we indicated to God in no uncertain terms that we loved it in Africa in general, and Zambia in particular, we were not able to stay. And so we came here.

As for Lower Greenville Baptist Community, it was a mutual effort between Dawn and myself from before the beginning. It was our discussions about our shock at the dechurchification of our college Christian friends that led us to start asking people like Dr. Russell Ware for help with a different kind of church for people turned off by what was on offer. That investigation in turn led us to Dr. Bob Williams, who put the LGBC project together. It was Dawn's college roommate Cindy who put us on to Generation X and The Utne Reader, two absolutely essential resources right from the start and throughout the succeeding decade. She also pointed us to various new age and neopagan resources, in particular Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon.

We joined the Lower Greenville Utne Salon together, and it was Dawn who caught the imagination and affection of that group. (One of the perennial jests among this group, all of whom were either not Christian at all or pretty far from evangelicaldom, was that the two topics the group needed to cover that it had not yet were "trips to take with Dawn" and "what it's like being Dawn." Those of you who know her road warrior reputation and remarkable transparency will not be surprised by these. In fact, she's on the road today.)

Dawn came up with the slogan "keeping body and soul together," still a worthy goal for any spiritual community, still relevant to young emerging leaders we know.

Dawn came up with the idea for FallFest, which began as a singer-songwriter event and morphed into StoneSoupStorytelling, which is now coming up on its fifteenth year.

My imbibing tastes are fairly catholic, but I'm a coffee guy, so be it known that it was Dawn who started inviting people over at all hours for tea, to which people responded by A. coming over at all hours to have tea, and B. bringing amazing amounts of amazing teas and tea paraphernalia, leading eventually to the Richmond House Tea Shrine.

It was also Dawn who instinctively knew how to incorporate kids into a witnessing, missionary lifestyle, even in this benighted land of age- and class- segregation and a zillion rules about who and what are supposed to be where when. (Kristen Rudd was to inherit this situation the first time she took daughter Judah to one of her standard hangouts, only to be banned because the place served alcohol and couldn't have minors. Of course, the only liquid Judah was on at the time was breastmilk...but you get the point:) Dawn went through challenges to an integrated life like this one, and christian women are still dealing with it. It was Dawn's obvious care for her kids, but lack of fear for them, that so charmed so many who were fully ready to be mistrusted by Dawn since they had been mistrusted by so many other (Christian) parents: a Wiccan, persons identifying themselves by their homosexuality, even just single guys. It was obvious to them that it was not that Dawn did not care about her kids, nor that she was naive about the world; rather, it was that she was seeking to build, among other things, a safer place for her kids by deploying the rarely-used technique of trusting other people, which in turn challenged them to prove trustworthy.

Now, soon after the Baptists brought us to Dallas, it became apparent that the salary we had, which was generous enough given the utterly experimental nature of what we were about to do, would not be enough to let Dawn work at home. So, to support the ministry (not "mine," for it was very much ours), she went to nursing school and became a labor and delivery nurse, one of the most transportable jobs in the world. It was highly unfortunate at the time that I did not insist either that the Baptists pay her as they were paying me if they were expecting her to provide leadership in this work, or that, if two salaries were too much for a foray into r & d, that they split mine and give her half.

This failure on my part had many negative consequences down the road. Money is not the point--of anything, let alone ministry, nor are titles, and we were living in that reality, which is the real reality we want and need to live in, even now. But in the world of perception, which is real, but is not that real reality, attention follows money, and respect follows titles. This is mere worldliness, but it is almost as true in the church as in the world. Now we wanted to live in reality, and, to their great credit, our handlers in the Baptist world did, too. As you might imagine, however, even, alas, I did not keep up the complete mutuality with which Dawn and I began this work, and latent and inadvertent sexisms and biases against the informal and unofficial and unfunded crept in, giving a sour subtaste to many otherwise good things.

Now why am I telling you all of this? Galadriel said that some things that should not have been forgotten were lost, and much evil and sorrow came of that lapse of responsibility. My memory for stuff like this, things about Dawn that should not be forgotten, is pretty lousy. You can ask me Spinoza's birth year or what the doctrines of the presocratic philosopher Gorgias were, and I'm your guy; but ask me what Dawn and I talked about, or how an event went, in the past--oh, say, a couple of weeks ago--and the fog of memory begins to be overcome by the foglights of tasteful literary fictionalizing. I tend to remember what should have happened...

But I want to accept the elven queen's gifts with a good grace and some energetic effort. In this case, her gift is a free blog with which I can try to carve in functionally-everlasting bits and bytes some truth about the history of Lower Greenville Baptist Community and Dawn Thames's role in it.

[For this reason, by the way, those of you who wish to comment or link to your own correct(ed) memories of what Dawn did for the Kingdom by what she did for those outside it, are cordially invited to do so, as a sort of rolling electronic birthday present.]

So: Peace and joy to you, and to Dawn, on this the 44th anniversary of her physical birth.

This ends part one. You may turn your computer over and continue.


Blogger Kiwijasmyn said...

wow if I turned our computer over, I think Scott would drop to the floor with either convulsions or his heart would just stop.....stop giving me ideas ;)

6:51 PM  

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