A week ago I spent a few hours in Wilmore, Kentucky. The time went by so quickly for me that I still can’t believe that I was there for two and a half days.
Vineyard Scholars is as nerdy as it sounds but not as academically upscale as you might think. Being rooted in the Vineyard, we have a high value on making conversation accessible to everyone and if anywhere “everyone gets to play” is true in the Vineyard, it’s among the Society of Vineyard Scholars (SVS).
I’ve been reflecting on the experience I’ve just come back from and I want to share some of my thoughts with you. I’d like to tell you about it in 3 parts: 1) the things that I have a problem with about SVS, 2) the things I love about SVS and finally 3) some awards, some unofficial SVSees I'd like to award.
THINGS I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH
First on this list is how quickly it all went. I still cannot figure out why this SVS went by so quickly and seemed to be almost a whole day shorter than past conferences (this was my fourth). Being together with other people with Vineyard roots and thinking and talking through the issues we covered (and didn’t covered) is, for me, more important than the time we have. Given the pace of life, I don’t have much of a solution for this other than to attempt to cultivate mini-gatherings in our respective regions at another time during the year in order to encourage and provoke each other.
The second of my problems is that I worry about the nature of SVS within the Vineyard USA (VUSA) system. We were admonished one morning by Eleanor Mumford with a message that sounded to me a little like the old children’s Sunday School song, “O be careful little mouth what you say /O be careful little mouth what you say / There's a Father up above / And He's looking down in love /So, be careful little mouth what you say.” The implication seemed to be that we need to be careful, as people doing theology, not to tell everyone around us what we’re thinking and working through as our thinking out loud has the potential of being equivalent to a spiritual drive by shooting.
And for God’s sake, don’t Tweet it.
But that wasn’t my problem. My problem is that Eleanor has a very different impression of SVS than I do and I’m not sure which of us has it right. My problem is that I am afraid that SVS exists primarily as a distraction. A little bread and circuses. As much as I’d like to think SVSers have some impact in our Vineyard Movement, I’m not sure where or how that happens. Theological position papers come out but they haven’t been discussed and vetted first (or second or third) by SVS members. SVS does not discuss or discern the theme for the National Conference or important issues to be discussed at Regional conferences. We don’t vote or come to a consensus on “the Vineyard position” or create papers for the Movement on aspects of theology. And sometimes I get the sinking feeling that SVS has just become a very convenient pressure release valve for those who like to drink deeply from theological wells and drink just as deeply from wine barrels (one in moderation, the other not so much).
THINGS THAT I LOVED
The worship. Songs of substance. Hungry hearts. Loud voices raised in adoration and devotion. Seeing the inclusiveness of the worship team from GCF, our hosts (more on them to come). Seeing some of my favorite people from Campbellsville (who I most know from their legendary status) leading two sets that made my heart explode (in the best way). I loved that we were singing songs that came from the early days of the Vineyard and one of the newest songs in the Vineyard and our common story is woven together by the songs with which we worship.
The opening panel. A great way to begin our time together. Provocative thoughts from across a spectrum of specialties and interests on a single theme, “Entangled in Babylon, Free in Christ.” Powerful insights that were, alone, worth the price of admission. For me, this session set the table for how good it was going to be.
The babies. There were babies at SVS this year. It might be my status as grandpa now but I was deeply encouraged that the parents of these little ones felt comfortable to bring their babies to sessions. It was, for me, a simple example of what makes this gathering so beautiful. Theology is for everyone and babies keep us rooted. I think all papers need to be delivered from now on WHILE holding a baby.
GCF. Great Commission Fellowship in Wilmore, Kentucky, were amazing hosts. They treated us very well, brought the best coffee, showed great hospitality and made us feel very welcomed. Jason Duncan is a star and is pastoring an amazing Vineyard.
Heroes. I was in close proximity to two of my theology heroes. One, Craig Keener, has been very influential for me in both Bible study and in pastoring. Sadly, I didn’t get past my fanboy paralysis to talk to him. Some day. Getting to listen to him and his incredible wife, Médine, live and in person, was brilliant. On Thursday morning I got out of my own way and introduced myself to another theology hero, Howard Snyder. Dr. Snyder has been an influence on my life through his writing since I became a Christian and has shaped my vision of what the Church can and ought to be. His session was very encouraging and thought provoking as well.
Friends. Old and new, connecting with both was a beautiful gift. Meeting people in the real world – at least the ones you like – is deeply satisfying and something I hope everyone does more of. It was not enough of a good thing but I feel richer for it nonetheless.
Papers. Papers are presented and while I appreciate everyone thoughtful and brave and kind enough to prepare and share one, here are some favorites I was able to hear presented. 1) Communities and Spiritual Maturity: Rooted with Wings by Walter Thiessen. 2) Theology from Below: What Do the Oppressed Owe Their Oppressors by Donnell T. Wyche. 3) Speak Truth to Power: God’s Kingdom People Against Empire by Nick Fox. 4) Living Liturgies: Embracing the Liturgical Tradition as the Vineyard Movement by Kyla Young Morgan. 5) The dueling paper presentation of Being Vineyard, Being Evangelical: An English Perspective by Tom Creedy and ‘A Parting of Ways’? The Future of the Vineyard within Conservative Evangelicalism by Steve Burnhope. I loved these two friends staking out opposing positions in the kindest, most polite and friendliest way possible. Tom made me glad to be an evangelical and Steve made me want to never use that term again. 6) Quadrilateraling™ in the Vineyard by Luke Geraty. All of these papers and presentations have given me a lot to think about, some things to change and a reason to hope moving forward. There were many more papers that were great, these are just some I heard and some I heard that meant the most to me.
Caleb Maskell. Caleb heads up the SVS and did a fantastic job pastoring this gathering. Caleb not only embodies good scholarship but he also embodies the very marriage of head and heart, mind and spirit, that I think we are looking for, not only in SVS, but the Vineyard as a whole.
Can I give out some unofficial SVSee Awards for 2018? Most quotable theologian of SVS 2018, Tom Creedy. Best presentation given under pressure with our National Director sitting 8 feet away, Luke Geraty. Best insights saved for Q&A time that deserve their own papers, Mike Raburn. Most provocative but also right, Steve Burnhope. Best and Most longsuffering host, Thomas Lyons. Best lunch company who kindly listened to an old man (me) ramble on and on, Dan and Katie Heck.
As I have said in other places, SVS represents the best of the Vineyard movement to me for all the reasons above. I am grateful for this group of people - that they exist and that they gather and that they are so deep and wide.
If you attended SVS, any awards you’d like to give out?
If you didn’t attend SVS, why not go next year?