I spent last week at the Ventura River Watershed for a five-day Festival of Radical Discipleship, hosted by Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries. It was my third trip to this outfit’s annual event, and I’ve come to love the chance for a deep study of how the Gospel confronts the imperial powers of our day.
However, the gathering changed dramatically this year, expanding more than four-fold in attendee count (from a few dozen to 165). It also blossomed from a rather compact gathering for deep Bible study led mainly by radical theologian Ched Myers to something like a conference, with plenary and break-out sessions led by roughly half of the people in attendance.
But it wasn’t a conference. Ched made just this point during one of his comments: we might have trouble explaining what just happened.
And sure enough, when a friend asked where I’d been the last week I said, as predicted, almost verbatim, “at a conference.” And then I found myself struggling to describe the thing I had just attended. It had enough people to outgrow the simple “institute” in its official name. I tried “festival” too, but the label attached to this year’s expansive version is neither here nor there.
The event was a conference and a festival as well as a gathering for worship and fellowship – not unlike the earliest gatherings (ekklesia) of the followers of Jesus described in the book of Acts.
This gathering, in the Ventura River Watershed, was a chance to reconnect with a widely-scattered family of kindred spirits who feel called to express a Christianity in opposition to the imperial faith that condones and even supports the destruction of Creation’s human and natural communities.
It wasn’t the usual amazing Ched Meyers event, as much as I loved the last two February weeks I spent with that modern prophet, who has the rare gifts of discerning the revolutionary root of the Gospel and also being able to hold an audience transfixed for several days as he gently but firmly unwinds a part of the story. I missed that smaller and more intimate learning experience, but also recognize that perhaps it had to die for new life to grow out of the Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries project that Myers leads. And there lies a clue about the missing label for this thing.
I woke up one night at 1:30. The word had come to me!
It was a revival. It is a revival. Life is returning to the dry bones. The yeast spore has found its nice little wad of wet flour. A seed is sprouting during a little break in California’s long (and apparently worsening) dry spell.
It is just like Jesus said the Kingdom would be, albeit in a very small tentative way. Life is coming back in the springtime, from the Latin re-vivere, to live again.
We are embarrassed by this term, revival. It is weighted down with the baggage of a hundred false apocalypses, a thousand ephemeral healings and a million manipulative little tracts promising Heaven and threatening Hell.
This revival is apocalyptic, all right. Each year I’ve attended we have shared a growing urgency as the depth of humanity’s economic and ecological problems become more clear and catastrophic. And healing is on the agenda, although more of a collective healing of systemic problems and a ravaged natural world starting in our own watersheds. Hell can be escaped only together, and it’s not as easy as getting up for an altar call.
Fortunately, Heaven is also close at hand. It’s emerging every day: a fabric that is slowly being stitched together, a community of resistance spreading from watershed to watershed like seeds blown by the wind.