As many may be aware, I’ve been mixin’ it up with Jamie Arpin-Ricci a bit lately. A couple of times we hit upon relatively minor disagreements which were informed by underlying beliefs or assumptions, or simply differences in nuance of expression. A couple of these resulted in blog posts by Jamie for further discussion, and the most pointed one was about whether or not location is inherent to being missional. Once the discussion got underway, I declined to say too much more online since Jamie and I were booked for lunch yesterday… and I promised to comment more extensively after that occurred. Rule number one of online disagreements: where the relationship is important and you have the option of a face-to-face discussion, take it.
What I hope to do here is outline the series of events briefly (not getting bogged down in it), explaining (1) how I thought Jamie was saying something he didn’t mean, and (b) why I said “location doesn’t matter” in one place and “location is important” in another, remaining convinced that both are true. After that summary, I intend to launch into a more detailed presentation of a thesis on how location is important to missional engagement. Ready? Here we go.
It all started in a post on Bill Kinnon’s blog. I guess we can’t blame Bill, he was just announcing some new missional blogs on the Allelon website when this discussion of missional (re)location erupted in a somewhat off-topic kind of way.
In the initial discussion, Jamie said “intentional relocation to community living in the urban context is a passion of mine” to which I replied “The essence of missional living is to begin where you are in your everyday life… you shouldn’t have to relocate to do that” and Jamie responded, “I actually disagree with. Some MUST relocate to be missional.” Up to that point, we were probably okay, and the discussion would likely have resolved itself — if you view the thread in context, you’ll see that I’m only snipping bits that are accompanied by other qualifying, tempering, or explanatory bits. Were Jamie to report the conversation, I think he’d probably snip differently, but this is noteworthy because what I’ve clipped here are the bits that were highlighted in my mind when Jamie responded right away to the last quote to attempt to clarify. In that comment, he said, “I think relocation is an essential aspect of being missional.”
And that’s where the trouble began. I told Jamie I didn’t think he meant to criticize suburban missionality for not being urban, and that it would be unfair to do so. I then said, “Missional to me is about incarnating the message, embodying it… and on that basis, location doesn’t matter. The inner city is of course a concern and needs people to embody the message there, but that’s not the same issue. People need to act/engage missionally. End of sentence.”
To this point, Jamie understood me to be accusing him of criticizing Allelon and suburban missional expressions. I understood him to be saying that people who didn’t relocate weren’t really being missional. Both of us were wrong in our assessment of what the other said, or meant to say. Clearly we were missing one another’s point, and Jamie asked me outright if I was reading the same page — and perhaps neither of us were reading the one that remains there as a matter of public record!
From there, Jamie took it onto his own blog as a separate post to discuss whether or not missional and location were connected, inseparably. He cited the discussion on Bill’s blog, asking the question, “Is location a significant aspect of missionality?” and quoting my statement that location doesn’t matter, placing it by context in a kind of contra- position to his own thinking on the matter. I commented there that I was disappointed to have the discussion pop up that way without resolving our disagreement, and later clarified why that was (largely due to concern for relationship)… but it’s recorded there and I needn’t repeat it here. In the comments on Jamie’s post, I said that location is important to missionality, contradicting the statement I made which Jamie quoted in his post. I suggested that the crux of the matter was not if but how location was important to missionality. Obviously there was disagreement in our expressions of it, but I remained convinced that if we were understanding each other, Jamie and I would not be disagreeing in any significant way.
So we had lunch yesterday. After talking through some of what we were saying or meaning to say, we covered the ground that although we don’t know each other that well, we know each other well enough to be able to say, “Well, I don’t think _____ means to say _____” when looking at one another’s statements. On that basis, forms of apologies were naturally exchanged, and I offered a precis of how location matters (see below). While we probably disagree on nuance, we do not disagree substantively. This is important to recognize, as it’s an assumption that Jamie and I both held throughout the online and offline conversations, but which others would clearly not have seen except that (or even though) Jamie and I kept repeating it… so the discussion on Jamie’s blog post often pitted the two of us in contrary positions, which is not the case. I do see how people would easily reach that conclusion though!
Following our lunch discussion, I think the two most important items are these:
- When Jamie said, “I think relocation is an essential aspect of being missional,” he didn’t mean what I read. This statement says to me that relocation is essential to being missional. The word “aspect” tells me that location isn’t everything that’s involved in being missional, but the word “essential” tells me that without relocation, you aren’t missional. relocation tells me that the location you start from isn’t the right one, you have to change to a different one. Ergo, if you don’t change location, you aren’t missional. That’s how I read it, but Jamie clearly stated to me that that’s not how he meant it, and can’t see how I could read the statement that way… he was fairly adamant that the statement does not in fact say what I understood it to say. So there you go — semantics aside, we weren’t arguing against the same concept. I still don’t understand how Jamie says my understanding of the statement is not a valid interpretation of it, but the point is not to pull out our OED or Webster’s and go at it that way… the important thing is that when we get down to the conceptual level, there’s more agreement than would first appear. And I’ve learned that the next time I “disagree” with Jamie, I need to take more care in getting down to understanding of the concept he’s presenting rather than taking issue with the words he’s using. Not bad advice for any discussion when you come right down to it. Jamie would say, I believe, that this statement I’ve quoted and took the most exception to actually means or attempts to express his contention that when engaging missionally, people must ask the question of location… i.e., where to engage. In the answer to that question, he does not suggest that changing locations will be an ipso facto result of having asked it, i.e., location must not always be changed, only sometimes. His prime concern is that the question always be asked.
- I am not saying that location is irrelevant, but that it’s crucial in a certain way without being in any way a prerequisite to determining whether or not one is actually being missional. In other words, engaging in any one location is no more missional than the next. The lifting of my comment from Bill’s blog where it was responding specifically to the idea of relocation being necessary changes its meaning when it was dropped into the comment of Jamie’s question of whether or not location was important. On this basis, I can say that in answer to relocation, no, you don’t have to relocate to be missional — in that sense location is irrelevant to whether or not you engage missionally. On the other hand, in an absolute sense to answer the question of whether or not location is important, I can say yes, it is. The answer to how it’s important is longer, and follows separately.
So we had lunch yesterday, worked out our understandings of all of the foregoing, and headed off to view the new bookstore space that Jamie has rented for his new missional bookstore project, “The Dusty Cover” (or whatever name it eventually retains). Jamie is of course aware that I was composing a longer post explaining the “how” as I had promised; he has since posted an update to his blog post to make mention of our lunch and touch on the two main points I’ve listed.
Now that I’ve come this far, I’ve decided to split the other discussion into separate post so that it can later be referenced without this entire preamble. Although the manner in which the discussion came about is unfortunate, I believe that it led me to an important insight into the way in which location and missional activity interact. In working through the matter over the weekend, I sat down to do some “stream of consciousness” writing… that is, I simply began making notes, asking and answering questions of myself as I typed, not knowing what the conclusion would be until I’d reached the end. In composing the explanation for general consumption, I began with those notes and added explanations and elucidations as appropriate so that the whole would make sense on its own as a standalone article.
Here’s a linguistic summary which may be of interest or help to some as they read through my further thoughts:
- Location does not effect but it does affect missionality. Confusion between those two words is a pet peeve of mine — go and look them up if you are in any way uncertain about the distinction. One thing can affect another without being affected by it.
- Relocation means to change locations from any one to any other; you don’t end in the same place where you start, else you have not relocated.
- An essential aspect is something that’s required to be a part of something; the aspect is inherent to the whole.
- Inherent means “built-in,” an internal, innate, or intrinsic quality of a thing. To be inherent implies that the presence of the inherent quality is necessary in order for the thing to be what it is. Remove the inherent quality, and the thing becomes something else. (An automobile has an engine; remove the engine and it’s just a vehicle, as self-propulsion is an inherent quality of an automobile.)
Now then…. on to How Location is Affected by Missional Engagement, which is really just the beginning of a conversation on missional mechanics, and tosses in a bonus at the end on missional transformation of the participants.