Last week I returned to an event that means a lot to me. At The Apprentice Gathering in Wichita, KS I find myself among kindred spirits. My “people” you could say. A confluence of folks.
But this year was different.
Instead of being a participant as I have been for the past 9 year, taking notes while thinking about the beauty of District Taqueria, this year I was a presenter. Two workshops and a keynote talk on Friday led to a very different experience.
It was glorious.
Also, my wife Holley traveled to Wichita with me this year for the first time. My life is so much richer seeing everything through her eyes, plus it was good to help her meet people that she only knew by name.
The gathering was beautiful. Talking with lovely people such as my friends Emily P. Freeman, Gem and Alan Fadling, as well as meeting Natasha Sistrunk Robinson and William Paul Young for the first time. Spending time at breakfast with Cindy Bunch and Lori Neff from InterVarsity Press talking about writing gave me a bit of a creative lift as well.
The other beautiful benefit of the event comes as a part of my role as a board member for the Apprentice Institute. During our board meeting at the close of the conference, I was again reminded about how brilliant and compassionate those folks are.
Christian spiritual formation is a growing edge program. In higher education. Regardless of what you may have heard.
We returned home, welcoming my friend John Robinson from Melbourne, Australia to stay with us for a few days. The conversations have been rich and beautiful.
While my body is tired, my soul is quite full. As a side note, I’d welcome you to come and see the goodness of The Apprentice Gathering yourself. You can register for a TREMENDOUS discount here.
But I didn’t write this to talk about my itinerary.
You’re lovely people, but you don’t really care about that. Honestly.
During our time at the gathering, Holley and I walked the edge of the river perpendicular to the Douglas Street bridge. The city of Wichita has done a fantastic job of creating an easy, beautiful river walk area.
We had a destination in mind, however. We were headed to see the Keeper of the Plains.
While you can read all you need to read about the Keeper on various websites, I find a different meaning to the giant bronze sculpture.
The Keeper stands at the confluence of two rivers, the Big and Little Arkansas. It also represents a painful confluence of people groups – the European colonizers and the first nations tribes who lived in harmony with the nature all around them.
It is a beautiful monument. The Keeper is also a sign for lament.
As I came to Wichita, and I come this way nearly every year, I came looking for confirmation and revitalization. Why do I work in the material and words of Christian spiritual formation? Is there anyone else who cares about the unshakable Kingdom and how we all are invited to live in that reality?
Holley and I stood beneath the Keeper, staring up into the blue beyond its outstretched arms. In my head I heard a voice. Not a divine one, but a voice that only an hour or so earlier spoke words that I needed to hear.
“You have something to say, just say it.”
Simplicity. Accuracy. Strength. Compassion.
The Gathering has become a confluence for me. A place where things come together. An “Ebenezer” of sorts, the stones being people with familiar voices.
The confluence of my own story, a year under the bridge, with the stories going on in London, Melbourne, Dallas, and Wichita gave light and breath that I didn’t have.
I believe the Spirit of Jesus is a Spirit well-versed in confluence.
The way our lives intersect, co-mingle, and even dance is what helps us find wisdom for situations that we didn’t know we’d ever encounter.
Encouragement is rarely ever someone with the right answer to our unanswerable question. Instead, encouragement typically comes when someone merges their story with ours. While there are overlaps and places of inconsistency, there is also the aroma of humans questing for the divine.
In a conversation last week with James Bryan Smith, a phrase came out that I continue to ponder: God didn’t call us to be successful, He calls us to try.
What is meant by that phrase – the actual practical elements in it – may differ but the confluence matters a great deal.
Kingdom folks are invited to the great experiment of grace. The laboratory for that experiment is always the confluence of lives with lives, seasons with seasons, words with words.
To that – to the Keeper of the Plains and the keepers throughout our journey – we are invited to respond. To Jesus standing at all the confluences in our lives, we are invited to notice and engage and ultimately flourish.
Where are you seeing confluence in your life today?
Do you sense an invitation to step into a confluence like The Apprentice Gathering? Where is a light shining on the events, talents, and vocational struggles of your life? Who is the Keeper that draws you to where everything comes together?
Today, may you find the place where the rivers of your life and the Spirit of God meet and merge – in Wichita, Chicago, or at the very edges of the earth.