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Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Spring of "Awakenings" in the Barren Higgledy-Piggledy.

(definition: higgledy-piggledy in a confused, disordered or random manner.)

Those of you who've been reading my sparsely posted of late blog will recall I have been going through a pretty rough patch spiritually and emotionally. In spiritual direction terms it has felt a time of desolation with small oases of consolation to varying degrees. Tricia and I have not liked it to say the very least. I have lived a higgledy-piggledy existence since late January because a variety of problems and pressures crowded in. We've had to walk through maddening confusion, and wrestle with a forlorn barrenness pervading and interrupting our peace. And our hope endured a persistent whittling. At the same time, I must say this barren higgledy-piggledy caused us to fight back with prayer, talking to people we trust, and grasping onto faith as if a life raft. We weren't passive, we were just plain worn down by the relentless dissonance and building uncertainty.

To my delight, last night I experienced a fresh spring of awakenings liberating me spiritually! This unbinding refreshing came in the form of Linn Bower's Artist Reception at the imagine ART Gallery and Northampton's Arts Night Out. I knew her work was special as Tricia hung it masterfully in the gallery, and we could live in its midst for a few days. There is a gravitas to her paintings, a settled "Old World" feel lending a serenity to our space.

Linn calls her exhibit Awakenings. Without overstating the case, I think, both Tricia and I realized as we were talking about what happened at the end of the evening that our resolve to keep the gallery rather than leave Northampton was awakened. I haven't been able to embrace God wanted us to close up shop and head out from here. What helped spark our awakening was when our landlord and his wife came into the gallery (I had invited him because he's an art collector and Linn's work fits genres he collects) and was blown away by the number of people there: what he heard them say about the gallery, including the professional quality of Tricia's and Eslie's food; the sheer energy in the space as it filled, and the quality of the art. People without prompting often say not only this is their favorite gallery, but it consistently, in their opinion, has the best art in town. He left saying we must keep this space, and he would help us find a more affordable space for us to live. What landlord does that?

Both Tricia and I could see through the barren higgledy-piggledy at the end of the night. The imagine ART Gallery is the most impacting missional "outreach" imagine/Northampton currently offers here. There were a few people short of 200 guests with us last night. And, even better, more of them are asking what kind of church we are. Jim LaMontagne was "corralled" by Linn and a few of her artist friends. They peppered him with questions about the church.  Another friend of Linn's told Tricia he was amazed by the sheer grace and hospitality he saw poured out, including how she handled an inebriated and homeless man we know who came up for the food. He saw Tricia treat him gently and respectfully, but with authority as well.

You really would have to hear what we hear now all the time about the imagine ART Gallery. It's unlike anything we've ever experienced. Remember, many if not most of these folks would not call themselves Christian. Many are spiritual, but do not embrace Christ as their Savior or Lord. Yet, He is moving them in the space through art and His Presence. They know it's different and they know we believe. It blesses them because they tell us; they don't it's Him. Sometimes this all feels a little surreal to us, but we are excited by the possibilities which seem to be opening

In sum, I can't say with absolute assurance the joyful awakening we clearly felt last night is truly a Kingdom breakthrough, but we know we felt a subtle and palpable shift forward as if a spiritual barrier had been breached and our many, many prayers for deliverance since January were beginning to be answered. I certainly hope so because we've been pretty tired and discouraged feeling as if we were going to have to endure a substantial and costly failure at this stage of life. We long to stay the course with this mission in Northampton. I have never felt right about leaving now. I've told folks I feel as if I'm being forced by an unseen and evil adversary, and against my will. Imagine's Leadership Team  has had consistent dialogue over what to do. I have felt something is just not right even when a reasonable assertion  would be "it's time to scale down, cut back, and move on." Inside I'd being screaming "NO!" No one else on the team really wants to have no presence in Northampton. We're all just trying to discern the handwriting on the wall if it's there. I don't believe it is, but I know we must grow and become sustainable practically.

The barren higgledy-piggledy stems form the stress, frustration, and confusion which abides as a result of imagine's recurring need for more income to flow in consistently, i.e., more billable work for me (double it), and more imagine donors, including patrons of the imagine ART Gallery (triple it). The church needs to grow to triple it's size as well to be consistently sustainable in Northampton.We have had very faithful donors since we've been in town, even before, but they can't uphold this mission on their own. Also, if Tricia and I can't pay our bills our entire lives would be about stress, even terror.

At any rate, it feels wonderful to feel fully alive and last night awakened us a bit to just that. Yup, there is much to do, but we have renewed energy to do it. Especially if God has opened a way to proceed. I earnestly desire it to be so.

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