I have always tried to write in a way that defies summary. If a work can be summarized it is not a genuine exercise in understanding since the point can be grasped separate from the execution. In fact it is my conviction that the execution is more important than the point since I find I learn the most from others by attending not only to what they say but how they say it.
Some of the best advice I have ever been given came courtesy of a phone conversation with Spencer Burke. He invited registered members of theooze.com to join him in a learning journey in 2002 dubbed, ETREK. The nine-month-long learning experience combined conference calls, coaching calls, and peer calls with two face-to-face events – one at the beginning and one at the end. There were nine of us.
During one of those “coaching calls” we were discussing how to navigate adjustments to one’s own theological vision in the context of community. We had shared conference calls with a host of high profile Christian thought leaders – a diverse group to be sure. Naturally, these conversations triggered some new thoughts and required a good bit of reflective study. So, as I was thinking through some of these things I asked how one navigated these moments in the context of a loving faith community. He replied, “Don’t be rude.”
I think of those words often. They came to mind last week as I spent some time hanging out at the Beachshack and on the beach with Spencer. In the far away background of the photo is a pier. Our last ETREK gathering in the summer of 2003 included a shared meal at the restaurant at the end of the pier.
Last Wednesday we spent a couple of hours at the “beach office.” We talked about the project on which he had invited me out to help. We talked life and family. We talked politics and theology. The Hauerwas quote reminded me of the ways I have learned from this friendship. It is not only thinking through the “what” that is said, but also the “how” it is said.
I specifically remember being in the car with Spencer a number of years ago when one of his critics had returned his call. There was no argument. No defensiveness. Instead, there was an invitation to a friendship and a deeper understanding of what created the criticism and potential conflict of ideas. Even when spurned, Spencer did not become bitter and negative. He was not rude. “Love is not rude.”
When I met Spencer it had not been long since he “went from the third floor to the garage.” Today, Spencer is in the process of planting a church. He will go through the process of ordination. (He has already been ordained by one denomination.) There will be a wealth of learning both from and with Spencer for those who become part of a new Christian community in Newport Beach.
I am certain one of the features of this new church will be a wholistic hospitality. Sandwiched between the Bay and the Ocean, the Beachshack has had its share of prominent Christian folks “crash on the couch.” Others have stopped by to visit while in town.
The evidence of this kind of hospitality shows up in his family – Lisa, Alden, and Grace. Never tired of people, they all know how to make you feel welcome. I have watched Alden take Spencer playing video games and not the least bit upset his Dad’s friend is in the house. I have read books to Grace and shared the breakfast table with her. Lisa never seems stressed at the prospect of one more person in the house. There is truly a sense of “Welcome” when at the Burke house.
To say that Spencer defies categorization would be obvious to anyone who has taken the time to sit down and talk about life and faith. Quick judgments do not reveal anything about Spencer, only those constructing their necessary categories. I am glad for that advice nine years ago. I am glad for the friendship that has grown. I am glad for the living hospitality.
I am glad Spencer celebrates another birthday.
Happy Birthday friend.