The Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival is 4 days away (well 4 1/2 as the festival begins at 4 pm Friday). I am somehow not freaked out about that this morning. I have a great deal to do still on my installation art piece not the least of which is to write the largest Icon I have written on site. I think, I hope the mural space has been constructed will find that out in a little bit. Writing the two icons last week went well and Kate says it went fast, it did not feel fast but I will need to probably work both quickly and long to finish the mural.
Given the time this takes and all I have wondered about whether I should have taken this on. Are there other things I should have been focusing on, or doing. There certainly are other things. I missed the Ekklesia Project Gathering, which I and one or two people from Reconciler were thinking of attending this year. I always think of going, and never have. I don't go to conferences generally. About every other year I attend North Park's Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture and once made it to *CINO's Practicing Resurrection (the first one actually). I am actually a little puzzled and overwhelmed by the number of conferences there are in the various circles I am in. I don't know how people make it to conferences nor why it is such a priority. This isn't a criticism, though somewhere there may be a critique of conference mentality. Of course if I were in the Academy I would be attending the conference(s) of my respective discipline. AAR and SBL for Religious Studies and Biblical and Theological studies, yet as a Religious Studies major and the seminary student never attended.
What I do instead is something like the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival, or try my hand and making a movie one summer (as Kate and I did the summer of 2005, and having spent the previous year writing the thing with some friends). I am prior of an intentional Christian community and pastor a small church, maintain some semblance of relationship with pastors in the Edgewater neighborhood, and currently trying to establish a relationship with service providers for the mentally ill and homeless. In all of this the place of art in faith and my life as a pastor and prior, the role of the local church coming along side service providers etc. is enough to keep me occupied and with enough to theologically cogitate and mediate on without going to a conference to hear about other peoples thoughts on other possibly related subjects and experiences. Don't get me wrong a very large part of me wants to do just that. I want to engage others talk about what is going on hear what others, and yet I just can't be bothered, it all seems like so much noise and distraction.
A friend of mine pointed out when I expressed some of this that conferences are the way a privileged affluent culture communicated with itself. Conferences are ways we communicate and network, we let each other know what is going on. It has it pluses and its downsides. This lead me to think more seriously about a thought that came into my head as the Ekklesia Gathering was going on and that same friend was tweeting the conference and I was wishing just a little that I was there: I am a hermit, a new hermit perhaps (something along the new monasticism). I say this partially tongue in cheek, but there is something here. This thought was elicited by reading on the blog Mystagogy that a certain hermit on some Island in the Mediteranian one the Greek Isles I think, is spending his time restoring a building (that either was a monastery or the hermit is restoring for the purpose of it becoming a monastery), the hermit works on the building and apparently also hangs with the local villagers, who love the hermit. Something about this seemed analogous to my experience as the Priestly Goth, who is pastor and prior, does crazy things like agrees to be part of the Big Sculpture Garden at the Milwaukee Avenue arts fest and wanders about Chicago. I am building something, preparing a space for others. Often it feels like that, others who are yet to realize they need or want the space perhaps. The difference though is actually some are already there, and then there are the villagers, the fellow goths and artists who I run off and do things with from time to time. I need to focus on these local tasks, this singular and lonely tasks, like being in the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. Reconciler isn't there, I alone. I have invited members to connect with this but this is a solitary task, I don't understand it entirely, not sure what or why, except that when I was asked, there was no question that I was supposed to do this.
So maybe I am a very odd hermit, a hermit in a city who is also prior and pastor. but there is something solitary about this, something that I also invite others into, something I am called to build for others. But saying that seems a little nuts, but are hermits ever sane? I don't know.