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Annual Meeting 2015 Program Description

featuring Rev. Eric Elnes, Ph.D.

Author, minister, internet television host Dr. Eric Elnes hasn't been so excited about being a person of faith and a member of the United Church of Christ in over thirty years. His hope doesn't arise from overlooking the real, serious struggles experienced by the faithful and their faith communities.  Rather, he insists, it is precisely because of our struggles that we are now in the best position to enter a "wide and wondrous clearing in the heart of life's Dark Wood." 

Over the course of our time together, Dr. Elnes will take us on a journey into the Dark Wood – a place of struggle and uncertainty feared by the poet Dante but that the ancient Christian mystics knew to be the central place where revelation – and hope – is experienced.  By exploring the Dark Wood "gifts" of emptiness, uncertainty, getting lost, and misfit community in their biblical and modern expressions, we will find ourselves - and our denomination - poised to enter a beautiful clearing that some are calling The Great Convergence.


3:30 pm Keynote: Courage In The Struggle for Justice and Peace, Part 1: The Gift of Uncertainty  

Religion does us a disservice when it promises us certainty. Life is messy and no amount of doctrine or dogma changes this.  Curiously, all of the heroes of both the Old and New Testaments lived in the midst of high uncertainty.  The only people who consider certainty and absence of struggle to be a high value in the Bible are its villains!  As Brian McLaren has observed, "Certainty is overrated."  In this keynote we will explore how Uncertainty may become one of our greatest gifts.

7:45 pm Worship: The Gift of Emptiness On a quantum level, the human body (and material world) is 99.9999% empty space.  The heavens above us are even emptier.  When the world hits us hard, our lives can feel terribly empty.  Yet the spiritual path embodied by Jesus reveals an extraordinary fullness within emptiness – a fullness we can draw upon for strength and courage.


10:45 am Keynote: Courage In The Struggle for Justice and Peace, Part 2: The Gift of Misfit Community
The drama of 20th C Christendom was largely played out between the twin poles of Christian liberalism and evangelical fundamentalism, each with massive edifices of dogma, piety, and ecclesiology that were opposing responses to modern science, technology, and culture in the Western industrial world.  As Western civilization moved increasingly into the post-modern era starting in the late 20th C, it triggered a massive Exodus within the liberal and conservative Church which set the stage for the new, post-Christendom drama of the 21st Century – a drama that some are calling Convergence.  The major players within the new Christian Convergence are refugees (or "misfits") from Christian liberalism and conservatism who are increasingly discovering each other as they make their way across the post-modern Wilderness.  Of all the Christian denominations, the UCC is best situated to welcome these refugees and help catalyze a greater movement of Spirit than has been seen in the U.S. in over a century. Within this Convergence, these pilgrim refugees are finding common ground and unique gifts that each group brings that the other has been looking for.  Together, they are joining their gifts to build a New Tabernacle – a new Way of Life – to serve as a place to meet each other and God.  Like the Tabernacle of old, however, this new meeting-place is not a fixed destination, but a mobile one, best-suited for leading these pilgrim refugees into realms they have not yet envisioned in response to the Holy Spirit.

6:30 pm Fireside Chat with Eric Elnes   
The Great Convergence: Implications for Our Lives and Our Churches

7:30 pm "Darkwood Brew Unplugged" Worship: The Gift of Getting Lost

Darkwood Brew is a convergence point online (www.darkwoodbrew.org) and offline where people of faith and other spiritual seekers gather to find community and companionship, as well as encouragement and inspiration for the journey through life's Dark Wood. Brewing together ancient Christian mystical practice (lectio divina), modern interactive web technology, jazz, biblical scholarship, and guests from around the world, Darkwood Brew explores the intersection of soul, culture, faith, and justice.

In this Darkwood Brew Unplugged experience, Darkwood Brew unplugs from the internet in order to plug in with us in Wisconsin!  With world-renowned jazz composer/pianist, Chuck Marohnic, Dr. Elnes will invite us into God's presence, into each others' presence, and into the present moment where our soul connects with the world.

Rev. Dr. Eric Elnes is the Senior Pastor of Countryside Community Church (UCC) in Omaha, NE.  He is also the host of Darkwood Brew, a weekly, interactive webcast that gathers people from around the world for an engaging exploration of Convergence Christianity using a blend of ancient Christian mystical practice (lectio divina), modern interactive web technology, world-class jazz, arts, biblical scholarship, special guests from around the world via Skype.  With a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Princeton Theological Seminary, Elnes is the author of several books and publications including, The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of Christianity (Jossey-Bass, 2006) and a book on experiential worship called Igniting Worship: The Seven Deadly Sins (Abingdon, 2004), and his forthcoming book, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Paths Beyond Religious Certainty That Point A Way Home (Abingdon, 2015). 

Dr. Elnes also helped lead a 2,500 walk from Phoenix to Washington, DC, in 2006 to promote awareness of progressive Christian faith and practice and meet with Christians at a grassroots to hear their hopes and dreams for the future of faith in America.  His journey, which is the subject of a feature-length film, The Asphalt Gospel, is recounted in his book, Asphalt Jesus: Finding a New Christian Faith on the Highways of America (Jossey-Bass, 2007). 

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