Columns, Community Voice

This place of unknowing

Chapter 1

I came into the unknowing

And stayed there unknowing

Rising beyond all knowledge.

St. John of the Cross, 1542-1591

It was a vision that began with questions. Questions about a growing disconnect between young adults and congregations in Fargo-Moorhead, a community still dense with Lutheran identity and churches of every kind. Questions about if and how and where young adults were connecting or would hope to connect with a faith community, and what that might look like. These questions — carried by a core team of local leaders — evolved into The Project F-M, a vision and community organizing process designed to invite young people within Fargo-Moorhead to encounter God and each other through conversation and relationships.

Karis Thompson

Karis Thompson

Compelled by this vision and these questions, I left a vocation and community and life I loved in Minneapolis to move to Fargo-Moorhead and begin working as the community organizer for The Project F-M. I anticipated this would be an open-ended process affording more possibilities than certainties, but I didn’t expect to move so personally and profoundly into a place of unknowing far beyond the typical (dis)orientation to a new community and relationships and work.

A journey begins … but to where?

I arrived in Fargo-Moorhead with ideas and clarity about the breadth and depth of Christian community in this new century, and had specific stories from Jesus’ life and the experience and witness of New Testament churches footnoted throughout this vision.

I started to wonder who Zacchaeus would be in our time and place.

And then I began thinking about Zacchaeus, a tax collector — not the IRS variety, but a Jew enforcing the oppression of the Roman Empire and scandalously exploiting a marginalized group who happened to be his own people. I started to wonder who Zacchaeus would be in our time and place, and knew that whoever might best stand in for Zacchaeus had not been present in my vision of a 21st century Christian community. But Zacchaeus was included — particularly and provocatively — in Jesus’ defining of the Kingdom of God.

Through that story, I realized my own sense of inclusiveness may not always match the audacity of Jesus’ grace, that my sensibilities might even be offended by those Jesus would recklessly pursue into his kingdom, that I could be surprised by and even resistant to the gospel narratives that I had come to depend on to shape and embolden my thoughts and actions.

I had fully arrived in this place of unknowing. And it was — is — terrifying. We rely on what we know to discern, judge, and do. In this place of unknowing, I felt disoriented, vulnerable, paralyzed.

From questions to questions

The day before a three-hour conversation with The Project’s core team —planned as a time for us establish direction, foundation, and expectations for our community-building process — I lost any sense that my experience, judgment, and instincts could help evolve a vision for this new faith community.

As a team, we needed to resolve questions about where we would be going and what we would be doing during the coming year, and I had no answers. So I brought my questions, and invited the group to share their questions. We talked about what it meant and felt like to be in a place of unknowing — not knowing if or how a faith community would coalesce or how God would call or transform us. As people who have spent many hours, and often whole lives, within the church, we acknowledged that we had seen ministry as a responsibility to have all the answers and to pass on our tradition and beliefs, and then we wondered aloud what it would look like to listen with deep curiosity and openness and to bring our real questions instead of our right answers.

So here we are: a community founded by questions venturing deeper into questions. People grounded by faith, not facts, seeking a community to hold the questions too big for us to carry alone. We are venturing forward into relationships with both an unsettling uncertainty about where our course will take us and an abiding trust in God’s love for us and the whole world.

Karis Thompson began working as a community organizer with The Project F-M, a vision + venture to cultivate a 21st century faith community in the Fargo-Moorhead context, in September 2009. In alternating months, she shares stories and questions of the emerging faith community connected through The Project F-M. Previously, Thompson worked with Redeemer Center for Life, a holistic community-based nonprofit founded by Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis.

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