EnlightenUp

I want to tell you about a summer lecture series that I have been helping to lead at my church for 8 years. We stumbled on a format that has proven remarkably successful, in a modest way, and that affirms an important reality in a way nothing I am familiar with does to the same degree. We call the series EnlightenUp, and it is very simple. During the summer months, on Sunday evenings, we ask local people from a wide variety of backgrounds to talk about their work and/or their passion. Last Sunday we had a cellist from the San Francisco symphony. Next week we have an engineer who has thought a lot about the interaction of faith and innovation. We will have an agronomist, a member of our church, who is working in China growing grapes for wine. My daughter Katie will talk about her research into how the Spanish civil war is remembered. A woman who sells real estate will tell us about her work and its intersection with here faith. You get the idea. Once you start looking, you find all kinds of interesting people with interesting work. We don’t have money to pay more than gas, but nearly everybody seems delighted to come. Why? Because they never get asked to talk about their work in such personal terms– what it means to them, how they got involved. And they care about it, a lot.

Those who come are Christians, but they vary in the extent to which they talk about their faith. We leave it up to them, not wanting to force anything. Usually it comes out most during questions, which take up half our 90 minute program. I personally find, because they are unforced, rising from their own vocation, that these expressions are quite subtly wonderful.

Let me quote from our recent church bulletin:

“People sometimes wonder why we do Enlighten Up. It’s not a series with immediate practical value for your Christian life. It doesn’t teach theology or Bible or prayer or evangelism–at least not directly. Rather, it’s meant to accomplish something wider and deeper: to celebrate and learn from the wide diversity of gifts and callings, many of which have no direct place in the church, but all of which are very much part of what God cares for. The glory of God is displayed in his people, as they do his work with love and passion. In music, medicine, sports, astronomy, science, business–and in many, many more endeavors–God’s splendor shows.”

Naturally, not all our speakers are equally strong. The key is to get them to focus on their vocation. What doesn’t work so well are 1. Missionary or travel slide shows and 2. People advocating for a cause. Sometimes people in either of those categories find it hard to adjust to simply speaking personally. But when people do speak personally, it can be simply marvelously interesting. It draws people in.

Lots of people today are looking for ways to connect the church to the larger culture. EnLightenUp does it, simply and naturally. I think almost anybody could bring it off, and it makes a profound impact. So much of church life is devoted to church life. But God’s interests are much wider! And so should ours be.

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