I have been participating in what’s commonly called a ‘drum circle’ for the better part of the last 4 months. People from all over the world have come to our tiny town in the middle of the Andean Cloud Forest to sit in and make beats. Sometimes people bring the most bizarre sort of percussion instruments that produce exquisitely unique sounds. It’s a very eclectic, but fun community of hippies, nomads, and regular folk looking for diversion, expression, and communion. Many of the indigenous have taken the time to make their own drums and percussion instruments consisting of materials found locally. I too have made several.
Javier, the one who spent nearly 3 weeks with me in teaching to make a drum, has left our group for a time. He’s also the one that establishes the base beat or rhythm when we gather together to play. ‘Javi,’ as they call him is a consciencous man from another country who has carved out a life here. He’s a ‘philosopher’ in the true sense of the word, and has much to say about the good treatment of other people, justice, and drumming.
Without Javi at our drum circle, we struggled and are struggling a bit in establishing a good corporate rhythm. It’s as if he could sense the angst, or joy, or anger of the group and begin a base beat that reflected or realeased the same. Once Javi begins playing the rest of the group begins as well. In the beginning of a session, there’s a lot of synchronicity. Then comes the improvisation. While Javi maintains the base beat, people begin to experiment and explore, and the sounds of the community erupt with unique rhythms, songs, and sounds that would make no sense were they to exist by themselves.
Now that Javi is gone, several have tried to establish that base beat at our circle, but it’s proved difficult. The first drummer, the one who dares to expose him or herself, really takes a risk. If that person’s rhythm is off or just plain bad, the rest will try to accompany, but it usually ends up in a porridge of dissonance.
I was thinking about how mission is like this. There are lots of ‘mission,’ or even ‘missional’ leaders that are gifted in sensing the pulse of a local culture and establishing base beats or rhythm of a movement. Others come along side and there’s overwhelming synchronicity. But I think we make our Javi’s into more than they are supposed to be and try to capture, or even worse ‘sell’ that synchronicity, even when the Javi is well on to the next beat. We, the church, aren’t open to improvisation and the diverse rhythms of the Holy Spirit. By the time a mission rhythm is noticed or the fruit of a movement is recognized, the Holy Spirit is on to something else and we just keep relishing in the inaugural beats.
We call these missional rhythm establishers ‘leaders’ or even ‘missional gurus,’ but I think many of them would cringe at the idea. Javi would never say that he leads the drum circle. But he senses, feels the tone, and strikes the skin of his drum with an uncanny discernment.
Somewhere along the missional way, we’ve lost our Javi’s or forced them to beat the same drums and repeat the same rhythms as everyone else. We’ve made then into ‘leaders’ and ‘pastors’ with all of the binding assumptions and attachments and lost our improv. I miss Javi at our circle. Now, after a few weeks, other Javi’s are emerging. Others are sensing the mood and the pulse and improv is picking up again.
The missional movement, by choice or force, has lost it’s rhythm. It’s lost its Javi’s. The normal reactions to those who would stick their necks out and dare to drum a different beat are theological warfare, competition for recognition, and even outright expulsion from community.
They don’t want to lead, they just want to play the drum in a way that inspires others to do likewise and forge environments of creativity, freedom, improvisation, and a good beat.
Has the missional movement lost its rhythm?