My wife and I spent nearly 20 years in Chicago before considering a move to the Northwest. Like many of us who make their homes in Seattle, the opportunity for work advancement and creative possibilities drew us to this city. Seattle is a marvelous city full of energy, creativity, independence, and commerce. We felt a call to this place, even though we were not completely sure what G-d wanted to do with us here. We arrived open to the experiment, but also challenged by the cultural uniqueness of the city, and of Cascadia as a culturally distinct region.
Christ & Cascadia’s founder and friend, Dr. Matthew Kaemingk, speaks of ten distinctives of the Cascadia region:
- the prevalence and beauty of nature
- the mobility of its inhabitants
- its individualistic spirit
- the emphasis on spirituality over and against religion
- innovation and industry
- a focus on issues of justice
- the importance of its indigenous communities
- a shared love for aesthetic experience
- the tension of completeness and brokenness found in the disparity between rich and poor populations.
I have now lived in this area long enough to recognize the salience of these distinctives, but much of this was not clear to me when I arrived. It just felt awkward to my body and spirit.
Part of this feeling was due to the fact that Seattle was vastly different from Chicago. In comparison, Seattle felt more casual, less urbane, and less ethnically diverse. However, I’ve since come to view Cascadia as quite diverse—just not in terms of the traditional ethnic makeup I was accustomed to. Population wise, Seattle is still racially the whitest city I’ve ever lived in, but I now have a better understanding of its ethnic complexity. From its original native peoples, to the waves of European settlers . . . from its Pan-Asian populations to the influx of immigrants and refugees who’ve come during times of boom and busts . . . Seattle has quite a history of cultural movement. The spirit of the Indigenous peoples is still present in the Northwest in a way that has been extinguished in other parts of the United States. We call out the names of the tribes and the First People daily as we recognize the cities and communities of the surrounding area. As my family settled into this new place, we became aware that we were on Duwamish land. I had to shift my mindset from seeing Seattle’s diversity as “less than” to “different from.” And this shift has proven necessary for my understanding of many of Cascadia’s distinctives, including its church.
Before our move to Seattle, stories of the progressive nature of the Cascadian context helped us to anticipate the reality that the ways in which church was done here would be very different from the Midwest. But they did not begin to reveal how the interaction of the distinctives shaped a unique cultural dynamic in Cascadia. Of course, it is too simple to say that our church experience in the Midwest was one of “conserving the tradition,” but this was an important aspect of the cultural ethos of that region. Cascadia, in contrast, is a bioregion of dual focus—of sustaining and exploring. This was yet another contrast that pushed me to reframe my thinking of the Cascadian church as being “different from” not “less than.” I had heard pastors and Christian friends talk about the region and describe Cascadia as “unchurched” and home to the “nones” (those with no religious affiliation). But I came to realize that it is not the growth of the church but rather the growth of the traditional church that is inhibited here. People still hunger for ways to gather, find their resonant tribe, and seek wholeness. They have the same human longings for community and fulfillment—they simply seek to meet them in different ways.
Too often we are vulnerable to seeing G-d present only in our traditions and not in their evolution. But in Cascadia, we are compelled to recognize that our traditions cannot contain G-d.
Here in Cascadia, it is clear to me that G-d is present in the movement toward complexity, the burst of chaos. Here, I see G-d’s Spirit hovering over the waters. This kind of growth can be more difficult to discern. It looks so different from what we might expect. But Cascadia is indeed a place where theology is being explored and church is being done, but it is done in new and exploratory ways. The church here is not less than, just different.
And this is what excites me so much about Christ & Cascadia.
Theologian and preacher Gardner C. Taylor says that “God is active in human in affairs.” Christ & Cascadia examines our particular Cascadian context and the ways G-d is active in human affairs in this place. Cascadia may have a reputation for being unchurched, but G-d is always active in human affairs—even here in Cascadia, in this “godless” place. Through this journal, we get to communally explore how G-d is active in the wilderness of Cascadia. Together, we can transform our view of this wilderness from a bleak unchurched landscape to a place of great spiritual bounty. Here in Cascadia, we are surrounded by ministries that are forging new paths, people of faith who are exploring creative ways to realize the already-and-not-yet-present Reign of G-d. This is what we desire to emphasize as The Seattle School stewards the life of Christ & Cascadia in this next season of its existence.
I have a deep respect for how Fuller Seminary NW birthed and developed the journal. It has become a great asset to the Cascadian community, centering important conversations and giving space for diverse voices throughout the region—voices of theologians, pastors, artists, entrepreneurs, and many others. We are honored to continue that good work and to help the journal grow in new ways.
I know many of you reading this may be long-time patrons of Christ & Cascadia, and you may have questions or doubts about The Seattle School taking ownership. Perhaps you have had negative experiences with our institution, or perhaps you know nothing about us at all. I want to openly address your concerns and explain how the mission of The Seattle School resonates with the mission of Christ & Cascadia.
It’s true that, as an institution, we were a bit arrogant in our youth, keeping the church at arm’s length. As we’ve matured, we’ve realized that we are the church and they are us—and that we’re not as distant or distinct as we once imagined. Now that we’ve recognized this, we have a great need to identify ourselves in relationship to faith communities, becoming integrated with the churches, non-profits, and other communities that seek to serve Christ in this region.
The mission of The Seattle School is to train people to be competent in the study of text, soul, and culture to serve G-d and neighbor through transforming relationships. The core purpose of that mission is service—a purpose that is already shared with Christ & Cascadia’s mission “to serve Christian leaders and communities working in this unique cultural space.” The primary change of vision we imagine for the journal is an enlargement of it that puts more emphasis on new thinking and inspiring innovation, and on discerning how the Spirit is hovering over the waters here in this context.
We agree with Fuller Seminary’s Tod Bolsinger that Christ-followers must encourage one another to “find the courage and develop the capacity for a new day . . . where the future is nothing like the past.” This is why we understand “Christian leaders and communities” in a broader sense than only clergy and traditional congregations. The Seattle School is certainly interested in the church as it is conventionally understood. Yet we also feel pulled to explore what is on the horizon—communities that gather in non-traditional services, or communities that are intentional about the work of formation but perhaps live on the margins or even outside of “church” as it’s typically understood. We want to be attuned to the Spirit’s movement in Cascadia, learning more about the church in transition—the church that G-d is always in the process of developing.
Through Christ & Cascadia, we will highlight the service that Christian leaders in the region are providing for their parishes. In doing so, we have the opportunity to serve Christian leaders, communities, organizations (including churches and nonprofits), and the wider Cascadian culture by sharing reflections on and tools for navigating the spiritual life of the region.
Relaunching Christ & Cascadia during this season feels serendipitous. This is an unprecedented time in our region and in our nation. With a global pandemic occurring, a social transformation movement underway, and a contentious election looming, we need points of connection like Christ & Cascadia to develop community throughout our region—helping us all to ask hard questions, share ideas and resources, and find solidarity in difficult times.
G-d is active in human spheres. We can take courage in that truth. Even though it may be harder to perceive—and even though it may not fit our traditional views of church—we can trust that G-d’s Spirit hovers over the waters of Cascadia. Through this journal, together we can get a glimpse of how the Spirit is guiding the church into the future, and imagine what fruit together we may bear.