I attended the annual Q  Conference in Portland. Here’s how they describe the event.

Q believes that exposure to old and new ideas is the best way to stimulate imagination for ways the Gospel can be expressed within our cultural context.

In Portland, April 27-29, 2011, 650 remarkable leaders will hear over 45 presentations on the biggest issues impacting the church's role in society.Participants representing all channels of culture will collaborate, forge friendships and imagine long-term solutions within the setting of Portland, OR.     Q was created as a place where church and cultural leaders could come together to collaborate and explore ideas about how the Gospel can be expressed within our cultural context. Our method of learning is simple: exposure, conversation and collaboration. We didn’t want to create just another conference, but instead, make an intentional effort to platform the best and the brightest ideas that are shaping our world and interact with them.

We do this each year in a new city, carefully chosen to reflect a unique context of Western culture so that leaders are continually challenged and exposed to the changing landscape of a post-Christian setting. By bringing together leaders from the channels of media, education, politics, arts and entertainment, business, the social sector and the church to learn from one another, it instigates lively interaction and learning that seldom takes place in other environments.

For more about the speakers at the conference, look here.
For a brief look at each presentation, look here.

Q is a quintessential postmodern experience, coming at you in nine or eighteen minute bursts, with big clocks letting everyone know who is running long. They encourage you to come into the city early and enter into the city and its culture. I arrived Tuesday afternoon, met up with my two City Church Eastside pastors, Scott Armstrong and Bryan Buck, and had dinner with another church planter friend. The conference started at 10AM Wednesday and continued into the evening.

The Crystal Ballroom was a unique experience. The ballroom is up a couple of flights of stairs. It has a wonderful soft bouncy feel to the floor. It is a classic. Fitting in 650 was a challenge. You rotated from free seating in the rows to sitting at round tables in back. I wondered if there was any plan to the table assignments, or just random rotation to keep you from spending the whole time in the rows. I suspect the second, because there was no time for table dialog. Downstairs was a lounge where you could get a free cup of Land of 1000 Hills fair trade coffee and watch the proceedings on big screen while sitting in a booth. You walked by the brewery on the way to this spot.

I came too late to the first session, and viewed it from the balcony.


Here's the view from the rows down front.


Thursday presentations continued through the morning, with the final one from the Humane Society asking us to eat humanely. They provided vegan box lunches for everyone. Afternoon presentations ended at 3 PM, when we went into Learning Communities for two hours. I chose the Urban Design Walk, and was happy to have my rain jacket and umbrella as we headed off into a constant drizzle.

Mel McGowan from Visioneering Studios guided us on our design tour.


We took a city walk around Pearl District, a derelict industrial area reborn as a sustainable community.


A crowd gathers to hear Mel's insights into the buildings we visited.

Mel McGowan leads the way

I was most fascinated with what they have done with the Armory, which is on the Historic Register.

Historic Portland Armory

The docent told us that the First Regiment Armory. Here's what Wikipedia says about the Armory, constructed in 1888.

In the late 19th century, anti-Chinese sentiment, particularly along the West Coast of the United States, had led to anti-Chinese violence in Oregon and Washington. After violence turned to riot in some cases (such as in Seattle), the State of Oregon authorized construction of armories so that National Guard troops could drill, in an effort to prevent or control potential riots.[1][2]

Innovative Stormwater retention ponds were added to clean and slow runoff.
Eco Stormwater Ponds

The bamboo in these upper sections will suck up a lot of water.


At the upper end was a fountain, fed by stormwater from the roof.


Inside the Armory, you can see the huge old-growth timber trusses, still holding up the roof.


The downstairs is a 599 seat theater, and the upstairs offices have glass walls, so the trusses would remain visible, pleasing the historic society.


Here's another view of the roof and trusses.


Below this main hall is another small venue.


Click on any photo to get to my Flickr set with more pictures.

Here are the ideas from the conference that captured my attention.

Don Miller, The things God creates also create.

Steven GarberVocation is integral. Most of what God is doing in the world happens in and through the vocations of his people. The years between 20-40 are the valley of life, where people figure out who they are and what they will do for the rest of life. They need teachers who are word made flesh to come along side them.

Tom Ritchie, Circle of Hope. Tom is one of the designers of the first mountain bikes, and continues to be a top designer today. He rides all over the world, and showed video of Rwanda, where the bicycle is the preferred mode of transport. Yet, only 2% of the people have one. We saw pictures of homemade wooden bikes. He designed a bike as a primary work tool, with a platform over the rear wheel that was variously shown carrying coffee, tea, water, and even a sofa. He has created a social entrepreneurial venture to build and sell these bikes in Rwanda.

David Kinnaman, President of Barna Research. Millions of young adults are cutting their connections to the church, and even their faith. New research has found three types of spiritual journeys those leaving the church take. Most who walk away from church don’t walk away from their faith.

Prodigals-10-15% of these people are Prodigals, who walk away from church and their faith. They no longer claim Christ.

Nomads make a slow fade, they wander away from church but are still committed to Jesus.

Exiles are stuck between the Christian and Secular cultures they want to engage. 10-40% feel this way strongly or moderately. Examples are Christians music artists who shift over to popular secular music. No previous generation has experienced such compounded cultural change. 42% did not have two parents at home, up from 5% fifty years ago. Churches shifting their youth/young adult ministry from a one size fits all to a focus on calling, gifts identification, and identifying mentors who live out faith in that vocational area are breaking the code and reaching these people. The degree to which our churches live differently, incarnating truth in their lives, they will connect with these people, and apprentice them into discipleship.

Luis Palau, World Evangelist. “Those who thing they can change society, they’re optimists. Those who think they can change society without changing people are lunatics. Unless you change the heart, you are just changing veneer.”

Todd Deatherage, “America does well in the world when our rhetoric align with our actions.”

Jason Locy and Tim Willard talked about their new book Veneer. Jason described veneer as a thin, attractive coating atop an inferior product. We all have a veneer to increase our perceived value. We purchase and consume things which support our veneer. Our true self becomes hidden, overcome by the bright, shiny veneer. The pursuit is endless. Tim went on to speak of the language of God. When we pour ourselves out into other people, we no longer focus on the muck of life. It all falls off our back into the love of God.

Gabe Lyons, Q’s founder, then interviewed Euna Lee, an American documentary filmmaker who was captured at the North Korean border as she researched and documented the plight of North Korean refugees in China. Gabe introduced her, saying, “In the depths of our suffering, some of our biggest dreams are born. Euna Lee was captured and held in a North Korean prison. She described her 140 days in a North Korean prison. It was an incredibly moving story of faith under adversity. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Every day in North Korean prison was like a month, with no one to talk to but God.

I was exhausted after travel from the East Coast, so I did not return for the evening session with the Mayor of Portland, and the interview with the Imam of the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Thursday began with presentations, followed by Learning Communities, and an evening of music. Presentations lasted until 3 PM, when we broke into smaller groups and joined one of these Learning Communities: Social Entrepreneurship, Contemplative Spirituality, Media, Journalism and Public Relations, Christian-Buddhist Dialog, The Restorer-Minded Church, Exploring the Universe through the Hubble Telescope, Managing Technology in our Lives, and the one I chose, the Urban Design Walk. Here are highlights from the presentations.

Rob McKinley, Pastor Imago Dei Community, shared this zinger, To define the Gospel in ways the culture can't understand is sin, and this one, Systemic evil not only exists in the world, it exists in the church. He went on to tell us how the church is helping create and shape the city for the gospel. He went on to describe two competing views of the church.

  1. The church exists for itself. Pastors exist to build the church. Disciples exist as resources for building the church.
  2. The church exists for the world. Pastors exist to equip disciples. Disciples exist to announce the reign of Christ in the world.

Skye Jethani, author and senior editor, Leadership Journal. Church leaders have a growing awareness that an entire generation is leaving the church. Skye deconstructed four postures of the church that are a distortion of the gospel. All human religions are based on our fear of the unkown in the world. Danger brings fear, which we attempt to control. It looks lie this.
The four somewhat distorted postures of the gospel look like this:

And here is what he calls the true Gospel- Life with God.

He goes on to say, “Life with God begins with a picture of who the true God is. Once we give people a picture of the true God, a desire for God will grow within. Good first step. The problem is that once that desire grows, we are not giving people the knowledge and modeling of how to live with God.
If we view this world as a dangerous, fearful place, we will never love our enemies or give generously, because we use our money to protect us and control our world. If you are afraid, you are not empowered to live an abundant life. Before we are called to something or to some place, we are called to someone.”

Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired Magazine spoke about where God is in technology.
“Plants want light-they lean into it. Technology has a moral dimension. What technology wants is similar to what life wants. Life wants specialization. At conception, we begin with generalized cells, then the cells take on individual tasks. Simultaneous invention is normal. There were 23 incandescent bulbs before Edison. Every technology creates new solutions and new problems. Most of today’s problems, industrial pollution as an example, come out of technology of the past.” He defined technology as, “Anything that was invented after we were born. Technology is simply an idea made real. Technology gives progress.”

Ann Voscamp, author of 1000 Gifts. One of this New York Times bestselling author’s first memories was witnessing the horrible accident that killed her four-year-old sister. She asks the question, “Where is God when life goes dark?” She went on to describe the discipline of gratitude. “I only deepen the wounds of the world when I don't give thanks,” she said. Practicing the discipline of gratitude makes us happier, healthier. “We were made to give Him thanks, to give Him glory. It is the people who give thanks that give. I am blessed, therefore I can bless.” She suggested creating a list of 1000 things for which I am grateful. What a great practical start to the discipline of gratitude.

Stephen Paletta, won $1Million in Oprah’s Big Give, half to keep (after the Government’s share) and half to give away. He said he was quite uncomfortable being called a philanthropist until he looked up the definition and found that a philanthropist is one who loves and serves mankind. He created a website called GiveBack, where individuals can create their own foundation. He has partnered with Shop with our 400+ online mall partners where folks can earn up to 15% of each purchase for them to give away through their foundation. Neat idea.

Dave Blanchard and Stephen Graves have partnered to create Praxis, a lab to help launch social entrepreneurs. Dave describes successful social entrepreneurs as sustainable, scalable, intentional about connecting with peers, identifying mentors who can support their journey. Praxis is a social innovation accelerator created in partnership with Q. Twelve organizations a year will enter into their mentoring community for a year. Three will be allowed to pitch their ideas at next year’s Q and will be awarded prizes of $50K, $30K and $20K for first, second and third. Put in an application at PraxisLabs.org.

Bobette Buster, USC Film School, Pixar, Disney Animation, Sony Animation Story Expert. She gave a talk on the Arc of Storytelling. "We are in the age of story. Cinema is the art form of transformation, the audience wants it. The idea is king. Characters go from ordinary to extraordinary or from extraordinary to ordinary. There are two main themes of storytelling: reinvention and redemption. We love to see stories of people discovering the courage to become fully alive" With the public wanting transformation, reinvention and redemption, it makes me wonder why are church people so fearful of transformation? She suggests viewing the Johnny Cash Project on You Tube to see a collaborative creation emerging. Each frame is a piece of art by a different individual.

Philenna Heuertz, author Word Made Flesh, gave a talk on Contempletive Spirituality. She talks about how silence before God will reveal our challenges, the work we have to do. “We are often asleep to our own unconscious motivation. Narrow is the path that leads to life, but pilgrimage on the narrow path leads to abundant life.” How true!

Thursday evening started with a Skype interview with Mark Ruffalo about his latest film project, Sympathy for Delicious. He told of growing up in an Assemblies of God family, and drifting from the church. This film is the culmination of more than a decade of collaboration with his friend, who was paralyzed in a climbing accident.  He described how his friend went in search of faith healing. As the years went on, the friend wrote a screen play about a man in a chair who finds that he has been given the gift of healing others, but still cannot heal himself. We see how he is exploited for his gift in New York city, in some ways by the priest who Ruffalo portrays. He also directs this film, which is a labor of love.

Thursday evening ended with live music from Thad Cockrell, followed by Skip and Timshel Matheny, with a final show by Zach Williams & the Bellow. Great music, great vibe, great times.

I had a wedding to attend on Saturday night in Atlanta. To get home Friday without a red eye, I missed the Friday morning finale to catch a plane. So, here ends my report. may you find an idea worth sharing.