The Common Good

Could Church Become a Playground for All?

Malcolm Gladwell, in his popular book The Tipping Point, names three types of people who do the work of making social movements succeed: Connectors, who bring us together, Mavens, who connect us with new information, and Salespeople, whose charisma and personalities help to convince us to subscribe to ideas.

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It's not often that you meet somebody who is all three of these things, but Todd Fadel, the facilitator of the creative network Love is Concrete, is one of those people.

To describe what Fadel does, to say that he has one particular vocation, isn't easy. He is a music teacher and a donut deliveryman and a publicist, but beyond than that, he's the connector, maven, and salesman for Love is Concrete, a "pipeline" for church communities seeking to be radically inclusive through art, play, and service. It's a movement, or network, or framework -- metaphors fail. Fadel explains the drive behind Love is Concrete from Anna Banana's, a coffee shop in his native Portland: "It is," he says, "a resource hub for people who wish to be inclusive in their church communities."

This is a simple definition, yet it is hard to define exactly what Love is Concrete does, because that depends completely upon what resources its growing list of members choose to share: Fadel's background is in music, so he leads workshops and puts on concerts with his band, and promotes musicians with a similar ethos, but the network's Web site also hosts a collaborative drawing "widget," a forum for questions and answers about how to bring more love and justice into worship services, and videos of how to make your own musical instruments. Love is Concrete, then, is equal parts theology, creativity, worship, community, resistance, music, visual art, theater, service, hope, joy, and -- yes -- love. "It's kind of a big umbrella, but I have a really specific goal, and that is to rally and develop these voices and these activators," says Fadel.

This umbrella, then, aims to share resources for inclusive worship through creative collaboration among Christian communities. It grew from Fadel's work at his own church (the Bridge, in Portland), and his band Agents of Future. Listen to an Agents of Future song and you'll get some idea of what Fadel is getting at when he talks about the inclusion-through-arts model of Love is Concrete: It's chaotic and sloppy, breathlessly urgent, childlike worship of God (one song mostly repeats the shouted refrain: "You did what you promised you would do!"), and there are clearly "too many" people -- dozens -- in the band. It's a joyful noise that could clearly only come from the kind of spontaneous collaboration Love is Concrete advocates.

"The voices of each member of the community give a testimony of God's work in the community," Fadel explains, "However, the hierarchy and the system we've set up to [name] the gifted and the not-gifted, the wise and the unwise -- these are all things that have prevented certain voices from feeling allowed to be included."

The way to include these marginalized voices, Fadel says, whether it's an older member of a congregation or a 5-year-old kid, or someone who feels she doesn't have the expertise required to be in a church leadership position

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