The Amateur Advantage

The Amateur Advantage

Right here in Tampa there is a decentralized network of a bunch of groups of christians that refer to themselves as The Underground Network. These groups make up little communities known as ‘microchurches,’ a pretty obvious contrast to large centralized ‘megachurches’. Most of these groups are simple house churches and missional communities that believe church is something that they are called to be rather than something they just ‘go to’ on a Sunday. They don’t seem too concerned with pastors, buildings, budgets, or worship services as they actually consider all of those things superfluous to the actual call of the people of God. These communities are made up of amateurs, or as the church world would call them, lay people. They are mostly non-ordained, non-professional ministers that are committing themselves to the work of the missional church as a labor of love. They are, in the most technical use of the word, amateurs.

Amateur is a French word that means "one who loves, lover," it is derived from the Latin amatorem (nominative amator) meaning "lover, friend," the past participle of amare which means "to love." Since the late 1800’s we have used the word in English to mean "one who cultivates and participates (in something) but does not pursue it professionally or with an eye to gain" (as opposed to professional), often with disparaging shades, "dabbler, dilettante," except maybe when used in athletics. We really like the word amateur in it’s purest meaning and find it to resonate with our intentional charge to ‘be pedestrian.’ If you remember our first ‘Be Pedestrian’ issue we wrote:

The word pedestrian can serve as a noun or as an adjective. While the adjective use of this term is often a pejorative, we are quite fond of this overlap of identity and have intentionally entitled this section, which we intend to include every week, ‘Be Pedestrian.’ We intend it as a charge to embrace the everydayness of ordinary neighborliness experienced as a pedestrian of Tampa’s streets, sidewalks, and trails. The above quote speaks to the central importance of the everyday pedestrian, the neighbor, the citizen.

On Sunday the Underground Network met for an annual huddle that they call ‘Core Sundays’ for everyone involved in the network. It was the first of a two week get together where they reflected on the previous year, and this time the previous few years as they did not get together last year due to the pandemic. They also use this time to look forward to the year ahead and discuss ways that they can better prepare, collaborate, and equip themselves for the work of loving their neighbors, their neighborhood, and their city. At this gathering in the University Mall on Sunday, Lucas Pulley, the non-profits Executive Director spoke. After recounting a long litany of challenges that their communities faced over the last couple years in the midst of covid-19, political unrest, economic and employment obstacles, and social isolation, he turned his attention to encourage the room.

Lucas asked the gathering who among them had seen The Rescue, a pretty incredible documentary on NatGeo about the soccer team that got stuck in a cave in Thailand a few years ago. The Rescue chronicles the enthralling, against-all-odds story that transfixed the world in 2018: the daring rescue of twelve boys and their coach deep inside a flooded cave in Northern Thailand. Academy Award winning directors and producers Vasarhelyi and Chin keep viewers on the edge of their seats as they use a wealth of never-before-seen material and exclusive interviews to piece together the high stakes mission, highlighting the efforts of the Royal Thai Navy SEALs and U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and details the expert cave divers' audacious venture to dive the boys to safety. The Rescue brings alive one of the most perilous and extraordinary rescues in modern times, shining a light on the high-risk world of cave diving, the astounding courage and compassion of the rescuers, and the shared humanity of the international community that united to save the boys.

The story of the rescue recounts how many professional, well resourced and trained teams like the SEALs from around the world could not find or rescue the boys. As the endeavor seemed more and more impossible they turned to the amateur cave diving community and were pointed to two hobbyists from the UK who were record breaking divers and considered by many to be the best in the world. Officials reached out to John Volanthen, an IT Consultant and Rick Stanton, who is a retired firefighter and flew them in to see what they could do. John, by the way, uses a rebreather tank that he made himself to better suit cave diving needs and it looks like he made it too. This is what one of the two middle aged white men in shorts and t-shirts were carrying when they first arrived on scene in Thailand. The juxtaposition of these amateurs arriving in a crowd of uniformed professionals and officials is powerful, especially as they try to discourage the men by basically telling them that they cannot go in. Eventually whatever governing official was in command relented and said he would allow them to proceed but would not be liable or coming to save them. We don’t want to spoil the film and you should definitely watch it but it is absolutely incredible to see how the amateur, who does it for the love of doing it can far outshine the pros. What these men accomplish is nothing short of miraculous and Lucas did an incredible job encouraging the gathering of amateurs that they, like these cave divers, are the ones that best know their own context. There are people in our city that are hurting, addicted, homeless, suffering, isolated, and in many ways stuck in caves of their own. Many of them cannot be reached by the social workers or the churches or the non-profits, or any of the institutions filled with well resourced and trained professionals because they do not know those caves. He made an incredible call to this rag-tag bunch of amateur, pedestrian, ordinary neighbors that they have real knowledge, experience, wisdom, and therefore responsibility to love and look out for those around them who might be stuck in caves of their own.  

This talk that Lucas gave, this encouragement to the amateur, this example from The Rescue get at the very heart of what this series is all about.

Until next time, Be Pedestrian.