Saying goodbye to Indianapolis’ original flâneur and Zen Methodist


Lockerbie Central United Methodist and its sister effort, Earth House Collective, lost one of its dearest and most beloved members this week.  Matt Theobald (above in sweater vest), passed away on Tuesday night, June 15. 

There are many others in our church who had deeper friendships with Matt and others who have better stories about Matt and could write more profound things about his life.   Matt and I mostly bonded about both being from Hendricks County, Indiana and going to small Indiana liberal arts colleges. He graduated from tiny Hanover College and I had graduated from tiny Earlham College.

Matt lived in downtown Indianapolis, about 100 steps away from our church.  In Matt’s typical humor, he called himself a Flâneur.  I learned this week that its a french word and it essentially means  “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, “loafer,” and in a different form, “to stroll”. In the 19th century, the term became to mean a “gentleman stroller of city streets,” and French poet and critic  Charles Baudelaire added a deeper meaning to this word, “”a person who walks the city in order to experience it”.

Matt was Indianapolis’ Flâneur.  I’m not sure if I’m overstating here,  Matt never missed a downtown art gallery opening and had all sorts of friendships with downtown people–from his well healed Lockerbie neighbors to the drunk homeless guy he helped get medical help for last week.  He knew every inch of downtown and knew where to find unique spaces and places. 

It was not uncommon to drive through downtown and to see him walking by.  Indianapolis isn’t 19th century Paris, but Matt was a person who “walked the city in order to experience it.”  And he even knew the correct term for that type of person. 

Being Indianapolis’ Flâneur deeply added to our faith community.   On his Facebook page, he considered himself a “zen” Methodist.  I didn’t talk with Mat too t about his Buddhist influences  except that his parents were Buddhist.  This is how Wikipedia describes Zen:

Zen emphasizes experiential prajñā wisdom (understanding, discernment or cognitive acuity) in the attainment of enlightenment. As such, it de-emphasizes theoretical knowledge in favor of direct realization through meditation and Dharma practice.

Again, words that well describe Matt’s life and theology.  As for his Methodism?  Matt had a deep Christian faith and one of the most powerful prayer lives of anyone I knew.  I think Matt was pretty new to the United Methodist Church, but his theology seemingly lined up with the best aspects of our Weslyan tradition and heritage. 

One last thing.  Matt’s Facebook page only has one quote.  It is from Saint Francis.  “Always preach, sometimes use words.”


One thought on “Saying goodbye to Indianapolis’ original flâneur and Zen Methodist

  1. Sorry to read about your friend Matt’s passing. I got here by googling “zen methodist”, which came up tonight during a discussion with my wife. I am no longer a 100% Jesus story believing, or practicing Methodist, and I have benefitted greatly from my Zen studies here in California. There seems to be a good fit between the tolerance and “good book” tenets of Methodism and the pacifism and ancient wisdom of Zen buddhism. Carry on, nice folks in Indiana!

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