Fifth Anniversary

It’s hard to believe that just over five years ago, a very small and rag tag group of friends began gathering on Tuesday nights in a living room to think about a fresh way of being church in the neighbourhood. We wondered about the possibility of being faithful to the gospel and orthodox commitments, while at the same time eschewing the traditional trajectory of what church growth might look like. We were committed to being the people of God on mission in the neighbourhood. We began to experiment with face to face church, or church in a circle. We wondered if meeting in homes, third spaces, and loaned church space could be the womb for real community in Christ with friends, neighbours, and strangers. We’re still wondering! I once told a friend, "It’s going well, but feels so fragile". He said, "Shouldn’t it always?" Yes, I think so.

We have come to see ourselves as a community of strays, orphans, and exiles – and we like it! It’s probably not the best way to market yourself in a culture driven towards success and easy consumer-oriented solutions – but it seems to be what God has called us to be. We are celebrating our Fifth Anniversary on Sunday Sept. 24th, and there will be much gratitude expressed for what God has done, and much hope offered for what God, in Christ, through the Spirit continues to do! 

Glen Soderholm

Loving Another (Norma Wirzba)

When another enters your heart, you become more alive because your feeling and vision, your desire and purpose have been animated by the richness of the additional life. The beloved is not a threat to your existence. Instead, the beloved enters into you, giving you reasons to live in ways you many never have thought possible.

3 Ways You Can Be a Better Neighbour (Steve Mcdouell)

In many ways, neighboring has become a lost art form. From the juggling act of maintaining our busy schedules to the anxiety around relating to those who we see as different than us, the practice of neighboring can quickly slip to the bottom of our priorities list. If there is a solution to the social isolation, the political polarization and the superficial relationships that exist in our neighborhoods—and in the world as a whole—I’m convinced that it is reclaiming the art of neighboring. For those of us who want to be more committed to neighboring, here are three shifts to consider:

A SHIFT FROM PRODUCTIVITY TO PRESENCE

We have been taught to value and commend productivity. The people we celebrate the most are typically the people we see as the most productive—or at least the busiest. When someone asks us how we are doing, we are quick to assure them that we are terribly busy. We struggle to separate our work from our social and familial lives—largely because we can access our work at any given moment. We design productivity apps that help us eliminate work duplication and disorganization even though, when we open our phones to use them, we inevitably end up using other apps that are less than productive. 

I think that, in some sense, we feel convicted about free time; we have a nagging feeling that we should be doing something to build our career, our capital, our status, or our future.

Our fixation with being productive can have a way of impairing our ability to be fully present with the people around us. Productivity becomes one of the primary excuses for disengaging with the people and the places that we dwell among. While we tell others that we are chronically busy, more times than not we are busy with things that do not add to the meaning, purpose and connection that we long for—and need—in life.

In creating space for our neighbors, we subvert the cultural idol of productivity. When we are present with our neighbors—around dinner tables, on porches and in local parks—we open up space for life-giving relationships to be deepened, for collaborative opportunities to arise and for creativity to be co-inspired. Here are four indicators that you are moving beyond superficial connection in the context of your neighborhood:

You have shared your longings, hopes, struggles and fears with your neighbors, and they have reciprocated.

Your neighbors are around your table, and you are around theirs.

You have been inconvenienced by your neighbors, and you have inconvenienced them.

You have co-created and shared something of value with your neighbors.

When we commit ourselves to being present with our neighbors, we will discover our shared humanity, and we will become increasingly aware of how much we have to lose if we pursue productivity at the expense of a common life with the people around us. 

A SHIFT FROM ABSTRACT INCLUSIVITY TO ROBUST HOSPITALITY

It is in the context of our neighborhoods that we discover how truly polarized and disconnected we are from those that we deem as different than us. The truth is that it’s easy to be inclusive in words—on our social media platforms and in our lofty ideological language; in contrast, it’s incredibly difficult to wade into the complexity of relating to one another in the context of our neighborhoods. 

We can say that we are welcoming of our neighbors without ever opening up our lives, our homes, our resources and our time to the diverse range of people who make up our neighborhoods.

While inclusivity can end up being abstract and intangible, hospitality demands our very presence with others; it invites us to sit across tables from those we don’t understand, those we have distanced ourselves from and those we have looked down on. It is the space where enemies—or those we saw as enemies—are humanized through proximity. While it’s easy to demonize someone from a distance, it’s a much more difficult task to demonize the person you have to pass the potatoes to. 

Polarization occurs when the practice of hospitality is neglected. When we extend hospitality, we create space for reconciliation, enemy-love and deep listening to be practiced and experienced; this is good news for our families, our faith communities, and our neighborhoods.

A SHIFT FROM VAGUE FAMILIARITY TO SHARED LIVES

In the context of my city, it is not uncommon to see people spend most of their time working, playing, shopping and socializing outside of the neighborhoods they live in. Our lives are increasingly fragmented; in many ways, we have lost a sense of rootedness. Devoid of rootedness, we are quicker to settle for a vague familiarity with our neighbors. 

Even if we desired a deeper level of connection with our neighbors, we fear the awkwardness—and potential rejection—that comes with sticking our necks out for it. At the end of the day, we don’t want our neighbors to think that we need anything from them, and we certainly don’t want them to need anything from us.

We love the idea of loving our neighbors as ourselves, yet we struggle with creating enough margin in our lives to truly know our neighbors well enough to love them and be loved by them. One of the ways we can move beyond a vague familiarity toward a more shared life with our neighbors is through collaboration. What I am continuously encountering in my neighbors is the longing to co-invest in something meaningful. From book clubs and street parties to localized advocacy and film nights, community formation often happens through collaboration.

Neighborhood-centric collaboration makes sense because the neighborhood is one of the few things we tangibly share with our neighbors; it is the common source material that will inspire creativity in the context of our place. As we listen to the needs and hopes of our neighborhoods, we will be given the opportunity to get our hands dirty in the task of working together for the common good.

When we are present, hospitable and open to deeper relationships, we will discover the story that is unfolding in our neighborhoods—a story that we are invited to be a character in. While becoming a better neighbor takes time, effort and sacrifice, we are in desperate need of the benefits that it brings.

STEVE MACDOUELL

Steve is a bi-vocational pastor/college professor who lives, cycles, dreams, and drinks coffee in Woodfield—a neighbourhood in London, Ontario, Canada. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Desire as Prayer (St. Augustine)

For the desire of your heart is itself your prayer. And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer...
Therefore, if you wish to pray without ceasing, do not cease to desire. 
The constancy of your desire will itself be the ceaseless voice of your prayer. And that voice of your prayer will be silent only when your love ceases... 
The chilling of love means that the heart is silent; while burning love is the outcry of the heart. If your love is without ceasing, you are crying out always; if you always cry out, you are always desiring; and if you desire, you are calling to mind your eternal rest in the Lord.

--St. Augustine

Contemplation in Action (Shaine Claiborne)

Thoughts from Shane Claiborne on contemplation in action:

There’s something powerful that happens when we can connect our faith with the pain of our world. We are concerned not just with going to heaven when we die, but with bringing God’s kingdom down here. That means figuring out how we can be a part of the restoration of our world. As we look at our neighborhood, what does it mean for us to pray the Lord’s Prayer, that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven? We pray and act for that every day because we believe that God’s kingdom is coming and we want it to come.

There’s a movement in the church to marry action and contemplation, to connect orthodoxy and orthopraxis. We’re not throwing out the things we believe, but we’re also focusing on practices that work out those beliefs. In the past few decades Christianity has primarily been about what we believe. But in Jesus we see an invitation to join our actions with a movement rather than ideas and doctrine.

I’m hopeful because people have grown tired of a Christianity that can say what it believes on paper but doesn’t have anything to show with our lives. Ideologies and doctrines aren’t easy things to love. That’s why I think we need to lift up examples of people who have joined their faith and action, folks like Francis and Clare of Assisi. Mother Teresa has also been a hero of mine.

What I love about Mother Teresa is that her life was her witness. She wasn’t a champion of unborn children because she wore a t-shirt that said “Abortion Is Murder,” but because she welcomed mothers and children. In essence, she said, “If you can’t raise your child, we’ll do it together.” That’s the kind of embodiment that comes as we seek to marry our beliefs to our actions. As Brian McLaren says, “It’s not just are we pro-life or pro-choice, but how are we pro-active?” Are we willing to take responsibility for our ideologies? In my neighborhood that means we’ve got to care for a fourteen-year-old girl and her child together.

Mother Teresa’s message was, “Calcutta is everywhere, if we only have eyes to see.” Pray that God would help us see our own Calcutta: the pain, poverty, loneliness, and ostracizing that happens all over. Each of us encounters situations that demand both prayer and activism. Pray that God would give us the eyes to see the pain of our neighborhoods.

Adapted by Richard Rohr from Shane Claiborne, When Action Meets Contemplation, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010)

Summer of Love (Remixed)

We are embarking on a summer series exploring the height, depth, and breadth of love as revealed through the scripture, tradition, and experience of the Christian church. Look for some quotes here through the summer for reflection.

In this way, (Jesus) drew everything to himself: for he proved his unspeakable love, and the human heart is always drawn by love. He could not have shown you greater love than by giving his life for you. You can hardly resist being drawn by love, then, unless you foolishly refuse to be drawn.

Catherine of Siena

The Long View (Lauren Winner)

Lauren Winner in Faith & Leadership Interview

 

The communities of which I have been a part are wonderful, nurturing, nourishing Christian communities, yet they do a better job talking about the beginnings of people’s spiritual lives.

We have a long history in North American Christianity of narrating people’s conversions as though that’s the end of the matter, when really that’s the prelude to the matter. And sometimes in our communities we say in response to someone’s spiritual desolation, “It’s fine; it’s understandable; we’ve all been there,” but we expect it to get resolved in about six weeks.

And if it doesn’t get resolved in about six weeks, the person must not be trying hard enough or something, or not doing the right kind of praying or something.

In some mainline communities, we may not talk very well about people’s encounters with God’s hiddenness because we don’t talk very well about people’s encounters with God, period.

Commit Your Life? (John MacMurray)

EVER HEAR THE PHRASE, “YOU NEED TO COMMIT YOUR LIFE TO CHRIST”?

I have… used to hear it and say it all the time. It was the prescription for spiritual health.

Struggling with anxiety? You need to commit your life to Christ. Emotionally gutted because of betrayal or treachery? You need to commit your life to Christ. Not sure where you will go when you die? You need to commit your life to Christ.

So often did I hear this idea it seemed it was a mantra of some kind. I think I get what those who used (and maybe still do) the expression were trying to convey – We need to trust in Jesus.

True enough.

But trust is not some kind of secret, key ingredient to finding happiness, spiritual or not. Trust is a response to a person. And I respond with trust to a person I know.

And here’s what I’ve come to know of Jesus…

HE HAS, IS, AND ALWAYS WILL BE COMPLETELY, UNRESERVEDLY, TOTALLY COMMITTED TO YOU.

Whether you obey him or not.
Whether you like him or not.
Whether you trust him or not.

In fact, so loyal is his love for humankind – that it delivers a severity of wrath ferocious in its’ intent to destroy all that is destroying His Beloved. And he gives his very life to make it so.

The Light of the Cosmos took the darkness of an entire planet – our disobedience, betrayal, hatred, indifference, all of the venom festering in our broken lives – and met it face to face by becoming one with us.

This “confrontation” irrevocably exploded in violence when we, fully embracing our darkness, murdered our one true Friend.
Death tried to kill Life… Darkness tried to extinguish the Light…

And what did he do with our response of madness and rage when he bore it in his body hanging on a tree? Your friend has judged it and condemned it. Even more, he has forgiven us, the ones who brought it to the table and reveled in such insane darkness. Every… single… one of us. This confrontation becomes his ultimate means of healing the brokenness of our lives so that we might come to love all that is good and hate anything that is not.

So, maybe we shouldn’t be trying to commit ourselves to him. Maybe we should humbly receive his absolute and unwavering commitment to us. And as we do, we will find ourselves responding with trust to his loyal love.

We Could Use the Help (Glen Soderholm)

The church is preparing to enter into the season of Pentecost. Why is this something to which we should pay attention? Very simply, we could use the help! Pentecost reminds us that the church is founded upon the supernatural gift of God’s reconciling energy given in the person of the Holy Spirit. The church is always tempted to invest its faith in technique, gifted leaders, traditions, polities, technology, wisdom, and more. While many of these things might be helpful for our situations, we can very quickly become uncritically dependent upon them. God grants us the heady opportunity to partner with his kingdom purposes using our ingenuity, however, that should never be the source of our mission and ministry. We, like the first church, are called to wait for the Spirit’s empowering, learning dependence as we are sent into the world.

People Take Time (David Dark)

Gathering up what gifts of awareness remain and testifying to one another concerning their power is one of the primary responsibilities - and pleasures - of an aware people. And when it comes to the thinning out of consciousness that often seems to be occurring in the wake of our escalating distractedness, a profound commitment to courtesy of the heart in all things would appear to be our only hope. (p. 112 'Life's Too Short To Pretend You're Not Religious')

Tasting Truth (St. Isaac the Syrian)

Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth. Someone who is considered by people to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like; once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf. – St. Isaac the Syrian 

One Word Summation (Glen Soderholm)

I had the privilege of attending the 10th Anniversary Mockingbird Conference in NYC last week. I highly recommend this organization and its calling to help us see where law and gospel are at play within popular culture. I quote to you from the conference booklet:

One word sums up what we've tried to convey these past ten years. It's the word that got us going and keeps us going. It's much more than a word, of course, and a decade isn't even a drop in the ocean of possible appreciation/contemplation/internalization. You know which one I'm talking about. 
Given how Grace is so central to our project, we've made a point over the years of collecting some useful shorthand . . . for the sake of this conference, (however), our operating definition of grace will be as follows:

"Grace is the utterly surprising, uniformly comforting, scorecard vaporizing, label-demolishing, can't-stop-won't-stop, able to jump over a building in a single bound, come what may, incandescent, and absolving voice of God."

Yes.
 

Books and my Friend Lance (Glen Soderholm)

Books and My Friend Lance

 

Last week, I lost a dear friend to cancer. Lance was the manager of a splendid little bookstore in Streetsville, ON called Ontario Christian Books. I discovered this book store in the mid-nineties while pastoring in Campbellville ON, and it became a place that fed my soul through stimulating conversation, wonderful friendship, and many marvellous books! I’ve always loved to read, but, my relationship with Lance and his inner sanctum of wonderful tomes, took that love to a new level of learning about spiritual reading, and to some specific volumes that forever altered my way of seeing the world. Spiritual reading is one of the means by which we are spiritually formed. We discover wise companions whom the Holy Spirit uses to inspire us by their writing and reflecting. Sadly the sustained attention that spiritual reading requires is in short supply these days as we have become enslaved by our digital devices and betrayed by our miniscule attention spans. I am no less distracted than the rest of you, but, I have a sacred history with some extraordinary books that keep me seeking their presence. This also keeps me coming back to bookstores and their offerings of life. Alas, for many different reason, there will not be many Ontario Christian Books around before too long. However, churches are learning communities; and when those stores have disappeared we will be much the healthier by creating our own book stations, our own conversations stimulated by reading, and our own Lances – literary mentors who will lead us to the right books for the right time in our lives.

Situation No. 33: The Feast (David Citino)

You're told the ingredients
have been assembled: for the sake of love,
wine and bread, fennel, honey and leeks;
laurel and bay to represent
your political importance and way with words;
a sampling of fabulous beasts and birds.
Fruits and meats to symbolize labor;
salt, the apple and lamb.

You're told the entertainment
will consist of your slow dismemberment
to the pulse of bass drums,
the plodding cadence of Gregorian chant,
screams of your parents and children.

You're told it will hurt
like nothing else, but after it's over
your very best friends will take you
home with them and place you
on altars in the midst of music and yearning,
place you near fire, teach their children
to sing your name.

Do you accept?

Lenten Reflection - (Thomas Merton)

It is in this darkness, when there is nothing left in us that can please or comfort our own minds, when we seem to be useless and worthy of all contempt, when we seem to have failed, when we seem to be destroyed and devoured, it is then that the deep and secret selfishness that is too close to us for us to identify, is stripped away from our souls. It is in this darkness that we find liberty. It is in this abandonment that we are made strong. This is the night which empties us and makes us pure.            Thomas Merton

Uncle Ray: An Old Farm Tale, Anew - (David Kupp - TRC participant)

Saskatchewan in the 1960s and 70s was many things: tough, vibrant, socialist, conservative, churched, impatient with politicians, and bullish on hard work and innovative hands. And it was heading for industrialized farming.

There are a few stories I could tell about my Uncle Ray.  He was not large, imposing or grandiose.  Nor was he a scholar, priest or public personality. But he was what my childhood needed: grounded, thoughtful, wise, even gentle.  And he was a master of the pregnant silence. In response to my ever-impatient ‘Why? How?’ he felt no need to rush. He was the only Brethren Zen master I ever met. And he was a small-scale farmer enamoured not with megafarms but with God’s creation.

Before we go further with Uncle Ray, allow a digression about “story.”  I like these wise words from Bill Harley to wannabe teachers and mentors (and priests and community leaders): “If we want it to be memorable, it must be a story.  Story is how we are reminded, and how we remember.” Perhaps we are here at Wycliffe to help each other develop our stories, join our stories, and tell our stories.  

So how do we find our stories, corporate and personal? A good question, especially for me, since my stories always seem to be under development and evolving. If you’ve been following this series in Morning Star, faculty and staff have been telling stories, and my observation is that no one is claiming that their story is entire and complete. We all have story parts that don’t make sense, chapters that are missing, and pieces that are far too complex and interesting for a cliché. Story-making means always trying, sometimes struggling, to see our story’s new pattern in context.  Story-telling is also how we, our clans and communities make local theology.  It does not emerge from lecture notes or PowerPoint slides, but from hindsight sense-making, co-woven with the threads of presence and text.

When I retrace the decades back to my Uncle Ray, I’m struck along the way by how often my personal story is frequented by both unintended and formal mentors.  Some tough, some old, some young, some surprising. There’s the story of Brother Bob, the mentor from hell, who… well, we’ll skip him. But there’s John, who schooled me in the Mennonite art of wood cabinetry. And there’s Fackelbararnas, the intentional 1970s community of peer mentors in Sweden who radicalized my passion for holistic biblical living. And there’s mentor and coach Linda, with her insatiable vision for gender equity. And there’s my Kenyan mentor who plunged me through the barriers of culture, race, unlearning and community transformation. And there’s the stories of profs Roger, Dale, Roberta and Colin, and their weavings of Matthew, Luther, Barth, Weber, Ellul and Guttierez.  

It’s only later in life, years after Uncle Ray is gone, that I realize our relationship was also my first story of mentorship. As a child, I thought he was a genius: he could deliver a calf, operate a hundred types of machines and tools, read the moisture on the wind with his nose, sense the growth of seed beneath the spring soil, and wax extemporaneous on Nebuchadnezzar.

And Uncle Ray was cool. He had the greatest collection of frogs in his creek, the best old stone barn and farmhouse, and the most ancient farming equipment that clanked and flailed and chugged along. He could build watches and clocks from scratch. He was also the father of my good friend and cousin, Nelson. Best of all, Uncle Ray let Nelson and I do amazing stuff together all over the farm.

“Your Uncle Ray was a failure,” a community member quietly confided, a few years ago. “He never really made that farm work.” That statement startled and puzzled me. It fueled a season of recollection about those summers and years on the Saskatchewan prairie. Ok, perhaps through the narrowed eyes of the modern agribusiness world, he was the end of an era; but for me he was a doorway to land, life skills, faith and insight.

My uncle Ray taught me much. It was probably through his soft-spoken words, his careful observations of birds, seasons, and animals feral and farmed, that I first inhaled the beauty and intricacy of the land.  God was not ‘heavenly’ for Uncle Ray, but abundantly immanent in every molecule of that small valley paradise. Jesus’ call to abundant life was just outside the door. I first learned camping in that valley, sheltered with cousin Nelson inside the rickety lean-to we erected for protection from the terrifying night beasts of the forest (a mere 100 metres from the house).

I first learned from Uncle Ray the wonders of crop cycles, seasons, weather and manure. I first learned about A.I. (artificial insemination, not appreciative inquiry) at the back end of one of his 1500-pound Simmental beauties. I learned to drive tractor, chase mice, cut hay, haul bales, wade creeks, light fires.

Often idyllic, but never perfect, life on the farm ran the normal gamut of livelihood, climate, family, community, inter-church and in-law challenges. There were many sparse winters when Uncle Ray worked two extra jobs.  But I saw his pattern: his quiet, wise, dogged persistence was thoroughly rooted in everyday practices of faith and gratitude, around the kitchen table, on the land, and with the neighbours.

Perhaps intuitively, sola Scriptura (so central for my gigantic, extended family of ethnic Anabaptist immigrants) was only a starting point for Uncle Ray. I realize now that he was also reading the divine texts of nature, and his refractions of life were richer and deeper for that. Every breakfast with Uncle Ray combined cereal and toast with Scripture readings and prayer. But pauses in the labours of field and barn delivered moments of wise observation – about the moment, about the good produce of creation, about his regret for needing to dismantle the beaver’s efforts to dam the creek, about this year’s return of butterflies, about what possibilities lay just beyond the horizon.

Years later, it dawns on me.  Uncle Ray was my personal Wendell Berry.  His faithful practices integrated text, tractor, community and earth.  

My story about Uncle Ray now includes a new ending, about mentors. It goes something list this: the people in front of us are no accident.  Within the special algorithm of choice, chaos, complexity and ὁ Ἐμμανουήλ  (Emmanuel) that carries us along this current stream, my life and faith – and perhaps yours, testifies to the purpose and value of mentoring and being mentored. Uncle Ray’s natural mentorship was an organic gift.  We had no set of learning outcomes, no scheduled meetings, no agreement.  (Although I do believe he promised my parents to steer me clear of dangerous farm machinery, and his irate bull.) Who is your Uncle Ray in this moment? And to whom might you be Uncle Ray?

_________________

 

© David Kupp

Repurposed Lives (Glen Soderholm)

Perhaps you have had a chance to witness the wonders of repurposed materials. The human imagination is a marvel, as people have taken what appear to be useless, discarded materials, and made everything from liveable dwellings out of junk (http://www.criticalcactus.com/beautiful-recycled-homes/) to astounding art (http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/recycled-art-masterpiece-made-from-junks/). It was after reading a quote from T.F. Torrance that I made the connection between just this kind of activity and the gospel. Torrance writes,” Christ takes our sins upon himself in such a way as to make them serve our healing and salvation . . . It was (our) very sin, betrayal, shame, and unworthiness, which became, in the inexplicable love of God, the very material he laid hold of, and turned into the bond that bound (us) to the crucified Messiah, to the salvation and love of God forever. “ We are often guilty of believing that God can only abide and use our good qualities, accept us when we have our best face forward. But Torrance shows that it is the ugly and messy parts of ourselves that Jesus takes on (2 Cor. 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”), to bear witness to the divine imagination and the reality of grace. The import of this is not to run out and cultivate more ugliness and chaos so God can build more imaginative homes (Paul deals with that clearly in Romans 6), but rather, in this Lenten season, to fall onto our knees in humility and gratitude for what has become of us in Christ.