Category Archives: Community

Why Live in Community? . . . to offset the lies

community

Life in community is no less than a neccessity for us – it is an inescapable ‘must’ that determines everything we do and think.  Yet it is not our good intentions or efforts that have been decisive in our choosing this way of life.  Rather, we have been overwhelmed by a certainty – a certainty that has its origin and power in the Source of everything that exists.  We acknowledge God as this Source. . . . We must live in community because all life created by God exists in a communal order and works toward community.” -Eberhard Arnold

Those of us who were born into the American story have been told a lie since the day we were born in verbal and then mostly non-verbal cues from our cultural narrative.  We are a ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ kind of people, we highly value the rugged individual. The lone ranger is an American icon.  We want to believe that we can do it all on our own.  We want to be self-sufficient islands of comfort, security, confidence, freedom and power.  But in reality we are not.  We are vulnerable, at times insecure, second-guessing and not self-sufficient at all, rather we have a tendency to look for love in all the wrong places.  We put on the mask that we have it all together so that other’s can’t see our weakness and vulnerabilities.

Our cities and suburbs are growing in population yet many are feeling more and more alone.  We’ve never in our history had more proximity to people and at the same time, we lead the world in anxiety meds and anti-depressants.  We have the opportunity to live in community but we choose to build up the walls and live lives of isolation in and near the other humans.  Community only works when you opt in.  Like an AA meeting, it’s voluntary and you come because you admit you have need.  You don’t want to be alone anymore.  You’ve tried the rugged individual American story and found yourself wanting.

One of my assumptions about humanity is that we were designed for community because the Source of all Creation designed it that way.  He by his nature and image is community:  Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  We were created in His image and therefore bear the mark of community.  We weren’t meant to live alone physically, emotionally or spiritually.  We were designed to be known, to be loved by others, to be safe even in our vulnerabilities.  We’ve been lied to, we weren’t meant to be individual American heroes, we were meant to find our meaning and purpose within the context of one another.

I’ve given up my life for the building of this kind of community.  I feel the brokenness of the world all around me, I long for my neighbors (not just the ones I live next to) to find the satisfaction of their soul’s desire.  I long for people to be delivered out of patterns of self-destruction, negativity, isolation, loneliness and mindsets of personal poverty.  Community is a powerful healer but it’s also really, really hard and messy and you have to opt in.

Love is the anti-dote to all the lies you are listening to.  In Community we speak the truth to one another.  I’ve learned I need it like I need air to breathe.  You were designed for it, jump in the deep end.

Pastoring a Church without walls

Almost 20 years ago now, I made a conscience decision to fire myself vocationally from ministry.  I had an instinct, a calling and a drive to create a response of the church to it’s present and emerging culture. It was clear to me that the word on the street was a growing distrust in the structures known as church.  What could church look like for people who would never step foot in a church?  I had a dream of a ‘missional’ church, a church without walls, where the posture was not asking people to come to church, but the church being ‘sent’ to where people were living/working/playing etc.   Reframing the church from being perceived as a building  or special event once a week to a community on mission doing all of life together.  I believe fundamentally that church is not someplace you go, but a people you belong to.

I’m still a pastor, I just don’t get paid for it.  I am sent into my world to care, love, inspire, teach, educate, inform, protect, marry, bury, baptize, pray for, pray with, pray behind their backs, create, build, enact mercy, stand for justice . . . all the things pastors should do in their culture.  I have no walls to keep me in, in the words of John Wesley, ‘the world is my parish’.  I don’t know about you, but I pastor a REALLY BIG church.   I’m sent to the 7.8 billion people that God has put on earth that I may come into contact with.  I work under the assumption that if we come into contact then the Creator wanted it to be and I’m available for the assignment he has in mind.  Pastoral ministry is not a job, it’s a way of life.  It’s a set of gifts given to you by your Creator and he gets to decide how they are used.  We are characters in a divine story being written one chapter at a time.

I don’t really buy the categories for faith I grew up in.  Churched or unchurched, saved or lost, believer or unbeliever, christian or nonchristian,  religious or secular etc.  I think we are all made up of the same substances of sinners and saints.  To me, church is more like an AA meeting, you participate and belong because you need it.  You start with the fact you have need, not because you’ve arrived at any great end.  I share this need with all my neighbors, all of them.  God isn’t mad, he just misses us.  He wants us to know the unyielding affection he has for us, all of us.  He wants to meet us at our place of need and do the mystical work of transformation together that is available to any of us through the Spirit of Christ.  That’s my job, to walk around my community and culture and give away the Spirit of Christ, I don’t have anything more important to do.  It’s the entire deal in pure form.

A church without walls.  Missional church is sent to bars, pubs, coffee houses, marketplaces, stadiums, fields, parks, libraries, entertainment centers, neighborhoods, schools, famers markets, festivals, concerts, parties, parades, online forums, places of work, etc. etc. where all the saints and sinners hang out.  There is no place where Christ’s extravagant love is not, therefore there is no condemnation or judgment.  Leave your self-righteousness and judgment at home, God is love.  We are a community invited to participate in the love and affection of the one who made us and doesn’t want to be without us.  He isn’t mad, he misses us.  All of us and everywhere.

 

The Helical model of the universe and Ordinary Community

The Disclaimer:  I am not a scientist, I’m not an astrophysicist, I’m not a rocket scientist.  At best I’m a theologian or contemplative, at worst I’m just a dude.  I’m reflecting on this from my perspective, I’m not making truth claims or posting theories based on expert knowledge.  I know it’s just an attempt to illustrate a point and doesn’t in fact capture the entire picture of the galactic plane.  Ok? . . . ok.

The Video:  I find this video model fascinating for it’s contrast to our normal two dimensional understanding of how our universe revolves around the sun.  Most of us get our imagery from 2D posters on our junior high science classroom of a ‘heliocentric’ (sun centered) universe which was a great advancement from the ancient days of a ‘geocentric’ (earth centered) understanding of the universe.  There was a day when we literally thought and understood that the world revolved around us.  That came from a time in Greek thought where philosophy ruled the day.  Our starting point for reflection, contemplation and search for truth started with ourselves.  So naturally, the world came to be about us.

It was the advancement of science that began to tell a different story.  That the experience of gravity on earth did not mean that in fact then the earth was the center of gravity in the universe.  Rather, it was far more complex than that.  Rotation, axis and orbit can explain for the phenomenons we observe on earth and that it is the sun that is in fact the center of the big idea and the planets, systems and stars have a relational tie to it.  Science helped us see that the world is in fact not about us, that we have a part to play in a much larger drama and we should have some humility and responsibility about that galactic relationship.

Philosophy to Science to now Technology.  This video builds on the 2D heliocentric idea of the universe by taking it another step and illustrating that the better understanding of movement around the sun is to see it as ‘vortex’ motion of being intertwined amidst the solar winds as we orbit around the sun.  The 3D model shown here is the ‘helical’ model.  It invites us to understand the intertwining motion as even a more complex relationship we have at the ‘Macro’ level of how our universe works and then pushes us to reflect upon how we see this same design in our ‘Micro’ level life and creation all around us.  To me, it’s fascinating.

The Community Idea:  Again, I’m not a scientist, it just interests me for it’s perspective and it’s revelation of truths.  I highly value knowledge because it informs my real life.  What I am an expert in is ‘community’.  I’ve given my life and study to it for a couple decades now.  My dissertation was on the loss of community in the American landscape and suggestions on how we might find our way again in it.  I have often reflected and asserted that community is best understood as well as a ‘gravitational pull’.  Community gets centered around something that pulls people together.  Books, football, school, fashion, movies, coffee, wine, beer, lifestyles, interests, religion etc.  The strength and longevity of the community depends upon the nature of the gravitational center.  If a community forms around the celebration of the Winter Olympics, then it will be experienced once every 4 years and will cease after the closing ceremonies.  If the community forms around biological family bonds, then barring relational scars, it goes from birth to death and we are in a vortex with each other for every event in between.

I do believe that community is a vortex of relational pull towards one another.  Our lives can be intertwined in a very complex relationship and the longer the community is in that vortex, the stronger the relational pull.  As a relational universe, the proximity increases, the gravity increases and the community gets closer and more intertwined as it moves together on a time continuum we call ‘life’.

14 years ago, my wife and I experimented by starting a spiritual community in our home with the stated assumption that the center of our gravitational pull would be Jesus and the Scriptures.  The person of Jesus, his teachings, his life and his Spirit would be what we would organize our lives around and then let those things pull us together. We live individual, family and American suburban lives but we would confront that reality by choosing ‘community’ as our faith model.  We didn’t want individual faith, we wanted a shared story.  Ordinary Community was the result.  This is what we call ‘church’.

Over the years, this gravitational pull has exponentially increased.  The intertwining of our lives is a great contrast to the world’s ideals around us of a consumer lifestyle based on ‘avoiding boredom’ and individual wants.  The pull into spiritual community has redefined family for us.  We have a much larger network of brothers, sisters, spiritual cousins, aunts, uncles etc.  Our kids only know ‘community’ as their gravitational center.  This all may sound cultish, but it is the language of our Patriarch, that Jesus guy.  (Cults are defined by hoarding resources, we give away 100% of our shared resources, again that Jesus guy told us to)  Our lives are a moving vortex with one another as we spiral around Jesus and His Scriptures towards a more realized experience of Christian spiritual maturity.  Our hope is that as we do that then we love our neighbors better, love our enemies better, serve our world better, experience wholeness/peace/joy better and in fact live in the truth of what our entire universe is all about.  That we are eternal souls: created by God, resurrected by Jesus and called into a Spirit-filled life story together.  That our lives have context with each other and the world all around us.  Community is a messy vortex of intertwined motion, we spiral through life together and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

I love my gravity community.  #OCC4Life

As a church planter, I F’ed up

keepcalmfailup-small

Some time around the turn of the millenium to 2000 A.D., I discerned a call to take all of my past experience, my present training/education and my future hopes to plant a different kind of church. I wasn’t ignorant of the fact that what I was attempting was not the first of its kind in the vast history and tradition of ekklesia, but it was anything but conventional or ordinary to the day.  In a turn of irony, it became known as Ordinary Community.

One of the pretenses was that we would not be owned by money, finances would not dictate our mission or sustenance.  We sought out to have no bills, no buildings, no salaries, no benefit packages, no insurances, no debt and no capital campaigns.  100% of our shared giving together would go back out to missional needs.  Central to this as the church planter meant that I had to fire myself from professional vocational ministry.  From that day on, I would have to figure out how to support my family with work outside of my role with the church community.  13 years ago as I forecasted what this would look like, I took a step of faith and believed that God would work out the details and I would eventually find work to sustain myself, my family and the community I felt called to.  I am not the only one who attempted this, but after 13 years of trying, I’m finally ready to call this part of the vision project an abject failure.  It hasn’t worked.  I have bounced around quite a bit, I have tried and tried and yearned for a different result, only to end in similar spaces and experiences.  It’s been disillusioning.

On one hand, I fret to complain because God has provided some form of work and gainful employment to cover my bills and support my family for which I am incredibly grateful.  But on the other hand, it has been my largest personal struggle for more than a decade and has exposed many dark nights of the soul.  I have never found a transition from the areas I have natural gifts and skill sets in to a sustainable professional role in the greater culture outside of vocational ministry.  The experiment has left me at the ripe age of 40, utterly exhausted.  If I could put words on what this has felt like for 13 years, I would use words like: exiled, lost, lonely, confused, dismayed and broken.  When I started out, I just hoped things would work out, it hasn’t.

So, as a church planter, I F’ed up.  But what I mean is that somehow amidst my personal turmoil, I ‘failed’ up.  Ordinary Community is more beautiful and hopeful an expression of church than I dreamed of.  Despite what I intended it to look like, it became something better, something far beyond my mind’s eye.  Still to this day some 13 years later, I still get the sense that we are just beginning.  We are just entering early adolescence in our development and learning our strengths amidst our awkward growth and hormones.  There is hopeful energy for deeper pushes into creative ways to love our neighbors, serve the poverties around us and be generous with our resources.  The life of the Kingdom flows freely and powerfully through our community times, we are strengthened by the day.

So as I am at a reflecting point in my life, I’m re-learning a very valuable lesson I thought I already knew.  That is that God hates a visionary leader.  See Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sentiments below:

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretensions. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges that brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself. 

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together 

This is what I have become.  An accuser of my broken vision so many years ago.  How sick is that?  It didn’t turn out as I intended . . . thank God.  The counselor in me says to not move too quickly through the waters of recognized failure, to sit in them and soak them up for the learning opportunities that they are.  I’ve heard it said that we should see our attempts for God to be more like a garden.  That every failed attempt becomes rich compost for the next planting, nothing is fatal, it can all be re-used.  So at this stage in my journey, admitting that I F’ed up, I am sitting in some fresh manure for perhaps another chapter of this story.  I’m waiting for another planting.

Our Ordinary Story

Ordinary Community Church, what does community mean to you?

 Above is the Photo ellicitation project for our DMin GML cohort.  This was a fascinating journey to learn what others in the community see through their eyes by using photographs to explain.  It was actually really emotional to read some of their profound stories.  We have lived a decade of pain and beauty, as any church does, and this is our Ordinary story. 

Here is what I learned:

  1. Children are central to our story.  I was amazed as the photos came in how many of them saw our community faith through the eyes of the kids.  When we first started out, this was our largest question:  What do we do with the kids?  We tried everything, and just landed on letting them become an organic part of the larger community.  Realizing that segmenting age groups really has its roots in corporate marketing and generational target groups, the Body of Christ is whole together.  We embrace the chaos of having kids in and amongst us in any part of worship, they are never a distraction.  We just roll with it.  What we’re learning is in this environment, kids choose in themselves.  They want to be there by their choice, they are attracted naturally to the worshipping community.  What was a major question for us a decade ago, has become a strength.
  2. Events play a larger role in galvinizing community than I thought.  The pics were largely of parties, retreats, public worship times and celebrations.  Life is mostly lived in the ordinary and the daily, but events play a role in providing community memory, marking values with larger experiences. 
  3. Community is tangible.  It is not a buzz-word, it isn’t a ‘fluffy’ notion, it’s real.  You know when it’s present and you know when it’s not.  We have strived to make it our “point” in the midst of individualist American culture.  We are still learning what it really means, but it’s messy and painful at times.  However, at this point, I can never opt out.  I belong to them and they belong to me.  It is not my Christianity, it is ‘our’ Christianity. 

After 10 years, I have spent all year reflecting on who we are as a community, where we have come from and where should we be seeking to go.  This project helped me see the answers to these questions through the eyes of other.  Very inspiring.  I think we’ll keep going, time to re-up for another decade of asking for His Kingdom to come, on earth as it is in heaven. 

A Church of Distributed Networks?

This week’s reading for the DMin GML1 cohort is processing through Rob Salkowitz’s  Young World Rising:  How Youth, Technology, and Entrepreneurship are Changing the Word from the Bottom up.   Rob takes a macro view of trends while referencing stories of how they are working themselves out in the real world.  He highlights 3 trends that will serve as powerful forces to the economy and organizational realities of the future.

“the aging of the developed economies, the spread of ubiquitous data networks across the globe, and the rise of indigenous entrepreneurism as an alternative path to economic development from the top-down economic assistance model that prevailed in the postcollonial period.”  (17)

Salkowitz takes a position of assumed idealism that the future world economy will have positive development and move away from the present latent recession slumps.  He asserts that the organizations and power structures of the old world ecnomoy would do well to pay attention to the leveling of the playing field through technology and the shared information networks of the world wide web.  Youth, particularly in population growth oriented nations of millenials, are playing a major role in the production and creation of new business initiatives and changing the rules of an entrepreneurial future.  However, if these organizations of the old world economy want to do more than just observe the trends then they will have to also change the way they conceive of employment, values and the distribution of information and relationship. 

Salkowitz sums it up this way:

  1. Youth, technology and entrepreneurship are reshaping the world
  2. Next-generation approaches are different from what came before
  3. Globalization unleashes talent without borders
  4. Demographic trends favor developing countries and severly dis-favor old world economy countries (US, China, Europe)
  5. Engaging and encouraging Young World growth is in the interest of the Old World
  6. We need to re-think development strategies in light of tech-driven global entrepreneurship
  7. Networked organizational models are the future  *
  8. Old divisions between public and private, social and commercial are blurring
  9. Commercial interests and free markets are helping to advance social and economic progress
  10. The new knowledge economy is multi-polar

These wired, young entrepreneurs operate on a different value system and it won’t fit the wineskins of old.  I’m going to focus on #7 and the power of organizations of distributed networks as a way of understanding a future for church planting. 

I am not a Millenial, I am a product of Generation X.  We don’t get a descriptive term like Builder, Boomer or Millenial; we get the nondescript “X” label.  I have longed believed this is just a kind way of saying, “we don’t get you people”.  We have the consumer entitlements of Millenials without the work ethic of Builders/Boomers, not a good combination.  We are labeled as the generation of disallusioned underachievers.  Well, I’m not one for labels.  I find them intellectually lazy and pragmatically despondent.  I prefer savy and hopeful.   In 1999, I approached some denominational leaders I found through networks online about an idea I had for a new kind of church planting that would be a church of distributed networks.  The church planting theory of the time was a uni-modeled approach of a 3 year business plan for a hierarchical attractional church that is financially expensive, emotionally exhausting and physically had a very low sucess rate.  The road to becoming a self-sustaining church was a trail of tears that a small percentage were fortunate enough to traverse without losing friends, family or their faith altogether.  Given the holistic expense of this model, in combination with the acute problems of consumerism and individualism as discipleship barriers and the postmodern distrust of hierarchical structures, I tried to imagine a new way forward.  At the time I was completely unaware of the history of house church structures/networks in church traditions.  I was introduced into the idea of micro-churches by reading of St. Patrick organizing the Irish within their clan structure, instead of the parish model of Europe in the 5th and 6th centuries. 

Reading Salkowitz’s description of global millenials thinking, breathing and working within the native framework of networked organizational models reminded me of the dozens of napkins and note-book pages I would sketch similar model figures like the one showed above.  I was trying to get my own mind around what this could look like if we were willing to be less centralized, less defined by structure and times and more focused on speed, adaptability and connected relationships. 

“Top-down and command-and control style management, whether from governments, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) or private companies, is increasingly inappropriate for solving 21st century problems.  Young people raised on networks have better ideas that we should listen to.”  (166)

What if the viral power of the Kingdom gospel could be dispersed exponentially within local communal networks without the overhead of physicial structure, paid staff or limitations of meeting times?  I have learned a lot over the past ten years of working at this very end and I believe we are still just getting started into the reality of what this kind of distributed model can look like moving into the future.  There are legitimate concerns and questions that are still being worked out in practicality.  Here a few I’m always conscious of:  1) How do you protect against false teaching?  2) How is leadership developed and sustained?  3) Are the kinds of spaces used for discipleship same or different than those used for evangelism?  4)  How is money treated?  5) What does church discipline look like?  And there are many more.  I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts/questions. 

My dream/vision has not changed.  I still long for not a house church, but a house church network that is part of network of house church networks.  Technology will certainly define some of that for a way forward, but being within an open source community of new thinking of organizational models will be neccesary as well.  We need to listen and learn from our bright youth, from other cultures who are not distracted or limited by old world thinking structures and to the voice of the One who governs all of our futures.  Being innovative only matters if it is in response to obedience.  The future will not take Yahweh by surprise, the Kingdom will translate itself into the coming generations with or without us.  The question is if we can be faithful to follow and listen to the voice that speaks it all into being.  If that means change, the kind of change that rearranges our praxis but not our faith, could we listen? 

22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”  – Mark 2:22 (NIV)

#dmingml

A Tale of Two Poverties

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3

Wealthpoverty

In reading Tom Davis’Scared” , I was struck with a collision of two worlds, each with it’s own poverty.  There is Stuart Daniels, the award winning photo-journalist who is living the American dream of the ruggged individualist.  High society, fast deadlines, exciting stories, good wine, fine steaks and invitations to the flavor of the month parties.  He has it all, with the exception that he really has nothing.  At the onset of the story, Stuart has a marriage that has grown distant and cold, a job that has lost its momentum, an increasingly shattered identity having accomplished much without knowing who he really is or why he is here.  Stuart is poor in spirit, confused in his brokenness, trapped to the questions of his heart.  He is surprised at his internal poverty. 

Then there is Adanna, the 12 year old heroine in the story growing up in Swaziland, Africa.  She embodies all that is expected of what poverty is.  She lives days without food and is never sure where the next scrap of sustenance may come from.  At the sudden death of her mother to AIDS she becomes the matriarch to her younger siblings.  She is malnourished, susceptible to all sickness.  Her dwelling is barren and the land is dangerous prone to natural disasters without warning or resources to cope.  She is not safe, has no protection from the animals of evil men who do not see her as a child, but as a body meant for them to consume.  She is the recipient of unspeakable abuse.  Adanna is a survior, she doesn’t stop trying, doesn’t stop hoping, doesn’t stop praying.  Adanna’s poverty is not surprising, it his her only reality. 

I’ve long wondered if it is possible long-term for the spiritual/relational poverty of those in the affluent West to find the meaning they are looking for by reaching to the physical/psychological needs of those in abject poverty.  It seems that both worlds need one another.  However, history has shown us that the relationship between the two can be both complex and even detrimental at times.  The organizations that have long-term impact seem to understand some basic concepts that go far beyond immeidate relief and on to rehabilitation and development.  Organizations have to see their own blind-spots, recognize the difference between self-serving charity and others-centered development.  History shows us through western bias a kind of imperialism and paternailsm where we project onto the native culture the foreign culture and customs of the relief agency without thinking through long-tern effects. 

Recently I have come into contact with many organizations that are thinking through these poverty relationships for results that are mutually beneficial and a blessing to all at the table of help.  Children’s Hope Chest, Back2Back ministries, Self-sustaining enterprises, La Limonada, Kiva and Physicians without borders to name a few.  I have been meeting with business leaders in my suburban community strategizing what these relationships with those in developing countries can look like.  What are the real needs?   What will help them?  How could our help get in the way?  Where are our blind spots?  The needs are there, the resources are available, but what is the best way to attack the development issues in long-tern relationships.? 

One of the books I’ve chosen to add to my research for my project is “When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  The sub-title to the book is “How to alleviate poverty without hurthing the poor and yourself.”  They contend for an Asset-based community development (ABCD), as opposed to ‘needs’ based.  They seek to start with what the poor have, not focus primarily on what they don’t have.  ABCD has 4 key elements:

  1. Identify and mobilize the capabilities, skills and resources of the individual or community.  See poor people and communities as full of possiblities given to them by God.
  2. As much as possible look for resources and solutions to come from within the individual or community not from the outside. 
  3. Seek to build and rebuild the relationships among the local individuals.  Associations, churches, businesses, schools, government etc.  God intended for the various individuals, institutions and communities to be interconnected and complimentary.  
  4. Only bring in outside resources when the local resources are insufficient to solve pressing needs.  Be careful about bringing in resources that are too much or too early.  Do this in a manner that does not undermine local capaciy or initiative. 

The lies of consumerism keep people in the West in perpetual poverty internally and even at times externally.  When we can free ourselves to bring care and resources to the kind of poverty that Adanna was facing, we can’t rush in with a Savior-complex that doesn’t really help either party past one day of food.  What Adanna needs is long-term development, care, protection, education and opportunity to pursue the solutions to her community’s problems within their own resources.  We all need to seek the position of being poor in spirit.  We need to sit at the round-table of poverty eradication seeking holistic kingdom solutions.  Stuart and Adanna are in need. 

#dmingml

Creating Sacred Space in the Ordinary

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Reading through Church in the Present Tense was a refreshing collaboration of thinkers and doers who are wrestling with the questions of transitions and practice in our given modern context.  It attempts to give a “candid look at what’s emerging”.  For the purposes of our cohort, we paid particular attention to the two chapters written by our doctorate mentor, Dr. Jason Clark.  I value his thinking and writing in that I know it comes from deep theological reflection as well as a heart for mission in praxis.  His chief interest is what it means to be ekklesia, not just historically, but missionally in today’s emerging cultural contexts.  He proposes a kind of deep church:  “In deep church we would not simply repackage the past or become fashion victims of the emerging culture, but rather we would aspire to an understanding of church embedded in the past while also fully engaged in the present.” (50)

Dr. Clark roots his ecclesiology in simple but profound terms:  “Who we are is found in Jesus with others, the depths of which exceed anything we can do on our own.” (46)  Ekklesia is clearly centered in and around Christ and it is to be done within the context of a shared story together.  “The reality of the death and ressurrection of Jesus as the event that all of life should be ordered around, and our local community invited into.” (40)  Dr. Clark wrestles with the fact that the gnarly beast of consumerism in modern capitalistic markets seek to steal this story away from the gathered people and rather root them in a consumer narrative where it is about the individual and the constant pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of boredom that sets the tone.  “Consumer culture relates to beliefs as commodities to be used and marketed. . . . The machinery of advertising, consumer’s handmaiden, uses stolen symbols to promise experiences and ways of life, security and transformation to the congregation of consumer culture.” (40)  So how do we find a way forward?  He suggests we may need to look to our past:  “Instead of the quest for a new radical form of church, we might do well to understand the church in history, with all its flaws.” (48)

Dr. Clark suggests a powerful way to bring the kind of orientation around Christ that the Scriptures call us to is to find a resource already present in church tradition, namingly liturgy.  He says:  “We all are liturgical in that we all have formularies that organize our lives around certain beliefs and practices.” (77)  “Liturgy and ritual can form our lives around the reality of the universe that is the life of Jesus.”  (83)  What he is implying is that liturgy helps brings structure and form to our shared story together, the rituals are a welcomed infrastructure that helps us create sacred space in what would otherwise be ordinary.  In particular he has found that the church calendar helps give form to their communal year of worship together.  “One of the things we have found in my own community is the church calendar, a simple tool used in Christian communities throughout history that organizes the church year around the telling of the life of Jesus.” (80)   In our house church community we have found the same.  Being a small community we enjoy being in solidarity with the global Body of Christ and celebrating the church seasons within the network of all the churches in the world.  The calendar brings a monastic rythymn of work, life, prayer, communion and even times of solitude.  It makes our center church and the life of Christ, not the consumer calendar of shopping seasons, TV seasons, awards shows, vacation seasons and the gross perversion of historic Christian holy days.  We want to live ‘in Christ’ while we live in the tangible world and culture.  As I have often said, I am deeply comitted to ‘monking in the real world‘.

For many of us, the Eucharist (or Communion or Lord’s Supper) is central to our liturgical lives.  We seek to live in light of the church calendar, allowing it to serve as a reminder that we are called to become like Jesus and to order our whole lives after him.” (86)  In our community as well, communion is a centerpiece to just about all of our gatherings.  We practice communion everytime the people gather.  Since our space is very familiar, informal and living space, having the eucharistic elements present and central when the people come helps set the tone that though we laugh and enjoy each other, this gathering is about worship.  As well, we intentionally move from the common meal in the kitchen/dining area to the family room where communion will be partaken and other elements of worship.  It sets the space apart from the ordinary and jovial to sacred and reflective.  We recite the same communion liturgy each week, the sameness brings form to what is otherwise informal.  The partaking of communion is a natural flow from the common meal table, it extends our fellowship of worship of the Christ in our midst.  What was ordinary becomes sacred as we enter into the mystical union of the gathered community with the Christ in the elements.  Liturgy helps us be church, as opposed to a small group or bible study.  Our liturgical progression follows like this:  1) Common Meal  2) Responsive Call to Worship 3) Declaration of Faith  4) Psalm Reading  5) Worship Reflection  6) Communion Liturgy and partake  7) Scripture narrative reflection and discussion  8) Prayers for others  9) Benediction and Celtic Blessing.  We have taken much of our liturgy from Celtic Daily Prayer, a resource put out by Northumbria Christian Community on the north coast of England. 

For many years we did not follow any kind of liturgical flow, but the past few years of folding it in has really changed the tone and nature of our worship space, we find ourselves anchored in its depth and connection to a rich Christian history.  Dr. Clark reflects the same:  “Reciting together the Apostle’s Creed can function as an anchor in the storm of conflicting beliefs that swirl around and within me.  I am regularly moved by the experience of reading a liturgical prayer or confession where the voices of individuals, including my own, take on the univocal voice of a community.  In a world where we are used to hearing the sound of our own voice out loud or within an internal commentary, liturgy enables us to locate our voice in the midst of others, to find ourselves in the identity of others.” (81)  In this way, I think liturgy is a powerful antidote to the problems of consumerism and individualism.  We are not present to entertain one another, we are not seeking the avoidance of boredom, we are seeking the unification of our hearts around the risen Christ present with us gathered in the Spirit.  As well, liturgy is not about the pastor and his/her voice, it is about the voice of all the people.  I love having my teenage daughters present and listening to their voices amongst mine, this is family life together being ekklesia to one another and the world outside our doors.  I believe that the very rectitation of these words is where even those who have not yet experienced the Kingdom of God can find a kind of ‘prevenient grace’, as Wesley put it, where they find their hearts being wooed by the One who created them.  

Our church is called Ordinary Community Church.  From our onset, we were interested in finding Christ together in the midst of the mundane and ordinary.  Liturgy has been a way forward for us as we get in touch with a rich part of an ecclesial past.  “The overwhelming amount of time in the church calendar given over to the ordinary is a reminder that most of life is about being faithful in the mundane of everyday life.” (82)  This is the very place where we want to practice ‘monking in the real world’. 

Who are the Poor?

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A few years ago, early in the morning, I was taking a walk around my American middle class neighborhood and I just began praying for the homes and the doors that I passed.  Not thinking anything of it but just praying for blessing over the hearts and minds all who who dwelled within them.  At some point in my walking and my meditation, I heard the voice of the Spirit say, “Chris, your neighborhood is destitute”.  Now, I live dead middle in middle to upper middle class suburban America, nobody is starving, everyone has access to education and services . . . at first this didn’t make sense.  Later, I began to realize, poverty comes in many forms.  I was living in an impoverished suburbia.Who are the poor?  What is it exactly that justifies the label of “poor”?  How does one quantify poverty?  How do you help the poor?  Am I impoverished?  These are some of the compelling questions I got out of the first half of Bryant L. Myers “Walking with the Poor”. The author gives one of the most comprehensive and holistic treatments of redemptive community development, particularly amongst the poor that I have read.  He breaks down in technical terms what he calls “Principles and Practices of Transformational Development.”The author states that the causes of poverty are spiritual and fundamentally relational.  “Poverty is the absence of shalom and all its meaning.” (p. 86)  A person that does not know who they are in Christ, who they are in the image and possibility of God, has no hope and remains in impoverished thinking and acting.  Their detachments and entanglements perpetuate broken relationships, holism becomes unreachable.              “When the poor accept their marred identity and their distorted sense of vocation as normative and immutable, their poverty is complete.” (p. 76)  Poverty is a broken frame of mind and identity that affects all behavior fundamentally.  Certainly there are cultural and political factors as well of access and systemic evils, but the root of impoverished thinking starts internally before it is acted out externally.Those of us in the West tend to see the poor through our own lenses of reality (worldview).  “We view the poor from a point of view, in terms of our personality, and in terms of the culture from which we come”. (p. 58)  “Poverty is in the eye of the beholder.  We see what our worldview, education and training allow us to see.”  (81)  This is our blind-spot according to the author.  We walk into a ministry context to help the poor, but we bring our biases.  They must be poor and impoverished because they are not like us:  they don’t have access to things, education, opportunity, freedom etc.  We read into it that they need our kind of help and thus put ourselves in the power seat of being the Savior of their needs.  Our story and our blindspot interferes with the story that God may be wanting to write with the poor and leading them to a new kind of freedom in thinking and living.  We play God and can put them in dynamics of dependency.  Myers states that the “non-poor understand themselves as superior, neccesary and annointed to rule.”  That is a dangerous and sinful frame of mind.The most powerful idea I gleamed from the first part of this book is to see all of humanity as fundamentally broken due to the Fall of man and thus we all share in a kind of spiritual poverty.  We are the same, we are family in our impoverished hearts and minds, seeking the shalom of God.  The poor and the non poor are lacking, impoverished in different spaces.  When our stories come together, it should not be with one over the other, but as a family, at a round table, working out transformational development before and under the throne of God.So back to the impoverished suburbia.  Myers says that within western capitalism, we have lost our way.  “Capitalism reduces people to economic beings driven by utilitarian self-interest toward the goal of accumulating wealth. . . . In the latter years of the twentieth century, it is becoming clear that the modern world is discovering that it has lost its story.”(p. 22)  Where the intent of capitalism was not to acquire wealth as an end, but to access it as a means to support the general welfare.  “The poverty of the non-poor is fundamentally relational and caused by sin.  The result is a life full of things and short on meaning.  The non-poor simply believe in a different set of lies.” (90)    This is my impoverished suburbia, these are the poor I am called to serve and proclaim a different story to.   True meaning only comes from seeing yourself rooted in the story of God and His Kingdom.My prayer for our community is that we could look like this:  “A church full of life and love, working for the good of the community in which God has placed it, is the proper end of mission.  Transformational development that does not work toward such a church is neither sustainable nor Christian.” (39)peace,Marshall