Autism is becoming an increasingly major US epidemic with little clues to cause nor cure. Here is an article on how medications are showing little to no effect on helping to be effective against the symptoms. The number of autistic children in the U.S. alone has risen from just 15,000 in 1992 to 365,000 cases in 2010. Friends, that is significant. My son, Zach, is 8 years old and was diagnosed on the autism spectrum around the time he was 2. We have been fortunate, we got early intervention and the school district we live in had resources to help us with some special needs resources and he has flourished in those. He is healthy, he is happy, he loves his sisters, he learns about the world by observing and copying others, he can be affectionate, he is intelligent but every once in a while we see how his issues show themselves and we wonder what his future will be like in the real world. I had a bad dream a few nights ago that Zach was raised in a home that was full of conflict, he was neglected and without nurture for his heart or his issues. The look on his face was soul crushing to me. It was as if the “real world” had stolen his joy, his smile and his boyish energy. He looked hard, angry, agitated and broken. I wonder out loud if the purpose of that dream is to increase my awareness of what other kids and families are going through without the resources we have been blessed with. It is a hard road of atypical challenges, judgments from others when your kid is acting out in public, yearning for normalcy that will never happen, loneliness when your child can’t handle your nurturing touch and isolation when your child cannot speak the words and phrases they are thinking. As a parent you desire connection with your child, but it’s painful when that child down deep may want that too, but physiologically they cannot execute it in the real world. What is the future of autism in the US? I am not a medical doctor, researcher nor scientist so I can’t speak to that end. But what I am is an architect of community. Your autistic child needs community, needs people that will love them unconditionally and long for their future. They need a tribe of belonging that defines their normalcy, not a world of false hopes and aspirations. Patience is the key to working at unlocking the intelligence that is pent up within them, they need a community that is comitted to long-suffering. The hope for proper nurturing is community, not isolation. The rugged individualism of the western hemisphere, particularly in the US, is a fool’s gold, it’s an empty void of logic. Needing each other is not weakness, it’s a tribal strength. Our future is bright in authentic community, the future of autism is depending on it.
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
After Christmas this year, my wife and I went on a bit of a spending excursion and bought a TV and electric fireplace hearth for our family room, which is also the space where our worshipping community gathers. Our house is not equipped with a chimney, so this faux attempt is the best we can do. But it is the thought that counts, it brings a new kind of warmth to our space. Not just literally, but also aescetically. It does not look like the one above, something manly and Celtic like that would be in my dream house I’ll never have 😉 . But still, it’s the intent that is there. A hearth in a home breeds warmth. It is intended be sat near and gathered around. Having our house church community gather last night in our home filled the space with laughter, love, friendship, hope, joy, strength . . . everything our culture doesn’t sell. It is here to be found but it can’t be bought. I have long believed that church as intentionally small communities can act as the cabin in the woods, offering warmth and relief to sojourners trying to find their way. There is a warmth to the presence of community. Warmth breeds hope and strength for new beginnings and long suffering. In community we offer this hope to one another. Around the hearth you can find depth in friendship that is the antidote the world’s trivial pursuits.
“A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body. ” – Benjamin Franklin
I had a chance to attend the 3rd installment of “Formed“ this past Saturday at Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship and the topic for this month was Community. Mark Van Steenwyk from Missio Dei in Minnieapolis was sharing his story of community with us. There was a phrase he used as he was talking that just jumped out to me as both true and a bit painful. He said in terms of our American living:
“We stay in to watch and we go out to spend.”
I would have let this pass without a note if it wasn’t so true. In that statement he adequately unveiled 2 of the greatest sicknesses of American life: Consumerism and Individualism. Our culture teaches us that the reasons you go out is to consume and to spend. We spend on things that we hope will give us meaning, most of the time we remain unhappy. The slick marketing campaigns of billion dollar businesses caress our ears with the message that if we buy what they are selling, we will find the happiness we are looking for. Of course it’s a lie, but yet we have an engaging appetite to consume and try again. It defines our “going out”. When we stay in, we can tend to organize our lives, evenings and weekends around the tube or the telly (I like to call it telly). The drama, the celebrity, the sport, the action . . . they are there to give us entertainiment in our leisure. If we are not careful, they can become the very story we live our lives around. And it’s unending, one season rolls into the next and rolls into sweeps week with cliff-hangers and to-be-continued til next season if only we will hold our breath in anticipation. The media we watch at home can dictate to us how to arrange our time based on our consumption of their drama. Years ago, I stopped watching the news. Rather now, I read it online in print and have RSS feeds to local papers. That way I’m informed, but I was tired of the news dictating to me what I should fear and what I should care about. They don’t care about me nor my family, they just care about my viewership. I say all of this not to prohibit spending or watching. Both are a part of our culture that we live in and can be healthy alternatives to life as usual. But they are not meaningful, if you are looking for life in things that are dead, you will find yourself perpetually empty. I would suggest that the Story that gives meaning is authentic community. Finding the definition of who you are not by what you buy or what you watch, but based on who you belong to. When you find that kind of belonging, it’s permanent. It doesn’t wane with sweeps week or spike during seasonal sales. It remains true, constant, the kind of story you can build your life around. How do you find that kind of community? Our culture doesn’t sell it, our culture doesn’t produce it, I think it’s found in a spiritual quest. Something that cries out much deeper in us than a yearning to consume or be entertained, it’s a primal search for meaning. I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes in my reflections about Community as Story:
- “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. ” – Jane Howard
Last weekend I attended the 2nd module of Formed, a 12 part novitiate curriculum of spiritual formation led by a group of friends. This month’s module was on the topic of “Simplicity: Antidote to Consumerism” and the conversation was led by Will Samson.Will Samson was the right thinker/speaker for this conference conversation with practitioners on the value of Simplicity in a world of consumerism. His background in Sociology and Theology was crucial to give this topic the depth and reflection it deserved. He first analyzed the macro-issues of consumerism before he drilled down into the practical living out of simple community in today’s American culture.Samson laid out that our culture seeks for contentment in the consumption of things. If we can acquire more “stuff” then that will lead to happiness. However, instead of happiness, many Americans have only found overwhelming debt. The over-arching response has been similar thinking from the government to the individual household; to get out of debt we must spend our way out. This results in a spiraling down emotionally, the more we spend, the more depressed we are. We live in a culture of mindless consumption; the desire for more is something we’re taught as “economic actors”.In my opinion, Samson’s most profound point was in our culture’s narrative of “away”. We throw things away like it goes to a magical place and we don’t consciously know how that happens physically. We are completed disconnected from our waste, we are disconnected from how food gets to us, we are disconnected from how money is made etc. This narrative of “away” has perpetuated conspicuous consumption, debt and the obesity factors that come with the unhealthy eating of processed foods. He describes that what we are doing is completely unsustainable and that the problems we face cannot be saved at the same level of thinking that created them.How do we practically move forward and do something about our mindless consumption? One way he suggests is the biblical value of serving one another, it is the alternative to consumerism. To serve one another means that we make sure there is enough for all, that the community needs are met. Samson suggests that being radical is simply just getting back to the roots of what it means to be human. He proposes we can engage in at least five different, simple modalities to do something about it:
- Make something
- Trade something
- Grow something
- Slow down
- Eat together
Simple enough, thanks Will.
This is from today’s Aidan reading in Celtic Daily Prayer – In Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, Owl is instructing Pooh Bear to follow the customary procedure:
“What does Crustimoney Proseedcake mean?’ said Pooh. “For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me.” “It means the Thing to Do.” (Owl) “As long as it means that, I don’t mind”, said Pooh humbly.
I wish I sometimes didn’t mind the thing to do. Often we fight against the right thing to do, the customary procedure and find ourselves not where we wish we could be. I think life works best with a kind of rythymn. A set procedures brings order to a rather disorderly world. We can use intentional practices to build in formation of our life around the values and principles that we desire for it to be about. Friday night house church is one of those ryhymns in my life. When I am driving home from work on Friday evening, I am driving to a gathering of spiritual community in my home. There will be laughter, sometimes tears, instruction from the ancient Scriptures, stories told, life shared, meals passed, communion taken, worship given and fellowship until we just can’t take anymore. It is a part of my customary procedure and I couldn’t live without it. And for the other things, that I have yet found good customary procedure for, in the words of Pooh: “o bother”. peace,Marshall
I was really struck by something Martyn Percy, from Rippon College in Oxforshire, England said last week. He made this statement in his lecture on Practical Theology:
“Humor has a role to play in the mood of a congregation.”
A simple statement but it had me deeply reflecting on the role humor and laughter has played in the past 10 years of Ordinary Community. I can say honestly, it’s been one of our bedrock foundations. Any time the people are gathered, there will be much laughter, even in the midst of suffering. What a gift that is. Laughter is so therapeutic and basic to our experience of being human. Studies show that developmentally, children laugh far before they learn to speak. The expression of joy is a part of our design, we were made to laugh.As well, laughter plays a huge role in the forming of deep and intimate community relationships. Dr. Jeanne Segal, who has done extensive research on this came to these conclusions:
The social benefits of humor and laughterHumor and playful communication strengthen our relationships by triggering positive feelings and fostering emotional connection. When we laugh with one another, a positive bond is created. This bond acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment.Laughing with others is more powerful than laughing aloneShared laughter is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds, but sharing laughter and play adds joy, vitality, and resilience. And humor is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter unites people during difficult times.
Joy defines us as the people of God. Happiness is fleeting, it largely depends on our circumstances. But joy is unmoving, it is rooted in the things that never change. It is rooted in our commitment to one another and our security of living a life in a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. We will suffer, of that you can be sure, but we never suffer alone . . . and in that there is joy.
10 He continued, “Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!” – Nehemiah 8:10 The Message
Check out this USA Today article
With Google Buzz coming out this week, there is a real rush towards more forms of social netoworking online and how to streamline it all into one place. I certainly get what Google is trying to do. I am at the shallow side of this reality and I have these accounts: blog, facebook, twitter, tweetdeck, IM, digby, linked in, classmates.com, google, yahoo, zoomtown, cbssportsline, paypal etc. etc. etc. This article raises some interesting questions. What kind of “friendships” am I actually creating with these connections? How much time am I losing in downtime to keep these connections updated? It gets even more scary when you think about Generation Y and the generation after them that have been raised on these “virtual” connections and constant need for immediacy. If this is their only language for relationship, how equipped are they for the real world? There is certainly a place for these kinds of connections, but at what dosage and at what price? Questions I’m asking myself today. With the new facebook design acting so quirky, perhaps I should worry less about status updates of “friends” and read an actual book. GASP! I just might.I pray, regardless of the tools, that we seek relationships that have depth, character and perseverance. These are the building blocks of true community.peace,marshall
What do you do when you get that antagonizing voice in your head that says to cash it in, give up, walk away, stop trying . . . just quit? I mean what can you really know about yourself until you’ve come to this place over and over again? What is your response? Do you dig in? fight back? bail? primal scream? find a quiet place? talk it out? walk it out? run it out? pray it out? or give in to its sultry voice?I suppose there are times it depends on your context and the externals in your life. I suppose as well it has a lot to do with your make-up and your upbringing. Down deep in us are natural and learned responses for most any situation. But when your back is against the wall and every button in your patience is pushed, well, those kind of times reveal quite a bit about your moxie.I’ve long been a lover of the movie, Fight Club, for its insight into cultural philosophies and its complete undressing of the empty notions of consumerism. It’s not cute or clean, but it is real. Here’s the classic quote from the main character-
Tyler Durden: Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God —- it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy (stuff) we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
When you are faced with these struggles within you, that tell you to settle, give in, stop pursuing, stop caring . . . do you give up or kick it in? You really don’t know that about yourself until you find yourself there. Tyler Durden later says, “How much can you know about yourself until you’ve been in a fight?” There are no letter grades for this class, it’s pass/fail. The voice to give-up is a bully, how do you face your bully?I’m at this sort of place this night and I’m hearing these kind of voices. Well, I don’t like being bullied. I don’t trust outside voices that tell me who I am or where I’m going. I listen to the voice of the One who made me and the community of voices I belong to.As to the voice that says to give-up, well, I feel like fighting back.peace,marshall
Tonight, being snowed in, watched Dancing with Wolves with the wife and eldest daughter. It was actually the movie my wife and I saw on our first date so always will have sentimental value to me. I love movies set in historical contexts, I love the time of the Civil War and I’m a sucker for Tatonka.But there is certainly more to see in this movie. The community of the Sioux. Not to romanticize too much, the life then was incredibly harsh and barbaric at times. But the in-between times. A community built around proximity to one another, shared possessions, gathering of resources, each one playing a part, receiving meaningful names that marked one’s life. Most importantly in my eyes, seeing one’s identity not as a me but as a we. There wasn’t such a thing as a glorified individual, it was about the tribe. They had individual meaning as they lived in their belongingness to one another.There was a Ruth moment towards the end where “Stands with a fist” tells her husband “Dances with wolves” that her way is with him. Wherever he goes, is where she is to go. It wasn’t about keeping up with Jones’, it wasn’t about the seeking of trivial pursuits, it was about her belongingness to him and him to her. It wasn’t about an american dream of health and wealth, they knew none of that was a gurantee, they gave up control of those things. It was about something more primary, that their path may lead anywhere, but it will be traveled together. We as spouses need to say these kinds of words more to one another. Give one another assurance like my wife gave me on our wedding day in her vows, “when the tough times come, I’m not going anywhere”. (and she’s lived it) Say the words of assurance and meaning, and then enjoy the bonds of matrimony all over again.But the scene that rips me up is at the end when Dances with Wolves has to leave the tribe because he is a threat to them being hunted by the white men. “Wind in his hair”, who reluctantly became a warrior brother to Dances with Wolves , bares his soul on the mountaintop. With his heart breaking and a lonely farewell, he exclaims 1) who he is: I am Wind in his hair 2) who his friend is: you are Dances with Wolves 3) the cry of his heart: “can’t you see that you are my friend?” His primal scream releases this emotion over and over with powerful words of confirmation and affirmation.When was the last time you knew who you were? When was the last time you knew whose you were? These are the primary questions of community and hear me very clear on this next point, OUR CULTURE SUCKS AT IT! This world sells a bag of lies and fools gold. You will find yourself washed up on the shore over and over again wondering why the waves of life have such a profound affect on you. There is no life in things that are dead. The american dream is folly, consumerism is hollow, the false idols of pop culture will not satisfy your deepest longings. Over and over, you will find yourself thirsting for more.So what’s the answer if the world won’t give us the goods? Simple, we rebel and make it ourself in partnership with the One who created it all. A God who is by very nature community: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Begin by being redefined not as what you do, where you live, what you’ve done, what you look like or what you have. Radically redefine yourself as one loved by God. And don’t move from that place until you’re convinced it’s true. Once you come to hold that belief, it becomes a belief that holds onto you. Just try and shake it, its a virus that runs deep in your soul. Then what? well, then you’re a virus carrier, go infect with words and actions of life and truth. In a world of loneliness, offer belonging. Speak the words of intimacy and belonging to one another, it’s a good place to start. I find that many of the answers to our future, are found in the communities of our past.Stop and notice the Kingdom around you,marshall