We strive toward intimacy in anticipation of loss. If my father, now 88, were destined to live forever, and if I were destined to live forever, too, then our affection would be stripped of its poignancy and urgency. If my children were destined to stay indefinitely 6 and 8 years old, I wouldn’t cling to their childhood for its sweetness; nor would I endure its liabilities with the reassurance of imminent maturity. The cornerstone of optimism is the willingness to believe that the inevitable is desirable. There is no other fruitful point of view.
My age and circumstances (in Florida for two months) are fertile ground for more than usual opportunity to think about a variety of subjects. Despite the ubiquitous din of political rhetoric and inane commentary, two subjects have arisen which continue to stimulate and intrigue me.
The first subject is about the spirituality of aged Christians and how they fit into the church community. I have been thinking about this for a number of years but a recent blog post renewed my interest. “What About this Cutting Edge?” The post is worthy reading. The quote below concludes the article and asks some of the questions that I am wrestling with.
I know it’s now true that the Millennial generation has surpassed the BBs to become the largest living generation. I understand why the church is so concerned about ministering to them and including them in its life. But for heaven’s sake, there are about 75 million graying people out here too. And many of us are asking, “What does life with Jesus look like when I’m 65? 75? 85? older?” What does it mean to follow Jesus in the late autumn and winter of our lives? And why don’t churches seem to care?“
I plan to post some of my thoughts, material and resources that I encounter along the way.
The second subject has arisen as a result of our participation in a local church plant. The vision cast for our church plant community is in significant contrast to the mother church. Like any church plant, there is a concern as to whether or not it is succeeding or failing. Typically, success or failure is determined by stated or implicit metrics i.e. attendance, giving, conversions, ministries , etc. If the church plant is simply a replication of the mother church, such metrics can be helpful in measuring success or failure. However, when the vision of the church plant is unique, the usual metrics may not serve as well. The question I am pondering is, considering the vision of our church plant, what, if any, are the metrics we should use to measure our progress or lack there of? Similarly, I plan to post some thoughts and ideas on a regular basis.
In the midst of dire circumstances it is hard to maintain perspective. The current winter storm is an example of such an occasion. A post by the Internet Monk blog today helped to put this storm in perspective. I feel much better. (As matter of full disclosure, Im currently in Florida)
Great Blizzard of 1888. 40-50 inches of snow was dumped on NY, NJ, Mass, RI, Conn, killing over 400 people and causing $20 million in property damage.
Knickerbocker Storm, 1922. Named because the Knickerbocker Theatre in Wash DC collapsed, killing 98 people. The storm left 28-33 inches of snow on the ground.
Great Appalachian Storm 1950. This Thanksgiving storm dumped over 57 inches of snow on the U.S. and Canada, killing 350 people.
Storm of the Century 1993. It came as both a cyclone and a blizzard, and wreaked havoc from Cuba to Canada. As strong as a hurricane, covering an entire continent, the storm was responsible for 310 deaths and $6.6 billion in damage. However, it also marked the first time the National Weather Service had made a successful 5-day forecast warning of a storm’s severity.
Chicago Blizzard of 1967. This storm stranded over 800 CTA buses and 50,000 cars. The storm left 76 dead across the Midwest. Strangely, it occurred just days after the region had experienced 60º weather and tornado warnings.
Buffalo Blizzard of 1977. With wind gusts ranging from 46 to 69 mph and snowfall as high as 100 in, with winds blowing this into drifts of 30 to 40 ft, this storm solidified Buffalo’s reputation as the blizzard capital of the U.S. The storm was worse because Lake Erie froze and the high winds blew the snow on it onto land in addition to the snow that fell. That winter, Buffalo had a total snowfall measurement of 199.4 inches.
In the fall of 2015, Ann and I committed to join a local church plant initiated by our home church .. First Alliance. That church plant is Shadowland Community Church (SCC). From the beginning, the vision being cast for SCC has been a challenge because it did not fit the expectations of a typical church plant. When ever I come across some expression or idea that helps me to build a better understanding and/or image of what SCC is about, I save them to help build a resource for future reference and sharing.
This week a post by Richard entitled “A Progressive Vision of the Benedict Option: Part 6, The Limits of Liturgy and Becoming a Franciscan Community” contained a segment that I excerpted because I thought it captured some of the heart of SCC’s intent.
Franciscan baby steps for bourgeois American Christians.
Again, the impulse of the Franciscan community is to be an outward-looking community committed to a lifestyle of hospitality.
And if you make a study of some of the great modern practitioners of Christian hospitality, people like Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, they tell us that they were followers of the Little Way of Thérèse of Lisieux
When you hear the Little Way described it’s often described as a practice of self-mortification, of putting up with people when they frustrate and irritate us.
But that’s not how I see it. For my part, as I teach the Little Way, I see it as a practice of approaching people, moving toward people in love. As I explain it, the Little Way is a practice of welcome, embrace and hospitality.
For example, in the Story of a Soul an overriding theme in Thérèse’s descriptions of the Little way is that of approaching others with small expressions of warmth, welcome and kindness. Thérèse describes how the Sisters in her convent were variously popular or shunned. And having noted these distinctions–the socially rich versus the socially poor–Thérèse goes on to describe how the practice of the Little Way is a practice of hospitality, of welcoming the Sisters who were shunned and marginalized
The Little Way of hospitality is welcoming others, especially the most marginalized persons, with small acts of kindness and inclusion. As Thérèse wrote, “a word, an amiable smile, often suffice to make a sad soul bloom.”
Small things, yes, but hugely difficult to do. Imagine how your life would change if you started daily and intentionally seeking out the most difficult to love people in your life to welcome them with a bit of warmth and kindness. Think, even, of how you might practice the Little Way on social media with hard to love people!
The Little Way may be little but, in the words of Dorothy Day, it is a harsh and dreadful discipline.
And here is the critical point: the Little Way is a discipline of hospitality that anyone can do, anywhere and at anytime. Day job or not.
So that’s the first Franciscan baby step. Progressive Ben Ops will be communities that will place the practice the Little Way at the center of their lives, individually and collectively. Thérèse of Lisieux will become the patron saint of Ben Op spiritual formation.
Beyond the Little Way, another Franciscan baby step is simply to take a cue from St. Francis.
Share life with a leper colony.
And by a leper colony I mean find people in your local community who have been abandoned by the American Dream. Look around your city and adopt a place and community that has been abandoned by empire, a place where people are lost and lonely. Here are some ideas:
- A prison or jail
- A poor school
- A housing development
- A city mission
- A hospital
- A local laundromat
- A neighborhood or zip code
- An assisted-living facility
- A state school
- A senior-citizen home
- A local non-profit serving a marginalized group (e.g., refugees, domestic abuse victims, the homeless)
The list can be expanded and expanded. But the goal in each instance isn’t to create a program or ministry to “save” or “rescue” or even “help.” The goal, to take a cue from Samuel Wells (PDF), is simply to be there, to accompany, to share life there. To be sure, you will likely serve, help and work for people in all of these locations. But like the Franciscans and their leper colonies, the goal is simply for the church to share life in an abandoned nook of empire.
No one in the church has to sell their home or quit their job or live in voluntary poverty. But there will have to be some opting out of the American Dream, some sabbath as resistance, if we are to make margin in our lives to share life with others. Being with others mostly means simply showing up. Everyday. So the members of the church have to make margin for it. Sharing life in a leper colony, being with others in an abandoned outpost of the American Dream, isn’t a program or ministry. It’s a lifestyle the church takes on as her core identity.
You’ll know you’re heading in the right direction when there is absolutely no budget for this endeavor. When all you do as church is just show up for people. What William Stringfellow calls the sacrament of mere presence and Jean Vanier calls accompaniment. Being with those abandoned by the American Dream. You know you’re on the right track when the entire church is able to say, to a person, we live there. Everyday we are there–in that school, in that jail, in that cancer ward, in that mission, in that assisted-living facility, in that apartment complex–we are there, as a church, everyday.
We, all of us, our children and our elders, our clergy and our laity, our CEOs and our janitors, in one way or another, all of us, are there, everyday.
Being with. Sharing our life together.
Do this and God will do the rest.
This first day of 2016 arrives with bright sunshine and warm temperatures as we are in Englewood Florida. The end of 2015 came to an unexpected conclusion as I experienced a small stroke. I awoke early Wednesday with troubling symptoms. Ann and I drove to a local hospital emergency room and was treated and admitted to the hospital for one day being dismissed on New Year’s Eve afternoon. I am very fortunate that the stroke was small. The only obvious deficits I experienced were some minor facial sag and an inability to swallow. The latter was the most troubling but it has resolved almost completely on its own. A more significant result of the stroke is an implicit warning about my health status and the need to be more intentional as I grow older. The experience is an opportunity to assess how fortunate I am despite several troubling medical conditions. The man who shared my hospital room suffering from diabetes including amputations and kidney failure requiring dialysis and multiple other complications was a dramatic illustration of my own possibilities. I was disappointed at first to find I had to share the hospital room but I am now grateful for the opportunity.
Most obviously my new year’s resolution would be focused on health and fitness, et al. However, my resolve for 2016 is to be more keenly aware and appreciative of the realities of life and see the presence of God in all of His creation. If that can be achieved, even to a small degree, it will make 2016 a better year no matter what it brings.
My reading this morning from Richard Rohr’s devotional book , “Yes, And” ,contained an observation that clarifies for me the attraction of Facebook. It appeals to my “monkey mind”. Consider this quote:
“… “the monkey mind” … Just keeps jumping from observation to observation , distraction to distraction, feeling to feeling, commentary to commentary. Most of this mental action means very little and is actually the opposite of consciousness. In fact,it is unconsciousness. It is even foolish to call it “thinking” at all. Although educated people tend to think their self-referential commentaries are high-level thinking.”
I have been on an extended hiatus from blogging. I don’t fully understand why because there are lots of thoughts and experiences to write about. I still have a desire to document my Ford experiences. I suspect my absence from blogging is related to my continued transition into what Richard Rohr describes as the “second half”of life.
I am finding it harder to maintain a disciplined day to day routine. My life is being characterized more by discovery than determination. I am, in fact, enjoying the place where I am today. I think that an attitude of discovery is much healthier than one of determination, particularly when my resources to maintain a determined life style are diminishing. As far as I can tell, discovery can be sustained to the end. Perhaps control is a better description than determine.
Saying all of that, I am determined to blog more about the discoveries that come my way each day.
Pilgrimage is a metaphor for humility. Pilgrimage encourages us to let go of the need to have final certainty on how we understand the Bible and be less prone to put up walls of division, because we are more willing to discuss, explore, and change rather than proclaim, conquer, and defend.
The following excerpt from Richard Beck’s blog post today http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2014/08/eccentric-christianity-part-6-eccentric.html is a real eye opener for me. He reveals a truth concerning our churches that I have sensed but have been unable to define. I am convicted.
Success in America is to need nothing. To never need help. Your job in America is to be fine. Autonomous and self-sufficient. To be anything less–to need the help of others–is to be a failure. A drag on society. A loser.
This shaming is killing our churches as it shuts down the economy of love, the ways in which we share and respond to the needs of others and how they respond to our needs. The theologian Arthur McGill calls this economy of love a community of neediness.
But the flow of this economy shuts down if everyone in the church is neurotically shamed into hiding their needs from others. We all would rather play the hero, we all want to be the helper, the one who serves. But we don’t ever want to be the one being rescued, or the one needing help, or the one who is being served. Standing in that location–being the needy one among us–is very, very uncomfortable.
Churches tend to hide their fear of loving each other by serving strangers outside the community of faith. The church gives food at the food pantry. The youth group builds a house for a poor family on a mission trip. We send money overseas to the Third World.
Those people are the needy people. We’ll help them. But me? I’m fine. I’m good. No, I don’t need anything. Can I help you?
It’s not that those people at the food pantry or in the Third World don’t need anything. It’s that the church is responding to these needs in a state of denial. The church is denying its own need, weakness and vulnerability. Thus, the church comes to see itself as a hero, riding in on a white horse to save others. Since we don’t need anything from the people we are helping there is no reciprocity, no economy, no relationship, no giving and sharing back and forth.
We show up, do our good deeds and then pack up and leave. Why? Because we don’t need anything from those people. They need us. We don’t need them.
But we do need them. And we need each other.
I came across this quote from Brene Brown that I found helpful as I continue to wrestle with the question: “How does one find meaning and purpose in their old age?”
Brene’ Brown calls to our attention this important facet of our ordinary days. In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless.
I think I learned the most about the value of ordinary from interviewing men and women who have experienced tremendous loss such as the loss of a child, violence, genocide, and trauma. The memories that they held most sacred were the ordinary, everyday moments.
When we fail to cherish the ordinary we begin to waste our lives. Attentive to our aging face, our over-weight, our range of influence, and perpetual need for money are at least four thieves; each screaming from sunrise to sunset about lack.
These and others succeed only because we give them permission to abuse us at will. The solution is to be attentive to the power of the grateful moment.
We are not to be bugged because so many calls come in. We are to be thrilled we can still hear the phone ring.
We are not to fret because the kids eat us out of house and home. Overjoy hits because our kids are growing o consider and normal.
We are not to be dismayed because prices rise. We are to be grateful we have abundant selection.
We are not to be frustrated by the discover of illness. We are to lavish in the truth that the medical field did not shut down exploration twenty years ago.
We are not to be whining that there are not enough hours in the day. Rather, we are to praise God that we can drive the car all those places, pay the bills for all those in the family, and still find ourselves upright and energetic.
Decide. Decide to cherish the ordinary. Men, women, and children are suffering from a terrible (yet acceptable and unnoticed by the masses) disease called ingratitude for the simplest of gigantic blessings. Stop complaining, whining, and/or sighing. Treasure right now.