I find it disturbing how much of Earl is familiar, not to mention Opal. My family will understand.
From the time that it was announced that First Alliance Church was planning a church plant in Jessamine County and I heard our designated church planter, Bryon Ethington, share his vision for Shadowland, I have been trying to capture that vision and put “flesh on the bones”, so to speak. It is not that I didn’t hear what Bryon was saying.
The vision is really simple…I’m praying for a group of believers who want to gather weekly together and can be the type of people that we want to invite other folks into relationship with. We have no agenda other than that. We trust the Spirit to lead each individual into mission.
Those words, and his continued elaborations struck a chord with me. The challenge was, and continues to be, understanding how the acceptance and integration of that vision would reimagine my view of church and daily living in a way that would bring me closer to Jesus. I would say that I have made progress in that quest, but the challenge remains. I believe, that challenge is not an obstacle to be conquered, but an adventurous journey that brings with it perils, pain, disappointments, encouragement, surprises, joys, hope, and love that all serve to strengthen my faith.
From the beginning, I have collected what I call, “Glimpses of Shadowland”. These are articles, quotes, thoughts, etc. that I think capture in someway the expressed vision for Shadowland. They have been helpful in at least two ways. 1) They often provide clarity or perhaps a different perspective that challenges my assumptions. 2) More often than not, I find them a source of encouragement as I realize that there are others on similar journeys, struggling and seeking to come closer to Jesus.
An example of a “glimpse” is a recent quote from a Richard Rohr blog post entitled “The Loss of Community”.
People want something more from church; they long for a spirituality that connects with their whole life, not just on Sunday morning. The very nature of our lifestyle and our church teaching must point to the goal: the communion of saints, a shared life together as one family, Trinitarian relationship, the “Reign of God.” Church is meant to be a place that nurtures and supports individuals along their journey toward this goal. Much of formal church has been unable to create any practical community. Yet today we see the emergence of new faith communities–many para-church structures–that seek to return to this foundational definition of church. They may not look like obvious “church,” but they exemplify the kinds of actual community that Jesus, Paul, and early Christians envisioned. People are gathering in neighborhood associations, collective gardens, social services, and volunteer groups to share resources, support each other, and nurture connection. They’re coming together, seeking creative ways of healing and whole-making. The invisible church might be doing this just as much, if not more, than the visible. The Holy Spirit is both humble and anonymous.
Two observations about Rohr’s words,
First, the sentence, “People want something more from church; they long for a spirituality that connects with their whole life, not just on Sunday morning.”, describes my own underlying motivation to join with others to plant Shadowland.
Secondly, I was drawn to his description of “new faith communities”, which, I felt, resonated with the vision for Shadowland. Reading that quote was reassuring and confirming that we are on the right path. For that reason, I quickly added it to my collection of “glimpses”.
I hope this glimpse will serve as reminder as well as an opportunity to evaluate the extent to which the Shadowland vision is shaping our lives.
It has become increasingly clear that I need to develop what I call a pre-departure check list. Apparently I have reached the stage of life where such measures are necessary. Truthfully, I would not have recognized the need except for my faithful, concerned, loving wife. Therefore, in the interest of avoiding embarrassment for her and other concerned relatives and friends I am adopting the checklist below. Please note, this is a living document. It will be revised and updated as required. Suggestions are welcomed.
- Fly zipped.
- Shoes/socks match.
- Nose crust removed.
- Check shirt/ pants for food / stains.
- Glasses cleaned.
- Bed head combed.
- Ear hair removed.
- Do clothes coordinate.
Your assistance is appreciated .
At worse, we give lip service to God’s presence, but then feel and act as it we were completely on our own. I think of church committee meetings, pastoral counseling sessions, or even spiritual direction meetings I have attended. They often begin with a sincere prayer, “God, be with us (as if God might be in attendance at another meeting) and guide our decisions and our actions.” Then at the end comes, “Amen,” and the door crashes shut on God-attentiveness. Now we have said our prayers and it is time to get down to business. The modern educator Parker Palmer calls this “functional atheism . . . the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me.”
Gerald G. May (via Pete Enns )
We might want to believe that, “There but for the grace of God go I,” but a more accurate telling of our behavior denies the graces which have made our lives possible even exist. We don’t think success is grace, we think success is us.
What might our world look like if more Christians recognized the role of grace rather than our illusions of enterprise? Perhaps we would ask what others needed rather than what others deserved. Maybe we’d concern ourselves with sharing the bounty of our table rather than the protection of our property. Perhaps our language would be seasoned with hopes of elevation rather than the rhetoric of condescension. Maybe when we considered what best promoted flourishing the answers wouldn’t always be haplessly regurgitated cliches about the work we thought we did.
Knowing we live by grace, our interactions should always be generous. Generosity of dollars, charity in our assumptions of other’s worth and work ethic, and kindness regarding the individual and corporate sins might become our hallmark. Judgment, it seems, is born from exalted self-evaluations. This is why Romans insists that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The New Testament argues that no one is “self-made.” “Every good and perfect gift comes from God.” Your life is a product of grace. And as John 15:5 teaches, “Without God, you can accomplish nothing.”
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.