What happened to the disciplines, pt. 3

Last month we closed out by saying, Jesus best exemplafied THE human life, a life that flows out of the heart of God’s love, mercy, righteousness, holiness, and justice.  We referenced, Philippians 2:5-8 as a way to show what this life looked like.  We saw, through this text, that God’s idea of a humanity that images him to the world around us, through the life of Jesus, was a humanity lived out in:

Allow me to dive into each of these functions personified in the work and person of Jesus, if for nothing else, for the sake of definition, and then we will return to the original purpose of this blog series:

  • Service by means of emptying – The idea of emptying found in Philippians 2:5-8 is not so much the idea of “emptying of” only, but rather the idea of being “emptied of in order to be emptied into” – or emptying of and out of and from one set of properties into another.  It’s the same idea found in 2 Corinthians 2:8-9, where Paul tells us that Jesus emptied himself of his richness and into poverty for the good of the other.  Hebrews 2:17 takes this so far as to insinuate that the mercy and empathy of God was brought to its depth and fullness because of Christ’s emptying into the other.  Then in Matthew 20:28, the evangelists will go as far as saying that this is not just one of the reasons Jesus came, but the reason.  We all want to be full of gratitude for the very fact that Jesus did this for us, but if we jump back up to our Philippians text, we see that the proof of our gratitude is shown as we “have this mind among” us… meaning, our gratitude for Christ’s service by means of emptying, should be shown in lives of service by means of emptying.   Here’s the deal, this sort of life seems daunting if not impossible, which is why I believe we can’t jump from being selfish demons to self-emptying saints in a moments notice, but rather we need practices in our lives that help shape us into this sort of person.
  • Incarnation, guided and informed by grace and truth…- Christ’s ontology among us was balanced, it did not weigh more to one side or the other, in fact it was informed and guided by two elements which seem to be in opposition to each other in our world. In the life of Christ, they not only complimented each other, they were weaved together so tightly that one could not exist without the other in his being and thus in his function as a human.  Three words that drive the depth of this home:
    • Full – which means to be permeated with, covered in every part, as if there was no room for anything else.  I think of my ruck sack that I recently packed for Haiti. I packed it so tight with clothes and books, there was no room for other substances within the bag, it was bursting at the seems with these two items there was no room for anything else – the person of Jesus, the servant Jesus (to use our Philippians text) was packed full of grace and truth – there was no room for selfish ambition, bigotry, lust, or any other disposition – and it was this grace and truth that caused him to weep over Jerusalem in compassion, caused him to drive out the money changers in the temple fueled by justice, drove him into times of solitude with his Father, and made him obedient to the point of death…he was full of it, and his person had no room for anything else that would shape his humanity into any sort of distortion of being the true human.
    • Truth – often times in our minds truth is a set of propositional facts, something that is one-dimensional, and can be memorized and regurgitated by almost anyone without much cost to us.  But Jesus’ truth cost him, it cost him his life, a truth that shaped his personhood, a truth that was the product, not of memorized facts, but a relationship with his Father, a dialogical truth, shaped in the fire of a love relationship between him, the Father, and the Spirit – truth as person, truth with texture, truth with depth, truth at a cost.  This is why Jesus will later tell us that truth is not a system of facts we must memorize, but truth is a person that we must engage, and this engagement will ultimately shape the truth we know, because of the truth that knows us at a soul level.
    • Grace – that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness, good-will, loving-kindness, favour – I’m not going to expound on this one, but at the end of the day, I don’t know about you, but I can tell you my existence toward others cannot be defined by this idea of grace – but it should be.  Again, this sort of life “packed-full” of grace and truth is not something we can just “do” we must be formed into it, we need disciplines that help us identify the other junk in our suit case that is taking up space that should only be reserved for grace and truth.
  • Obedience shaped by submission and suffering – suffering – it seems almost selfish that I have any sort of right to this word.  I’ve traveled the world, and I’ve seen suffering, I’ve touched it, smelled, and wept over it, but suffering like that I have never experienced.  Again, not to belittle the word, but being that I am a melancholy introvert I have wrestled with a suffering soul and mind, I have had a few times, not many, where true heart ache was my reality.  But I can not claim ownership of the word suffering like many of my friends across the world can – those who have suffered far reaching loss, war, extreme poverty, and oppression.  I have not had to suffer, as some of my other friends have, sexual, physical, or mental abuse.  I’ve not suffered the loss of a parent, spouse, child, or sibling – so I am, in no way, assuming I have the corner on understanding suffering.  All that said, scripture talks about suffering at many levels – it talks about a kind of suffering that Jesus experienced, due to his willingness to embrace the suffering of others through relationship and community which lead to an empathy that very few of us know.  Scripture talks about a kind of suffering that is the result of denying and killing your sinful will, sinful dispositions, and sinful desires that we feel are part of our very personhood – to rip these out of our hearts through obedience causes the soul to suffer, but like a phoenix, our person rises anew in a new way.  Jesus experienced both of these sufferings that resulted in his obedience, and Paul calls us to willfully enter this sort of suffering, which is very opposed to our western ways of overmedicating ourselves with entertainment, consumerism, and the like, in order to avoid suffering that is due to embracing the suffering of others (true empathy) and the denial of the will.  Again, this is why we need practices and disciplines, because I simply love my own will too much, and find comfort in ignoring or being ignorant of the plight of the other.

 Now back to the original summed up question that launched this blog series, “what sort of practices shape a Godward humanity?”  If we don’t have practices that form us, not unlike a lump of clay being formed into a beautiful vessel, we end up trying to force this sort of humanity on ourselves and end up at best in a state of burnout, rather than these being the natural outflowing of one who is fully and deeply enjoying Jesus.   So, what are these disciplines or practices?  I think they can be narrowed down to the following four categories:

  • Contemplative Practices (slow and focused)…
  • Communal Practice..
  • Environmental Practices…
  • Servant Practices…​

 but this for another blog…until next month

​for those following this blog… I am moving it!  Click HERE to go to the new blog site:

What happened to the disciplines, pt. 2?

We ended last month’s blog simply proposing an alternative to the enlightment thought of, “I think therefore I am” with a more existential view of humanity, “I am what I love” – or we as beings are more than just cognitive, after all, we all know things to be true that the mind can’t comprehend nor explain.  This ides, we proposed should be followed by two sub-ideologies:

  • “discipline/practices shape and direct my affections”
  • “the direction of my affections shape my belief and personhood”.

This idea leaves us asking, “if intentional practices prove what I believe to be vital and necessary to the creating and deepening of my whole person, then what do my daily intentional practices prove my values and beliefs to be about my humanity?”  To put this in statement form, would be to say, “my current daily rhythms and practices prove my values and beliefs more than my verbal affirmations.”

When this sort of self-audit is performed, often times we are left realizing that what we truly believe and value is contrary to our verbal confession.  For example, while we may verbally confess Jesus to be Lord, often times our practices and rhythms prove otherwise – they prove that culture, self, promotion, platform, perception, money, spouse, job, etc are truly Lord of my life, and Jesus is a token that helps me justify my current self-centered life by using spiritual verbiage – in other words, many of us, while we verbally confess Christ as savior, are instead functional pagans, bowing our knee to any altar that satisfies our selfish desires and brings glory to self.  What ever my affections are pointed toward will always play out in daily rhythms and practices.

So, if our goal is to be the type of whole person who is ontologically Godward, then functionally we would be the type of person who has in place practices and rhythms that support, create, strengthens, and deepens God’s ideas of my humanity – a Godward human.  So we are left with a simple question: “what is God’s idea of my humanity?” Once answered, this leads to a follow up question, “what practices, disciplines, and rhythms help solidify, deepen, and form me into that type of human?”

God’s idea of humanity:  The most encompassing description of humanity comes in the first few chapters of Genesis – here we are described as the very image of God himself – in other words, being the image of God is normative to our humanity.  Another way to say this, would be to say we are most fully human when we are most clearly imaging God.    We have a couple options to determine what the image of God most clearly looks like in human form:

  • Option 1 – we begin to go through all of scripture and sort out all the actions, characteristics and dispositions that are attributed to God and then divide those up into divine actions that cannot be portrayed in a human and principles, actions, dispositions, and characteristics that could be seen and attributed to realm of mortality…or…
  • Option 2 – we simply find a human that already and most perfectly images God, which we find in Jesus.

The next step would be to find a good summation of how Jesus’ lived and functioned as the very human who was the image of God.  In my opinion, I realize there are MANY passages that do us this favor, define and summarize Jesus’ functional humanity, but one of my favorites is found in the book of Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5-8.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who thought he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  and being found in human form, he hubmled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…

I believe here, we see a few things – we see a functioning life that flows out of the heart of God’s love, mercy, righteousness, holiness, and justice, and we see Jesus living in a way that best reflects the very essence of God’s idea of a humanity that images him to the world around him:

This blog is a bit too lengthy as it is, so we’ll spend the next blog or so defining what this might mean in our daily lives, and then we’ll finally dig into the practices, rhythms, and disciplines…

What has happened to the disciplines?

What happened to the disciplines?  Let me start over.

Martin Luther, the Reformer said, “Is it not wonderful news to believe that salvation lies outside of ourselves?”

I agree with this statement without having to add any sort of qualifier to it.  I also believe, that according to Ephesians 2:8-9, that God does not gift us with his grace to add to our faith (synergism).  Rather I believe Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches clearly that both grace and faith are the free gift that is given to us based off of nothing we do – meaning we do not deserve, nor can we earn it – they are both a gift from God.  I simply believe that salvation is too deep, rich, precious and mysterious to be trusted to the will and choice of humanity.  We are too broken.  History shows we will make the wrong choice more times than not.  Our affections are turned in way more than we want to believe.

So, just before you lump me into a particular camp, know that I believe no truer statement has been said about the whole salvation, time, choice argument than when C.S. Lewis said, “You cannot fully understand the relations of choices and time till you are beyond both.

So, why all this explanation?  Simple, I want to write about the loss of and hopefully the need for the disciplines.  It is quite possible, that one will read my rant on the absence and need for the disciplines, and write this post off as an ideology of synergism – nothing could be further from the truth, and I wanted to attempt to capture my thoughts on that before I go on.

So, now to my initial statement, “what happened to the disciplines?”  Why are the least talked about disciplines in the church world, service (justice/mercy), daily prayer and daily scripture reading/meditating/contemplation?  Why are they non-apologetically lumped into the “if I have time” or “I didn’t have time category”?  Why, and I have heard this by ‘great’ minds, are these disciplines being written off as “a focus on works” or even worse being written off because one can point to a time in history when the church did focus on daily disciplines of prayer and scripture and they produced pharisees or focused on service and it created liberals with a watered down theology.  Is this not like writing off food because it has made a generation obese?  Is this not like taking the idea of say, breathing, and moving it from the ‘necessary’ category into the ‘if I have time’ category?

I think therefore I am” – enlightenment ideology.  Man is no more than a thinking being with a body.  This has also been deduced to carrying with it two other, seemingly logical thoughts – “I see therefore I believe” and “that which I believe must be seen (proven)” – yes, this has seeped into the church, think of our lust for quantifying everything we do.  This is the reduction of humanity, the reduction of values, and therefore the reduction of disciplines.  In other words, what I believe about the ontology of man, produces a set of values about that belief, and plays out in disciplines/practices (or lack of).  Those disciplines and practices that sustain those values, and thus sustains (even creates) my vision of humanity.  The problem with this sort of ideology, is not so much its lack of truth, rather its lack of completeness – it reduces man to the cognitive and material only, to what can be seen, and leads to the neglect of all else – spirit, soul, mind, emotions, etc – the intangible.  In fact, we have become so submitted to the cognitive and material, that we seem to readily neglect and write off that which is beyond us as unimportant, silly, or devaluing.  A dangerous cycle begins, when we neglect that which is beyond us, that which thrives in the realm of imagination and soul – we are reduced to becoming surface creates, whose thinking becomes limited and shallower with time.  When we start with the cognitive and material, we are forced into shallowness, because we neglect that which moves and motivates and informs the mind and will – the affections.  The affections are the offspring of the imagination and the soul dancing together.  Please hear, me, when I say imagination, I don’t mean fairy tails, I mean the deeper imagination, the things that we know to be true that we can neither see, prove, or touch, the affections of the heart that are not willed, but move the will and mind. We have forgotten that we are not primarily creates limited to the cognitive and material, but, to use the words of James Smith, we are liturgical animals in need of disciplines to help shape and direct our affections, which will, in the end shape our whole being

How did this happen?  As we moved from the 15th-16th century into the 18th-19th centuries we had two competing ideologies going head to head: renaissance ideology, which was resurrecting the human creativity and beauty lost during medieval times.  The renaissance sought to journey back to the creativity of the Romans and Greeks, capture the ideas and bring them into the 18/19th centuries.  The focus was on man as ultimate, man as hero, man as good, man as beautiful, man as responsible, and a focus on a, sort of two realm (separate and distinct) universe of life – or a very platonic philosophy, except with a focus on the cognitive and material as better than.  Then there as reformation ideology, while the basis of this was, the idea of God reclaiming the world, much of this became so distorted due to its reaction to and against renaissance ideology.  This reaction jumped to the other end of the spectrum so that the participation of man was voided out. In other words we were merely puppets and pawns to God’s schemes.  So, due to the voiding out of human participation by reactionary reformers, many leading thinkers of the enlightenment were driven to take renaissance ideology and put even more focus on man, after all, this is much more attractive than reducing man to puppets and pawns.  What we ended up with was the idea that it was man’s job to build the stairway to heaven, and when we arrive at the gates of heaven, if God is there, then great, if not, oh well, we didn’t need him anyway.  What am I saying?  I am suggesting that when we begin to focus more on “earthly things” or “things that are seen”, the cognitive and material, that which can be controlled and quantified by man, to the neglect of the soul and the non-cognitive, we begin to journey away from the completeness of our humanity.  Due to this incomplete view of man, our energy and discipline is only used to develop the cognitive and material realm of ourselves, while the soul of who we are starves.

What we need to understand is that the wholeness of the human being is made up of the affective (non-cognitive – cares, concerns, motivations, and desires); cognitive (ideas and beliefs); and physical (practices, bodily, and material).  When we believe our identity to be located and shaped primarily by the realm of the cognitive and material, we reduce our lives to be based on what can be proven, known through empirical evidence, or deduced and rationalized from knowledge that is, at the end of the day, extremely limited.  However, when one’s identity is to be located in and shaped by the affective, we do not lose the cognitive, rather we displace our fixation on it, because one knows that even knowledge (at a macro level) and belief is situated and informed by desire and love (the affections).

The ideology that posits “I think therefore I am” is not only sabotaging the church, it is is sabotaging our humanity.  The truth is, “I am what I love” and may I add to that two sub-ideologies:  “discipline/practices shape and direct my affections” and “the shape of my affections shape my belief and personhood”.  The question that we are left with is, “if intentional practices prove what I believe to be vital and necessary to the creating and deepening of my whole person, then what do my daily intentional practices prove my values and beliefs to be about my humanity?”

If this self-audit proves, contrary to my verbal confession (that Christ is Lord of my life), that my lowest priority is that of being being fully Christian (a peculiar, holy, Godward, ‘humanward’ person) – in other words, proves that my affections are pointed toward that which is other than God and his will, then what daily intentional practices should I have in place to help re-direct and shape my affections Godward.  There is another question we must answer first – if my goal is to be the type of whole person that has in place practices that are Godward and are thus deepening and strengthening God’s ideas of my humanity, I have to ask, “what is God’s idea of my humanity?”  I’ll attempt to get into these in the next couple of blogs…

Community, pt. 4 – Be You

This will be the last blog on community before we bring them all together into one blog and this may be the shortest of the four.  I think the statement I am most envious of, that I seem to hear every week is, “vocationally, you have to figure out how to only do one thing, and do it well” or something like, “if you don’t learn to do only one thing well, you will be average at several things“, and to be honest, neither of those are the most encouraging thought to those of us who seem to wear many hats.  However, I think I am coming to a new understanding or a new idea of what it means to wear “one hat –  even if you have to wear that one hat in many settings – then again, maybe I’m wrong, and maybe I’m trying to simply justify doing too many things.   But for now, I think there is something to this, and this is where this has come from:

A couple months ago while in Chicago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, Jacob Vanhorn.  One of the questions I asked him was, “in a world like ours, where you have many different things pulling at you, how do you successfully become a master at the one or two things as opposed to be a manager of the many things?”  His response was brilliant.  He said, “sometimes the goal is not so much ‘doing less things or taking less ventures’ but rather having the knowledge of who you are (what type of leader you are), and then knowing what role you should play in the new venture or in your current roles based on who you are…In other words, being able to answer, ‘how am I still being this person in this endeavor?’.  When you can no longer identify who you are in what you are doing, then you have either tried to control it too much, micro-manage it too much, or are drowning in the project because you are trying to be someone you are not.  If that’s the case you need to let go of it and hand it off to someone who can lead it better in the next stage which requires a different sort of leader, and let them truly lead.” Yes, that made so much sense to me, and I immediately began to look over the many different things I do that were weighing me down, and I could see, how that in those very things that used to bring me joy but now burdened me, I was no longer being me, I was being someone else.

I think this is also true with community renewal, community living, and community development as well.  We not only rob the community we are in from the gift of who we are, but we rob others from playing the role they were meant to play when refuse to only play “one part”, the part of who we are.

For the longest time I have thought, “I hate being boxed in by what I do” and I do, but I don’t so much mind being boxed in by who I am – I am who I am, and that is the role I was created to play in community.  You are who you are and that is who you were created to play in community A QWLL.  What comes to mind is Paul’s explanation of the parts of the body, or the church in both 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12.  The truth is, we actually work against the potential of a community when we try to be more than or different than who we are.  It is easy to look toward someone who may be a bit more charismatic in nature, outgoing, multi-tasker, or what have you and think, “I wish I could be them” – the end result is your frustration and the frustration of the whole community.   In fact, let me take this to another level – I think one of the best thing or most productive things leaders can do in communities, is to help people become the best them they can be, not the best reflection of us we would like them to be…when we do this, we help them find fulfillment and become a gift to the community; but when we put the weight of “us” on them, we burden them and make the community miss out on what they could have offered.

I think this may be one of the most overlooked aspects of community development, community living, and community renewal – we usually go straight to “what needs to be done” aspect and I really think we need to start with “who we are” or “who have we been created to be” – and I think we will be a lot more effective this way.

Community, pt. 3 – Where You Already Are

For those who are just now checking in to the community-focused blog, you are catching us in the middle of things.  So if you would like to catch up with us, you can read Part 1, by clicking HERE and Part 2, by clicking HERE. There are two things I said in the last blog, which will seem to make more sense in this one:

  1. each of these community blogs are part of a whole, not independent in themselves – the reason this is important, is because this one blog will seem to not be so congruent with the last two if you’ve read the last two under the premise or assumption that community development is something that can only be done by relocating to live among the poor.
  2. next month (which is this month) we’ll discuss living deeply where you already are – while I absolutely believe that God calls some to ‘relocate‘ in order to live among, to be ‘sent’, and to do community development among the poor and at-risk communities, I do not believe that this is God’s call on everyone.

before I go into this let me make some qualifying statements, so that what I say won’t be taken out of context, nor used to justify a life of consumption and escape from the real issues in our world.

  1. The Poor – while I do not believe that all are called to uproot and move among the poor, I do believe more people are called to do that, and everyone is called to be deeply engaged with the poor and the people that serve them.
  2. Home – where one lives should not represent nor be a manifestation of our lust for stuff; the idolizing of status and power; or a place of escape from the real issues of the world.  However, I don’t believe that what I believe means all people will live among the poor.  The place we call home should represent where God has sent you to represent him; where God has best equipped you to serve and live out the gospel; and where your ‘otherness’ will stand out and point others to God – whether this is among the poor, the rich, the middle class, the black, the white, or in a different country – we need to understand we are a sent people and that should inform what we call home.

Now, let us get on with this quickly.   The short topic of today’s blog is “where you already are“.  Simply stated, rather than constantly looking for the next place to move, or fantasizing about what it might be like to live somewhere else, among a different people, or how you will “do” community better elsewhere, I think we should be more concentrated on building and doing community and living deeply right where we already are.  In fact, to constantly be living in the fantasy of what could be is to be very bad stewards of where God has sent you now.  For me this ideas is built around two texts (actually more than that, but for sake of space, I’ll only mention these two).

The first text speaks to how you see where you are.  If you see where you as happenstance, or as a result of bad choices you’ve made, or as a trophy for the good choices you’ve made, then whether you live among the poor or the rich, you will never get the purpose to why you live where you live.  According to Acts 17:24-28, you live where you live for one reason that trumps all the other reasons, and that is so that those in your vicinity “should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” through your life where you live.  This changes everything.  This takes where you live and turns it into the place you have been sent.  I am NOT saying, God will not, is not, or doesn’t want to ‘send’ you somewhere else, but it seems like the principle of stewarding in the scriptures starts with what you already have or in our case, where you already are.  What if you began to look at where you are as where you’ve been sent?  How different would the life you live in your current neighborhood look if you believed it was there you were called to be missionary?  What if, you live where you live because you have the make-up that God desires to use among those people.

The second text has everything to do with living deeply right where you are.  Let me give an example.  I have a friend who could almost be called a serve-aholic.  That’s what he does, he serves.  He serves the homeless, the poor, the broken… he wakes up in the morning, has his coffee, reads his bible, climbs in his truck and drives away from his neighborhood to serve.  A couple months ago, he said to me, “this whole serving thing is wearing me out…I don’t even know my neighbors.  I’m always, going.  I can’t tell you about the life of my neighbor or the spiritual and communal needs they have, but I can tell you about the deep needs of those in these other communities.  In fact, a couple days ago, as I was driving out of my neighborhood, I noticed police cars, ambulance, and a big commotion and I have no idea what was going on, and still don’t…this seems very wrong and imbalanced.”  It just so happens that this friend of mine found out his next door neighbor had committed suicide, leaving behind kids and a wife, and he didn’t even know it.  Hear me, I’m not saying it is wrong to ‘go’ elsewhere to serve, but I am saying I believe it should come secondary to living deeply right where you already are, especially if we are to view our current home through the lens of Acts 17:24-28.  I believe we are called to live so deeply where we actually live (our home address) and slow down enough that we should be able to live local enough to live out the gospel right where you are.  To quote John Perkins, I believe we are to live close enough with those around us, that we begin to desire for our neighbor and neighbor’s family that which we desire for our self and our family. Living out the gospel means bettering the quality of other people’s lives spiritually, physically, socially, and emotionally as one enriches one’s own through the gospel.   How did Jesus live this love?  This bring us to the second text – John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Jesus became one of us.  And the truth is, the most effective messenger, the most effective life lived under the influence of the gospel will be a life that lives deeply “among” where you already are.

Again, I realize God is calling and has called some of you to other places, and I am not denying that he does that, he does!  I realize that living among the rich opens up a whole different can of worms such as, how do we spend our money, or justify spending the money it takes to live among them, etc, etc.  But that is not what this blog is for, this blog is simply to state, that everyone from rich to poor, black to white, long for deep transforming, confronting, life altering, accepting community; and that needs to be developed everywhere, so rather than spending a lot of time trying to figure out where to escape to, why not start building community by living deeply right where you already are!

Community, pt2: Proximity

Last month I wrote about, what I believe to be the first and, dare I say, most important aspect of true community, learning to slow down.  That said, this month, I want to briefly write about what I believe to be the next element of importance in community development, that falls right after the idea of ‘slowing down’, or maybe even, shares equal space to it, proximity.

A group of us from Austin New Church, have been wrestling with the idea of what it look like to really live in, serve as, and do life as a true (not manufactured) community. The truth is, usually, no matter how hard you try, a manufactured community group is simply a group of people that do four or five events a month (a couple bible studies, a couple service projects) and then go on back to their real communities and/or lives, but the one thing that is not deeply practiced is the art of neighboring, which is a necessary characteristic to community – I know, I know, but Jesus said everyone is my neighbor.  Yes he did.  But the difference in that and what I am talking about is for another discussion.

When I say, “neighboring” I am referring to the necessity of proximity (it seems between secular and faith-based non-profits, true neighboring can only happen within a 3-4 mile radius of your front door). Neighboring is the idea and practice of local living and believing that those who live in proximity you need and depend on you as you do them.  This cannot happen with a “drive by mentality”.   This is impossible if you are not deeply living where you already are.  This cannot happen if the world “out there” is demanding you serve there instead of your own backyard.  As long as there is an “us-them” dichotomy there will never be true and lasting transformation that is supposed to be the result of neighboring.  This is the difference between “service” and “development” – a community cannot be “served” out of poverty, out of injustice, or even into transformation or renewal.  It must be developed out of or into.   And this only begins to happen once we move in, once we close the gap in the “us-them” dichotomy, until it is a “we” reality.  No matter how much we want to pretend we can, we can’t do this if our involvement in a situation is confined to driving in to “do the work” only to “drive out” and retreat.  As long as we are “driving out” at the end of the day, we are always “handing down”, it is always us being a dispenser of resources or goods or services, which makes us feel good about us, cloaks our superiority, and allows us to keep the real issues at arms length…Proximity takes it from ‘their problem’ to ‘our problem’, not by name alone, but in every other aspect.  It is pretty normal today, and has been for awhile for the church to “name-tag” something that isn’t really that something – you see this with words like, ‘missional’, ‘community’, ‘serving’, etc…naming something community, that isn’t truly community doesn’t make it community.

Over the past couple months, I have talked with both Christian and non-Christian organizations about this issue, I have listened to their speeches, and have taken notes on what they both agree to be true and necessary (non-negotiables) for true community development, renewal, and engagement. Here are a few:

    • Issue of Speed and Distance:  You have to slow down and be close enough to live where you really live.  Several organizations have said, you will never truly impact any community that is outside of your 3 mile radius
    • Living Among: You have to move from “them” to “we” – this involves more than being in verbal solidarity with those you are wanting to ‘reach’.
    • Long Haul: This is not a flash in the pan that you can or get to be popular by doing, this is a 5, 7, 8, 10 or even 20 year commitment.
    • The Common Enemy: This is impossible without proximity – the common enemy in, to, and against the community must be your enemy also, and it is not your enemy unless you are part of the community.
    • Friendship: This is absolutely a proximity issue.  Friendships put pressure on our lifestyle choices because our possessions and consumption patterns are hard to hide from friends (you can hide things from ‘friends’ who are not in close proximity to you).  That’s why it is often easier to keep people who are poor or different from you at a distance – or to arrange to enter their world only through brief visits on our terms.  Close proximity makes us more conscious of both abundance and lack.

According to Dr.Mark Labberton ,

“compassionate dispassion is a distance issue – knowing about an issue, finding it tragic and wrong, is not the same as actually being close to the situation or people.  It’s another ‘starving child,’ but not so to speak, ‘my starving child.’  evil arises from the seedbed of our heart and goes on to misname the world, letting injustice exist ‘out there’ while we go on seeing and naming the world in ways that serve our interests.  Our perceiving can be done from such safe distances that the needs of others make no claim on us.  The bottom line is, the urgency of injustice could not be greater than when it is experienced every day.  Until our hearts allow this ordinary daily reality to enter our lives with some degree of the same empathetic force it would if the injustice were against us or against those we most love, then the chances of a more just world becomes very dim.”

Two things to remember: (1) each of these community blogs are part of a whole, not independent in themselves. (2) my hope will be to piece these posts together at the end, so to wrestle past theory into praxis.  Also, next month we’ll discuss living deeply where you already are – this idea can only happen when slowing down and proximity already exist.

Community, pt. 1: Learning to Slow Down

In the last 30 days, I have been spending relational capital in a very careless way.  This is ironic, because it has taken me in a different direction for how I planned on blogging about community.  I had planned on writing first about the idea and importance of proximity and relocation, and while I believe those elements are important, I have learned deeply this month, the importance of living at a slower pace may need to be addressed first.

My name is Matthew Hansen, and I am addicted to speed.  I have come to believe that part of this is due to idolatry and insecurity – whatever idols I have, they are connected to living a fast pace life.  In the last 3 days I have let down a minimum of three people (this includes hurting a very loyal friend) and a lot of it can all be boiled down to me not slowing down enough to ask two questions: (1) who does this decision affect and how?  (2) not thinking before I speak.  Seems simple enough, but when you live at a speed that we were not made to live at we should expect it to catch up with us.

As it is with me, I wonder, if the greatest enemy to community is not lack of proximity, but the speed at which we live.  The thing is, I often pontificate the idea, that the way church is structured, actually fights against real biblical discipleship and community.  That said, when I look at my life, I see that my life reflects the very thing I hate about the church, as the structure of my life also fights against true discipleship and community – namely, I live to fast for it!

I was listening to Richard Dawkins the other day and he said something to the affect that he does not believe that people actually believe in God, rather he believes people believe in the idea of believing in God, and that this idea is reflected  in the reality that the majority of us live lives that do not reflect faith in or dependency on God, but faith in self and circumstances, and simple sentiments toward God – he makes a strong point.  While I often think Dawkins is the Paul and Jan Crouch of Atheism, he makes a really good point in that statement, not just that, but the principle he makes should be a magnifying glass we look through to view our own lives.

The idea of community is being in and on pilgrimage together with a diverse group of people.  The question is, do we truly believe in doing community, or do we simply believe in the picturesque idea of doing community?  Do we settle for the idea, so that we don’t have to slow down and actually do it?  Do we settle for the idea so we don’t have to enter enter into healthy dependent and transparent relationships with others?  Do we settle for the idea because it doesn’t cost us the idols we have found our identity in?  I think, yes… I think we, me specifically, believe in the idea of living the lives of those who truly live in community, but we don’t believe in actually doing it, because it would simply demand we slow down.

In the book, Reconciling All Things, we read, “The practice of pilgrimage is a way of unlearning speed…Pilgrimage is a posture very different from mission.  The goal of a pilgrim is not to solve but to search, not so much to help as to be present.  Pilgrims do not rush to a goal, but slow down to hear the crying.  They are not as interested in making a difference as they are in making a new friend.  The pace is slower, more reflective.  Pilgrims set out not so much to assist strangers but to eat with them.”

I’m reading a book called, Compassion: A Reflection of Christian Living and ironically I am in the section that talks about community, building community, being part of community, and defining community, etc, etc; and there’s this quote that really hit me between the eyes, “The main question is, ‘How can I come to understand and experience God’s caring actions in the concrete situations I find myself?’  In other words, ‘where have I already been asked to leave my father and mother; where have I already been invited to let the dead bury the dead; where am I already challenged to keep my hand on the plow and not look back?’  God is always active in our lives always calling, always asking us to take up our crosses and follow.  However, do we see feel, and recognize God’s call in the now, or do we keep waiting for the illusory moment when it will ‘really’ happen?” And I will add, do we keep rushing into the future at the expense of others hoping to make it happen, when it is already happening all around us?

My point is simply, for those of us longing to live in community, maybe we need to slow down first.  Maybe slowing down needs to come before relocation – maybe, I’m not sure that is right, but what I know is that living 3, 5, 10, or even 20 miles from someone doesn’t hurt them, however, living at my speed of life is catching up with me and is hurting others.  It doesn’t seem that the equation for building community should include a speed of living that actually hurts the community you already live in and have.  It seems the way of the kingdom is so counter intuitive to the way of this “A-Type Personality” of mine that loves to initiate.  It seems the way of the kingdom and communities formed out of that kingdom, is not about initiation but about reaction.  It seems the way God builds communities within this world through his kingdom is to open the eyes of his people to see where and how he is already bringing his kingdom near, and react to that by forming community in what is already happening.

To quote again from the book, Reconciling All Things:

Learning to become faithful pilgrims amid the brokenness of this world is about becoming more Christian.  A Rwandan proverb says, ‘To go fast, walk alone.  To go far, walk together.’ When we learn how to slow down to make room for walking together across divides, we become more Christian.”