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.

Questions from Ideation ’12

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the Chicago Ideation Conference put on by Charles Lee.  It was  a great time of connecting, networking, and learning.  In fact, in the first session, the intro speaker said something about taking notes, not so much on what is actually said, but on what is inspired in you when ideas are spoken about.

Over the past 4 years, I’ve been wrestling with who I am as a leader and how to surround myself with the right people, along with knowing what role I play in new ideas and vision.  I was talking about this with a friend of mine who was also at the conference, 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.”

All that to say, I am using that as a filter for myself as I read through the questions below, that were inspired by the Ideation conference.  Below is a set of questions, that were inspired in me as I was listening to the different speakers at Ideation.  I will use Jacob’s question as a lens to begin to think through the questions below.  If you are a leader or someone who is starting or thinking about starting a new endeavor, I recommend that you wrestle through the following questions:

  • Discovery Questions:
    • Where do I (we) need to have courage to move forward?
      • To answer this question you must be able to imagine what could be!
      • To answer this question you must be willing to admit where you have grown stagnant, and complacency has set in.
      • To answer this question you have to be willing to step off the wave of fame, and get dirty.
    • What am I will to go all-in for?  In other words, what am I willing to fail big and publicly at?
    • Do I want to lead others into my vision; or do I want to lead with others into a vision bigger than I can imagine?
      • To answer this question you must be willing to admit you want to keep all the fame and attention; or be willing to give it away and share it.
  • Awareness Questions:
    • What is already happeningin my neighborhood, city, or field of interest that needs to be focused on or harnessed for deeper impact?
      • To answer this question properly, you have to be willing to allow the local situation or need to inform the vision, rather than create your own detached agenda.
      • To answer this question, you have to be willing to let go of other elements that demand your time in order to slow down so you can deeply know your surroundings.
      • To answer this question, you cannot lead from a distance, you have to lead from within.  You have to be willing to be present enough to know the local environment and the holes within it that continually perpetuate the dysfunction or needs
      • To answer this question you must be willing to take your eyes off of you, and find who else in the area is also attempting to address the issues and figure out how to collaborate.
    • What is the common enemy? This question is two-dimensional: (1) What is the common enemy causing the local problem (2) What is the common enemy causing people to be paralyzed from actively fighting the enemy?
      • To answer this question you must be among and within; you must be willing to no longer allow there to be an us-and-them mentality, but a “we mentality” – the enemy must be your enemy as well, or you will never truly engage it at the cost it demands.
      • To answer this question, you must move beyond “drive-by-projects” and move in!
      • To answer this question, you must be able to clearly articulate what the absence of the vision means and how it will affect the context you are hoping to work in.
  • Execution Questions:
    • How do you involve people in the vision without adding one more thing to their already busy life?  Another way to ask this is, “how do you help the vision to intersect the life they are already living?
      • To answer this question demands you slow down to be an intuitive leader.
      • To answer this question you must be able to size the vision downward. In other words, you must help people see beyond the normality of a compartmentalized task, and into a vision that threads itself through all aspects of life.  In other words, you have to be able to explain how the vision looks on a corporate level; on a community level; on a family level; and on an individual level.
      • To answer this question, you must be able to teach people how to be purposeful with the way they already live by showing them how what they are already doing allows them to take part in the vision; while at the same time you must be able to help people subtract “meaningless-time-sucks” from their lives.
      • To answer this question you must be able to make the journey as deep and rich as the completed vision itself – this will help prevent burnout.
    • How do you plan on defining success?
      • To answer this question, you have to paint an intriguing picture of what the finish line looks like.
      • To answer this question, you have to paint a provocative picture of what the journey looks like, which means clearly defining measurables along the way.
      • To answer this, you must be willing to be people focused, or else people will turn into a commodity that you use to accomplish your vision.

I realize the length of this blog steps over the lines of the “blog rules”.  I also realize that these aren’t the only questions to be asked when embarking on a new journey, but as begin to think about my roles, my ideas, and my ventures.  I am going to ask myself the above questions, through the lens of the first question Jacob asked me.  Maybe you should do the same!

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.”

This is an old post I did back from September 2009.

Emmaus Life

Okay, as many of you know, I was called to serve my city as a possible Juror.  About a month ago, I was sent to North Austin to fill out a questionnaire.  I was among 300+ individuals.  Of those 300 we were narrowed down to about 115 people. Then the 115 of us were called into a courtroom as we marched in we were faced with the defense team, the prosecutors, and the man who was being charged with capital murder.  I have never been face to face with a man who had murdered someone else.  We were to quickly find out that in the State of Texas there are only two possible sentences for someone convicted of capital murder – Death or Life without parole.

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It has been a while since I have written a blog of any sort, well, for that matter, any sort of real thought, most of my facebook or even twitter posts have been nothing but reposts/retweets.  I’m not hearing anything any more. I’m distracted easily.  I have nothing fresh, especially when I look into scripture for me personally or any sort of attempt for a sermon message.  When I am trying to teach my kids the scriptures, I may as well be speaking Russian, because my words make that much sense.  While I know these aren’t completely true and a bit of an exaggeration, they are not far off.  I appreciate that the scriptures talk about seasons, or I would be worried.  I have too much noise in my head, and not enough feeling, emotion, or compassion in my heart.   This is not a feel sorry for me blog – by all measurable standards, ministry is going great; I have a wonderful home and family; and all in all it is good, yet there is something missing. The truth is, that it’s a very scary place to be, when everything else around you is going great, but you know internally things are becoming more shallow.  I’m not sure what it is, but I am almost 100% positive that it comes from my lack of prayer, focused thought, and meditation, which I have sacrificed on the alter of “doing” – I am Martha, and am angry with Mary.
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