“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out—perhaps a little at a time.’

And how long is that going to take?’
I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.’
That could be a long time.’
I will tell you a further mystery,’ he said. ‘It may take longer.

- Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Apr 01

What Kind of Community are You Building?

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Always with you--hands grasping

Could your friendships save the world? Have you ever posed that question? Has anyone posed it to you? If not, dive into that question here, now. Maybe you don’t see yourself as a community builder, but we all are in one form or another. If

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Always with you--hands grasping

Could your friendships save the world?

Have you ever posed that question? Has anyone posed it to you? If not, dive into that question here, now.

Maybe you don’t see yourself as a community builder, but we all are in one form or another.

If you don’t believe me, think about your online community.

  • Facebook lover? You can hide posts from folks whose political rants or annoying photos make your skin crawl.
  • Twitter tweeter? There’s a handy “Unfollow” button to cleanse your Newsfeed.
  • Google+ and Linkedin? (_________*Insert their equivalent here).
  • Get tired of some emails from an organization (never the Apprentice Institute!), just un-subscribe and move on.

What about more low-tech community cultivation?

  • You can block phone numbers so you don’t receive texts from particular people.
  • You can choose to live in a particular part of town, with particular people.
  • You can choose what restaurants to dine in, where to get groceries, where to worship.

All these are acts of community building. Your community.

The thing is, if you’re like me, you make most of these decisions without much reflection. Ok, the unfollow or block your cousin’s dog pictures is a split-second reflection, but otherwise…

Which means that if you’re like me, your friends look a lot like you, they earn a similar wage to you, and they like at least some of the same things you do.

We talk a lot about the kingdom of God at Apprentice. But lately, I’ve been wondering, where is the kingdom of God tangible? Where do I see it at work? Not in lofty theological terms. On the ground, in peoples’ lives.

Because, to be honest, sometimes I struggle to see it in my own life. Then I read a blog post.

Weak Ties

“Before various church audiences I’ve described this as “sacramental friendship,” calling them to form friendships across the socioeconomic spectrum. The focus of this call is upon relationality–walking alongside others in friendship–rather than starting up “a program” to “address” poverty.

And to be clear, such programs are needed, but what I find lacking in many churches is friendship, a face-to-face, first-name-basis relationality between rich and poor. This is what is missing in many churches. Programs abound but there is too little friendship.

And in many ways this call for friendship is both harder and easier than starting up a poverty program at the church.

It’s easier in that you don’t have to save the world. You don’t have to eradicate world poverty. You just have to be a friend.” (Richard Beck, “How Friendship Saves the World: Sacramental Friendships and the Strength of Weak Ties”)

What Richard put his finger on is that all my community cultivating and building hasn’t led me into these kinds of “sacramental friendships.”

Then he focuses on weak ties–those distant relationships and acquaintances we all have that come in handy when someone we know is looking for a job. Sure, you have strong ties–immediate family and close friends–but weak ties are the places where the action happens.

When I finished reading Richard’s post, I realized his weak ties were an on the ground picture of the kingdom of God in action. (He has a great example in his post. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.)

“To be concrete about it, you bring more than yourself into the friendship. You bring everyone else you know.”

Because when you enter into a relationship with someone who is poor, you’re not just bringing yourself, you’re bringing all your weak ties. And you may not be able to “fix” that person or “solve” their problem, but your weak ties might offer a path forward. (Anyway, when was the last time you hung your friendship on trying to “fix” the other person? How’d that work out for you?)

Your weak ties give your friend access to possibilities and opportunities impossible otherwise. You can open up a community they never had the luxury not to choose.

The Lingering Question

How do I enter into this kind of “sacramental friendship?”

As Richard also notes in his post, poverty (and wealth) tend to concentrate themselves. Many times this happens along racial lines as well. Don’t believe me? Check out my Colorblind Commute and see how your city looks.

I hope this post hasn’t given you any answers, I hope it’s raised questions. I don’t have the answers, but I am searching out the questions.

If you’re interested in dialogue:

1) Drop your thoughts and questions in the comments. Or share this post with your community, glean wisdom and then share widely (don’t forget us).

2) Register for our conference this October: Formation for Mission and let’s explore this idea face to face. Sacramental friendships seem like a great first step to living into God’s mission wherever you find yourself.

Either way, don’t leave this idea hanging. Because if you don’t, I won’t be tempted to either.

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Always with you! by Craig Sunter / CC ND 2.0

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Mar 31

Defining Spiritual Formation: The How (Part 3 of 7)

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What is spiritual formation, anyway? What does spiritual formation mean and why is it important? This is the third post in a series (Part 1: The Need; Part 2: The Reality) from James Bryan Smith–“Defining Spiritual Formation”–on the importance of knowing what we mean when

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What is spiritual formation, anyway? What does spiritual formation mean and why is it important? This is the third post in a series (Part 1: The Need; Part 2: The Reality) from James Bryan Smith–“Defining Spiritual Formation”–on the importance of knowing what we mean when we say “spiritual formation.”

So far we have a working definition of Christian spiritual formation, coming from the wise writing of Robert Mulholland.  He defines it as “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”  I find it accurate, clear, and brief.

It is complete in terms of a definition, but I find it to be missing a few elements, namely, the how dimension of the definition.

So, a few years ago I began working on my own definition:

“Christian spiritual formation is the process of being conformed into the image of Christ, through a relationship of intimacy with God, by the power of the Spirit, in order to live a good and beautiful life of faith, hope, love, joy, and peace—a life that will be a blessing to oneself and to others and will glorify God now and for all eternity.”

My definition is simply an expansion of Dr. Mulholland’s definition.  It explains how formation happens—through a relationship of intimacy with God, by the power of the Spirit.  This is important because it emphasizes two key elements of formation:  relationship, and grace. We are transformed by having relationship with God.  This implies knowing and being known.

Paul asks the Galatians this question:

“Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again?” (Gal. 4:9)

Relationships require knowledge.  As we come to know God, and God comes to know us, we are changed. 

I was changed through my relationship with Dallas Willard.  I came to know Dallas, and Dallas came to know me.  In that interaction there was an exchange of ideas and emotions, of laughter and tears.  Though Dallas has gone on to glory, he is still alive in me.

The same is true in my relationship with God.  I come to know God—God’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, narratives, character, etc.  These things live on in me.

This relationship is one of intimacy.  Intimacy requires self-disclosure.  God is not interested in making a bunch of pious robots; God longs for a relationship of intimacy.  I find that the more I nurture that relationship, the more I am transformed.

That relationship is only possible by the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit invites each of us into this intimate relationship with God.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3)

When I first came to the realization that Jesus was, indeed, Lord, I did so by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Flesh and blood did not reveal this to me (Matt. 16:17).  The Holy Spirit revealed the nature of the love between the Father and the Son.  The beauty of the Christ-form jumps off the pages of the gospels, but can only be seen when the Spirit is at work.

Holy Trinity

**Holy Trinity Icon, Andrei Rublev

The Holy Spirit reveals the Father and Son to us, and invites us into a relationship of intimacy.  That relationship is based on grace, but nurturing that relationship also requires effort on our part, as any relationship does.

Formation happens when we create space for God, classically known as spiritual disciplines or spiritual exercises.  I cannot have an intimate relationship with God if I do not create space for it.  So through slowing down and creating margin in my life, I can have times of solitude in which I pray, read, contemplate, and listen to God.

So far in this series, we have seen the great need for a working definition of Christian spiritual formation.  Also, we are all being formed all of the time, but the question is, formed into what kind of person?  That kind of person is one who reflects the image of Jesus.  Here,I have expanded the definition to include the relationship and grace dimensions of formation.  My definition also expands upon Mulholland’s definition in regards to what “for the sake of others” looks like.  We’ll explore that later in the series. Next up in the series, the process of spiritual formation.

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Negative Space by Paul McCoubrie / CC ND 2.0

Posted in Blog, Defining Spiritual Formation | Tags: / / / / / / / / /

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Mar 26

When One Side Wins, We All Lose

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Early on in relationships it’s easy to want to be right. You or your significant other get in an argument about who’s not doing what, harsh words fly, heels dig in deeper… And later, when the yelling and screaming is over and nothing but silence

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Early on in relationships it’s easy to want to be right. You or your significant other get in an argument about who’s not doing what, harsh words fly, heels dig in deeper…

And later, when the yelling and screaming is over and nothing but silence remains, you’re left hurting and isolated.

An “I’m sorry” may come from one side and steps taken to reconcile. But it’s clear. You both lost this battle.

This image describes the rapidly developing World Vision story over the past 48 hours.

In case you missed it, here’s a primer to slide under your rock:

World Vision releases statement saying it will hire Gay Christians in same sex marriages. Massive evangelical outrage ensues on Twitter. Vitriol fills hashtags and untold numbers of World Vision supporters pull funding because of the move.

At the same moment, other Christians praise World Vision’s opening vision and willingness to take a (their) side on the issue.

This afternoon, World Vision released a statement asking forgiveness of their supporters (those who jumped ship yesterday) and reversed their decision to hire Gay christians in same sex marriages.

The topic is getting so much traction that “World Vision” is trending on Twitter. As others have noted, the battle lines are drawn, the same old arguments get trotted out, and after the hateful tweets offered up in the guise of “biblical truth” or “proclaiming the kingdom” nobody’s mind is changed.

Whatever side of the issue people were on, they remain on.

But that’s precisely the problem. World Vision’s hiring policy isn’t an issue.

This “issue” impacts real people, real lives:

  • Christians in this country who would seek employment with a Christian organization
  • Children and refugees who live in poverty around the world
  • The dignity of their lives as persons in whom Christ dwells and delights

All that was on the line, because of a hiring policy.

I didn’t know what to say as I followed the Twitter storm. To be honest, I still don’t. I do know that when one side wins, we all–who call ourselves the body of Christ–lose.

Paul writes to the church at Rome, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position.” (Rom. 12:14-16a)

I didn’t see anyone quoting that verse on Twitter or their blog.

No matter how you feel or believe about the issue people and children whose lives are at stake, quoting your biblical support at the other side isn’t likely to sway them.

I don’t care who you call “blessed” or “mourning” in this whole fiasco, I think the line cuts through every person on both sides.

Shaming and blaming aren’t practices the church has given us to shape our identity as the body of Christ. You can go read some other blogs if that’s what you’re looking for.

Confession is a practice that shapes our identity as Christians.

So for just a second, hold that thought, save that Tweet draft, put down the stone, and join in one discipline we can still be good at. And when you finish, see if you don’t feel more inclined to follow Paul’s counsel. If not, at least you gave it a try.

Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Reconciliation by Ron Cogswell / CC 2.0

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Mar 25

Learning from Mary, the Mother of an Unconventional Royal Family

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The Annunciation. No, not the ability to talk good. The other Annunciation. When the angel Gabriel visited Mary and announced to her that she would bear a child. And not just any child. Jesus. The Christ. The Messiah. “The Son of the Most High…who will

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The Annunciation. No, not the ability to talk good.

The other Annunciation.

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary and announced to her that she would bear a child. And not just any child.

Jesus.

The Christ.

The Messiah.

“The Son of the Most High…who will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:33)

But before any of that could happen, Mary had to utter a phrase: Let it be with me according to your word.

Her word matching the creative Word that would be spoken to life through her own body. She would give life to the One by whom she was created.

Talk about presenting your body as a living sacrifice.

And to top it all off, Mary wasn’t even married. Hadn’t slept with a man. Wasn’t royalty.

An unknown Jewish teenager would bear the Son of God. Talk about a scandal.

Soon after the Anunciation, Mary would proclaim the mighty works God would do: bringing down rulers from their thrones, raising up the humble, filling the hungry, sending the rich away empty, merciful to all generations of Abraham’s descendants.

And all this would come about by/because of/through her. God chose an unconventional royal family: an engaged mother and an adopted father (Joseph).

God forged an unending kingdom in impossible circumstances. For nothing is impossible with God.

It’s easy to read that last line. Even easy to think it. But do you believe nothing is impossible with God?

It’s easy to read the Apostles’ Creed, but does Mary’s obedience shock you?

Who is this God, to choose a scandalous beginning to redeem the world? Mary’s pregnancy, Jesus’ birth. It’s a story more fitting for a tabloid than a Christian bookstore.

Mary’s obedience is an example to us, but that’s not all. What about God’s impossible possibility?

Was God’s working of the impossible a one off deal, a 1st century special? Or does God continue to do the impossible today in scandalous places and situations far from the bounds of easy piety and socially accepted norms?

I’m inclined to believe Gabriel–his kingdom won’t end–that kingdom is open and available to you, to all. And it’s marked by the impossible.

Hope in a world wracked with despair.

Peace in a world torn apart by violence.

A place where the world as we know it is turned upside down. And all of it thanks to Mary’s willingness to open her self (mind, spirit, body) to the impossible work of God.

If you haven’t seen God move in a while, sit with Mary, see what she can teach you. Maybe you’ve just been looking in the wrong places.

417px-Lodovico_Cardi_The_Annunciation--wikimedia commons

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Mar 24

Two Cures for Restless Consumerism: Treasuring “Stuff” Rightly

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Maybe you found the last two weeks’ treasure posts a little abstract. Sure you felt a little hungry during that fast, and you craved a little TV in all that silence last week, but nothing too concrete.   Enter this week’s treasuring focus: stuff.  

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Maybe you found the last two weeks’ treasure posts a little abstract. Sure you felt a little hungry during that fast, and you craved a little TV in all that silence last week, but nothing too concrete.

 

Enter this week’s treasuring focus: stuff.

Tiny house

 

Most of us, as good Americans, have a lot of it. I couldn’t fit my possessions into this.

Deep breath, I’m not saying you have to move into a tiny house. But, what’s the deal with our stuff?

Disordered Desire

Most of us are familiar with disordered eating: eating too much or too little (a broad generalization, I recognize).

But what about “disordered stuff”? Or the more recognizable term “consumerism.”

Now, before you sprint home and sell or give away everything you own, remember that we have to consume to live. If you don’t eat (consume) you’ll die. Consumption isn’t an evil in and of itself, but it can become disordered.

Enter Augustine and William Cavanaugh:

“In the words of Augustine’s famous prayer to open the Confessions, ‘You have made us for yourself, O God, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’ The restlessness of consumerism causes us constantly to seek new material objects. For Augustine, on the other hand, the solution to our dissatisfaction is not the continuous search for new things but a turn toward the only One who can truly satisfy our desires. This does not require the rejection of all earthly things, but an ability to see that all things point to God” (Being Consumed49).

That restlessness you feel, that desire to treat your self through retail therapy, the solution isn’t to never buy anything again (though this can be a good discipline for a time period), but to recognize that stuff can’t satisfy.

No matter how much you I want that new bow tie (even if I get it), it won’t fill the desire that can only by filled by the God who created you and me. God created beauty and stuff can be beautiful (even bow ties).

**Doctor Who 50th Celebration--p_a_h--CC 2.0

**Doctor Who 50th Celebration–p_a_h–CC 2.0

But, that beauty is best appreciated and valued when it is understood in relation to the Creator of all things, rather than seen as an end in itself.

Whose Stuff is It Anyway?

Cultivating this way of seeing–stuff, ourselves, God–rightly will shape the way you relate to your stuff, too.

Consumerism creates an isolated hoarding. You might have a great _________, but she has a better ________, the solution (in consumeristic terms) isn’t to share, but to go out and buy the exact same thing she has, so now you both have it.

As Christians, we learn to treasure the right things rightly. And when we do, we start seeing that our stuff isn’t for us at all, but for others. And when we see things this way, our whole attitude changes. We might start asking, “What if we managed our homes like little meeting places God used to bring people together?”

Agape_feast_07

The consumerist mentality leaves us focusing on what we don’t have. But, rightly ordered desire–which I’ll call kingdom mentality, for lack of a better phrase–focuses on what we have and how it can bring us closer to God and those we live with and near in our homes, churches, and cities.

Soul Training Exercises:

1) Deaccumulation.

Many of us have too much stuff, stuff that is little to never used or useful. So this week, try to give away five things. Instead of just offloading a bunch of junk, try to give something you treasure to someone who would value it. Be intentional about it and see if you and the recipient aren’t more joyful as a result of this exercise.

2) Managing your stuff for others.

Be hospitable or generous with your stuff. It’s spring (finally!) and the temperatures are a little warmer. Do you have a grill? Invite some friends over and prepare them a delicious meal, enjoy the food and time together. Own something that someone might need, but not enough to buy? Let them borrow it for their task. Have a TV? Instead of watching March Madness by yourself, invite some folks over and enjoy some fellowship and maybe even food during the game.

These exercises aren’t mutually exclusive, but do give one (or both–spiritual bonus points) a try and see if you don’t find yourself cured (even momentarily) from that restless consumerism.

Remember, it’s not about detaching from stuff, but finding ways to be more attached to the One who alone can satisfy your desires.

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