White “liberal” guilt? Yes, please…

U2 lyric of the day: “I’d join the movement if there was one I could believe in; I’d break bread and wine if there was a church I could receive in….’cause I need it now….”

 

I read the first 100 pages of Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution last night, and I’m “all in a twitter” (in the “trembling with agitation” sense of the word) about it. Several seemingly disparate things stand out about what I’ve read (and my process of reading it) so far:

 

  • I have to confess I was somewhat resistant to the idea of reading it, though I had picked it up some time ago. I think much of it has to do with simple jealousy on my part. I think I have some pretty radical ideas, and I’ve even made an attempt to live some of them out. Without being arrogant about it, I know I’m a good writer, and I’ve found power in the telling of my story. Some day, I hope to “get it together” enough to get published. Moreover, I actually know Shane (though not well), as I’ve mentioned previously on this blog; so I suppose there’s a degree to which I’ve permitted my jealousy thus far to obstruct my ability to rejoice at Shane’s “success.” Ironically, having been connected to Shane and his community just a bit, and now having read the first part of his book, I know that such commercial “success” is likely the last thing he’s after in putting out his book; so I guess I find solace in knowing that it may be a bit of an obstacle for both of us.

 

  • I expected, and was not disappointed, to find reference made to people and places with which I’m familiar. So it was with some delight that I found (when reading ahead a bit) Shane spending time talking about Atom (Adam) Heinze, for instance. Atom is a covenant member with Circle of Hope, and he and I were part of the formation team for Circle of Hope East. He truly is a brilliant (to the point of being quirky), interesting, unforgettable guy. Speaking of Circle of Hope, I saw that Shane makes at least passing mention that many Simple Way folks are also Circle of Hope covenant members, and in my view this is no accident.

 

  • Now to some of the “meat” of what Shane has to say, and how I’m responding to it:

 

    • I agree with my friends who have praised the “down-to-earth,” humble style with which Shane writes. He does, in fact, make his “radical” choices seem almost matter-of-fact. I like this because I think there is truth in it. I agree that there is an “if…then” straightforwardness that should characterize much of our (my) response to the gospel. And speaking for myself at least, I think things get “complicated” only to the degree that we permit ourselves to be wrapped up in the “world”- by which I mean that system which has been set up in opposition to the power and authority of God and his kingdom.
    • I really appreciated hearing about his experience with Mother Teresa- (well, not just his. He and his friend Brooke went, and I know Brooke too! In fact, in an interesting “small world/full circle” kind of moment, Brooke went out to an “emergent” event at one point several years ago while we still lived in Philly and were a part of Circle. While at that event she shared a “cigarette break” with Debbie Blue, one of our (beloved) pastors from House of Mercy. They each made the connection to Kirsten and I, and Brooke mentioned it to us when she got back). Anyway, I love that Shane and Brooke went out there. Anecdotally at least, I know India to be a nexus of deep spiritual import, and so it is not surprising to me that, following the lead of Mother Teresa, Shane and Brooke met Jesus there among the poorest of the poor. (Speaking of India, I absolutely love the book Deep River by Shusaku Endo, which is set in India and chronicles a story of profound spiritual transformation. Also, at House of Mercy I was tasked with arranging a benefit for the band Fitzgerald, a young couple who had also spent time in India serving "the least of these." Their stories and songs still resonate with me today.)
    • I’m glad to hear allusions at least, so far, of the deep impact of a Campolo on Shane- in his case, the more “famous” Tony. Tony’s son Bart started Kingdomworks, now known as Mission Year, and my summer spent in West Philly doing Kingdomworks- and the enduring impact of my (admittedly marginal) relationship with Bart- remains one of the (trans)formative periods in my life. In short, much of what I do now, much even of who I am now, can be traced directly back to that experience. Bart is now working at starting an intentional community in Cincinnati, and I think Kirsten and I hope to make it out there this summer to check it out.
    • Speaking of intentional community, Shane’s use of this phrase lead to an “aha” moment for me last night. To paraphrase, Shane seems to be saying basically that rich Christians (like me) have to be “intentional” about community because their wealth isolates them from the need for it, whereas “the least of these” could not survive without community. For them, it’s not a choice, it’s an imperative of survival. I think there’s more than a few lessons to be learned here, most especially for me.
    • I also appreciate Shane’s experience at Eastern with Rich Mullins. While I’m not into "Christian" music as much as I used to be, I still appreciate Rich (and his predecessor, Keith Green) and consider his voice to be a prophetic one. His "truth-telling" still needs to be heard. I even attended one of his concerts when I was a student at Gordon. Aside from the worship-ful atmosphere, I love that the concert ended by the whole crowd joining him in worship with one of his signature songs. For my part, my eyes were closed as we finished the last verse. When I opened them, Rich was gone. The message, I think, was that this (the concert, the experience) wasn’t about him. It was about us worshipping God together, and Rich was wise and humble enough to- literally- get out of the way.

 

Well, these are just a few impressions based on what I’ve read so far. As to how I’m dealing with what for me are the obvious implications of what Shane has to say, I must confess that I’m struggling mightily with it- which I suppose is what Shane hoped for, and so I thank him for that. For me, anyway (ooh…do you hear the apologetic individualism?- interesting…), the “obvious implications” are that I should simply “go and do likewise.” I’ve been preaching the “gospel” of community as the only viable antidote to the atomizing individualism of our culture for a while now, and I even made a (brief, well-documented, and failed) attempt to “try it on” for a little while. Meanwhile, if community is the “clothing” of the Kingdom in this metaphor I just came up with, Shane and his friends- and now Bart and his- have long since left the dressing room and abandoned all other attire, while I sit idly by, seemingly unwilling to join them. Is my situation a bit more “complex” than Shane’s was when he started The Simple Way? To be sure, that is the case, as I come into any hoped for “intentional community” with my wife, son, mother-in-law, and massive consumer debt in tow. Still, I don’t think this excuses me from the imperative to follow Jesus, and I will yet try.

The Simple, though hard, Way

I’m tired this morning. It was a long night for me as I got to bed late, and then Samuel woke up at 2, after which I spent an hour with him trying to get him back to sleep. I was supposed to get up at the latest by 5:45, but overslept; so I was late for work, to boot. Yesterday was good, though. We made the trek down to Canton for the house church meeting, and while I can’t say that the conversation was particularly challenging for me, I’m quite engaged in and interested in the process (the group process, and my process of becoming a part of the group) so far. While there will no doubt continue to be conversations that I find less than challenging, I am excited about the possibility that this may not always be the case. Moreover, I am excited about being a part of something, about sojourning together with others with whom I am on a mission. Perhaps I’m speaking a bit hopefully at this point. I may even be projecting my own needs/desires for the group onto the group without necessarily getting any sort of group consensus about whether or not the group is or wants to be as I envision it. Still, while some of this may be true, obviously I hope/believe that some of it is not. I think I can say with some confidence that I’ve gotten to know some group members well enough to know that we have a like vision for what “being the Church” is all about, and of course I know what I bring to the table. So, as I said above, I’m excited about being a part of something, and I’m trusting that this “thing” will be greater than the sum of its parts, that together we can do more than we could alone, that these others will help to move me in the direction that I want to go and that I know I should go- the direction that Jesus keeps calling me down.

 

What is this direction? Well, I think I caught glimmers of it last night, while doing some “surfing” on the web. I knew that Jared and Tina had talked of going to the debut of Wide Eyed Life; so I began checking out their site. I like a lot of what they seem to be about, though politics and my own dear Father aside, I’m a little nervous about anyone who spends a ton of time reading the Drudge Report, as one of the leaders professes to do. Anyway, it was cool to see that Shane Claiborne is coming up to speak to them on April 1 (somehow that seems fitting, and I don’t imagine Shane reading the Drudge Report). I know Shane- sort of- and can make that oh-so-special claim of “I knew him when…” he wasn’t a star, which- wanted or not- he seems to be developing into after the publication of his book. Shane has been connected with Circle of Hope for a long time- though that connection has probably waxed and waned, as such things are wont to do, I suppose- and my ties with the Circle community are well-documented on this blog. .

 

Still, Shane was a regular attender at Circle of Hope East when we were last there, as were several Simple Way members- including Rose- who regularly visited Samuel in the hospital and made a piece of art for him which still hangs on his wall. Shane and I didn’t necessarily talk much, but I heard him preach at Circle’s Public Meetings, and he heard me preach, etc. Anyway, I’m not saying all this to “name-drop,” necessarily, but rather because it’s interesting to see what could rightly be called an acquaintance suddenly rise to such prominence, and to do so for what I would say are lots of good reasons. I think what Shane and the Simple Way are doing is awesome, inspiring even (in like fashion to what Bart Campolo is working on in Cincinnati), and I hope to some day be a part of such a community. I would encourage any of my few readers to check out the Simple Way’s site, as Shane has some great ideas on there that resonate with my own leanings. Like Shane- I think I can say with some confidence- I believe that the Christian life can only be fully attempted (if not realized) together, and that in this individualized and pervasively atomizing American culture, this practically means living together and working together to develop alternative institutions. One of the great resources/ideas that is linked on the Simple Way’s site includes an alternative “insurance plan” whereby Christians simply pool their resources and then give from those resources as needed to cover medical expenses. Obviously, given the notion of economies of scale, the more people involved (in this alternative insurance plan at least), the more money there is to meet needs. Anyway, I think it’s an awesome and sorely needed idea, and my great hope is that like-minded Christ-followers will continue to develop such alternative institutions rather than be bound by the limited offerings of the “world” (by which I mean that power that has been set up in opposition to the power and kingdom of God- in this case, Western consumer culture; I do not mean “world” in the sense of the created order).

 

I’ll try to write some more about this later…

 

No, no, no…I’m completely employable. Trust me…

 I was talking with friends last night and alluded to the number of jobs I’ve had. I guessed it was about 30, and after struggling this morning to remember them all in my 16 years of life as a worker so far, here is the list I came up with, in order and with little comment (from me, anyway). For those who will inevitably question my having an average of two jobs for every year I’ve worked, I can say that I do think I’ve found a niche (though not necessarily my niche) in my current job, and I hope to be at it for a good long while… 

      1. Albertson’s- TX (grocery store bagger)
      2. Jon’s Donuts- TX
      3. Kmart- TX (stock guy, my friend Chris worked there)
      4. Pizzeria Uno- TX (line cook)
      5. Dairy Queen- TX (shift manager)
      6. Six Flags over Texas- foodservice (one day; my friend Chris worked there)
      7. Radio Shack- TX (my friend Chris worked there)
      8. D/FW Airport (security screener)- while working for Radio Shack
      9. Radio Shack in MA
      10. Radisson Plaza Hotel in Ft. Worth (where JFK stayed before being shot; my friends Chris, Jeff, and Scotty worked there)- room service, then waiter
      11. Sylvan Street Grille in MA- waiter
      12. Gordon College- Pizza Shop, Cleaning Services, Security
      13. Warner Brothers Studio Store- MA
      14. Red Lobster- TX (waiter)
      15. Musicland- TX (while working at Red Lobster)
      16. Sunday River Ski Resort- Maine (I was hired but they never called me back after my drug test, which kind of makes me wonder…)
      17. Campisi’s- TX (pizza delivery)
      18. Spaghetti Warehouse- TX (waiter)
      19. Pizza Hut- Philly (shift manager)
      20. Super Fresh- Philly (overnight stock guy for two weeks while working at Pizza Hut full-time)
      21. Coffee World- Philly (assistant manager, then Store Manager)
      22. Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery- Philly (assistant manager)
      23. Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery- MN (assistant manager)
      24. St. Joseph’s Home for Children (Youth Counselor)
      25. Luther Seminary- mail room
      26. Pinnacle Services- MN (habilitation counselor- while in seminary and working at St. Joe’s)
      27. Children’s Choice- Philly (Home Study Worker)
      28. Bethanna- Philly (Kinship Social Worker)
      29. United Communities SE Philadelphia (Case Manager, Mentoring Program)
      30. Adecco- Akron (various Temp. jobs):
        1. Rexel (Electrical Company- office temp.)
        2. Charles Schwab (office temp.- Retirement Services)
      31. Blick Clinic- Akron (Group Home Manager)
      32. Summit Academy- Akron (IEP Coordinator)

Life Together…at last?

The post I’m now writing is one I’m actually having to re-write, as I had gotten well into it previously when Internet Explorer had some sort of error that required it to close, causing me to lose everything. I’m a little sick about it at the moment, as I was getting into what I was writing and was glad for the process. This has happened to me on more than one occasion in my years of blogging (so I am now actually writing in Word so that I can cut-and-paste what I write into MSN Spaces after I’m done); so I guess that in this, as with so many other things, I am slow to learn.

            So then, let me try (again) to paint a picture for you of the setting in which I am doing this long-needed writing, for if “context is(n’t) everything,” it certainly matters. I write in my office at home, with a lukewarm cup o’ joe nearby. I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt, enjoying the warmth of my home on a moderately cold Ohio evening. I’ve got Yahoo! Music tuned to the New Age channel, and I find the reflective music to be conducive to the writing process. I can hear the heater humming along, and it echoes in Samuel’s baby monitor too. Occasionally I hear Samuel stirring or making sleep sounds, and when I do, it calms my spirit. I’m a bit tired, though glad that life is “normal” enough for me right now to do even this little bit of writing. Still, my fatigue nearly got me into a major accident earlier today when toward the end of my long commute from the south part of Canton, where I work, all the way up to Hudson, where Samuel is in daycare, I dozed off and crossed the center line on Highway 303, startling awake just in time to swerve back over and avoid a head-on collision. Needless to say, I was a bit more awake after that.

            So here I sit, glad to be writing, glad to be alive and in one piece, glad for the sounds of my (presently well!) son upstairs, and glad for much, much more. For me, then, the question (as always) becomes: what am I to do with all these gifts? What is all this goodness for, and dare I ask- what am I for?

            Of course, my answer to that question has been fairly consistent over the past while: I am for love. God created me in love and for love, and such love is my beginning, middle, and end (purpose). Still, love doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it is something one does, which means that I am for (right) relationships- with God, with those around me, and with the world. It is only when I live in that love- when I inhabit those right relationships- that I fully know the joy of doing that for which I was made. So as I have said for some time now, in reaction to the mislearned lessons of the Christianity of my youth, it may be that I do no better in my life as a Christ-follower than to plumb the depths of God’s love for me, but I know that this love is experienced fully only in the community that God’s love keeps building, and so I yearn to be a part of it.

            Speaking of community, and love, and right relationships, there is some news on this front (pausing for a language “aside:” it occurs to me that this phrase is most likely a war metaphor, something which- spiritual warfare notwithstanding- the latent pacifist in me recoils against). Not too long before Kirsten and I began the process of deciding to “take a break” from Sanctuary (which has since disbanded as an active church plant, and which I will finish writing about, I promise!), I discovered a new friend, Jared (and his wife, Tina). Actually, Tim Hill, Sanctuary’s pastor, found Jared through the Emergent website, as both of them had indicated there an interest in starting an Emergent Cohort in NE Ohio. So Tim and Jared got together and began plans for launching that, and once they had the Akron-Canton Emergent Cohort blog up, I found the link to Jared’s blog, and began exploring it. I was intrigued enough by what I read there to email him and invite he and Tina up from Canton (where they live and are part of a house church) for dinner. They came, and the next weekend they invited us down for dinner, and we went, and so to borrow the immortal phrase, thus began the start of (what is turning out to be) a beautiful friendship. Jared and I seem to be pretty similar in a lot of ways, including in our thought process and faith journey to this point, which means that we have much to talk about. We like the same T.V. shows (Battlestar Galactica, Lost, etc.) and seem to be fairly equally energized by intentional relationship building. We both value serving the poor and recognize the relationship between the American way of life and world poverty, not to mention the relationship between loving/serving the “least of these” and following Jesus. In all of this, and much more, I take heart- and thank God, for I have been hoping for this kind of friendship for a good, long while.

            As if Jared and Tina weren’t somehow “enough,” they come, of course, with their own existing relationships- many of them who are also a part of the Canton House Church- and so we have gotten connected with these folks to boot. Particularly in Jared’s good friend, Tony, I have found another fairly like-minded fellow, and on the one occasion so far when Tony, Jared, and I have been able to get into a lengthy conversation, it has been wild, deep, far-ranging, and fun. Needless to say, I look forward to many more. So I’ve been down to their house church on a number of occasions so far, and Kirsten and I are seriously considering making this our church “home” for the foreseeable future. As I wrote to Jared after visiting the house church for the first time:

 

I wanted to let you know how pleased Kirsten, Samuel, and I are to have been able to worship with you today. The love that is present in your group was evident in the warmth that was extended to us, and we are grateful. Please accept our gratitude…to you and Tina, and to the rest of the gang.

Of course Kirsten and I were talking on the way home about our impressions, etc., and I was reminded of your warning that the house church probably wouldn’t embody everything that we are looking for in a faith community, and I’m sure that you’re right. Of course I have lots of questions already, and I know that other questions/issues would surface if we were to join you in your journey as a community, particularly regarding theology, ecclesiology, the issues of authority (and I would say, legitimacy) that you’ve been raising on your blog, etc.

Still, if pressed, I would probably say that my primary (failed) objective in my (former) leadership of Sanctuary’s lone microcommunity was to instill in those folks a notion of what it means as Christ-followers to have a life together. Had I spoken up today, I might have answered Tony’s question (why Christianity?) in a couple of ways. As I am wont to do, I would have echoed Peter’s words in John’s gospel, after many turned away from Jesus because of his teaching that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. In response Jesus asked the twelve: "Do you also wish to go away?", and Peter answered "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." I think this sentiment is also reflected in Martin Luther’s (alleged) concluding statement to the Diet of Worms, in which he espoused his convictions about the essentials of the faith and the degree to which the Roman Catholic Church had gotten away from them. After being asked if he would recant his statements, Luther said, "Here I stand. I can do no other." It is this sense of inexorability about following Jesus that best describes my faith journey these days. Like you, I have been captivated by the gospel and am compelled to keep trying to live my life in response to it.

For me, much of this response has to do with seeking to spend my days plumbing the depths of God’s love for me, and I know that I do this no better than when I am immersed in that great cloud of witnesses that Jesus calls me into. You and I both know that the life of faith is a life spent together with those who are also "on the way." In other words, if I am to truly and effectively follow Jesus I need you, and Tony, and Tim and Christy, and any others who will truly partner with me along the way. I think this "life together" is a radical and amazing and truly counter-cultural thing, and I have found few who are willing to fully live it out, perhaps for the lack of committed partners who will join with them and really struggle together to figure out how to do so. I guess that’s ultimately what I hope for from the faith community that I finally commit to. To put it in romantic terms, I’m tired of dating, and I want to get married (again). I’m not sure how far I can take this analogy, but playing with it just a bit…I know of course that I’m the bride in this picture with Jesus as my groom…but aside from gender issues I would make for a sorry bride indeed if I am all there is to it. The bride of Christ, of course, is the Church, and WE are it- all of us. We have only to start acting/living like it. Whatever the faults of your house church may be, as an outsider with only today to go on, I at least see some signs of actually "living like it" in your community, and again, I am grateful. Because your community is full of people like me, I know there are problems (but given my previous congregational experience)..chances are, I’ve "been there/done that." Also, continuing with my analogy, I must be honest and say that in my desire for commitment I come to it as a divorcee. I’ve lived in community, as you know, and failed, but that failure has not soured me to the notion of it. It has only served to deepen my zeal for again meeting Jesus in those who will join me in casting aside all that hinders us from joining Him in the Way….of the cross. Beyond that cross, I believe and am helped in my unbelief regarding the truth that resurrection awaits, and I yearn for that too.

I think that much of what Tim and Christy are trying to get the Sanctuary gang to do is to create an environment (by setting up the worship space at their Discovery Gatherings twice a month, and- in more intimate fashion- through the hoped for community that the Micro-community is meant to facilitate) in which truly deep, loving, family-like relationships can occur. That sense of family that I think Tim and Christy are striving for is exactly the kind of sense that I got today among your house church, but you all pulled it off without all the fuss/pretense of "creating a (public) sacred space," etc. …(So), I remain convinced that if …we want folks to experience Jesus (rather than "access" church), then inviting them not " to church" but rather into the life that we- the Church- are having together through the simple sharing of a meal, and worship, and learning together as a family…well, in my humble opinion…that’s "what it’s all about."

I guess the notion that I’ve been talking around so far, without actually getting to, has to do with belonging. Quite likely for the first time since moving here, I actually feel as if I belong, and in decidedly delicious fashion, this bring me full circle back to the beginning of this post; for once again, context matters- and the most important context as far as I’m concerned is one’s relational context. For the first time in a fairly long while (excluding, of course, my relationships with my wife and son) I am immersed in growing relationships that matter to me, that are deeply important not just for my sake but for the sake of the world, for the sake of building God’s kingdom. I’m excited to keep learning what I’m for- in this relational context- and what these good relationships are for. I trust that if Jesus is our leader he likely has something revolutionary in mind, and I think these folks are turning out to be the kind of partners that one can live a revolution with!

Samuel

What little blogging I’ve been doing over the past week or so, you’ll find over at Samuel’s blog: www.godhearssam.blogspot.com. He’s been in the hospital for over a week, though we’re hoping now that he may come home soon. Once things "normalize" I’ll pick up that Church (S)Hopping thread I had been working on, and probably write about a few other things too…