Category Archives: Missional

An alternative

My friend, Jamie, tagged me with a meme he is starting. Reflecting on a quote from St. Francis he writes:

“The life of the Christian should be burning with such a light of holiness that by their very example and conduct, their life will be a rebuke to the wicked.” (St. Francis)
In an era where Christians are largely known for the sin they oppose, this wisdom could not be more timely. Francis calls us to face the compromises of our culture by becoming living alternatives with how we live.

In light of that, here is the question he is asking:

1. Consider aspects of our culture where we have too easily compromised, issues that you passionately oppose.

2. Then, ask yourself what it would mean for you, both as and individual and as a part of a community, to be a living alternative. Write about it.

3. Link back here to this post.

4. Tag others to participate.

I’m going with my first reaction to his question, and that is holding tightly to money and possessions: hoarding rather than holding loosely. While I could certainly write a long answer describing all the ways I have hoarded rather than given, I do have a few testimonies I can share. Alternatives to hoarding in my community have looked like this:

Not purchasing/owning a washer and drier and instead using a neighbor’s machine across the street.

Giving cars away (when our pastor joined our community, a couple gave them their second car and just this week, our friends gave their really nice Honda to my sister and her family).

Receiving inheritance money and giving a substantial portion of it away rather than stockpiling it.

Owning one pair of shoes that you wear every day.

Paying someone’s hospital bill outright rather than loaning the money.

Giving away thousands of dollars a year in rental assistance to a family struggling to get out of debt.

Buying a bunch of stuff at Costco for a friend repeatedly and refusing reimbursement because that friend’s finances are really tight.

Giving a large cash gift to help a growing family buy a van.

Offering to pay for some expensive self-defense classes for someone struggling with fear following a physical attack.

Sending monthly grocery gift cards to a single-mom with five children.

Choosing to give away the majority of your income to further the work of the church among the urban poor.

Buying Doug a new, really nice guitar when his strings were breaking weekly and it was held together with rope.

Living way beneath your means to free up money to give away.

Well, I could surely go on but that is a fine start. Thanks, Jamie. It was a blessing for me to rehearse these testimonies of generosity and sacrifice.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal…You cannot serve both God and money.”

Oops! I forgot the tagging part:

Jim

Eugene

Sonja

Missional: is it rocket science?

Last week a group of us from Servant Partners gathered for a workshop on Knowledge Management, ably led by a dear friend to our organization. When our executive director introduced Jason, she shared with us about his ministry involvements in Northwest Pasadena through an organization called Northwest Neighbors. And then, almost as an afterthought she said: “Oh, and he is a rocket scientist.” We all laughed.

As he led us through a great discussion about how knowledge transfer is happening in our organization, he would regularly use examples from his own workplace: JPL. To illustrate a point about distinguishing explicit knowledge from tacit knowledge he would say something like: “You know, like when we were receiving all of the data from the first images of Mars…” Or to make a point about key staff members who hold some specific piece of knowledge: “Like if there is one guy on the team who is just really exceptional at calculating orbits…”

Honestly, I couldn’t help laughing every time he did this. And while we could perhaps argue whether building a spacecraft or church-planting in the world’s slums is more difficult, I felt a sense of awe at what is for him another day at the office.

There was one example from his presentation that struck me and has pressed my imagination a bit the last few days. He said that, at JPL, one of the most successful ways they have fostered a culture of knowledge transfer is through a kind of story hour. Senior engineers are invited to simply tell the stories about designing this spacecraft or calculating that orbit or solving some problem, and the junior engineers bring their lunches and just sit and listen to the older guys tell their stories.

Jason said that part of what makes this effective is that people like to both tell and listen to stories (as opposed to being given some textbook-like document or a bunch of data), and there is an emotional impact that helps binds the knowledge being presented. And the emphasis isn’t as much on the actual results as it is the process of discovery and problem solving.

Bill Kinnon posted a challenge of sorts for those who would consider themselves “gurus” in what is called the Missional Church movement. He writes:

I confess that I’m really not interested in hearing theories anymore. I want to know how the missonal profundities emanating from the particular guru are applied in their own lives – right now. Not last year, last century or last millenium. But. Right now.

“Where are you plugged into a local expression of a missional community? How does that impact what you are sharing with us?”

His question resonated with me a bit and I thought about how hearing someone discuss competing theories about rocket science would stack up against story hour at JPL. Scot McKnight recently highlighted a post by David Fitch on “picking out a house missionally”, and as I read it in the context of this larger discussion I thought it was a good example of someone sharing their story of process and discovery; of calculating a missional orbit of sorts.

I have thought before that maybe I should try to write more “theory” here, and there are any number of reasons why that is not what this blog has become. But I have sensed that, in the Christian blog world, theory is elevated. Strong opinions and arguments get readers, links and comments, and while I don’t blog to acquire those things, I have wondered about what unique contribution I am making here.

I think I’m pretty happy being a story hour kind of girl, though often enough I don’t feel very far along in the journey. But then I remember the kind words Rebecca spoke and I am reminded that stories that don’t have all the orbits calculated can useful too:

This is why I was glad to find The Margins. Because the story is being told while it happens, there is no over-arching thesis to be proven. Her brain has not had time to protect her from the memory of being scared for herself and her children. Because of this, her faith in the midst of all she is going through shines all the brighter. Read especially Erika’s post A Walk in the Park to see what I’m talking about. She doesn’t know yet that it will all turn out to be OK. But she does it anyway.”

Where we dwell

I spent Sunday’s worship service helping out in the nursery. At one point, we headed outside to let the kids play on the playground and I stayed in the covered area with Elijah. It was an unusual worship service that focused on prayer, and a few youth had opted to hang out in the back with their skateboards instead of participating. I was sitting there with my baby when I saw a group of three youth come around from the other side of the building carrying skateboards and I realized that they must be in the practice of hopping the fence to skate behind the school.

We didn’t talk much. I mostly enjoyed watching them practice different jumps, and our two boys joined in with what they were doing. The whole skateboarding culture here still cracks me up. It brings back too many of my own memories of junior high.

As I watched them skate, I thought about our friends who joined our church family as a result of meeting us in the park where we met and they slept. Warm coffee and good food shared opened the door to meaningful relationships: with us and with Jesus. I was bummed when I saw that we didn’t have any food this week after the service because I wanted to invite these boys in for something to eat.

There is something good about being a sojourning church. There is something Acts-like in moving about, colliding with people in their everyday pursuits. Mark Galli wrote an interesting post on the importance of a building from his Anglican perspective. He writes:

Every Anglican parish is an icon of Israel, a people with a unique call from God to not wander but to settle down, not to live in exile in strange places, but to gather together on a certain piece of land where Jesus will take on flesh and dwell among them, a place that will become holy.

When I consider Church of the Redeemer, and the community that makes us, it makes sense that we wander: that our “space” speaks of what it means to be aliens; that we sit outside a land of milk and honey and still we choose to worship.

A good conversation

This past week, Doug wrote a guest post here that received extensive comments resulting in a quality dialogue about the identity of the church. I thought I would post a few excerpts here:

I think the concept of outreach versus inreach itself strikes a dissonant chord in me. When I read through the gospels, I find no striking characteristics that necessarily made someone in or out. There are those who are in, who are also out (Judas) and those considered most definitely out, who are ultimately elevated to kin-relationship with Jesus (woman with hemorrhage). Yet even those who are healed and want to follow him are not always given “disciple” status. Troubling!

Before you became a monk/nun you participated alongside the brothers/sisters in their work. Even those who didn’t intend to join were still welcome to participate. Some things were explained outright, other things were left for later explanation when they would actually make sense. Our consumerist mentality demands getting things right now and lacks patience in learning – thus it challenges this type of learning and undercuts any type of successful mentoring. Recently I read that those working toward baptism into the faith community in the first couple centuries had a three year process. For one year they studied Mark – nothing else. For the next year they studied Matthew – nothing else. For a third year they studied Luke/Acts – nothing else. And at the conclusion of that year they were offered (or not offered, mind you) baptism into the community. Then, only after baptism, they were given the gospel of John.

I think the way outreach is conducted is crucial. Without a clear ‘mentoring’ and ‘discipling’ focus that makes use of vigorous outreach as the crucible for growth right from day one, I think ‘delivery systems’ do little to help people mature.

Seems like Jesus developed the disciples ‘on the fly’ and ‘in the midst of mission’ because He used their experiences together in mission as an opportunity to intentionally teach and develop folks.

I think the primary goal should always be out, not in. If the purpose of outreach is ultimately to get people in, then we still have the wrong focus. It is the very fact that we don’t see our purpose as going out that those who are “with us” never become devoted apprentices.

Outreach isn’t just for those who are especially gifted in evangelism. Unless we see our primary identity as disciples sent into the world, we will never reach some imaginary moment of maturity and enlightenment wherein we will be compelled out to the world.

The focus of discipleship is going out, not plugging in.

Check out the entire conversation here.

And what does the Lord require?

Last Saturday I had the privilege of spending the morning with Aaron Smith, the coordinator of Servant Partners’ internship experience in Manila. I have heard enough times from interns how deeply impactful the weeks spent with Aaron and his wife, Emma, in their slum community of Balic-balic are, so I was very excited to meet Aaron and hear more of his story.

Aaron is a gentle soul, and as he spoke of his community, I found myself fighting tears on more than one occasion. There was his description of babies who die because they don’t receive treatment for easily treatable illness; or the fathers who steal money from their children that was intended for school expenses; or the little girls whose life ambition is to go to work as strippers in Japan so that they can send money back to the family (a pursuit that is heartily encouraged by many parents).

I was struck too by the general economic despair that hovers of a community where the vast majority of men cannot find work, and where jobs that are given are by contracts that rarely last more than six months (the time period at which an employer must begin to offer benefits). This ensures a constant stream of needy unemployed who will work for low wages and without benefits under false hope that a job that is temporary just might become steady employment. In a word: oppressive. Aaron spoke of the ways an entire population of men copes with this reality, ranging from liberal unfaithfulness in their marriages to robbery and drug sales to abuse of their children and wives.

As I sat in comfort in our friends’ apartment across the street and listened to Aaron describe his and Emma’s life with a six-month old infant, I was reminded of the ease and security I live with here. I have never treated Elijah for cockroach bites; Mercy or Aaron have never been scratched by rats.

Aaron also told the story of visiting a family from their church in the community with some of the interns and seeing the interns moved to tears by the living conditions they saw there. Later, when Aaron spoke with the family about the interns’ visit, the mother replied: “They shouldn’t cry for us. We know Jesus. They should cry for the others who do not know Him.”

As I walked out of the apartment that day, I couldn’t help but think that everyone should spend at least one Saturday morning with Aaron Smith, or others like him who are seeking first God’s kingdom in the slums of our world.

Making some noise

I happened upon a post by Eugene Cho today that speaks well to the issue of giving public testimony, as Christians, about our monetary giving (something I have mentioned here recently). Eugene and his wife, Minhee, are dedicating their earnings for an entire year toward launching a humanitarian organization to battle world poverty and one of his blog readers challenged their choice to announce that publicly, asking: “Why not just do it in secret?” I appreciated his thoughtful, honest response to that question, and encourage others to check out his post: Loudly Fighting Poverty.

To lust or not to lust

This past week I read two things that struck me concerning how we view the homes and space where we live. The first was a review of House Lust, a book earning a fair amount of press for its examination of our nation’s obsession with the size and status of our homes:

Add to this a newly overwhelming lust for space. In 1950, the average American home measured just 938 square feet. By 2005, the average had grown to 2,434 square feet. The size of the putative American dream house expanded even more.

At a convention of the nation’s home builders in 1984, an ideal “New American Home” on display encompassed 1,500 square feet and cost less than $100,000. In 2006, the ideal house was 10,023 square feet, and was priced at more than $10 million. In the interim, Bill Gates of Microsoft built a 66,000-square-foot home near Seattle at an estimated cost of $100 million.

I am quick to say that one of the hard things for me about our life here is the impossibility of purchasing a home here in L.A. And while I sit at a distance through the many conversations my peers have about this and that remodel, this period restoration goal, this great refinancing opportunity, etc., I secretly wish I was in their club (though I certainly don’t envy the many headaches, the total displacement of families during remodel projects, lead and asbestos abatement, etc). I have a friend who has a very crass way of describing the way my generation has sold our soul to Home Depot, and while her words make me laugh I see how much acquiring and restoring homes can consume my peers.

The second piece that caught my eye was written for an internal newsletter for Servant Partners, and it dealt with the ways that crowding is a great stressor for those who live in urban centers, and in particular the slum communities where our staff members make their homes. The author quotes Danielle Speakman (Nothing But a Thief) who writes:

“Imagine your immediate family, who they are, what they are like, how many of you there are. Take all of you, add in your grandparents, and perhaps an aunt and her children. Now move into your bedroom. You all live there. All your possessions are there, you cook there, you sit there, you sleep there. Together…”

It is amazing, the juxtaposition from one world to another; worlds within one world; worlds that offend each other to the core.

The House Lust reviewer continues, quoting the book’s author:

“Unlike the robber baron-era mansions, modern-day megahomes don’t feature dozens of bedrooms or entirely new kinds of rooms — they mostly just take the rooms you’d find in a normal house and make them really, really big.” The challenge of filling up those rooms, he adds, is being met by outsize furnishings like the “extreme ultra king bed” that is 12 feet long and 10 feet wide.

Today was my first day back at work post-maternity leave, and I count it a grace to be in partnership with folks all over the world who have chosen those one room homes over giant rooms and oversized beds. They tell me a truth about life with Christ that is unpopular here in the land of house lust. They remind me of my own material abundance and they challenge me to consider ways to let go of some of that comfort and risk living with less.

Why We Can’t Wait

Last night Doug was working on planning the worship service for today while I finished cleaning up the day’s play in the living room when suddenly our apartment was filled with the sound of a helicopter circling overhead. Our living room was shaking, we could hardly hear each other speak, and I went to the front window to see where they were searching. I couldn’t see the helicopter or the light until I was bathed in it.

“What are they looking at?” Doug asked.

“Us.” I answered.

The helicopter continued to hover over our apartment, and the light was shining through our windows when all of a sudden I heard people running right below the window I was looking out, down our driveway to the back of our house. They were shouting and swearing and running very fast. Moments later I could see guys on foot behind them with flashlights: “Drop the gun!” I heard someone screaming, and I realized our apartment was now surrounded by police. I hit the ground, and yelled at Doug to do the same.

“They’re right outside our windows!” I shouted. I crawled closer to Doug and we sat there, huddled in the middle of the living room floor, paralyzed. “Did you lock the back door?” Doug asked me. I had just been finishing laundry and was sure that I had. Our third barrier, a kitchen door that locks between the kitchen and dining room, was open and I told Doug to go and lock it. And then we sat, holding hands, on our floor. I started to cry.

I don’t know how long we sat there. Eventually we could hear mostly police radios and the voices of officers, and we could see their flashlights sweeping all parts of our property. Deciding that the danger had passed, we looked out the front window and saw that they did have a guy in cuffs up against the cruiser, and there were officers walking up and down our driveway, and searching our front and back yards. They took the guy to a different cruiser, and there was a call over the radio and someone said something about “around the corner” and everyone took off.

Maybe fifteen minutes later, there was knocking on our door, and we went, together, to talk to the officer at our door. He wanted to know what we had seen and heard, and he informed us that they had been chasing a gang member with a gun. They had been able to apprehend the guy and it turned out he had dumped the gun around the corner from our house on Raymond.

When he was questioning us, he asked how long we had lived in this apartment. “Six years,” I answered. “Ever had any problems?” he asked? Doug and I both just stood there, looking at him: “Um…yeah. Lots.” I said, wondering if he was ignorant or checking to see if I was. “I mean, here on your property specifically,” he clarified.” “No, not right here.” I answered. He told us he might have to get back in touch later, we thanked him and said goodnight. At some point during our exchange, our landlord drove up into the driveway and stopped when he saw us in the doorway with an officer. He got out of his car to find out what was going on, and I felt better knowing that he was home.

We went back inside and Doug resumed work on his powerpoint and I finished cleaning, but with a distinct heaviness in both our spirits. It was hard to go to bed last night: that tension between wanting to listen for every sound and wanting to stop hearing noise outside long enough at least to fall asleep. Lots of sirens continued throughout the night, and I dreaded my middle of the night feeding with Elijah that would put me out in the living room alone.

Today we are honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in our worship service. I am at home with the kids, all of us sick, while Doug is there leading. Before all of this happened last night he had asked me: “what should I do for my invocation?” I am wondering what he chose to say to invite our community to enter God’s presence this morning. The words that haven’t left my brain this morning are the title to one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s books: “Why We Can’t Wait”, a theme so poignantly addressed by King in his famous Letter From the Birmingham Jail.

As I think about Doug and me last night, overwhelmed and overcome by fear of gunfire outside our windows, I think of those words: why we can’t wait. As I think of the young man, armed, running through the streets, I think of those words: why we can’t wait. As I think of my kids, sleeping gently in their bedroom while police officers scurry beneath their windows, I think of those words: why we can’t wait. As I think of our church, a church in and for this community, gathered in Jesus name a few blocks from here this morning, I think of those words: why we can’t wait.