Restoring Community - Part IIIb: Sharing Stories

LL made the following comment on the previous post: "I think it's interesting to consider that stories can either bind us or tear us apart. I hadn't really considered the latter."

I just sort of threw that statement at the end of my last post, but I think it does deserve additional attention. When I said they can tear us apart, I meant it on several different levels.

1) When we tell ourselves stories about individual people (aka make assumptions) it can often lead to issues where there are not and separation when it's undeserved.

2) When we tell others stories - true or not - that are hurtful to those in the story (aka gossip and slander), we tear our community apart.

3) When we tell ourselves as a group (or individual) stories that dwell on the negative, we can destroy ourselves. For example, telling ourselves we are failures, even based upon our history, can produce a vicious cycle. Or even one of my friends who wrote a business book says this of corporations: "(Storytelling) is often misused in organizations to reinforce and protect their weakness. Furtherore, an organization that has a habit of telling a high percentage of negative stories about itself is in danger of being destroyed from within." (Corporate Legends and Lore, Peg Neuhauser).

Storytelling wields great power, and should be used intentionally to build up community, not recklessly without thought.


Restoring Community - Part IIIa: Sharing Stories

At Mount Hermon 2007, the keynote speaker, Dick Foth, talked about a concept called “history giving.” He said that we connect with others by sharing our stories. As we give our history to others, we invite them into our lives.

History giving highlights things we have in common, points of natural connection. How many times have you been to a conference or on vacation and started a conversation with a stranger, only to find out you once went to the same school or you know the same person. Instantly, the person no longer feels like a total stranger because you have a common history.

History giving also illuminates things that are unique about us. When we share our life stories, we reveal things about ourselves that people never knew. We provide more information that helps each of us see things from the other person's perspective. We gain a deeper understanding of each other, why we each act or think or talk the way we do.

To truly give our history to another person requires being vulnerable and completely honest. Quite frankly, if we’re going to strive for community, then it must be you and I who initiate the history giving. We must be willing to put ourselves out there, knowing that others may hold what we say against us or think less of us or (gasp!) even not like us. It’s hard, and sometimes the repercussions really hurt. But I firmly believe that if we don’t break the chain of superficiality in relationships, then it will continue. We haven’t really created a safe place for relationships to deepen until we share our lives with others.

Once we’ve begun sharing our stories, we also must be willing to hear the stories of others. Learn to ask questions, and then learn to be quiet and listen. We’ll talk more about this side in a later post.

By the way, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that this topic is being discussed in the blogosphere. Stories are powerful in teaching us, binding us or tearing us apart. Check out LL Barkat (and here), Charity and Lynet’s for more thoughts on stories.

Okay, then. Go forth, be vulnerable and give your history!

Photo: An exciting Saturday afternoon (2007)

LINKED to this Post: Pat's comments on Why didn't you warn me?


Radio Commentary

On my way to and from a meeting tonight, I heard a few things on the radio that require comments.

1) You cannot use the word "mall" in a rock song. It totally threw me off to hear the singer talk about seeing a girl he used to love "at the mall."

2) Since when did country music start crossing over so much? I mean, just because you put a funky beat to it or add some electric guitar riffs, does not mean it is fit for a non-country station. I'm afraid you just can't take the "country" out of country music. There's a reason I have no country music stations preset on my radio.

3) Okay, this one is for my local friends. Dawson McAllister on 106.1? Seriously? For those of you non-locals, 106.1 is the radio station that plays Top 40, hip-hop/pop music like Fergie, Timbaland and maybe a little Daughtry. The weekday evening program usually features such deep call-in topics like "Are you hot?" and "Kiss and tell." I suppose it's a good thing...but very odd.


Restoring Community - Part II

As I continued to ponder the answer to the question, “How?”, I finally came to the point that it had to start on an individual by individual basis of casting a vision of what community could (and ought) to be, getting people excited about it and then brainstorming/working together to figure out how it practically works out. But how do you even start with that? My thoughts naturally went to community groups (our church’s name for small groups or mini-churches or home groups, etc). If transformation is going to ripple through our church, that's where it will start. After all, "community" is in the title, right? But part of what I see right now is that community group really means Bible study group. Not that some groups aren't growing deeper in relationship, but I don't sense they are intentionally striving to be community.

Which then begs the question of what would it look like on a practical level to be community? So, here's what I thought about. Keep in mind that I am not trying to propose anything...especially not a program. It just helps me to categorize my thoughts. And, well, it just so happens most of them start with the same letter.

Sharing stories
Serving one another
Struggling and Celebrating

To avoid having a super long post, I'll probably take the next few days and post more detail on each of these points. At least now you know where my thinking is headed, though.

These are just some initial thoughts. I’m realizing I have a deep passion for this topic, and I’m excited about being a change agent in my local church.

LINKED to this Post: Pat's comments on Why didn't you warn me?


Restoring Community - Part I

I’ve been reading a book by Shane Claiborne entitled The Irresistible Revolution (book review coming as soon as I actually finish it) and many thoughts have begun to swirl in my head, literally keeping me up at night. Among them is this concept of community that keeps coming back to me over and over. Claiborne is a co-founder of a group called The Simple Way. What attracts me to this group is their desire to practically live out what it means to be a follower of Christ, and therefore to be the Church. For them, it involves sharing their resources, viewing each other as family, seeing everyone around them (and around the world) as dear friends and creations of God and seeking to treat and serve them as such, standing up against injustices carried out against these friends and family, and worshiping God and growing deeper with Him, together.

To me, that’s what community is all about. We were created to be relational, and we were created to be in community. I long for true community in my church. I desire to live out community in our world. Dick Staub talks about being ambassadors and building bridges. Another book I recently read, Same Kind of Different As Me, also discusses what it means to live the Gospel and intentionally seek relationships. Blogs like Charity’s are challenging me to evaluate how good a steward I am of every aspect of my life. My thoughts are churning: where do I go from here?

I’m considering what all of this means in terms of outreach, and I have some thoughts I’ll share later on that. What strikes my heart deeply today is how can I effect transformation in my local church? Don’t get me wrong; I love my church. I love our vision of being authentic Christians. I admire our pastor who continually challenges us to live as followers of Christ, covered in the dust of our Rabbi. But true community has to come out of more than just a great vision statement or an inspiring sermon. I appreciate what Shane Claiborne has done in creating a new community. His efforts have begun a movement that is spreading across this country (and the world). I think that’s wonderful, and I hope it continues to do so. At the same time, I believe that same kind of community can - and must - occur through transforming the existing church. I firmly believe the church I attend can become that kind of community. The million dollar question I’m pondering, of course, is how.

LINKED to this Post: Pat's comments on Why didn't you warn me?


More randomness...

Okay, I was tagged by Mick Silva with the whole 8 Random Facts game, and I've wracked my brain trying to come up with some creative twist on it like LL or Charity. But, alas, my creativity fails me (and yet I still feel compelled to comply with the tag.) So here I go...again.

1) Piano at 4. I started taking piano lessons at age four and continued through fall semester of my freshman year of college. Well, that's not entirely true. For three years, I accompanied our church choir instead of lessons because my piano teacher told me she had taught me all she could.

2) Addicted. To ice cream in a tortilla, that is. Don't ask what compelled me to do it the first time, but I love it. I use less ice cream than I would if I were putting it into a bowl, and I can walk around the house doing other things while I eat it.

3) Stitches. When I was in sixth grade, I was in a biking accident that required three layers of eight stitches each. My mom nearly fainted while the doctor administered the shot into my knee, and I had to hold the nurse's hand for moral support.

4) Anti-shot. I hate shots and needles. It's probably because of what happened in #3, when I was left to face an excruciatingly painful needle by myself while my mother hung her head between her knees in the corner (can you tell I'm still bitter about that?). To this day, I can't even sit with a friend who is giving blood, and I have to have at least a day's worth of time to mentally prepare myself before getting a shot. It's a wonder I made it through childbirth.

5) Espresso. My husband bought me an espresso machine for our anniversary, and it's the best present he's ever given me. I have espresso nearly every morning, and it's way better than Starbucks.

6) No mowing. I've never mowed a lawn before. Not one blade of grass. I've never even started a lawn mower. And I'm okay with that.

7) Pictures. I'm an amateur photographer, as you probably already noticed. I decided when we moved into our home that I would not buy any pictures to hang on our walls. Any art displayed in our house is a picture that someone in our home has taken, with the exception of a print of one painting that I loved from a museum in Boston and some family pictures we had someone else take.

8) Almost 30. Yup, the big milestone is just around the corner. I practically have one foot in the grave...

Okay, since I recently tagged other people with this one, I'm going to be rebellious and ignore the rest of the rules.

And if you didn't notice, in a spurt of creativity, I at least made each fact 8 letters long.


And the winner is...


I got some Kenyan coffee.
My daughter got a t-shirt.
My husband got pneumonia.

Talk about a souvenir. Thankfully, with the miracle of antibiotics, he's already feeling a little better. But it stinks that he's been in our house for 4 days, but not really gotten home yet.


Welcome Home!

Thanks to all of you who have been praying for my husband on his trip to Sudan. He made it in safe and sound last night. Unfortunately, he began feeling extremely ill on his last flight, and spent the better part of today in bed. I think his fever broke sometime this evening, and he's feeling a little better. Tomorrow will tell if we need a trip to the doctor. Once he gets to feeling better, I'll post some of his stories. For now, I'm just hoping he's not contagious...that'd be one heck of a souvenir...


Galatians: Week 9 and 10

Galatians 3:7-18
Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

I'm a week behind again, and I'm struggling with the memorization of verses 7-14 for some reason. Fortunately, this week's list of verses (15-18) is short. I don't have anything interesting to comment upon for the verses I've memorized, which may be part of the reason I'm having trouble with them. I understand that Paul is appealing to their understanding of the law by quoting Scripture. I recognize that these verses are important in showing that Christ fulfills the law, he doesn't abolish it. While that is true, it is still through faith that we are saved, not by observing the law. I love how over and over, in slightly different (and sometimes not so different) words, Paul continually lays out the Gospel. It should be evident to the Galatians, and us, that we are justified through Christ alone. He leaves no room to consider that you could be a good person, a "law-abiding" human and be justified because of that. That's so counter-cultural to us that it's almost unbelievable.

Hopefully next week will go a little more smoothly.


Sudan update

Thanks so much to everyone who has been praying for my husband. He should be on a plane, as I type, headed to Kenya and then on home the following day.

The group had a wonderful trip, and as expected witnessed many amazing things. When I spoke to him briefly today, he sounded energized and very hopeful. The area itself has been fairly tough. According to an update from the trip leader, the area contends with "rampant drunkeness on an incredible scale. And we’re not talking about having a few beers, I’m talking Sorghum moonshine that makes a crazy, eyes roll back in your head drunk." Additionally the team has faced a strong resistance the Gospel, and did a lot of prayer walking and praying over the sick.

Many more stories and updates to come. Thanks again for your prayers; they have definitely been felt.


Salvation - Part I

I mentioned a few posts ago that I had been mulling over the concept of salvation a lot lately. I’m not quite ready to post anything on it yet, but I’m at a point where I would like to do some further study. Please don’t misinterpret this; I’m not questioning my salvation or belief in Christianity. I’m trying to understand it better, deeper.

So, I’m turning to you, my virtual community, for your input. Would you post in the comments your thoughts around the following questions:
a) What is it that triggers, if you will, the moment of salvation? By salvation, I’m meaning the point at which you are saved from eternal condemnation, which I believe happens at a specific point in time, one time. You might not agree, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on that too.
b) What are the bare essential elements to “becoming saved”? What I’m trying to get at here is what is the core of salvation? I think we often add a lot of extra stuff to salvation, and sometimes don’t even realize it. So, what are the basic pieces - that if you took any of them away, you wouldn’t be saved?

While I’d love to know your thoughts and conclusions on this, I’d also appreciate the Bible references that you feel back up your ideas. Additionally, I’d also appreciate any other suggested reading material. If you have friends interested in discussing theology, I’d love for you to ask them to join in the discussion.

Of course, I imagine there are varying viewpoints on this and my intent is not to create divisiveness in the Body. As usual, please be respectful.

Thanks for your help and input.


About two years ago, the movie The Man (starring Samuel Jackson and Eugene Levy) hit movie theaters with underwhelming success. True, it left much to be desired, and had I seen it in the theater I might have been disappointed I couldn’t get that money or time back. Admittedly, however, I found the interaction between over-talkative, naive fuddy-duddy salesman (Levy) and cool, but angry under-cover agent (Jackson) mildly amusing...even to the point of a few bursts of laughter out loud. One scene in particular remains lodged in my mind. Jackson commits some sort of questionable act or crime (I don’t remember) and tells Levy to get into the car. Before Levy gets into the car he looks at Jackson and slowly and deliberately blinks both eyes at the same time. Then he tells Jackson, “I’m taking a mental snapshot of you.”

I think about that scene periodically because sometimes I wish I could take real pictures I could keep forever from the perspective of my eyes. I don’t trust my brain to remember all of those shots in as clear details as my camera captures. Shots like my daughter as a baby sleeping peacefully on my shoulder. You could never get the camera angle and distance just right to see it from my perspective. Or when we look at each other nose to nose and she cups my face in her little hands.

So I do take those mental snapshots and do my best to remember them with the highest resolution possible. I thought of this scene again, as I walked around last week taking mental snapshots of my husband before he left on his trip.

Playing in the yard with my daughter. Snap.
Asleep in bed next to me, snoring ever so slightly. Snap.
Coming in the door from work. Snap.

I’ve never been nervous about him going anywhere - not even Africa. And I wasn’t about this trip, either, until a friend asked him (out of curiosity) if we had had a discussion about the “what if.” I don’t think I was naive in not having thought something could possibly go wrong. I certainly recognize it could. In my mind, though, I knew something could happen on his way to work just as easily (and probably more likely) as it could on this trip. Sure, Sudan isn’t the safest place in the world...but neither is New York City. And Sudan and Africa in general are not unknowns to me; I’ve been there. But the question planted a small seed of doubt in my mind, and for the first time I felt a little nervous.

At first, I didn’t even realize that I was taking those snapshots “in case.” I don’t really think anything dangerous is going to happen, but in the back of my mind is that seed of worry. I’m thankful that it’s there because it gives me a deeper understanding and connection with those (like our parents) who are openly anxious about his safety. My prayer is that he comes home healthy and safely, with many stories to tell about the exciting things he has witnessed God doing. Ultimately, though, my prayer is that God’s will is done through his going there, and that his sacrifice to go - however great it might be - will bring glory and honor to the One who sent him.