Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Some news from Uganda....

The e-mail letter that follows is from my friend Paddy who James and I met in Uganda (the photo is of James and Paddy). Paddy and his brother Mark were orphaned after their parents died at young ages, and they have had to assume the responsibility of caring for their younger siblings while trying to live their own lives. Earlier this year Communality, in partnership with One Horizon Foundation and Church Planting International, helped buy Paddy and Mark a Boda Boda (moped) that they could use to start their own business. Anyhow, I wanted to share this letter because the thanksgiving belongs to the whole community, and because I wanted to ask all of you to keep praying for Paddy and Mark. These are two bright young men who really want the opportunity to study at a higher level but are having difficulty coming up with the funds to make it happen. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us as we consider how we might continue to come alongside them. These are very small (and humble) steps that we're taking, but I believe that they are leading us into bigger things and deeper graces in the work of the Kingdom.

Dear Billy it is great to hear from you my brother ...thank for the boda has changed our lives so much i wrote to you about my studies billy and as well as for mark and the rest...billy i have no defined support in that area, mark he is advanced level and i am hoping to join the universiry to pursue information technology if God blesses me........because that cause seems to be relatively cheap ands it is selling here in soory i had asked you some money to help me get through with brothers 'last year in his ordnary level...but am still lack in that point...billy thank you very much for the bike because it helps to feed us we no longer sleep on empty stomachs as it used to be before and we used not to have lunch. the bike has done a great impact in the familly life..thank you...Am happy to inform you that we opened up football and netball teams at church and i will soon send you the details about it....Billy i love to study but.........please if there is any plan .....pray for me i love you and send my lovely greetings to your lovely family.....God bless you paddy

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Idea That Is America.....

On my way back from Australia I finished a good book by Anne-Marie Slaughter entitled "The Idea That Is America." Dr. Slaughter is the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and is the former president of the American Society of International Law. Her book was inspired by a letter written by Captain Ian Fishback (a officer in the U.S. Army) to Senator John McCain about the abuse of prisoners that he was witnessing in Afghanistan and Iraq. The spirit of Captain Fishback's letter, and the book, is captured in a very powerful statement that he makes in the letter:

"My response is simple: if we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is America."

What Dr. Slaughter's book tries to do is trace through American history the long, troubled, bloody, and ever unfinished development of what she argues are the core American ideals of liberty, democracy, equality, justice, tolerance, humility, and faith, and how we have begun to disturbingly depart from these ideals in the name of "security" by (among other things) condoning torture, detaining people without legal recourse or knowledge of the grounds of imprisoment, and ignoring or openly defying international laws (many of which we helped to author). These are hot topics that have inspired a lot of heated, even vitriolic, debate within our society. I would recommend the book as one good starting point for taking this debate further, inviting you to form your own opinions. Anyhow, in the section on "tolerance" she makes the following comment at the end of a section on Arthur Vandenberg, a powerful World War II era Senator who underwent (in his own words) a "dramatic conversion" in his views on the contemporary issues of the day. Her comment is something that I thought was worth noting both as a commentary on our current society and as a reminder about living together as human beings in general (I say this even though I think the concept of hospitality, of truly welcoming and receiving others, is far stronger and richer than simply tolerance):

"When people believe strongly in their ideas and defend them fiercely in the public square, democracies prosper. But for that kind of dialogue to occur, the participants on both sides must actually be prepared not only to persuade but to be persuaded, to accept the possibility of actually shifting position or even, like Vandeberg, completely changing their minds. When is the last time anyone in Congress, or any president, for that matter, admitted being persuaded not simply to compromise, but actually to think differently about an issue?
In the current political climate, intolerance masquerades as conviction, while tolerance is ridiculed as relativism. Yet tolerance is the indispensable first step toward even the possibility of persuasion. As in our earliest days, it is a vital source of strength, both as the precondition for unity and for the innovation and energy that results from the clash of ideas. Where are the Vandenbergs of today?"

Thursday, July 19, 2007

My Story with Joy

For many years I have put on a happy face. As a quick background, I have played in a pop/rock band for 10 years, and have played in front of probably a hundred different crowds. Growing up in the 90’s I was frustrated by dark, angst-filled music and super aggressive metal music. So I did my best to write the catchiest, happiest, most up beat songs I could possibly write. I felt this was the only way to connect with people in a way that could result in community and friendship. And it worked. I developed lots of friendships based on this positive upbeat music. But in the midst of the love fest there was something missing – my own joy.

When things went my way of course I was happy, and I was immensely confident about my talents and my future. But there was a big problem with this confidence. It was all vanity as it is said in Ecclesiastes. It was all smoke. There was nothing real behind it. After reading CS Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’ about a year ago I was convicted about my selfish pride in a way I never imagined. And though it has taken a while, I am gaining confidence now – not in my own abilities, but in God’s grace and the joy that flows from it. Paul said, “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [Philippians 1:6]”.

And so I am rethinking joy. I want to know what the Bible says about it. I want to know what my community thinks about it. I’ve started a blog called A Joyful Noise, and I hope that some of you folks will contribute to the dialogue about joy and how to share joy with a world in despair. My focus is to do this through music and eventually film. We can all find our own ways of dropping what I call ‘Joybombs’ on the world. May God inspire us to communicate joy and God's grace in creative ways with our community. Blessings.

Friday, July 13, 2007

forge intensive

billy, sherry and i are at the forge intensive in melbourne. it's going really well so far and we are learning much from the wonderful people gathered for this weekend. ash barker and mick and ruby duncan have been insightful and gracious in their teaching. here are some pictures - click on this one and you can see some more at our flickr page. dear family in communality, please pray for us as we share (y)our story tonight.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Return to Melbourne......

This morning I'm going to be flying back from Brisbane to Melbourne. I've had a wonderful time in Brisbane with Ken and Leanne and it is hard to believe that I've been here for less than two days. The city of Brisbane is stunning and Ken took me on a great tour of it yesterday. We rode the "city cat" (catamaran) around the edge of dowtown Brisbane and I got some video that turned out really well. And last night we spent some time hanging out with a few of the folks from Ken & Leanne's community City Weslyan Church. We had dinner together and spent a little bit of time talking about the challenges of being together in community and how we sustain our vision for Kingdom work when times (inevitably) get tough and relationships (inevitably) sour or hit rough patches. It was a great time and a good reminder to me of how few answers that I have to any of these ongoing struggles in faithfulness; a lot of years of (mostly) hard earned experience, a little bit of wisdom, and a small bit of perspective, but not a whole lot of definitive answers. I'm not sure that there are many "answers" beyond the continuing commitment to pursue solidarity together in justice and in love, no matter the difficulties. This is one thing that I'm finding as I travel to different places around the world. No matter where you go there is one thing that is common; people around the world struggle to keep their dreams of the Kingdom alive in the midst of disappointment, disillusionment, squabbles with each other, the inflated egos of some, and the constant pressure that we all face from the callous disregard for life and the future that we regularly see. We need to be renewed in hope daily, and we cannot give in to the constant temptation to be cynical about each other, the world around us, or the God whom we profess to serve. We must keep hope alive and belief in the goodness and value of doing the right thing no matter the apparent landscape. As Jurgen Moltmann says in his book "Theology of Hope," we must hold onto the "Promissio Dei," the promises of God, just as much as we hold onto the "Missio Dei," the mission of God in the world; these two things are ultimately one and we have to keep believing in them as we move forward together.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

some photos from the community garden

liza the farm girl

jeremy and ryan (gardening is like dancing)

liza and ryan learning from our beloved farmer friend, david

little mater

justice in the burbs

check out this video from our very own samsons...

In the land of Oz.....

I am coming to the end of my first week of travel in Australia. My thanks to the Maddocks for their diligence in posting updates to their blog about our journeys. Today I said goodbye to the Maddocks in Melbourne to fly up to Brisbane to spend a couple of days with Ken and Leanne Baker, who were a part of our community during their time at Asbury. The trip has been great thus far and I've had lots of quality time catching up with the Maddocks and meeting some of their friends. As I've visited with them, toured the city of Melbourne, and began to learn a little bit more about Geoff's home country, I've been constantly reminded of what an exceptional privilege it is to have this opportunity. I do not take this opportunity lightly, and I am grateful to my wife, daughter, and the rest of the community for opening up the space for me to come here. I know that I can feel comfortable and at ease here knowing that you are praying for us and helping to support my family while I am away. So, thanks to everyone for helping to make this opportunity possible, and thanks to those of you who have had been diligent about supporting Geoff and Sherry by staying in contact with them and praying for them over the last six-months. I am glad to say that they have felt well supported by the community and are very excited about their upcoming return to Lexington. It is evident that they have missed everyone greatly and are filled with energy and enthusiasm about the things that lie ahead in Lexington. Their sojourn in Australia has been a sacrifice for them and for the rest of the community, where we have all been made to surrender something that is precious to us. However, being able to come here and see the relationships that they have been building and the ways in which they are learning from others and sharing the richness of our own communal journey, has made it clear to me the sacrifice has been well worth it. They have represented our community admirably and have introduced us into a myriad of neat relationships that I'm sure will be fruitful for many years to come. So, thanks again to everyone for praying for us and for helping to make this journey possible. I've got better internet access here in Brisbane (where I'll be until Thursday) and will try to do another post or two before I head back to Melbourne.

Monday, July 09, 2007

pangs of consumption

Affluenza n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Jones. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste, and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the Australian dream (insert U.S. here). 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.

this one hurts. not that global warming and environmental degradation or peak oil are fun to wrestle with, but i'm finding out that examining our patterns and rates of consumption hurts to the core because, quite simply, i like buying things. there's nothing like a bit of retail therapy to fix anything.

as geoff and i prepare for forge workshops on sustainability and discipleship, we've dug deep into scripture, books on mission, the trinity, the environment and pop culture books like "affluenza" by clive hamilton. "Affluenza" brings a scathing, prophetic critique against consumerism in the west and how it affects everyone everywhere. the fundamental point hamilton makes over and over again is that the problem of affluenza is not so much with consumption itself, but our attachment to consumption and the ways our very identity is intricately bound to it.

i think this gets at the heart of personhood and ethics. as long as i continue to believe that who i am (or want to be) is tied to what i own or buy, i am a willing prisoner to an unjust way of life. it scares me and recently i've been painfully sobered by this diagnosis. and the only way i see my way out of this insidious state of being is the imagination and life of a community of people embodying a new economy and a redeemed identity. whereas a few years ago i would have been reeling without hope or just stuck in denial, i am confident and somewhat at peace that there is another way.

clive's solution "to mountains of waste is not more landfill sites but fewer shopping centres. We cannot solve the waste problem without solving the consumption problem." these authors have borrowed and composed a "wellbeing manifesto" that begins to get at the problem. he's also got a great website with links to others like this one that offer tangible alternatives and solutions to mass produced capitalism and toxic binging on stuff - check out "living green below your means." fortunately and unfortunately, someone is putting creative ideas and resources out there as the stones are crying out but it isn't the church. issues of consumption and affluenza should be at the forefront of the western church's dealing with itself and part of the message of another Way, for the sake of everybody.

Into Great Silence


Nestled deep in the postcard-perfect French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is considered one of the world’s most ascetic monasteries. In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready. Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks’ quarters for six months—filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one—it has no score, no voiceover and no archival footage. What remains is stunningly elemental: time, space and light. One of the most mesmerizing and poetic chronicles of spirituality ever created, INTO GREAT SILENCE dissolves the border between screen and audience with a total immersion into the hush of monastic life. More meditation than documentary, it’s a rare, transformative theatrical experience for all.

I went to see this film recently and found it to be one of the most challenging films I've ever seen. It is 162 minutes of virtually no sound. I found myself in an emotional struggle between romanticizing the setting, feeling a sadness for the monk's lonely lifestyle, wishing the film would finally end, and a feeling of spiritual inadequacy. There are several scriptures repeatedly inserted in the film, which remind the viewer that we must give up everything to be a disciple of Christ. I couldn't help but thinking about how difficult it was to sit in silence with this film and my thoughts for a few hours, but how these monks give their whole lives to this life of contemplation. What does it mean to give up everything? It seems like so many things are gifts from God. Are we to give those up too? Perhaps some other folks will get around to watching this film eventually. I would love to hear your opinions.

Peace, Jeremy.

contemplative life

i've been convicted recently to return to the practice of contemplation. there's so much peace in that practice for me. coincidently, this week's merton quote was on contemplation.

"Contemplation is more than a consideration of abstract truths about God, more even than affective meditation on the things we believe. It is awakening, enlightenment and the amazing intuitive grasp by which love gains certitude of God's creative and dynamic intervention in our daily life. Hence contemplation does not simply "find" a clear idea of God and confine Him within the limits of that idea, and holds Him there as a prisoner to Whom it can always return. On the contrary, contemplation is carried away by Him into His own realm, His own mystery and His own freedom. It is a pure and virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, but its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word "wherever He may go."

Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions Press, 1961: 5.

so, i am encouraged.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

incompatible with society

last weekend, geoff and i had the opportunity to sit down with some families with young children in melbourne (part of the red network) and talk about life in mission as a family. a friend, missionary and fellow american, john jensen, had invited us to join him, his wife and daughter to share our experiences - good, bad and redeemed - about mission, working on the margins, community living and the role of children in all of it.

before leaving for this gathering, we had a nice chat to will and lisa samson. at the end of our catching up, we asked them for some advice in this area (it was a rare chance to include other voices of our community in conversations we're having with people over here). they shared several things with us based on years of experience with three children. they said:

1) accept that mistakes will happen and decide that the most important thing you can do is raise your children to be followers of jesus.
2) that we don't believe our own theology sometimes and it requires tremendous trust to live a life of mission with your children.
3) always be brutally honest with your kids (and during the session john and raquel offered the exact same wisdom).

our discussion with this group in melbourne went well (for almost three hours) and folks were open about their fears, hesitations and uncertainties. who knows what god will do with what we had to say about it. if nothing else, we wanted to testify to the rich and abundant life we've experienced in all our years with communality, especially now with children.
as i reflected on the occasion and all the issues to be considered in raising children in a missional community with commitments to god's kingdom ways, this quote from jacques ellul seemed quite relevant (which came from shane's book):

"christians should be troublemakers, creators of uncertainty, agents of a dimension incompatible with society"

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

reminders from psalm 104

geoff and i have been studying a brilliant mission text by christopher wright called "the mission of god." it is a sweeping work framing scripture, our understanding of god, the story of israel and creation with a missional hermeneutic. throughout the book, he weaves between the particular and the universal of god's mission. we've found it exceedingly helpful as we've worked with mary fisher through theological questions of mission and planned for our forge workshops on the environment and sustainability.

from genesis 1 & 2, wright reminds us that "creation is intrinsically good. god defines it, not humans. and that the goodness of creation is theologically and chronologically prior to human observation. all created order was divinely affirmed before humanity arrived on the scene."

then he goes on to quote a meditation from a guy on psalm 104 who notes how the poet’s celebration goes way beyond the earth’s provision for human need:

"God planted the cedars and other trees and waters them fully. Birds build nests in them. The stork is singled out in particular: God made fir trees for the storks to nest in, and he made storks to nest in the fir trees. He made high, inaccessible mountains for the wild goats to run and jump upon, and he made wild goats to do the jumping and cavorting. He created the vast expanse of rock-covered earth in eastern Jordan for rock badgers to live and play in, and he created rock badgers for the rocks. Storks and goats and badgers do not serve mankind. They do what is appropriate to them, and God provided a place that is itself fulfilling its function when it ministers to the needs of its special creatures. I know of no more direct word in the Bible about the independent significance of things and creatures on which man does not depend for life. The creative and powerful anthropocentrism of biblical religion is here beautifully qualified: God has interest in badgers and wild goats and storks for their own sakes. He has interest in trees and mountains and rock-cairns that simply serve non-human purposes.”

Monday, July 02, 2007

words from merton

"God seeks Himself in us, and the aridity and sorrow of our heart is the sorrow of God who is not known in us, who cannot find Himself in us because we do not dare to believe or trust the incredible truth that He could live in us, and live there out of choice, out of preference. But indeed we exist solely for this, to be the place He has chosen for His presence, His manifestation in the world, His epiphany."

The Hidden Ground of Love: 157 "