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Thin Places Releases TODAY! Check out: Full Video Session, 1st Chapter & Table of Contents

It’s finally here! Order your copy of “Thin Places”.

Also, in anticipation of today’s release of Thin Places, the good folks at The House Studio have released all sorts of fun stuff! As a way to allow all of you to be a bit more familiar with what Thin Places (and the Small Group edition) is all about, you can now check out the Table of Contents, the full first chapter and the second of six videos in the small group edition.  

Hope it is helpful and I would much appreciate you passing the word!  

Check this out for a full description, video trailer, endorsements.

Check out the table of contents

Read the First Chapter: Listening

Thin Places -- Chapter 2: Submerging from The House Studio on Vimeo.

“This is the Village I Have Been Telling You about”

This is an excerpt from the Afterword of Thin Places and was first published over at The House Studio.  

These postures and the stories that fill them out aren’t concrete, sure-fire steps to a vibrant life as a missional community. They are simply field notes from our humble attempts at living out the mission of God in the context of covenant community. It is messy, it is discouraging, but it is beautiful and I really, really think it is worth a shot.

Janna, a midwife at a local birthing center where a few of the babies in our community were born (including our little daughter, Ruby), made a sign of a cross and prayed a quick blessing over Derek and Christiana’s daughter, Anika, moments after she was born. Both the parents were deeply moved by this sincere act of love and care.

Over the course of the next year, Janna became close friends with Christiana and many of the other women in our community. Soon, it was Janna’s turn to get pregnant and embrace the sacred anticipation of new life and an expanding family.

A few months into her pregnancy, Janna’s husband broke relationship with her and their quickly developing child. She was crushed and struggled to see the baby’s pending arrival as a blessing. Feeling alone, abandoned, and heartbroken, our little tribe of Jesus apprentices began to surround her with love that she desperately needed during this vulnerable time.

Helping her find an apartment in our neighborhood, we moved Janna into our “home” just weeks before the baby was due. All the moms excitedly got her fully equipped with hand-me-downs and threw an incredible baby shower.

Committed to natural childbirth, Janna decided to have a homebirth in her apartment and asked Rebecca and Christiana to be in on the labor as doulas. After forty-three hours of hard labor, Janna gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Having not yet decided on a name, she temporarily called her new little companion “Turkey.”

Reflecting on the impact Janna’s blessing had made on her and Derek, Christiana asked if we could come over and pray a blessing over Janna and Turkey. Just twenty-four hours after the birth, our tribe filled her little apartment and prayed blessings over Janna and her precious little boy.

With tears filling her eyes, Janna looked down at her son and said, “This is the village I have been telling you about.”

We were no longer just Janna’s friends: we had become her village, her community.

When she said these words, I was stirred to tears. This was what it is all about. This was the way God had created his community to function. God’s dreams for his people were being made real in this small apartment in Golden Hill. It truly was a thin place.

Two of my closest friends have followed (from afar) the life we now live as part of NieuCommunities. They have offered endless support, but they have also asked the hard questions that have led me to deeper conviction in our calling to live in missional community. Within the course of the same week, they each separately said, “The ministry you’re in and the life you’re living give me hope that my ideals for the Church can become reality.”

My response was brief: “Please know that they can be.”

Life on mission in the context of intentional community is not a far out ideal: it is a reality waiting for others to step into. Consider joining me. Consider joining us in the global movement that is seeking to faithfully tell God’s story.

Glimpses of a New Narrative

This blog was originally posted over at The House Studio (publisher of Thin Places) a couple days ago.  

We live in the downtown neighborhood of Golden Hill in San Diego.  It is a place that contains a multitude of narratives.  At times they are warring narratives, other times they are complementary narratives and still other times they simply learn to live in tension with one another.  Shaped by race, economic standing, family culture, age and value systems, they drive the social fabric of our neighborhood.  To know Golden Hill is to know diversity.  It is to know a place that has been broken.  A place that has been written off and at different times in its history been labeled “The Garbage Dump” and “Heroine Hill.”

Recently, there was a city wide electrical blackout.  Life seemingly stopped.

Roads were at a stand still, homes were dark and businesses closed.

But something else happened.  Something sacred.

TV’s were no longer replacing shared life, florescent lights were no longer drowning out the warmth of the sun, cars were parked in driveways and people took to their patios, yards and sidewalks.  The autonomous life was subconsciously being exchanged for the life of community.

Life did not stop with this blackout; instead we found that life was actually just beginning.

As our neighbors pulled food out of their thawing freezers and put it on our BBQ, our patio began to fill with life, hope and collaboration.  A neighbor posted on Twitter the next morning, “Last night, under a moonlit sky, neighbors became friends across the city. Worth considering how to cultivate such a thing year-round.”

A new story was coming to life.  It was a narrative that transcended all the warring narratives of the past and gave a glimpse into the future we believe God has for this neighborhood.

While praying over his community on the Island of Iona, the 6th century Celtic monk, St. Columba, described his experience as a Thin Place; a place where heaven and earth were only thinly separated; A place where God’s Kingdom was being made real.

We experienced a thin place that blacked out evening in Golden Hill.  As a band of Jesus’ apprentices committed to commune with God, dive deep into intentional community with one another and engage our neighborhood with the new narrative of God’s Kingdom, our missional community seeks to be conduits of thin places.  NieuCommunities desires to develop individuals and communities that not only dream about thin places, but who experience them on a daily basis.

Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community is a book that was birthed out of lived community committed to following in the way of Jesus while diving deep into the fabric of our neighborhood. These postures and the stories that fill them out aren’t concrete, sure-fire steps to a vibrant life as a missional community. They are simply field notes from our humble attempts at living out the mission of God in the context of covenant community over the past ten years.  It is messy, it is discouraging, but it is beautiful and I really, really think it is worth a shot.

May the Church global be mobilized and empowered by the Spirit to embody the Good News of Jesus in all its forms in every moment of everyday.

Missional-Monastic Community: Part 2

Yesterday I presented a brief history of the soil which gave birth monasticism (Click to read Part 1).  In short, the monastics chose a life self denial, isolation and rigorous spiritual disciples out of faithful devotion to Jesus.  While the movement often withdrew from society (whether individually or communally) they offered a prophetic call to the low-committment Church of the Roman Empire.  For the monastics, being a Christian wasn’t a transaction or a label, it was a way of life.  

We have much to learn from the monastics, but how can we take what we have learned and shape communities that aren’t only focused on formation, but also mission?

The Missional Stream of Missional-Monastic Community

Although the monastery was—and to some degree still is—a place that is primarily focused on personal and communal formation through a withdrawal from culture, it largely served as the birthplace of the missional movement

The Celtic Cross in Knock, Ireland

within Church history. St. Patrick and his successors began to plant seeds of the missional DNA within the soil of monasticism and the Church in the fifth century. Having been kidnapped and enslaved by the Irish as a youth, Patrick returned home to Britain with a divine conviction to return to Ireland and invite his persecutors into the way of Jesus.

Not content to withdraw from society for the sake of personal formation, Patrick birthed a new form of monastery— what George G. Hunter III terms “monastic communities”.  Unlike previous monasteries, Patrick’s weren’t “organized to protest and escape from the materialism of the Roman world and the corruption of the Church; the Celtic monasteries were organized to penetrate the pagan world and to extend the Church.” These communities were committed to spiritual formation—both individually and communally—and they were fueled by the missio dei to be good news in their new and extremely different context. They were what I see as missional-monastic communities.

Throughout our Christian history, the church often struggled to consistently produce missional-monastic communities, communities that were committed to internal formation that directly influenced their external extension and engagement. The institutions often calcified, the monasteries often withdrew at the expense of missional engagement, and missions turned to violent colonialism.

Obviously the news isn’t all bad as the Spirit faithfully led and guided the changing Church through its dysfunctions as it continues to do today. With that said, I think these paradigms remain a helpful critique and corrective for the Church. It is not enough to be purely focused on formation or purely focused on mission. There must be a dynamic interdependence that allows the Spirit to shape and fuel both individuals and communities as they seek to faithfully participate in the missio dei.

How often do our faith communities amount to little more than Bible studies? Can the Bible be faithfully “studied” if it isn’t put into practice in the “classroom” of our neighborhood, city, or world?

In contrast, how often do we go on mission trips where we don’t really have any relationship with the people we are seeking to serve or any understanding of the context in which they live? We have plenty of “outreach” programs, but our relationships with God and with neighborhoods are nothing more than a passing wave.

We can neither remain withdrawn from society in our monasteries nor advance on mission without being fueled by the Spirit. So what does it look like to be a missional-monastic community today in the unique soil of our context?

Tomorrow — Part 3: Embodied Missional-Monastic Community

 

The majority of this post is an excerpt from my book (with Rob Yackley) Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, published by The House Studio 

Missional-Monastic Community: Part 1

Mission is the work of God that the church simply participates in, not the work of the church that we ask God to bless. Jesus commissioned his disciples to join this mission, and the early church sought to faithfully form faith communities that would embody and advance the missio dei. Two major movements in church history have sought to faithfully embody and participate in the missio dei. These monastic and missional movements make up the foundation for the community we have been called to form and are the roots of our particular faith community (NieuCommunities). 

I want to take the next few days to explore the history (it will only be brief!) and modern practice of missional-monastic community (some may call this New Monasticism).  In the Church today there is a building movement for missional community and a resurgence of interest in the monastics. 

What would our faith community’s look like if we were to glean the insights of formation from the monastics, while embracing our vocation of shared mission

I will begin by taking a brief look at the development of monasticism and its implications on the way we form and live out community today. 

The Monastic Stream of Missional-Monastic Community

As a grassroots, Spirit-driven movement, the early Church thrived under the heavy hand of the Roman Empire during the first three hundred years following Jesus’s life and ministry on earth. It was a movement that didn’t offer allegiance to Rome and the “divinely” appointed Caesar, but instead offered allegiance to Jesus. However, as Christianity became more widely accepted (the majority of Roman citizens became “Christians” during the fourth-century-reign of Constantine), Christian nominalism began to pervade the Church. The unique soil that had given birth to a cruciform faith was reduced to a label that required less and less abandon to the self-sacrificing way of Jesus. Christianity became “the thing to do” rather than the high calling of one submitted to the way of the cross.

It was this context and ecclesial reality that gave birth to monasticism. Of Egyptian ancestry, Anthony was raised in a wealthy Christian family; after a unique conversion experience, he gave all he had to the poor while choosing to pursue a life of asceticism. Withdrawing from society, Anthony spent the next twenty years of his life in an old fort in the mountains, eating and drinking sparingly as he gave his life to devotion of the contemplative life. For him and for many of his contemporaries, the radical call of Jesus to selfless sacrifice had been lost by the majority the Church, and they saw their intentional way of life as a needed corrective.

Anthony is now known as the Father of Monasticism because his way of life attracted disciples and sparked a new movement that served as a critique to a calcifying Church structure and commitment-less Christianity. Anthony’s fame spread throughout the Empire, and Emperor Constantine and his two sons even took the time and effort to seek out his counsel and prayer.

As the movement developed, it sparked a renewed submission to the radical call of Jesus and took a variety of forms—some much more extreme than others. For example, Simon the Stylite lived on top of a pillar east of Antioch for thirty-six years as he and others like him became known as “athletes of God” through their selfless sacrifice and devotion. In contrast, Pachomus, a fourth-century monastic, thought it best to pursue the monastic life in the context of community and pioneered the development of the monastery. His monastery became so popular that many others were started, and by the end of the fourth century, a developed Pachomian system had been established for the operation of the community.

Along the way, buildings were erected as a way to keep the world away from the cloistered community or monastery. For these monks, the ideal Christian life was not one of direct engagement with the world for the extension of the kingdom, but one of withdrawal out of a desire to be better formed into devoted, self-sacrificing followers of Jesus. Their witness was not through missions or evangelism, but by offering to the rest of the world a countercultural example of devotion.

It was in this context that the monastery became—and largely still remains—primarily an image of spiritual and communal formation rather than missional advancement and engagement. Although there is much more to the early monastic movement, it is this image of the monastery that I want to come back to and build upon for the sake of our conversation.

The monastics intentionally embarked on this way of life with a specific purpose of calling the Church back to its radical vocation to be a community rooted in the way of self sacrifice and obedience to Jesus.  Have our churches become monasteries removed from missional engagement as a prophetic presence like the monastics or out of pious isolation?  How might we create communities of formation and prophetic presence as a way of advancing our participation in the missio dei?

Tomorrow -- Part Two: Missional Stream of Missional-Monastic Community

The majority of this post is an excerpt from my book (with Rob Yackley) Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, published by The House Studio 

 

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