Celtic Spirituality

Listen to My Interview with Morgan Freeman from the Holy Land

A few months ago, I had the incredible opportunity to do an in-person interview with one of the most iconic figures of the silver screen, Morgan Freeman. As anticipated, his presence was both stoic and warm and his voice as silky smooth as imagined. I’m just disappointed I didn’t ask him to record my voicemail message. Alas, we had a great conversation about themes in his recent National Geographic Channel show, The Story of God. You can read the interview and my reflections on it in this article.

Fast forward a couple months and I heard from his team about doing an audio interview with Morgan while I was leading a delegation through the Holy Land…because there is no more appropriate location to discuss the different ways religions view God than in the place where Jews, Christians and Muslims find a common home. So, while overlooking the Sea of Galilee in Northern Israel, I was able to fire up Skype and record this conversation I had with Morgan and his colleague Lori McCreary (Executive Producer of The Story of God and Madam Secretary). We talk fear of the “other,” multi-faith understandings of God -- and how that impacts our common call to love our neighbor -- and a handful of other fascinating topics. Listen in by clicking on the recording below the picture. Enjoy! 


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.

“There Are No Thin Places.” My Response to Tony Jones

I really appreciate Tony Jones.  He is one of the best conversation starters in the “Christian” blogosphere with his passion for the Church to step more fully into its vocation by setting aside complacency and static dogma.  Tony asks hard questions and seeks to create space for constructive discourse that leads to new insights and answers.  On a personal level, his endorsement of my first book – Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling – to the higher ups at Zondervan is a significant reason I got published at that stage of my life/career. 

In my mind: Tony = Good Dude. 

Last week there was some buzz around my new book (with Rob Yackley), Thin Places, Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, that led to Tony posting a blog (Read it here for the rest of this post to make sense) in response to Steve Knight’s post on it the day before.  The conversation revolved primarily around varying interpretations of the Celtic term “Thin Place” and the secular/sacred dualism it could potentially create.  Tony argues that there are is no such thing as a thin place, “I say this because God is ever-present, everywhere. God isn’t more some places and less in other places. God is, in the classic sense, omnipresent.”  Rob and I give our interpretation of a “thin place” in the comments of this post.

In the end, Tony agrees with us on this and we agree with him.  God is everywhere, but a thin place is that moment/place where we are awakened to the reality of God’s Kingdom in a new way.  It’s not that it wasn’t here, it’s that we hadn’t yet had the eyes to see it.  He says, “In other words, pay attention. God is already where you are.”

Couple More Thoughts:

1. There is an irony to this whole conversation.  The point of this book is to offer the lived, rooted, praxis-based expression of a missional community so as to help spark the imaginations and practices of other faith communities.   We are saying,  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.”  “Missional” has become quite the buzzword and handy adjective for those seeking to jump on the latest ecclesial bandwagon.  I’m not saying those are inherently bad, but the last thing we need is more TALK about missional…we need embodied, lived expressions of the missional way of life.  

The Irony?  This book is seeking to encourage the Church to LIVE INTO their theology rather than debate it.  So while I love the discussions that are circling around the theological connotations of the title of this book, I’d love even more to see us wrestling with how to PRACTICE this in the real-life stories of our neighborhood.

I’m not saying there isn’t a need for academic critique, discourse or even debate on this.  In fact, I find great value in that and personally come to life in it.  What I am saying is that it would go a long way if we more often stepped out from behind our computers, and began to better live out our theology in the mundane than argue theology in the theoretical (I recently said much more about that over at Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians blog).  If there’s a hope from Thin Places, It’s not only for people to be encouraged to live this out, but to build on it, improve and add to it, and then share that insight with others. 

2.  Missional Hipster?

Well, you may have me there, Tony…or maybe not.  Depends on who you talk to.  I think hipsters wouldn’t consider me a hipster and non-hipsters would call me a hipster.  And as Rob said, he’s way to old to be a hipster.  Are there hipsters in our community?  Let’s just say some of the guys have to put Vaseline on their thighs to pull their pants up, so yes, we have some hipster up in here.  But please know that after I send you a box of THIN mints and Wheat THINS you’ll be receiving a prayed over spatula from our white missional hipster BBQ. 



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 3

In part 1 I discussed the early developments of monasticism that later gave birth to a missional movement that was beautifully embodied in St. Patrick (Part 2).  Today we ask the question, how do we live out the best of both of these movements and daily live life as monastics on mission in our neighborhoods?

Where the image of monasticism has historically been that of a culturally removed monastery and the image of “missions” movements have at times been fueled less by the Spirit and more by blind ambition, members of NieuCommunities seek to hold both images in tension and pave a new road forward. Such a road is to be characterized by what we see is the best of both movements and their valuable contributions to the missio dei. In the context of neighborhood, we seek to sustain and multiply missional-monastic communities that form apprentices of Jesus through contemplative life in the context of intentional community. At the same time, we seek to develop missional leaders who see all aspects of life as potential birthing places for the extension of the kingdom.

In the same way that our God moved into the neighborhood, seeking to invite us into his story of reconciliation, God’s people have been commissioned to missionally engage our neighborhoods with the good news of the kingdom—a kingdom whose king was enthroned through selfless sacrifice and suffering 

Put simply, we believe missional-monastic community creates a fertile soil to commune with God, live in deep community with others, and extend the good news of the kingdom in our local contexts. We believe this because we have experienced the richness of this way of life and ministry for ten years, but also because Jesus offered an integrated example of deep community (both with God and others) and mission.

In the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life and ministry, there are three values of paramount importance to communities of people seeking to faithfully participate in the missio dei. First, Jesus walked with God. He communed with his father regularly and sought to live out the story God thought best for him. While others caught up on their sleep, Mark lets us know that Jesus always found a way to get time in with the Father: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). The life and ministry of Jesus were first fueled by his intimate connection with his Father. We call this value communion.

Second, Jesus invited others to share in this story. It was not a story or mission that he thought best to embark upon alone. In fact, the very nature of the mission was that of community. God was seeking to restore community with the cosmos, and Jesus’s invitation to companions for the journey gives us deeper glimpses into life in the kingdom. It is not a passive form of community, but an extremely intentional form that requires each to give up everything for the sake of others and the mission. When Jesus said, “‘Come, follow me’” (Mark 1:17), he wasn’t simply inviting people to come to an event. He was inviting them to come and live with him and change the way they live. We call this value community.

Finally, Jesus’s life and ministry make it clear that the mission is not to be extended only through his life. It is a mission that requires others to advance to the ends of the earth in the generations to come. This reality is made clear in his acts of equipping his disciples through sharing life and sending them as kingdom representatives into their unique contexts. Jesus commissions them to dive deep into their contexts as a sent people fueled by their communion with God and sustained by their commitment to one another in community. Jesus sends us to enflesh good news in our neighborhoods just as he was sent to do: “‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’” (John 20:21). We call this value context.

In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, all of these values jump out of the story and are deepened and extended in the chapters that follow. While the monastic and missional movements are helpful in framing our place in church history, it is ultimately in the life of Jesus and his commitment to communion, community, and context that we find our framing example of life and ministry. With this model, we daily make our attempt to walk faithfully with Jesus and equip others to do the same in the unique soil of their context.

Through our commitment to engage God in communion, to engage one another in community, and to engage our contexts as the people of God, we have found a way (although very much a work in progress!) to integrate these often conflicting movements—monastic and missional—in a holistic, life-giving way of life.

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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