“The Neighborhood Became our Classroom” – Part 2

NieuCommunities Group Pic

In my last post, I explored why we are to take seriously our role as Good News in our neighborhood.  As pilgrims participating in the Mission of God, it isn’t always about going farther around the world; more often it is about going deeper in your current context.  In order to be Good News in our neighborhood we have to know the good and bad news of its past/present.  The neighborhood must become our classroom.

The faith community I am part of (NieuCommunities -- see pic) took this seriously and began to research the story of our neighborhood, Golden Hill.  Through interviews, library research and connecting with local businesses, we discovered a dark past that explained much of its current dysfunction and brokenness.

As a neighborhood that received societies unwanted (homeless, addicted, immigrant, etc…), Golden Hill was termed a “dumping ground.” Further, it experienced fatal violence on a regular basis that stemmed from gang activity.  Looking through past newspaper archives, it wasn’t uncommon to see 3 or 4 murders in any given week.  Largely a symptom of the societal oppression and violent actions of the previous two dysfunctions, domestic violence was rampant as family structures deteriorated in such a volatile environment.

Having been known as “Heroin Hill” as recently as 7 years ago, it was becoming exceedingly clear why Golden Hill has some of the issues it does today.  To be Good News in this neighborhood, we are called to step into the dysfunction with the transforming hope of Jesus.

But we are not alone.  Through the history of Golden Hill, there were individuals and organizations that didn’t give up on being Good News in their neighborhood.  They chose to be seeds of hope in a field of brokenness.  Resilient citizens that started half-way homes for those that filled the “dumping ground.”  Community centers and urban farms for the members of broken families.  Instead of painting over gang graffiti with white paint, they hired artist to paint murals that told the story of the neighborhood.  As a band of Jesus followers who are shaped by God’s Mission of redemption and restoration, we simply join in the chorus of Good News that is already playing in Golden Hill.

Our neighbors across the street are a sweet older couple who have lived in Golden Hill for 13 years.  They are Jewish atheists and are fascinated by our community of Jesus followers who have moved into the neighborhood.  Over a recent meal with them, and a handful of other neighbors, they said, “There’s something different about you guys.  We used to have great community here in Golden Hill, but it’s been awhile.  I think it’s coming back.”

I pray they saw the Good News.

What if every Christian viewed their neighborhood or suburb as a classroom?  What if we all began grassroots movements of community engagement with the Good News of Jesus?  What does this mean for the Church and how do we mobilize such movements?


The Science of Storytelling

Storytelling open book

Teaching through the art of storytelling creates a medium for the listening mind to activate in a linear, flowing manner. Before I go on, I must offer that every brain is created and works differently. As such, I’ll speak to general trends and information on the brain and its workings in relation to learning. (Also, I’ll refer to the brain as the “mind,” as it’s more appropriate for our conversation.)

Listening is central to the growth and development of most human beings. Studies show that 85 percent of what we know we’ve learned through listening (Shorpe). Yet we only remember 20 percent of what we hear and 75 percent of the time we’re distracted, preoccupied, or forgetful (Hunsaker). So, we understand that listening is really important, but it can be a highly inefficient way to transfer information depending on the mode of communication. Some argue that offering convincing statistics engages the listener and creates lasting impact, but studies also tell us that people quickly dismiss statistics that are inconsistent with their beliefs (Graesser).

But fictional stories—which can be processed very efficiently with minimal effort and high recall—offer “suspension of disbelief,” which can lead to tangible change (Bower & Graesser). For this reason, some in the medical field have implemented storytelling as a mode of healthcare communication, bringing attention to issues such as suicide to AIDS prevention.

So we’re left with story—the telling of which can break down walls of cynicism and mental distraction and lead listeners toward engagement. The art is in assimilating fiction into belief, which why intentional dialog and discussion is pivotal to its success.

The above is a brief excerpt from my book Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling. Also available to pre-order in paperback at


Thin Places: Today’s Celtic Spirituality

My friend Kenny and I get to hang out pretty often (The story behind our first meeting is pretty amazing: read about it here).  It is usually a random gathering as I see him sitting up against his favorite telephone pole as I walk to my favorite coffee shop.  Sometimes I act busy and just say hello, ask a few questions and keep walking to the coffee shop.  Other days, I slow down, sit up against the garage door next to his telephone pole and have some quality conversation. Kenny is brilliant and always remembers the content of our previous conversations, so it’s not hard to get into some meaningful dialog.

I don’t know where Kenny sleeps at night (he makes it clear that he doesn’t tell anyone), but he sits at the base of the same tree every morning and at the base of the same telephone pole every afternoon.  He and I have an informal “book study” going on, but he usually just wants to share a couple stories and show me the best coupons in the local newspaper.

St. Columba was a Celtic Monk who while living on the island of Iona off of Scotland would climb to the top of a nearby hill and pray a blessing over his brothers and over the land.  He called it a “thin place,” meaning heaven and earth were only thinly separated. Further, he had visions of all being restored to God’s original order.

When I sit with Kenny, I experience a “thin place.” When I choose to see clearly, I can see the face of Jesus in his eyes and I hope he can see Jesus in mine.  I picture the day when his fractured reality is restored and he not only has a roof to keep him from the soaking rain, but when his inner being filled with the Spirit.

I hope to seek out “thin places” in my daily life.  It is less about location and more about being open to participate in the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom as inaugurated in Jesus. It is about living into God’s ultimate vision of restoration in my life and in all Creation.

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