Narrative

Introducing “The Global Immersion Project”

Our Friends Milad, Manar and Neshan who live/serve in the West Bank

Answering our (Jan and I) calling to give a voice to those that don’t have one in Israel & Palestine and our vocation of developing leaders for mission, we are thrilled to announce the launch of The Global Immersion Project.  I co-founded the organization with my good friend and fellow Kingdom cultivator, Jer Swigart.  Our first Learning Community has completed 3+ months of preparation and are prepared to leave for Israel/Palestine later today!  Here is the snap shot intro (or you can just check out our website).

Purpose Statement

Cultivating difference-makers through immersion in global narratives

Mission Statement

Through diverse, global friendship-making, storytelling, and real-time living, the work of The Global Immersion Project is to develop difference-makers into people who tangibly live, love, and lead like Jesus.  We believe in the just impact, locally and globally, that USAmericans can make if we learn to live in the posture of a learner with God, ourselves, each other, and those who inhabit our global village.

What It Looks Like

We aren’t offering a Holy Land tour or even a short term missions trip.  Adopting the posture of the learner, we are offering a four month learning experience that shapes us into people who promote the Just Heart of God in the Way of Jesus.  The first three and half months deep dive us into the historical, theological and modern narratives that allow us to enter the narratives of our friends in Israel & Palestine as intelligent travelers who embody the narrative of Jesus.  Participants commit to navigating the experience in Learning Communities that are facilitated by Jon and Jer both in person and available through an online platform.  Our cultivation takes place in three phases: (1) understanding; (2) exposure & deeper understanding; and (3) resourced integration that is shaped around extenstive reading, documentary viewing, Scriptural exploration and the art of friendship-making.  Our goal is to develop practicing theologians who better engage their local and global village as one’s who live, love and lead like Jesus.  Go to our website for the detailed description, curriculum & theological affirmations that shape this experience.  

How To Participate 

To apply for the experience or to follow along in the real time stories, pictures and video’s from our time navigating the complex realities of Israel/Palestine, jump on board these platforms:

Website: http://theglobalimmersionproject.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/groups/104823116331708

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GlobaIImmerse

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.

Game Time! Good News in the Neighborhood Curriculum

I’m thrilled to introduce the Good News in the Neighborhood curriculum I have been working on alongside my good friend, Adam Mclane.  Exploring the life of Jesus and Paul’s words to the Church of Corinth, this is a resource designed to ignite the hearts and imaginations of teenagers to take seriously they’re call to be good news among their neighborhoods.  We can no longer expect the Good News only to be revealed during church functions within the walls of a church.  Instead, following Jesus and extending his love to all the world requires that we become radically present and intentional in all apects of life; most notably with our neighbors who we are to live life alongside.

We hope this experience will ruin the lives of teenagers for the sake of stepping into radical life with Jesus. 

If you buy it before it comes out… you’ll get it on April 2nd AND you’ll save $15. Here’s the link to buy it now.

 

DESCRIPTION

This 6-week series will deep dive your students into the practical realities of a radical life with Jesus. Built around six core hopes for community life, students will examine Scripture, gain an understanding of their role in their community, and be challenged by a series of simple experiments they can try. More than a series which teaches your students about being Good News in their community– Good News in the Neighborhood offers practical application based on the life of Jesus and the 1st century Church. Our hope is that your students begin to see how God has called them to become good news in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods.

 

CURRICULUM OUTLINE

Week 1: Tuning In (Experiment: Ethnography/Observation)

Week 2: Diving Deep (Experiment: Participating)

Week 3: Crossing Borders (Experiment: Two-fold inviting)

Week 4: Advocating for What Matters (Experiment: Standing up for our neighbors)

Week 5: New Eyes (Experiment: New eyes)

Week 6: Living a New Story (Experiment: Commissioning)

 

WHAT’S INCLUDED

Printable PDF of teachers notes

  • Printable PDF of student worksheets
  • Editable Word version of teachers notes & student worksheets
  • 6 introductory video stories (One for each week)
  • Multiple options for each session to fit the needs of your group (Activity ideas, discussion starters, teaching options)
  • 6 experiments for students to try between sessions

The Science of Storytelling and Listening

This article was originally posted on Fuller Youth Institute’s website.  For full list of statistic sources, click here. 

Although I’ve spent one semester as a seventh and eighth grade science teacher, I don’t claim to be a scientist.

In fact, in high school and college, it was the subject I avoided the most.  Years later, I started to take seriously my role as a communicator and discovered the significance of science in relation to my understanding of how best to engage listeners with the Story of God.

It turns out that learning more about the science of listening can actually change the way you and I teach kids in our ministries.

Neurologically-Friendly Teaching

Listening is central to the growth and development of everyone who can hear. Studies show that 53% of class time for a U.S. college student is spent listening.1  For the same demographic, nearly 12 hours out of a 24-hour day are spent in some form of listening activity.2  The often unspoken reality is that listening does not necessarily constitute learning, content retention or a willingness to believe information.  In contrast, some studies show that we remember a mere 25% of the content we are presented.3

Why so little? Students tend to listen for facts, but get easily distracted.  Their listening is sidetracked by noise, daydreaming, or chasing another topic altogether.  And often, students listen without being interested in the subject at hand in the first place.4

With all this being said, the task of an effective communicator is not to be taken lightly.  Some argue that offering convincing statistics engages the listener and creates lasting impact, but experts also tell us that people quickly dismiss statistics that are inconsistent with their beliefs.5

On the other hand, fictional stories—which often can be processed very efficiently with minimal effort and high recall—engage a phenomenon called “suspension of disbelief,” which can lead to tangible change.6  Employing the art of storytelling, I once wrote and told a story to my teenagers whose main character, Chloe, dealt with depression, loneliness and cutting.  I shared it over the course of a few weeks at our mid-week gathering, but I could see that one teenager was especially impacted.  During my second week of telling the story, this teenager stood up and quickly walked out of the room in distress.  One of our youth workers followed close behind and found out that this teenager also struggled with cutting and could no longer walk alone in the struggle.

This student suspended disbelief and chose to be engaged by story. This ancient form of storytelling—Jewish Agada (Rabbinical Storytelling)—had become so real to her that she began wrestling with some of the biggest issues she’d ever faced in her young life. She heard Chloe’s story and realized that it was her story.  For this reason, some in the medical field have implemented storytelling as a mode of healthcare communication, bringing attention to issues ranging from suicide to AIDS prevention.

Communication expert Dr. Brian Leggett says, “A story is a narrative which actively engages the listener’s sense-making faculties. It helps the listener to make sense of what is being said and to make the right associations. It helps the listener to think widely by stimulating his or her imagination.”7

We’ve discovered that storytelling can break down walls of cynicism and mental distraction and lead listeners toward engagement. The art, then, is in assimilating fiction into belief. In order to practice that art of assimilation, we need to create intentional dialog and discussion.

Less Preaching, More Conversation

As youth workers who are passionate about inviting our students into the Story of God, it is important that we follow in the footsteps of our Rabbi, Jesus.  Jesus was the master storyteller, and true to Rabbinic tradition, one-third of his teaching was done through the art of storytelling.  Similar to Jesus’ parables, modern day storytelling is a method that might provoke more questions than answers. The story becomes a conversation starter, not a conversation finisher. This isn’t always true, of course. As youth listen and engage in the story, they can process some of the answers because the story meets every teenager in a different spot of their faith experience.

Where the story is the conversation starter, the follow-up discussion and dialogue is the conversation continuer. (I would say “finisher,” but most often that’s not the case.) It’s paramount that we communicators open up times of honest dialogue and questioning. Just like a rousing conversation after a good movie, most of the impact and application will occur after we tell the story. It’s like spending a large amount of time setting the table and displaying a beautiful meal, and now it’s time to call our guests to sit around the table and take it all in. We communicators become not simply the primary medium for communication but hosts of a feast of questions and conversation.

Does this mean we simply offer up our opinions and spiritual insights through our stories and then let them all be cast out into a sea of subjectivity? Absolutely not. It’s very important that we keep the group centered on the topic while still leaving room for honest conversation and questions.8

However, we must keep in mind that our teenagers are told conflicting stories and “truths” all the time, whether they’re at school, on the sports field, at home, or in some form of relationship. Let’s allow our teaching to give way to guided, thoughtful, and Spirit-led conversation in the hopes of inspiring them to begin the process of entering into a living, active, and very real relationship with Jesus.

If Only I Had a Guitar in My Hands

I have a friend named Robbie. He’s been a part of our high school community for the last three years or so. For the most part, he attends our gatherings and is well liked and respected by his peers and adult leaders.

Robbie is a guitar freak. He plays it, listens to others play it, and flat-out lives it. And I have no doubt that he’d be proud of that description. He has the long curly locks of most “good” rockers, a penchant for tie-dyed shirts, and an endless supply of Converse shoes. When I ask Robbie what his favorite activity is at any given point in the day, he puts his index finger over his closed mouth and ponders his response. Fitting to his character, he responds, “I would have to say either listening to guitar riffs of my favorite artists on CD or playing my guitar without distraction.” This kid would eat his guitar if such a feat wouldn’t scratch it.

Robbie also is a very intellectual and thoughtful student of the Christian life. He’s not afraid to ask hard questions, and he’s a model to many regarding how to live a life of honest transparency and openness to accountability. I respect him very much. That said, Robbie has a hard time focusing during any kind of teaching because he self-admittedly drifts off into guitar world within about two minutes of the start of the talk. He recently told me (during a time when I was not teaching through story, incidentally) that he was really interested in what I had to say and would like to know more. But he just couldn’t pull himself away from pondering how to “play that A-minor with a harmonic that the Allman Brothers nail every time” in one of his favorite two hundred songs of theirs. (I felt so affirmed and self-assured in regard to my teaching abilities after hearing that—defeated by an A-minor with a harmonic. Awesome!)

As a result, while Robbie would often come to our weekly gatherings on Thursday nights, during the talk he’d either play his guitar (outside) or do his best to listen for at least a few minutes.

Then we started a new story.

I don’t remember the topic exactly, but there was something about it that caught Robbie’s attention. And not the two-minute span I was used to seeing, but twenty minutes of attention followed by thirty minutes of dialogue attention. At this point I began wrestling with some of the ideas articulated above. Scientifically, what was it about storytelling that allowed an otherwise hard-to-capture mind like Robbie’s to actively participate in what I was saying? There had to be something to it.

And apparently there is.

I’m not proposing you scratch all your future teaching and permanently teach through story.  I don’t!  But teaching through the art of storytelling is a great communication tool to add to our communication toolbox as we seek to engage and invite our teenagers into the dynamic Story of God.

Action Points

 

  • Consider teaching your next topic series through story (i.e. sex & dating, forgiveness, etc…)
  • Instead of preparing a three point propositional teaching, begin to build an outline of your story as a modern day parable, while taking into close consideration your audience and context.  As a 1st century Rabbi in the Roman Empire, Jesus was exceptional at this.
  • Create characters, a setting and plot that integrate Scripture and illuminates your topic.  Try to develop characters and setting that your teenagers can relate to and have fun with it!
  • Prepare follow-up discussion questions that unpack your story, which ground it in the everyday realities of your teenagers.
  • Tell your story with confidence and conviction!  You can tell your whole story in one night or you can tell it over the course of a few weeks and build momentum by ending each session on a cliffhanger.  Your teenagers will hardly be able to wait to come back and hear the rest of the story!
  • Follow up with group conversation, questions and dialog that allow the main points of your story to take root in the hearts and minds of your teenagers.

Parables and Hidden Messages

Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling releases in paperback this week!  You can pick up the paperback copy here or the Kindle version here.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 2, which explores Jesus’ use of parables (Jewish Agada) as a first century Rabbi.

It‘s important to remember that Jesus‘ parables sometimes contain hidden messages. And the messages aren‘t always clear. Numerous times in the Gospels, Jesus tells a story and doesn‘t explain it, leaving the disciples to scratch their heads. Sometimes the messages are packed deep in cultural understanding, and other times they play out through characters and scenes that could be viewed from many different angles. Yet Jesus left a lot of room for conversation and interpretation.

The parables functioned the way all (good) stories function, by inviting hearers into the world of the story. They were designed to break open worldviews and to create new ones, encouraging listeners to identify themselves in terms of the narrative.” Pg. 181 – Jesus and the Victory of God, N.T. Wright

My Hebrew professor at Fuller Theological Seminary once told my class that he‘d heard parable defined as a puzzle, which he originally sourced from his language professor. I was intrigued by this understanding.

Puzzle Piece

As we know, a puzzle consists of many different pieces that come together to make one whole and comprehensive picture. Without all the pieces there‘s at best a fractured semblance of the intended image—since each piece is unique, necessary, and often beautiful in its own right.

When you get only a fleeting glimpse of a piece of fine art, it‘s impossible to fully appreciate its beauty; if you take time to study its complexities, however, you attain deeper levels of understanding. The same is true for the parable as a puzzle. The parable story gradually offers small glances at a work in progress that‘s building on itself. With each piece that drops in place, the story exposes formerly hidden truths. What‘s interesting is that the pieces of the parable puzzle may not create the same image for each listener, who assembles them in unique ways specific to his or her life experience and worldview.

In the same way our artfully created stories may affect one teenager in a completely different way than another. Therefore the most important variable is that the story is meeting them in some way, whether it inspires some listeners to give away all they own to the poor or develop a better relationship with a close friend. Only remember that as with a puzzle, our created stories have pieces, too—characters, plot, and setting—and listeners may relate to one piece more than another.

 

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