nieucommunities

Gay Marriage, World Vision and a Unified Church?

1375245_10152323713434676_205055056_nIt has been a tough go for the Church in the United States over the past couple months. The name calling, division and posturing reached a deafening volume last week in the wake of the World Vision controversy around employing those in gay marriage. 

Noise. 

Massive amounts of energy poured into proving our “rightness” and your “wrongness.”

Relationships severed. Most without ever having created the space to share a meal and simply listen to one another.

Social media. Interviews. Articles. Press releases.  

Noise. 

There have been so many chiming in on this thing that I saw no need to jump in and, well, to be honest, I’ve just been sad. Sad at the failed state of discourse within the Church. Sad at the demonization. Sad that hungry kids across the world were losing their access to basic needs to live as a result of our inability to live, love and lead…together. 

I’m not against heathy dialog, disagreement or even conflict (if dealt with transformatively rather than violently…and violence takes many more forms than bloodshed). I’m actually quite for it and have given my life to training the Church for the work of conflict transformation. 

The mission of God is reconciliation and the vocation of God’s people, the Church. When we spend more time attacking each other rather than attacking the areas of brokenness in our world, we become a reflection of anti-kingdom. 

Anti-Jesus. 

Anti-Missio Dei.

How we live as the Church is a direct reflection of who we follow. 

But then something happened.

Our little faith community, which gathers for worship around our table and in our living room, has been walking with leaders from churches all over our city. Last night, we invited them to come worship with us.

What did that look like?

It looked like sharing a long meal around one table where we told stories of pain and stories of hope. We laughed, we held each others children and we washed dishes…together. 

It looked like spending time in silence reflecting on our own brokenness and seeking forgiveness.

It looked like reading the Scriptures and encountering a Jesus who when tempted with power and prestige, chose humility and self-sacrifice. 

It looked like praying in one voice for the good of our neighborhoods and city. 

And how did it end?  

By going around the room and blessing each other to live more fully into our identity as sons and daughters of the Father. To go forth and extend a message of reconciliation, first in ourselves, and then to a world in need of wrong things being made right. 

In a Church that is enduring so much division, these experiences of unity can seem radical and prophetic. While they may be prophetic, I don’t think they are all that radical. No, this is actually how the body of Christ is designed to function. It is not a new thing, it is simply a return to our identity. 

All that to say, I’m not feeling as sad. 

At least for today, I’m reminded that we are part of one much bigger Story that doesn’t end with us and our broken tendencies toward in-fighting. It is a Story of reconciliation that was set forth in Jesus and won’t end until all is restored.  

Thank God.  

The Church may be going through a rough patch, maybe even an identity crisis, but I still believe it is intended to be God’s primary instrument of peace in the world. The road to reconciliation isn’t easy, and at times it feels far too slow, but as we all submit to the self-sacrificing ways of Jesus, I’m more certain than ever it is the road we are stumbling down. 

The time in my living room may have only been a mustard seed of hope, but we all know about mustard seeds.

Here’s to a new season submitted to Jesus and joining, TOGETHER, in the world God is making.

—--

Here’s a list of other bloggers contributing posts related to healing the divides this month:

Missional Community Cohort: Creating and Leading Embedded Communities of Faith and Reconciliation

ThresholdsCohortAs part of my new staff role with Thresholds, I’m thrilled to join a team of practitioners and teachers -- who have been living into their call to lead missional communities for decades -- in co-leading a brand new initiative to come alongside leaders all over the country who are forming/leading missional communities in a diverse set of contexts. 

We’ve found that the “missional movement” is growing rapidly, but there are very few opportunities to receive coaching and support from people that have actually “been in the game” for awhile. Spear-headed by my friend, mentor and co-author of Thin Places, Rob Yackley, and co-lead by a handful of us player-coaches, this will be a dynamic context for shared life, vocational partnership and tangible coaching. 

This will be a cohort format (10-15 people) based right in our homes here in Golden Hill. We will launch with our first intensive (2.5 days) on May 1st, so consider this your invitation! We are looking to finalize our cohort participants by mid-March.

GO HERE for all the info, but here are some details as a bit of a teaser… 

WHAT IS IT CALLED?

Missional Community Cohort: Creating and Leading Embedded Communities of Faith and Reconciliation

WHAT IS IT?

The Thresholds Missional Community Cohort is a 18-month collaborative journey created specifically to provide insight and direction for those who have just launched or who would like to launch a missional community.

WHY ARE WE OFFERING THIS?

The missional community movement is characterized by radical incarnation, deep neighborhood transformation, and the life-giving integration of our lives and faith.

The movement is growing rapidly around the world and more and more people are asking questions and exploring what it might mean in their own lives. But they are often without peers, a learning community, or experienced guides.

At Thresholds, we have been gifted with 12 years of experience creating and leading missional communities and we feel compelled to share that gift. Through experienced facilitators, tested teachings, personal coaching, on-going encouragement  new mental maps, sharpened missional skills and sustained spiritual practices, you will be equipped to create and live out a new way of being Church.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

• We will gather five times over 18 months on the ground in a host neighborhood.

• Each gathering will be two and a half days (Thursday evening to Saturday evening)

• At least one gathering per year will be in an off-site context (within the same region) with the other gatherings taking place in the host neighborhood.

• Each gathering will have a unique focus but also re-enforce each of the other essential elements.

• Between each gathering we will offer 1 all-cohort conference call and 1 personal coaching call.

• Cost: $1,800 (not including travel, lodging, or meals). Participants will be encouraged to contribute one-third of the cost, to ask their faith community to contribute one-third, and to ask someone who believes in them and their vision to contribute one-third.

• There will be readings and assigned tasks between each gather-ing designed to implement our learnings.

• Cohorts will be limited to 10-15 participants to enhance interaction and learning.

WHY A COHORT?

There are several reasons why we believe this is a transformative approach to forming communities:

• We can’t create community alone. We need a community to help us form a community.

• A cohort offers relational continuity, encouragement, and an opportunity to tackle the task holistically.

• The cohort offers targeted instruction that is both affordable and accessible. 

• We are inspired and richly informed through books, seminars, and conferences, but most of us need the sustained presence of experienced guides and a learning community to create a clear, comprehensive, actionable pathway forward.

STUDY CONTENT 

Each of our five face-to-face gatherings will engage the concepts and practices we’ve found to be critical in forming and stewarding a missional community. We will engage these topics academically, conversationally, and experientially in the context of homes and a neighborhood. And we will tackle them in a sequence that addresses the challenges that naturally unfold in this pursuit.

Five Sessions: 1. Becoming Sacrament, 2. Gathering Sojourners, 3. Life Together, 4. Inhabiting Place, 5. Sustaining Practices.

We are launching our first cohort in May and are inviting a handful for practitioners to join us for the ride. We are thinking it will be especially helpful for those either starting a missional community or those seeking to transition from a congregational model of church to a more neighborhood model.

Contact, Rob Yackley, at robertyackley@gmail.com if you’re interested!

 

Transition, Sending and the Eucharist

NCSendingIt was a bit of an emotional day for Janny and I yesterday as our dear friends, community mates and fellow NieuCommunities staff put together a “sending/blessing” time for us. If you haven’t yet heard, we are NOT moving out of our neighborhood and we are STILL leading our missional community (gathering regularly in our home), but with the increasing momentum of The Global Immersion Project and the invitation to come on staff with mentors and dear friends, Rob and Laurie Yackley (who now lead Thresholds), to coach missional leaders in our city and across the country, there is a necessary organizational transition under way. To learn more, go here

We sat with this handful of friends, mentors and colleagues who have given themselves fully to the work God has set before them in our neighborhood and in coaching developing leaders who have gone through our Apprenticeship. They have been our tribe. When we are with these people, we know they “get” us as they not only share the same deep commitments to King and Kingdom, but inspire us to go even deeper. 
 
We will continue to share a neighborhood, raise our children together, creatively navigate the material simplicity of the life we have all chosen and move together on mission. While we are so thankful for all of that, we will still mourn the days we aren’t sitting around the table with them as colleagues. Things won’t be bad, but they will be a bit different. 
 
Janny and I are moving forward with as much confidence and conviction as ever before in our lives and we are thrilled at the road that has been put before us, but we must allow the grieving to run its course. It is necessary, healthy and leaves us much to celebrate. 
 
As we shared a big breakfast together, each person shared silly stories and offered affirmations of what they have seen in us over the past 4(ish) years. Listening intently, it became clear that these have been the most formative years of our lives. It has been in this context and environment that we have most clearly discovered who we are and what we will contribute long term. It has challenged us, shaped us and refined us, but we have come alive and been given the gift of moving confidently into God’s call on our lives. 
 
Our organizational ethos doesn’t see an organizational move like ours as us “leaving,” but as us being faithful to be sent into what God has for us. While there is mourning, there is far more celebration. 
 
Having already been choked up numerous times, each of our colleagues read blessings over us they had written down. We then circled up, they laid hands on us and we shared Eucharist together rightly placing the crucified and risen Jesus at the center of the season that is to come. 
 
What a gift it has been. One of the blessings ended with these words from a liturgy we often use as a community:
 
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: Wherever he may send you;
 
May he guide you through the wilderness: Protect you through the storm:
 
May he bring you home rejoicing: At the wonders he has shown you:
 
May he bring home rejoicing: Once again into our doors.

When Good News Looks Like Something: 5 Ways to Engage Your Neighborhood

StreetFair3I love my neighborhood. It’s not that it is all that glamorous or cool or “safe” or whatever. It’s that it is full of people who actually want to experience some kind of community together. There is a building sense that we all have some skin in the game and that our thriving is somehow connected to the thriving of our neighbor. Whether talking with fellow parents at the park, young students at the dive bar or our friends in the local Mexican bakery, words like community, neighborhood and integration seem to be finding their way into our everyday vocabulary of conversation.

It’s not always been this way in Golden Hill.

It wasn’t too long ago that our neighborhood was known as “Heroin Hill” because of the drug presence and violent activities that regularly surrounded it.

Before that, it was known as the “Garbage Dump” because our numerous recovery homes would house societies “garbage.”

Well, there is a new narrative bubbling to the surface on our streets, storefronts and in our homes. It is a narrative of new life, renewed hope and a common vision for a shared future. 

Just two weeks ago, we had our second annual Golden Hill Street Fair. The same streets that have endured years of crime, segregation and hopelessness began to spring to life. This early Sunday morning, like a garden showing its first signs of germination, 25th street (which is right outside our front door) started sprouting to life as tent after tent took their place. Stages were being set up and the smell of a dozen different ethnic foods began to fill the air. The beer garden was taking shape as three local breweries brought out their finest, and resident volunteers were running a million miles a minute, the majority of whom had huge smiles on their faces.

The anticipation was palpable.

And then people started streaming in. By noon, there had probably already been about 5,000 people that had come through and by the end of the day, close to 20,000.

20,000 people. That’s more than our neighborhood’s total population.

IMG_6317I volunteered to work the event (with my 3 year old by my side watching Dora the Explorer and dancing to the mariachi bands) selling customized Golden Hill t-shirts. As the line grew with each passing hour, I realized something about my neighbors and the neighborhood we share. Golden Hill was receiving a new identity. No longer a place to be ashamed of or viewed only as a holding area until we could afford to live some place better, our neighbors were proud of our neighborhood. Not because our real estate values went up or because our crime levels had dropped, but because we were sensing the type of community humanity is designed for.

We were moving towards a common good together and that made the impossible seem possible. These types of spaces encourage the lonely widow to experience the joy of new life. They allow the single mother to realize they aren’t alone. They create space for isolated families to engage with one another and dream about shared life.  

For a number of years now, I have been apart of a community of about 30 people who all live in Golden Hill seeking to stumble towards Jesus together. We don’t have it all figured out, but we deeply care for our neighbors and our neighborhood in general. Between all of us, we have established hundreds of relationships within these 7 X 10 blocks. Over the course of the day, I saw nearly every person we have experienced life with over the years. From a distant acquaintance to a dear friend. From the liquor storeowner to my community league basketball buddy. From my farmer’s market colleagues, to local pastor friends.

Within each interaction, there was a common spark in our eyes. A spark of celebration of what has been unfolding and anticipation for what is to come. 

Having helped start our neighborhood Farmer’s Market a few years ago and now finishing my first full year on the board of our Neighborhood Council, my perspective on what is unfolding in my neighborhood is much different than at any other time in my life. These kinds of Kingdom moments don’t just happen randomly. They are not moments we can simply sit back and hope create themselves. No, these are sacred moments the Community of God is called to be right in the middle of.

Here are some ways we can begin to engage our neighborhoods redemptively and link arms with others for the common good:

1. Stop spending so much time at church

Before you walk me down the Plank ‘O Heresy, here me out. I’m not saying we stop gathering as the Church. No, no, no. What I am saying is that, 1. It is easy for Christians to think the best ministry happens at a church building. As a result, we get so busy going to a building (that usually is not in our neighborhood) to do ministry, that we don’t have any time to share life with those right outside our front door. In the words of my friend, Jer Swigart, “We can live in our neighborhoods without actually ever living life within it.” 2. See your neighborhood as your local parish. These are the people you have been called to live, love and lead alongside. Having hosted many formal church sponsored events in my day, I can’t tell you how freeing and transformative it was to help host an event that wasn’t put on by a church, but could be intimately engaged by the Church. People don’t know me as “Jon the Pastor,” but as Jon the dude who plays basketball in the rec center or Jon the guy who works at the farmers market or Jon on the Neighborhood Council. We don’t have to have a “Christian” title to do ministry. In fact, those titles can often be the greatest hindrance.

2. Identify the assets in your neighborhood

What does your neighborhood already have to offer that you can simply come alongside and support? We don’t need to start our own “Christian” version of things, we simply need to follow Jesus into the places he already is at work and join him there. What are the public spaces where your neighbors already gather? Join your local sports leagues, take your kids to the same park everyday, shop at the same businesses, build relationships at the local pub/bar/coffee shop, support the local church in your neighborhood (even if you don’t like the preaching or music or whatever), etc…

3. Connect with influencers in your neighborhood

Whether they are long time residents, business leaders, local politicians or artist, there are people who carry a lot of influence in your neighborhood. Seek them out and take them to coffee. You will be surprised at how thrilled they will be to hear of your common heart for your neighborhood and begin to form a collaborative relationship. They will give you access to people and systems that would take you years on your own.

4. Immerse yourself in the areas of brokenness

We are taught to only see either what is right in front of us or what is pleasing to the eye. If we are to follow Jesus into our neighborhoods, we must be agents of reconciliation. This means we have to intentionally walk off the beaten paths and see what is happening below the surface that is in need of healing. This may be a hidden population in your neighborhood who is either being oppressed/forgotten (whether intentionally or not), a political or economic injustice or a sociological reality like isolation, depression or workaholism. These must take a human face. Immersing isn’t simply identifying a problem, but entering into it redemptively (think Incarnation).

5. Contend for the broken to the point of restoration. 

Jesus followers are to live in the reality of Resurrection. Even though things may look impossible and the hope of New Creation far off, we must remain in the game even when things get tough. While things will not always end how we’d hope, we are to walk with people and systems with a vision for restoration. The Good Samaritan didn’t put a Band-Aid on the broken down pilgrim and walk away. No, he walked him, sacrificing his own good to the point of restoring the pilgrim back to community. This is where most of us want to jump ship, but this is where the world needs us most.

In the late 1800’s a poet had a vision for my neighborhood beyond what most could see at that time. It is a picture that lifts our site line from a broken past and gives us a glimpse of a hopeful future.

As the sun rolls down and is lost to sight,

Tinting the scene with its golden light,

The Islands dim and the fading shore,

The ebbing tide through our harbor door,

The drooping sails of an anchoring fleet,

The shadowy city at our feet,

With the Mountains’ proud peaks so lofty and still,

‘Tis a picture worth seeing, from Golden Hill.

 

Welcoming Rosie with a Community Blessing

When a new child is born into our community, we have a tradition of taking time to pray blessings over the new life as a way to acknowledge their sacred role not only in the life of our family, but in the life of the community we have entrusted ourselves to.  This is not a new tradition we came up with, but one that stretches back to early parts of our faith tradition.  It is a time to acknowledge that as members of the family of God, Janny and I don’t raise little Rosie on our own, but alongside a community of people who are commited to follow Jesus together.  Having been part of a community like this for a few years, we have found it to be one of the most important gifts we can give to our children.  

Yesterday, among neighbors, family and community mates, we were able to have a time of blessing over our newest little gal, Rosie.  With tears filling most of our eyes, prayers of blessing over Rosie were showered out from all corners of the room.  It was indeed, a thin place; a place where heaven and earth are only thinly separated.  Here is the blessing Janny and I prayed over our newest addition:

Today we celebrate Jesus being resurrected as the 1st of new creation. Gods dream for humanity begin to unfold in the gift of new life.

Rosie, you bring new life not only to your parents and sister, but to this whole community. You are a reflection and reminder of the innocence, purity and reliance humanity is to have on Jesus. 

We bless you with not only with family, but with community. We commit to daily offer you the gift of a community of people that are committed to following Jesus together. 

We bless your eyes that you may always look not through the lens of ethnicity, nationality or title, but through the lens of a shared humanity who shares the image of God. When others aren’t viewed in this way, we bless you with the courage to stand up for those experiencing oppression and reassign them their dignity. 

We bless you with the courage to teach us as we commit to be your students. We except and anticipate the ways you will teach us how to better live, love and lead in a way that honors God and neighbor. 

Lastly, we bless you with a committment to stand with you, cry with you and celebrate with you (even through the terrifying years of adolescence). 

It is with much joy and sacredness that we anticipate your future, little Rosie Lillian Huckins.

Amen 

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