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Smoking What We’re Growing: 8 Things That Happen When We Live (or Don’t Live) What We Talk About

1009756_10151692062394929_1314313101_nI was down in Mexico a few years ago for a gathering of peers who are leading faith communities around the world. It was a rich time of conversation, encouragement and visioning. 

Walking through a local Mexican neighborhood between sessions, something struck me. While those of us in the Minority World (often called the 1st or Western World) are thinking and talking about our theology, most of the folks in the Majority World (often called the 3rd World) have no choice but to simply live into their theology. Talking about our theology, faith and practice in lecture halls, church buildings and conference rooms is a luxury that the vast majority of Jesus followers in the world have no opportunity to participate in. 

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is reality. And those of us with this luxury better own up to it, because it is easy for us in the West to think we have a corner on the market of theology, which we then project (whether consciously or subconsciously) onto the rest of the world. But whose to say theology built in academia is any more valid than theology build in the realities of everyday life?

When I’m hanging out with my Jesus following friend who lives and serves in a West Bank refugee camp, it would make no sense for me to debate atonement theories, eschatological interpretations or the latest “hot button” issue. There is no time for my friend to concern himself with those things when right in front of him people are committing suicide from depression, going hungry on the streets and feeling the endless effects of war. My friend believes in the crucified and risen Jesus and is doing anything he can to live out the Jesus’ story in the place he has been entrusted. 

In this context, theological debates not only seem secondary, they seem like a distraction from faithful life and practice. 

Now, I’m NOT saying that academia, study and debate are bad things. No, they are essential for a robust faith than fuels the community of God for mission in the world. Personally, I am enlivened by academia and some of my most formative development has come about in this context. With that said, the classroom of real life relationships -- with those who live and practice in context FAR different than my own -- have been much more significant to my development than any lecture, book or debate. 

In short, I would argue that our theology must be as much formed and informed by everyday practice than it is by academic research. Now, I know there is no prefect balance here, but those of us in the West would do well to at least keep this in mind as we speak and write in our somewhat insular reality. 

Since I had this realization on the streets of Mexico, I have committed to only/primarily communicate “lived content.” “Theoretical content” is somewhat easy to come up with, it doesn’t require a lived expression and, to be honest, there is already WAY too much of this floating around. I want to be known for smoking what I’m growing (I’m sitting in Denver as I write this, so this metaphor seemed especially relevant. Don’t be offended).

As communicators (and we are ALL communicators whether we like it or not), producing “lived content” is an act of discipleship. We have to submit our words to the lives we are actually living as we stumble toward Jesus. 

Are we to be marked by our compelling words and thoughts or by our transformative actions embodied in the realities of everyday life? I don’t think it’s an either/or, but a both/and. 

Lists seem helpful, so here you go:

Damage of Communicating Only/Primarily Theoretical Content

1. We fall victim to a war of rhetoric. It’s easy to have strong opinions if they are divorced from embodied practice in the realities of everyday life. Think of all the ridiculous “debates” we see on social media that not only take away time from real life advocacy, but create the illusion that we are actually offering something constructive and helpful to the community of God. For example, it’s easy to “talk” about abortion or war or whatever. But are we walking with the single mothers who are most prone to abort their babies or just telling them not to do it? Are we only calling out militarism in our culture or actually living out an alternative?

2. Theoretical content is removed from reality and its implications for our global village. What happens as a result is we come out of our “classrooms” (seminary, churches, etc.) with all the “answers” and begin to project our words and opinions on others. It is not formed in the context of relationship and it is not only narrow-minded, it is destructive. 

3. Creates in us a false identity of who we’ve convinced ourselves we are rather than who we actually are created to be. When we talk more than we live, there is a temptation to form our identity around what we think or say rather than who we were created to be in the world. 

4. We live through others opinions of us rather than through a rooted set of practices that create space for us to live out true self and calling. When we communicate more than we live, we will inevitably open ourselves up to the opinions of others, whether positive or negative. If we aren’t rooted in everyday practice, it is easy to begin to believe we are who others say we are rather than our true identity as sons and daughters of the Father. 

Gift of Communicating Lived Content

1. Keeps us rooted in a community of practice. We can’t “go rogue” and begin to live an autonomous life than produces a bunch of content that hasn’t been refined by the fire of real life. 

2. Holds us accountable to lead with a way of life rather than an articulate vision. There are ALOT of good communicators today. While that is a gift, it can also be a curse. A good vision is only as good as the positive implications it has on the lives of those around us. 

3. Ignites the imagination and practice of those who hear you communicate. The world and the Church is STARVING for content that is actually being lived out. There are more resources based on theoretical proposals than ever before. What we need are stories that inspire and practices that sustain for the long haul.

4. Ultimately, we get to actually experience and live life to the fullest. Our most faithful expression of following Jesus is not spoken, but embodied. 

Producing “lived content” is not only my commitment, it is my struggle. And I don’t think I’m alone. Will you link arms with me and stumble forward together?

My Experience Finding a “Tribe” with Tony Campolo & Red Letter Christians

Most Christians in America (and much of the world) are familiar with the life and work of Tony Campolo.  There is his infamous “curse word teaching” that asks his audience whether they are more shocked at the fact that he said sh&% or at the fact that there are thousands of people dying each day in a world that has more than enough resources to care for each of them if only we were willing to care for the “least of these.” There are the pictures of Tony embracing with decades worth of Presidents as they seek his council and he inevitably finds a way to offer a prophetic word into an institution that desperately needs it.  There is his constant reminder that “Sunday is coming” and that while “We may live in the best Babylon, it is still Babylon!”  

More than anything, Tony is marked by his call of Christians to take seriously the red letters of Jesus in the gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  The red letters aren’t simply to be read as an other-worldly euphoria, but as a framing ethic through which God’s people are empowered to embrace their vocation as salt and light.  If taken seriously, the life and teachings of Jesus allow us to be a living reflection of Good News for the sake of a watching world.  

There began a revolution.  Not a revolution around a charismatic speaker, but a revolution around the person of Jesus.  

Seeing the remarkable impact of a ministry that pointed people back to Jesus, Tony felt it important to mentor, train and come alongside the next generation(s) of authors and speakers who advocated this life and message.  A few years ago he invited a handful of influential leaders into a cohort that would gather once a year and remain networked throughout the rest of the year to support, encourage and come alongside one another as they live and taught the red letters of Jesus.  

This past year, I was invited to join this tribe of radicals, intellectuals, advocates, pastors and all round Jesus-y folks.  I thought, “I’m just a little dude from the town of Prunedale; how did I get invited into a community alongside Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Margot Starbuck, Richard Twiss, Shane Hipps, Brian McClaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, etc…?”

I quickly accepted the invitation and boarded a plane to the East Coast to attend the annual gathering. If I’m honest, I was both honored and a little bit concerned that it would be three days of high-powered leaders posturing and offering subtle promotions of our “stuff.” Rather, it was a time of generative conversation, collaboration and shared vision. It was an experience of being “known” among a tribe of radicals who are crazy enough to live into the story God has for them. It was friendship and soul care. 

Although we were sitting in informal circles rather than auditoriums, every once in awhile Tony would start to crank up the volume and start “preaching.”  We all smiled, looked at each other and often ended up breaking into applause as we continued to learn at the feet of one who has spent his life learning at the feet of the King.  It was red letter leadership being passed down to a generation who isn’t finding their identity in a message, book or program, but in a Resurrected 1st century Rabbi who instigated a revolution that continues today.  

May the revolution continue and may all of God’s children choose to take part. 

I’ll Bet You Won’t Guess #1 Way to Build Immune System

 

Dear friends with Ruby before her surgery

As the flu season approaches, we are going to hear a slough of ways we can avoid getting sick.  Use hand sanitizer…ALWAYS.  Sneeze the opposite direction of the crowds…got it.  Don’t lick the inside of a hotel bedspread…tempting, but I’ll resist.  It goes on and on and on. 

But today I stumbled onto an article a friend posted from Weather.com that upended my sarcasm towards the sure-fire strategies of avoiding the flu.  I was upended because it was so true of the life I currently live.  

They argue that the #1 way to build your immune system is to be present in COMMUNITY. Here is what they say:

Research shows that the fewer human connections we have at home, at work, and in the community, the likelier we are to get sick, flood our brains with anxiety-causing chemicals, and live shorter lives than our more sociable peers. In one study, researchers who monitored 276 people between the ages of 18 and 55 found that those who had 6 or more connections were 4 times better at fighting off the viruses that cause colds than those with fewer friends.

What to do: Don’t let a jam-packed workday or hectic schedule get in the way of your friendships. Stop by a co-worker’s office for a quick Monday morning catch-up, or e-mail/text your friends at night to stay in touch when you’re too busy for phone calls.

Brilliant. 

Reflecting on our experience in Covenant Community (with NieuCommunities), I recently wrote this in our book Thin Places:

“God created men and women as communal creatures. In addition to being ontologically designed to be in union with the Creator, we were designed to be in communion with fellow humans and to the rest of the created order.” 

We are hardwired for community.  We can’t fully be human outside of it.  And when we are outside of it, we not only expose ourselves to physical illness, we expose ourselves to the illness of disconnection with God, others and creation. 

Let’s spend more time around the water cooler.  

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Thin Places

Ok, so I’m looking to give away some copies of Thin Places to those who want to engage its message a bit.  The Celtic idea of a Thin Place is a location (I see this as geographic or experiential) where heaven and earth are only thinly separated; a place where God’s Kingdom is being made real.  From our experience, these places are often found in the mundane and unexpected.

So, here’s how to win a copy (I will give away 1 copy for every 20 comments posted) of Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional community:

  1. In the comments section below answer one of these two questions, In what way(s) have you experienced a thin place in your neighborhood/community? What is one way you can best use the message of this book to influence the way you engage in your community/church/neighborhood?  
  2. P.S. For all of you who post this on Twitter and tag me (or hashtag #thinplaces) OR post this on facebook and tag me (so I can track who you are!)  I will be randomly giving away a bonus copy! 
  3. Ready set go!

Video stuff: Remember there is a Small Group Edition for communities/churches that are looking to engage this together!  The second video is a full session from that edition.

Here is what some people are saying about Thin Places who have already read it:

“I thoroughly loved this book and found myself saying ‘Amen’ at every page. A primer in incarnational mission by those who have lived it and taught it for well over a decade.”   ~ Michael Frost, Author of The Shaping of Things to Come and The Road to Missional

“As God continues to call the church to it’s most powerful essence of missional communities, Thin Places offers an inspirational look into practices and postures that forge God’s people together and propel them outward.”  ~ Hugh Halter, Author of The Tangible Kingdom, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, and Sacrilege

“Over the past decade interest in community life and neighborhood engagement have emerged as significant themes for a new generation of Christ followers who yearn for embodied and holistic spirituality. To thrive, this world-wild movement needs practical resources, born from historical awareness, thoughtful reflection and most importantly lived experience. Thin Places by Jon Huckins, is precisely this kind of storied resource, a tool that can equip groups to practice the way of Jesus and make a life together in their local contexts for the good of the world.”   ~ Mark Scandrette, Author of Practicing the Way of Jesus and  Executive Director at ReIMAGINE

“The terms ‘missional’ and ‘monastic’ are all too often tossed around by Christians as buzz words, an unfortunate reality given the importance of both terms.  That is why ‘Thin Places’ is such a gift to the church!  Not only do the authors understand and protect the integrity of both concepts, but bring them together in a way that points us towards an exciting future as God’s people actively living into His kingdom”   ~ Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Pastor and Author of The Cost of Community:Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom

“The call of faith has always included living in community. The thing is, it is really hard. And there are not enough places where gritty community meets possibility. But, that is what I found in my time with NieuCommunities. These are people who welcomed me in, as a stranger and not only treated me as an honored guest, they made me part of the family. In short, these are people who know what they are doing in creating Christian community and Thin Places not only chronicles their experiences, but invites other communities to imagine how to do the same.”  ~ Doug Pagitt, Pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Author of Preaching Re-Imagined and Church Re-Imagined

“In the modern world of exponential speed and individual mobility, there is a growing hunger for a faith that can be lived out together… where we can be present… where there is an embodied practice… where the gospel becomes tangible in a particular place. NieuCommunities extends the rare gift of a transformative discipleship process that is full-bodied and place-based. Their longevity and fixity is in rich contrast to a world of quick-fix and fast-track!  ~ Paul Sparks, Founding Co-Director Parish Collective

There is a “come and see” authenticity about NieuCommunities that is so reminiscent of Jesus calling the disciples out of fishing boats on the shore of Lake Galilee I can almost taste the salt air. At the same time, the “come and see” community is balanced by a “go and do” mission that gives me hope for inside-out change in neighborhoods in the global city. At a time when many are talking about missional communities, NieuCommunities quietly and expertly goes about doing it—forming young men and women and transforming neighborhoods. The vitality of NieuCommunities is less about what is being said than what is being lived. You’ll want to read this book and listen to their story.  ~ John Hayes, founder of innerCHANGE and Author of Submerge and Living Deep in a Shallow World.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci Asks Me 5 Critical Q’s On Missional Community

This interview was first published on Jamie Arpin-Ricci’s website The Cost of Community.  It is a great window in the heart and mission of my work and that of NieuCommunites.

Living as part of an intentional Christian community, I often search for other creative expressions of missional communities around the world.  One such example that I love is NieuCommunitiesIt is also how I came to befriend Jon Huckins (who I finally got to meet in person at InHabit this year), who recently authored the great new book, “Thin Places: 6 Postures for Creating & Practicing Missional Community”.

However, rather than me tell you about it, I thought I would let Jon tell us about it directly.  Enjoy!

Jamie Arpin-Ricci: Tell me about NieuCommunities (i.e. some history, current realities & future plans).  How did its story result in the book?

Jon Huckins: Over a decade ago a few seasoned leaders and practitioners started regularly gathering at a local taqueria asking the question, “With the Church radically shifting, how can we create a lived, embodied formation experience that will ready young leaders for lives of mission?”  They wanted to create a “learning experience” that was not purely academic with the intention of filling pulpits, but a learning experience that would fill neighborhoods with leaders whose lives were radically re-oriented around the life and teachings of Jesus. This small tribe of Kingdom cultivators then gave birth to our first NieuCommunities missional community that was centered around forming the next generation of missionally minded leaders for the Church.

After ten years, lots of refining, tons of shared life and many leaders having been sent on mission into the marketplace, around the globe, into church leadership roles and deep into the fabric of their neighborhood, NieuCommunities now has communities scattered across the globe.  While we still pour much of our energy into forming, mentoring and developing young leaders through our 1-2 year apprenticeship, our communities are deeply rooted in neighborhood and are made up of neighbors, apprentices and our staff. Each year we covenant to commune deeply with God, live radically interdependent lives with each other and dive deep into the story(s) of our neighborhood.  We gather in our homes, live within 10 minutes walking distance from each other and don’t aspire to accumulate large numbers of people, but to multiply communities that can follow Jesus by living in covenant relationship.

Over the years many individuals and communities have heard our story and asked for some of our “field notes” from our decade of living neighborhood based, street level missional community.  This book is our response to that.  And while we are far from having all the answers, this is our humble attempt to share our learning’s with the hope of sparking the imagination and practice of individuals and communities across the globe.

JAR: What does “missional community” mean to you?  And why are those two words important to each other?

JH: “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 that is rooted in community.  I see missional community as two ideas being intimately connected.  It is a collection of people that are committed to living lives of mission (apart of the missio dei) who believe the best way to faithfully live on mission is in the context of intentional community.  Community fuels and gives context to mission and mission gives purpose and identity to the community.

JAR: Briefly outline the 6 postures you introduce in the book.

JH: We want our posture towards God, our community and our neighborhood to be intimately informed by these commitments.  Cloaked in the covering of covenant community, we pilgrimage through each of the following postures as learners and practitioners apprenticing in the way of Jesus:

Listening: We desire to be attuned to God, to self, and to our neighborhood.

Submerging: We desire to embody Jesus in our neighborhood by diving deep into the narratives that are often ignored, misunderstood or without a voice.

Inviting: We desire to grasp the depth of God’s invitation to kingdom life and to become more inviting (and invited!) people while welcoming our neighbors into God’s redemptive story.

Contending: We desire to confront the things that hinder the full expression of the kingdom of God, both spiritual and natural, in our community, among our friends and neighbors, and in our city.

Imagining: We desire to discern God’s intent on our lives and help shape transformational faith communities.

Entrusting: We desire to entrust people to God and to others, celebrate our deeper understanding of God’s call on our lives, and lean confidently into our future.

JAR: Name a few authors/books who have been particularly formative for you & NieuCommunities.  How so?

JH: These books and authors have done well at rooting us deep in the Story of God, while learning from traditions that daily inform our life and practice (namely, Celtic Spirituality).  Further, we will often read these books as a community based on the current posture we are navigating together.

The Celtic Way of Evangelism, George Hunter
Spiritual Direction, Henri Nouwen
Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne
Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl
Jesus and the Victory of God – N.T. Wright
The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster
Theology for the Community of God, Stanley Grenz
The Mission of God, Christopher Wright

JAR: What is your biggest concern for the church today and why?

JH: My greatest concern for the Church is that it would loose sight of its vocation of living as a sent people.  The Western Church of the last 100 years as largely turned towards ecclesial models that promote consumption rather than participation.  People often leave/drive from their local contexts to attend a church gathering in a building where a person(s) lead the rest of the congregation in some form of worship and teaching.  The people then drive back to their neighborhoods having received something for themselves.  While this is certainly not all bad and great things have and continue to happen in these contexts, this model has largely debilitated the vocation of the People of God.  In this model it is easy to think that only the “pastor” has been sent to share the Good News of Jesus (which is often viewed synonymously with spoken word rather than lived life), so we are simply to bring people to a service or gathering to hear him/her share.  The Good News is removed from the context of everyday life in our neighborhoods, revolves around a service that requires a vast amount of resources and is something we only hear rather than embody.

We believe we are not only to share the Good News, but embody the Good News.  Jesus extends his vocation of redemption and restoration to humanity to accept and participate in.  When the church simply becomes a place or a commodity, we are greatly debilitated in living out our vocation as sent ones for the benefit of the cosmos.  In other words, whether we are sent across the world or across the street, we are all missionaries.  Until the Church sees its role to multiply Kingdom participants on mission rather than offering goods and services to consumers, the influence and prophetic presence of the Church will be greatly diminished.  Thankfully, there is a Spirit-driven movement afoot that is growing, grass-roots and poised to radically reorient the Church around the life and teachings of Jesus.

JAR: Thanks Jon.

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