Daniel and Amanda’s Weblog

September 24, 2008

More community discussion

Filed under: christianity — theburts @ 4:18 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Sorry, took a short hiatus again. :)  Not too much new here…we’re still learning and dreaming of community, went to a conference thing by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (who lives at the Rutba House intentional community in North Carolina) this past weekend. Since I haven’t had time to write a blog for some time, I wanted to share this. I wrote it in email form to the group that’s meeting every other week, discussing the book Schools for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism. Peace, Daniel.

So I wanted to tell y’all about something that’s been very encouraging for me this week. Feel free to chime in anytime. And sorry, it’s long. :)

It’s easy for one (me) to get overwhelmed by the huge decisions and complexities of moving into community. Even though I’ve lived in an intentional community before, and even though I know of other groups around the country and throughout history, it’s so foreign to the typical way of life in America that it can feel like we’re the first ones to ever try it! The newness in “new monasticism” can feel exciting and revolutionary. And it certainly is, there have been amazing, exciting changes both in my life and countless others through the witness of people like John Perkins and Shane Claiborne, from the Rutba House to Koinonia. But the moment I (we) begin to feel a sense of personality responsibility and heroism for success in creating community, I think pride is dangerously near if not already planted in my (our) efforts.

In the first chapter we’re discussing next week, called “Humble Submission to Christ’s Body, the Church,” the author talks of his history in discovering the “Great Tradition,” the “set of beliefs and practices that have been maintained by Christians throughout the centuries and are still held by the vast majority of Christians.” Then he says, “The impossible burden of having to do it all by myself and the terrible insecurity of never knowing if I was right were both lifted from my shoulders. A new life opened before me. I now saw the church as a gift rather than an accomplishment. With that realization a life-long process of conversion began, slowly changing me from someone who relied entirely on his own efforts into someone who accepted the gifts of grace that are all about us.”

Though the author was referring more to his being separated from the Church and his frustrations with not having anyone (or any church authority) to learn from, I think the same thing can happen in creating community. We are not alone, people! We have many gifts of grace to accept, both from the Church and from our brothers and sisters, and I think it will be too burdensome to try and be community without the encouragement and support from others. I met Harvey Baker at church this past Sunday, a man who’s lived in an intentional farm community for 34 years in south TN. It was funny…I asked him if he’d read “12 Marks of a New Monasticism,” as if this book published in 2005 was also somehow important in the creation of his community in 1973. Right, so he’d never heard of it. :) But he’s been living it for years…woodworker by trade, farmer for food, a 65ish year old lover of God and neighbor (and harmonica).

It’s easy to be scared of failure, or intimidated by the huge responsibility of being a faithful community, especially when we’re new to it and might not have any direct ties to other communities…but we need to remember that just because it’s new to us, it’s not new to the world. I’m not attempting to squelch the excitement of the “irresistible revolution” or “new monasticism.” I’m pumped about it, and am eager to live in community with some or all of you. I think Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Shane Claiborne and most of those involved in the new monasticism dialogue have tried to make it very clear that the words “new” and “movement” are dangerously “faddish.” They’ve emphasized that we need to keep close connection with our mother the Church and with our brothers and sisters (present and past) as we try to live faithfully in community. And to me, it was so encouraging to meet this older man, someone to whom intentional community isn’t new, or scary, or radical at all…it’s just life. That’s my story (ie. novel).

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August 25, 2008

Community #2

Amanda and I have talked a lot in the past few months about the possibility of living in community. Our dear friends, Bryan and Dawn and Mindy and Ariah, showed us that it is indeed possible to be happily and healthily married while living in community with others. In fact, one of the identifiers in the so called “new monastic” communities (as noted in Schools for Conversion: 12 Marks of the New Monasticism, which we and several of our friends are currently going through as a group) is “support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.” Sure, our society thinks that’s weird. And crazy. But Christians have often been thought of as weird and crazy, a fact that I was reminded of lately, so we’d be in good company.

We believe that we have to look at everything from the perspective of God and our faith in Jesus. After all, most Christians, if asked, will tell you that following God should more important than anything else in their life (though we certainly don’t always act like it…surely critics might say that football and finances often trump God in our lives). So even though moving in with a bunch of people doesn’t necessarily seem normal and natural to us, especially after being married for only one year, we simultaneously understand that part of the reason is because of what our culture tells us is normal. I’ve used the phrase “counter cultural” quite a bit on my blog here. Where it’s sometimes true that Christians need to be counter cultural, I’m learning more and more that what we need more is for Christ’s followers to envision a new culture altogether, not just oppose the mainline one that we feel is messed up. We need an alternative culture, Jesus’ Way, where we can live out his radical economics, peace making, and enemy love, in any land we find ourselves…whether that’s the empire of Rome or America. (Credit goes to a great book I’m currently reading, Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, for some of these phrases and for helping me to further understand what it means to follow Jesus today)

For us, moving into community with other Christians and seeking to radically live out Jesus’ Way in America may be the next step in our lives that (we pray) are characterized more than any other thing by a complete devotion to the God who created this world, called the Israelite nation out of slavery, put on flesh as Jesus the Messiah, and who will come again to fulfill our hopes for peace and justice. Instead of looking normal and fitting in, we would rather be known as misfits in our society but be true to Jesus. (The early followers of Jesus lived so differently than their culture that they were called by a new name!) Instead of the security and pleasure that wealth brings, we would rather rely on God for daily bread and experience the greater joy of taking care of the poor. Instead of living for the moment, partying and getting drunk, we would rather live like the kingdom of heaven is already here, showing love to our neighbors and throwing parties for the homeless.

We feel that Christians who are truly following Jesus should and will stand out as peculiar people in this luxury-seeking, power-hungry, at-war nation. At the same time, we don’t find biblical precedence that commands every Christian to move into the abandoned areas of their city and live in community with other Christians….we do hope, though, that just as other new monastic communities have been in a sense prophetic to us, that God could use our community to speak to some that another way of living is possible. There is no biblical mandate that Christians must not own their own homes or live in wealthy areas of town….we would hope, though, that people who are frustrated by the system in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer would get a little glimpse of God’s kingdom where everyone is equal. We would seek to live humbly and not judge Jesus’ followers wherever and in whatever state they find themselves….yet we would hope that our fellow disciples would be encouraged (and challenged) when they dine with our “family” and see the beauty of reconciliation that can occur when invisible city walls are broken down.

These are some of the ways that we can imagine us living like the kingdom of God in Nashville. Simply imagining that new world is where we’re at right now. Amanda and I have tried in the last few years to align our walk more closely with the Way of Christ, but we’re certainly not the best example of how modern day Christians in America might live out their faith daily. Whoa, no, we’ll send you to someone else for that, thank you. But we do want God to be our priority. And we have discussed many times how easy it is to go back to the ways of the world when we’re not surrounded by those who challenge and encourage us to be more like Christ…so here we are, finding ourselves considering community. Dreaming. Tossing it around in our little heads. And then sometimes remembering how much we like everything the world offers…from eating out often to cool technology to privacy to nice homes and and even new cars. So this new kingdom is a long way from what our daily life looks like now, mind you, but something that gives us much excitement, hope, and yes, fear. Fear of being viewed as crazy or too radical, of not fitting in, of pre-existing racial and social divisions, of safety and of financial insecurity. So how do we get there from here? Or to go back a bit, how do we know if God wants us to do this? (a question that we struggle with often) Then, if we do feel like it is aligned with God’s desire for us and his kingdom, what do we need for this journey? I know Jesus’ disciples went out with no money and no shoes…but we’re not there yet people. :)

We don’t have the answers to all of those questions. Regarding what we need for this journey, though, should we decide to take it, I’ll throw a few things out there for consideration. Certainly courage to live like Jesus no matter what is key. We also need wisdom to begin living this kind of community (“be as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves”) in the midst of a fallen world and its broken and segregated neighborhoods. Humility is vital, so that we don’t begin to think that our community succeeds or fails because of what we bring to the table, but instead pattern our lives after Jesus (be Christians, or little Christs, like the earliest disciples were called) and give God his hands and feet to work in this world. And this sounds redundant, but we need community…co-conspirators, fellow Christ followers willing to give up personal plans for greatness and success to come and seek the heart of God in community together. Because we cannot do it alone. Along those lines, we will need supporting churches. We aren’t starting a new Church (did I mention that yet?). No, on the contrary, each person of the community needs to stay closely tied together to their own congregations of believers, thereby receiving continued life through the church, and also giving support and encouragement to others in the assembly through our relationships. Most importantly, we will need God. His grace to forgive us when we are proud and self-seeking, his holy scriptures to guide us daily, and his constant and faithful love, of which there’s plenty for us to share with our neighbors.

Next, I think we’ll discuss more specific ideas and options for community…what kind of area or dwelling have we considered, how would finances work, etc. But I’d love to have some discussion first! And if anyone out there is interested in possibly living in community, please let us know! Remember, we would need co-conspirators! :)

August 21, 2008

Community #1

Filed under: christianity — theburts @ 4:15 pm
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Many of you know that I (Daniel) lived in a community for a year. By community, I mean multiple people or family units living in shared space…9 total people in two apartments. Each person or family unit had their own space still for privacy (except for me and Josh who were in the same room with a bunk bed that had a parrot roost for stuffed parrots), but we had common areas for cooking, eating, and just hanging out or playing games. We ate most every meal together (and often with guests) and spent most of our down time talking about life, God, world views, and what happens when the Christian faith and daily living meet. There were two children who brought much entertainment to the community, and different community members would take turns babysitting them to give the parents breaks. There was a nursing student, network technician, at-risk-youth counselor, accountant, barista, optometrist, and engineer assistant (or, a guy who worked at an engineering firm) living together sharing their resources and growing in the Way of Jesus Christ. We attended different Churches, but we found unity in our desire to radically follow Jesus. It was both the most I’ve ever been challenged and the most I’ve ever grown all in the same year.

There were several reasons, but a big one for me at the time was that I didn’t feel right living where I lived. Josh and I were living with other friends in a fairly wealthy area of the city in a big condominium I’d bought in ’03, and after my eyes were opened to the fact that Jesus spent most of his time with the poor, there was internal conflict in the fact that I never spent any time on “Jesus’ side of town.” So Josh and I decided to move…and at the same time, our future room mates Bryan and Dawn (and kids) and Mindy and Ariah had decided to live together, and we all came together with another random stranger, Chris, to form said happy community.  :)

In the beginning stages, some of our group actually looked for cheap broken down or burned out houses to buy, but we ended up just having to quickly find a place to rent out for a year. We lived in an abandoned area of Nashville (north Nashville to be exact) on a street that some of our family and friends would have declared unsafe for us. We all agreed that safety wasn’t our primary goal in following Jesus. We didn’t know all the ins and outs of what our little community experiment would look like when we moved in. Our “home” wasn’t very nice aesthetically, and we had a roach problem, but we found that we didn’t mind not having vaulted ceilings or perfect paint jobs or new carpet. We even managed to survive through the smell of icky smoke creeping in our apartment and the occasional slug.

We constantly talked about and grew together in areas such as understanding racial divisions and obstacles to equality, taking care of God’s earth from composting to recycling to redeeming trash, becoming equal in sharing resources and kicking around ideas of financial accountability, actively seeking peace while our country was at war, etc. Most of this was around the dinner table, and afterwards as we’d sit around and enjoy conversation with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Conversation just happened, scheduled or not. Nobody headed off to watch TV after dinner, and everyone chipped in cleaning up and washing dishes (though we all know Chris, Mindy and Dawn did more than their share, grin).

We painted this verse on our wall…

…and we carried it out through cleaning, babysitting, writing encouraging notes to each other on our message boards, and taking out the trash, which is kind of like washing feet.

So that was our year in community in review, a year later. I promise it wasn’t completely random…you’ll see why I brought it up on the next blog, which will hopefully be written soon. And that was the first blog post in a long time. My apologies. :)

On another note, Amanda and I celebrated our 1 year anniversary last week! What a wonderful first year it was…and I look forward to the rest of them with equal (or even greater!) excitement and anticipation.  ;)

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