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10 Things I Learned in the Middle East

Photo by Jon Huckins

Photo by Jon Huckins

Over the past four years I have had the opportunity to spend a significant amount time in the Middle East. I no longer approach the time as a tourist, but instead seek out relationships and experiences as a listener who has much to learn about the way God is at work in contexts much different than my own. In that posture, it has been remarkable how much I have learned and begun to integrate into the way I live, love and lead back in my neighborhood. Theologian Paul Knitter describes it well when he refers to ones inherited worldview as a telescope. 

"No matter how objective we may think we are or desire to be, we all see the world through a specific telescope/worldview. When we choose to look through the telescope of people who are “different” than us, we begin to get a more comprehensive picture of the world and the way God is at work within it."

Leading our first Learning Community to the Middle East apart of The Global Immersion Project I recently co-founded, I was invited to take a look through the lens of friends’ telescopes who live amid conflict in Israel and Palestine. Here are some of my key learnings:  

Neighborliness is the New Sexy — 7 Ways to Achieve It

Neighbors, zooropa / Shutterstock.com

Neighbors, zooropa / Shutterstock.com

It's a joke. Well, it was. There we were talking with Diana Butler Bass and others from SOGOMedia in an online forum about the Presidential Election and the words flowed forth: Neighborliness is the new sexy. It was ridiculous, but then I started mulling the idea over and this is what happened. Adam Ericksen and I started pondering what Seven Marks of Neighborliness might look like.

1. Be a regular somewhere: Our neighborhoods are actually rather expansive spaces. Some of them involve strip malls. Some of us commute to work and, in that sense, we live in various neighborhoods. Yes, plural. How can we root ourselves in these places? ...

Meeting the Demands of a New Generation of Christian Leaders

Community concept, hollymolly /Shutterstock.com

Community concept, hollymolly /Shutterstock.com

The Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) has been a powerful force for Christian social action over the past decade. CCDA's leadership development, resources, and vision have been powerfully focused on helping pastors and community leaders facilitate the restoration of communities all over the country and around the world.

Born out of the traditions of the civil rights movement, CCDA is now engaging a new generation of pastors, prophets, and ministers. This next generation of CCDA will naturally look somewhat different from previous generations as they respond to the ever-changing landscape of our society. As it turns out, one major difference is a hunger among leaders for a more robust and powerful theological foundation from which to pursue ministry.

Practics has long dominated the field of Christian social action. What works? What strategies and techniques will actually bring about change in our community? These have been the central questions of past generations. However, among a new generation of church and community leaders, practical questions are not the sole concern, and in some cases not even the primary concern.

Wild Goose West: Wild Spirit, Wonderful New Friends

Michael Gungor performs at Wild Goose West. Photo by Bill Dahl for Wild Goose.

Michael Gungor performs at Wild Goose West. Photo by Bill Dahl for Wild Goose.

Hello fellow Sojourners!

This is a brief missive for your enjoyment. I just returned from the Wild Goose Festival in Corvallis, Ore.

Yes, Oregon and not North Carolina. You see, in a fit of wisdom, the good people of Wild Goose found a west coast location. I hope it worked well for them because I'm sold on the place.

I wish you could have been there. It was amazing. To tantalize you into attending next year, here (in no particular order) are Nine Good Reasons to Attend The Wild Goose Festival.

1. There are no bugs.

None. Well, some flies, but this is Oregon and not North Carolina and though the nights are chilly and the mornings moreso (I awoke the last morning to see my breath in the air), the sun arose and everything warmed up to make for some of the most beautiful weather you'll ever experience.

2. All the notables are there.

Rachel, Richard (and Richard), Brian, Nadia, Gareth, Bruce, Christian, Amy, Yvette, Hilary, Greg, Steve...So many people to meet and to know.

Where Do I Fit In?

Sarah Heath. Photo by B. Wilson Photography.

Sarah Heath. Photo by B. Wilson Photography.

I hadn't a clue that I was on the forefront (apparently) of a huge trend when I got my first tattoo or when, at age 20 while visiting London, I was daring enough to pierce my nose. While sartorially I may fit in, beneath the surface, surrounded by my likewise trendily tatted and pierced friends, I don't fit. In fact I had to stop attending that church because I was tired of feeling as if whom God has called me to be isn't OK.

Even at the very place I had gone to connect with God, I still felt a distant from God's people.

Here's the catch: I am not just your average church attender. I am a young, by all accounts "hip" female pastor. After a couple of years of hard work at a prestigious seminary, I am blessed to be one of the those set apart for ordained ministry. I am, in fact, the preaching pastor at a church in southern California....

I am stuck between two worlds — the evangelical world where I am too liberal (by virtue of my vocation and career) and the mainline Christian world where I often feel disappointed by the lack of passion. I don't think it would be as bad if people in both worlds didn't feel the need to question who I am. But they do.

 

Group House Gives Women a Place to Discern Their Calling as Nuns

RNS photo by Rusty Costanza / The Times-Picayune

Paige LaCour, second from right, hugs Archbishop Gregory Aymond. RNS photo: Rusty Costanza / The Times-Picayune

In what is being described as the first of its kind in the U.S., the Archdiocese of New Orleans has transformed a vacant church rectory into a group house where single women will live together while deciding whether to undertake lives as nuns.

The center, dedicated on Aug. 15, occupies the second and third floors of the St. Rita rectory. Within a few days, two women, then perhaps three more, will move into the spotless rectory, their collective lives to be superintended by two veteran nuns who will show the younger women the dynamics of shared community life.

“How we live in community. How to communicate. How to share,” said Sister Carmen Bertrand, for 48 years a member of the Sisters of the Holy Family.

Beyond orienting them to the rhythms of community life, Bertrand and her colleague, Sister Diane Roche, a Religious of the Sacred Heart, will teach the tenants various modes of prayer, organize occasional retreats, and bring in representatives of other religious orders to present themselves and their ways of life.

Church No More: Part 4 — I Don't Want to Go Back

I love the Church. I have literally been going to church my whole life — that is, until two months ago.

Then I stopped cold turkey. You can read about it in my post "Walking Away From Church."

Masses of people responded. It astounded me. Most ministers expressed concern saying things like, “My Brother, I am worried that you may be on a dangerous journey,” or, “I fear you may lose your faith.”

Frankly, what I heard them saying was, “Faith is so fragile it needs the Church to enforce it,” which only made me more certain I was making a remarkably healthy spiritual choice.

Former church-going folk frequently told me things like, “There is a large disconnect between the 'Church' of today and the teachings of Jesus,” and “I have found God in a dynamic, deep way and I love God so much more and for real now than when I was unwittingly trying to fit in with my church culture.”

I've been away from church for two months now and I have to say, I am more at peace than I ever have been. My faith is stronger than it ever has been. My family life is healthier than it ever has been. My desire to seek out God and follow the teachings of Jesus is stronger than it ever has been. 

I do not want to go back to Church because life outside of Church is better. It just is. There's no dogma complicating the path to God. It is more than refreshing to escape the games church-folk play with the intent of establishing control and “rightness” on their part; it is life-giving to escape it.

Ten Ways to Live 'Almost Amish'

Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth

Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth

The Amish are by no means a perfect people, and there are dark sides to their history. Their example, however, does have much to teach us. How can we incorporate the best of Amish principles into our modern lives? To answer this, I did some reading. And some visiting. And some listening. I in no way pretend to be an expert on the Amish, but the more I read and visited and listened, the more I found to admire. The Amish are islands of sanity in a whirlpool of change.

Along the way, I discovered some Amish principles that we can all try to emulate. These principles (similar to the list that Wendell Berry laid out more than two decades ago in Home Economics) provide guidelines for a simpler, slower, more sustainable life. They offer me hope.

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