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The following will be published in the upcoming Shalom Missions Communities newsletter.
In the midst of routine has come many exciting changes for the Lotus House community. The winter, though cold at times, has brought many guests that have provided warmth and encouragement. Sydney and Stella Warren, from the Bruderhof, spent about two months living in the ‘66 house and engaging in the life of our community, while also interacting with numerous individuals and faith communities across St. Louis. They were a constant presence and fixture in our community, helping us put down a new 3rd floor in the ’66 house and countless other small projects across the houses. We thrived on many tasty meals and desserts prepared by their hands. Hosting the SMC Coordinator’s meeting seemed very simple and painless, due to their presence and hospitality. We were sad to say goodbye to them at the end of January, but remain grateful for the continuing development of our relationship with their community and the ways they have impacted our lives.
Last fall, a young man named Trevon re-emerged in our lives. About six years ago, Trevon was a 13 year old who we worked with through the church’s tutoring program. Trevon came to live with us in a relationship that felt challenged in so many ways. He stayed with us for about 6 months, before moving on. Once or twice a year he would drop by the house and Candace would catch up with him. Last fall, he returned “home.” When he returned to us, he was already working to get his life back together, applying to get into St. Louis’s Job Corp program. Tre moved back into the house and enlisted Candace’s help in getting him into the program. In January, Tre was accepted into the program. He is doing incredible things, but he has struggled with some of the program rules, which is weighing heavily on our hearts and prayers.
January was an exciting month for our community due to hosting the SMC Coordinators meeting. Due to the smaller size of our community, we have not been able to host gatherings until now. For several communities, this was their first time to visit the Lotus House. We were thrilled to welcome our fellow SMC’ers, and the gathering was an incredible encouragement to our community as well. We also look forward to additional visitors from our sister communities in the future.
We closed January with our annual retreat to reflect on the year and our future. We also spent some time reading and discussing David Janzen’s chapter on the art of wisdom-seeking conversation.
There are many individual transitions happening right now. Daniel left his job of seven years in housing/mental health services after accepting an administrative position in a local medical school’s intellectual/developmental disability research center. Stephen recently became engaged to a South Carolina belle named Emily (wedding May 21). He and Emily will likely spend the summer in Germany if his language study application is approved, and then they will settle in St. Louis, but not as part of the house community. James is also applying to a similar study program in Germany. We continue to pray with Alden that his teaching options will expand, as he still has no guarantees that he can remain at SLU.
For the Basses and Daniel, who have been seeking a new church home, no decisions have been made yet, but both are feeling a little more sense of direction in where they may end up. At this point, we are also still waiting on God to send us new community members, as we know that to sustain two houses, we will need God to provide us new members.
You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’ a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
The summer of 2014 has been an adventuresome one for the Lotus House. It seems that only for brief moments has the whole house been together. It has been a summer marked by constant prayer for safe travels and return of family and friends. House members have traveled to South Dakota, Wyoming, Georgia, Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota, Alabama, Tennessee, Colorado, North Carolina, and England. During these travels, we have rested, hiked in nature, studied theology, pursued job prospects, visited old friends, and celebrated with family, among
many other things.
Despite these travels, there has still been an active spirit of hospitality at the house. We have continued to celebrate with our community dinners every Friday, and North City Church of Christ still put on 3 weeks of VBS, with the help of the house and several church youth groups.
We have welcomed a variety of people through our home. We received friends from the Deaconness Ann House, a group of young individuals living in north St. Louis and volunteering in local nonprofits. David, Megan and Gus from Reba Place Fellowship in Chicago spent a weekend with our house, sharing in our life and continuing to build friendship between our communities.
We also unexpectedly welcomed Tim and Claudia from the Foxhill Bruderhof community in New York. They spent 2 weeks in St. Louis to see what work God was doing here and to serve where they could. Having met some of their other community at the Nurtuing Communities Project last year, it was a joy to connect with them.
The summer is far from over, and we still anticipate a visit from some more friends at Reba in August. Though we have traveled many places, we have continued to receive many people. I believe it this hospitality that has fostered a spirit of unity for so many weeks during our constant coming and going.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2
One of our ways of life in the Lotus House is to practice hospitality. We do this specifically with a focus on crossing the color line in our society, though our hospitality occurs in many different ways. Hospitality is an important function of a community to maintain its own life and health. Hospitality could better be termed a ministry of inconvenience or interruption. So often we view hospitality from our own salvific context, that we are somehow changing someone else for the better. Hospitality is never convenient, it always comes as an interruption. If we seek hospitality, it will never come at the time we want it to. It will always interrupt and inconvenience us at the most inopportune times. The the true gift of hospitality comes from the way it changes us, and helps us learn to see humanity beyond or busy selves.
I recently began reading a book (h/t to Alden) called Hope Sings So Beautiful: Graced Encounters Across the Color Line. The author, Chris Pramuk, is a theologian at Xavier University who provides an insightful immersion into stories of others. One of the insights that jumped out to me includes his reflection on the writings of black theologian Howard Thurman. Where many have struggled to define a reconciliation that often leads to separation or assimilation, Thurman suggests that:
“Always he [man] must know that the contradictions of life are not final or ultimate; he must distinguish between failure and a many-sided awareness so that he will not mistake conformity for harmony, uniformity for synthesis. He will know that for all men to be alike is the death of life in man, and yet perceive harmony that transcends all diversities and in which diversity finds its richness and significance. “
“…community cannot feed for long on itself; it can only flourish where always the boundaries are giving way to the coming of others from beyond them – unknown and undiscovered brothers.”
Perhaps the reason we have been called to hospitality is initially self-serving. Hospitality forces us to encounter the other, to share stories and experiences of people who are vastly different from us. We can only experience appreciation and true reconciliation when we embed ourselves in the stories and experiences of others. If we rely on our native community or even fail to be a community that interacts with and welcomes strangers, our community will eventually starve itself out or destroy another community. Hospitality pushes and challenges our boundaries. As it serves to repair our own brokenness and selfishness, we will be able to, as Thomas Merton says, develop a love that “is a resetting of the Body of broken bones.”
As we evolve towards communities that celebrate and love people in their weakness, Vanier suggests that fear is the primary barrier that prevents us from moving from exclusion to inclusion. Though a community must practice exclusion from time to time, in order to create separation, protect its members, and build in-group dynamics, communities must be constantly weary of closing themselves off and refusing becoming open to change and new understanding.
Fear is at the root of exclusion, while trust is the root of inclusion. The primary driver of fear comes from a multitude of sources. We fear change, instead holding onto stability and the way things have always been. We fear disagreement, rejection, and arguments with others, because we are afraid of seeing things through the eyes of others. We fear failure, because we have not accepted our own limitations. We fear the poor, the disabled, and others who have been disadvantaged, because when we engage with Lazaruses of the world, we are afraid our hearts will be touched and we will be called into the messy compassion of relationships, recognizing that they are not as different as we are. If we understand the way these fears hold us back, we must open our hearts to accept, forgive, and understand the unique creation of each individual. Only when we recognize that our own worth comes intrinsically, and not from any sort of achievement, will we be able to recognize our common humanity and emerge from feelings of superiority and prejudice.
The way of the heart does not seek control, but seeks liberation in others. When we allow our heart to lead us into simple relationships, with laughter and fun, we create open spaces that allow the uniqueness of each person to emerge. When we focus on living in the present and accepting the broken, we can lay aside the acts of aggression and power. As we lay aside our prejudices, we can begin to speak with tenderness and call forth what is most beautiful in each other.
The path to freedom involves laying aside our compulsive need to succeed, to have power, and be praised. Unfortunately, these compulsions have become very addictive powers that have built up over a lifetime of society’s influence on us. To find freedom, we must find a way to lay aside our past hurts and the fears that cut us off from other people. We must put to death the false self, learning to accept our true self. However, we cannot do this without trust and forgiveness. We must learn to forgive ourselves and others for the cycle to end. Only true reconciliation with our past hurts, abusers, and those we dislike will liberate us, because we must establish a common humanity.
Forgiveness can only occur when we recognize our common humanity, lose the shackles of hierarchy and power, believe that redemption and change are possible, and yearn for unity and peace. When we practice forgiveness, we can remove our masks, and see ourselves and others as we were created, in the imago Dei.
I recently read Becoming Human by John Vanier, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite thinkers on living in community and human relationships. Vanier founded L’Arche, a group of intentional communities that seeks to live alongside those with significant disabilities. In this book, he suggests that being human is not a flawed state to escape, but it is the state we were created to live in, and the process of evolving into this state is something to be celebrated. Below is my attempt at condensing and reflecting the first half of his book on loneliness and belonging. These seeming simple concepts are overwhelming and challenging.
Loneliness and belonging are central to being human. Loneliness is a natural and necessary rhythm of the human heart. Loneliness is the source of incredible energy to create and speak truth, but for most of us, it is a chaotic force which shackles us through fear and exclusion. We experience loneliness, fear, and anguish, because we are trying to fuel the idol of self, rather than seeing our “self” as a gift of grace. The root of this idolization of self comes from our lack of communal relationships that demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance. When we accept our “self” as an act of grace, we will see the unique and intrinsic worth in our “self” as well as others “selfs”, and we will experience a sense of belonging.
The process of belonging, of developing in-group norms and labels, can promote freedom and growth of the individual, but it often leads to prejudice and superiority over others, which ultimately leads to exclusion. Too often, we feel the need to preserve our own self-image and we are afraid of weakening our own identify and beliefs. Insecurity will either paralyze us or lead us into unhealthy relationships that destroy or hide our identify. As fallen creatures, we seek to overcome insecurity through power and conflict, which are forces of exclusion. The key to healthy belonging is to understand and accept weakness. When weakness is exposed in the context of trusting relationships, and we are loved and accepted with our weakness, rather than in spite of them, we can more fully know ourselves and be open to the world around us.
Healthy groups made up of healthy individuals promote belonging by living in a spirit of openness, trust, and risk. Healthy insecurity embraces an unknown future with an attitude of honest questioning, rather than through fear and avoidance. As we open up our “self” to others and become vulnerable rather than seeking power and privilege, we will be able to give and receive life from one another. When this happens, we will begin to trust our own beauty and our capacity to do beautiful things.
Fear closes us down; love opens us up.
To be continued…
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March of Washington for Jobs and Freedom. While our places for employment are much more integrated, we still choose to live primarily in neighborhoods that reflect our own race. Yesterday, I discovered a pretty cool 2010 census map (hat tip to ACU Professor Richard Beck’s Experimental Theology) showing one dot for each person counted. The dots are color coded for race. This beautiful, zoomable map presents a pretty clear picture of where people live. It’s interesting to zoom in on your own city and neighborhoods. How diverse is your city, your neighborhood? For the majority of Americans, we live in neighborhoods almost exclusively of our own race. The question of equality remains, but even more than equality, is the question of quality of life. Do we lead fulfilling lives when we primarily live and interact with people who think, look, and act like us? Or is something lacking? Are we largely missing out on the richness and diversity of the American Melting Pot?
Click on the picture above to be taken to the interactive map hosted by the Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.
This week, our morning prayers have centered on the reading of the story of David and Absalom. Absalom was the rebel child of King David. He was an insurrectionist who won the hearts of the people, and revolted against King David, attempting to kill him and overthrow the government. Kings do not take kindly to insurrection, even from their own family. Any king would kill his enemy at the first chance, to ensure that no one challenged his divine authority. And yet, David gives his soldiers specific instructions to be gentle with Absalom, who as the unfortunate victim of the all too common long-hair-stuck-in-a-tree-while-riding-horseback predicament , is swiftly killed by David’s top officer. The military success in putting down the rebellion. And yet, David’s first concern of the battle is the well-being of his chief enemy, Absalom. On discovering Absalom’s death, David weeps loudly, crying “O Absalom, my son. If only I had died instead of you”. This weeping disheartens the whole army, who cannot reconcile his mourning with their triumph. Yet, David deposes his commander, and pardons and reconciles both the people and leaders who wronged him. He also seeks out the sole surviving member of his other enemy Saul’s household, giving the crippled man Mephibosheth a seat at his own table. Read the rest of this entry »
One of my first experiences interacting with others living in community was a “lack of talent” show. I did not experience this event until having lived in community for over 2.5 years. The title was misleading, because people had many talents, but perhaps the title was meant to encourage a certain humility and recklessness of expression. People shared passages they had memorized, artwork, songs, music, poems, poetry, and jokes (one, in my recklessness, I was the victim of). One of the joys of being in community and interacting with other communities, such as through our recent retreat, is in seeing these gifts of expression.
These gifts of expression do not come easy. We are consumers of entertainment for which our culture has developed a systematic way of delivering into our brains. It is not that we should avoid consuming the entertainment that our culture provides, but we have become so adapted to the polished, perfect entertainment, that we have often lost touch with our own gifts of expression. As a community builds trust, more of our true self emerges, and we can more fully live into the expression of who we are. Read the rest of this entry »