Month: October 2016

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The Jesus Movement

I was lucky enough this morning to attend an event sponsored by the Kaleo Center called “Examining This Moment Through Movement Eyes”. Beth Zemsky and Dave Mann facilitated the conversation, and focused on the ways in which we understand social movements, and how we might determine where we find our current movement in context. It was a fascinating conversation that beautifully illustrated the movement of movements. That’s right, movements move. Often these movements transition in quantifiable cycles, and it is possible to track movements as they cross various thresholds that seems to be common in all social movements. Beth asked us to envision the movement of movements as a wave. There is energy even before the wave begins to break, it rises from the ocean and peaks before descending back towards the surface, then begins to rumble again. Much of our exercise this morning was to attempt to discern our location on this wave. In Beth’s example the wave of social movements begins by framing and clarifying a worldview, then as movements rise they begin to develop infrastructure and transformation goals. The peak of the wave is mass mobilization. As the movements begin to descend the wave they often begin to professionalize roles that once were happening in the streets, this then transitions into reactive organizing, and finally movement maintenance. Using this metaphor, I think many of us can see ways in which the movements we have encountered or been a part of track neatly along this trajectory. I began to think about efforts for racial justice, economic equity, environmental stewardship, and the fight for LGBTQ rights. But my mind quickly went to another movement. The Jesus movement.

Ok, I know, that whole Jesus movement jargon is a little overplayed, and can seem a little hokey. But, I think it is an accurate moniker for this thing that began with the ministry of Jesus some 2,000 years ago. I wondered, as I listened to Beth and Dave explain the nature of social movements, what if those of us who try our damnedest to follow Jesus began to see this faith through movement eyes. What if we could locate ourselves on the wave of social movement movement? What if we discover that we are not where we think we are? What if we find that, in fact, we are snuffing out the rumbling needed to push the wave skyward?

I can begin to see the Jesus movement as it moves along this wave. There is no better example of worldview clarifying than the Sermon on the Mount. It’s important here to clarify that this framework is not a set of issues, but a narrative about how the world might look. The Gospel of Matthew illustrates this beautifully;

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under-foot.

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” *

Here is the framework (There is a lot more, so check it out) for the Jesus movement. This sets the stage for all the ways in which the movement will engage with the world. We see this lived out in the healing ministry of Jesus, in the feeding of the five thousand, and ultimately the death of Jesus. It is this framework that begins to develop the collective identity of the people who follow the fellow from Nazareth, and it is this framework that will help to carry the movement on after Jesus is no longer present.

We might imagine that our next location on the wave of social movement movement begins at Pentecost. It is that strange tale of tongues of fire and the many spiritual gifts that begins to frame the movement’s infrastructure. We are introduced to the community model of the Jesus movement in the Acts of the Apostles, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” *. Here the Jesus movement takes shape in the form of collective engagement with the aforementioned worldview. The goals of this movement seem to be primarily relational; feeding the hungry, and sharing the economic burden of the community. The movement continues onward and upward.

The peak of this Jesus movement seems to me to be the slipperiest moment to pin down. As the “good news” continued to spread across nations, states, and continents, those people known as Christians began to carve out their own space in a culture dominated by state-sponsored paganism. When Christians refused to sacrifice to Caesar, or when public perception of the Jesus movement skewed too sacrilegious, persecution by the authorities became a possibility. An argument could be made that Christians were mobilized in an effort to create space to peacefully worship without fear of repercussion, though someone much more informed than I will have to make that argument. I am much more persuaded that the mass mobilization, the peak, of the Jesus movement is to be found in that small and simple community recounted in the book of Acts. I’ll have to think some more about this.

Our next move seems much clearer to me. The professionalization of the Jesus movement seems to have begun when the Church accepted a position of power under the rule of Constantine. This marked the end of the small and simple, mobilized energy of the Jesus movement, and the beginning of the Institutional Church (I realize that Church history is much more complicated than this. But, for this little thought experiment, let’s just agree to play along.). Shane Claiborne, in his book Jesus for President, illustrates the Church’s slip into reactive organizing, “…as the love affair between church and empire grew more intimate, the emperor Theodosius proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of the empire, making it a crime not to be a Christian. That’s when things got even messier. The first recorded instance of Christians killing pagans occurred shortly after…” **. Once Christianity had successfully asserted its power, the movement (if it could still be called that at this point) began the necessary maintenance needed to sustain its position and power. It would be easy for us to argue that this is the situation we find the Jesus movement in today. Plodding along at the bottom of the wave, asserting its authority in an effort to maintain its perceived power. But, I wonder if something else might be at work.

I’m wondering if the Jesus movement is once again rumbling below the surface, preparing to birth the next wave of its movement movement. Phyllis Tickle often spoke of the Church’s “rummage sale” that seems to happen every 500 years. In her book The Great Emergence, Tickle discusses three consequences of this cyclical upheaval; (1) a “more vital form of Christianity…” emerges, (2) the dominant expression of the Jesus movement is reconstituted into “two new creatures”, and (3) the movement spreads further than it has previously ***. I think Phyllis Tickle’s assessment corresponds well with this idea of viewing the scope of Christianity through movement eyes. The language of emergent or emergence Christianity, which Tickle describes, has already lost much of its potency, but it seems to me that the “emergent movement” was simply the beginnings of the Jesus movement’s attempt to re-spark the energy needed to clarify its worldview in this new context. Maybe, maybe not. But, what if?

I think there is some wisdom for those of us who seek to follow Jesus to reframe our experience with Christianity through movement eyes. Movements are transformational, institutions seek to preserve. If a truly transformational Jesus movement is starting to rumble once again, then we will need to begin the hard work of discerning the values and strategies of the movement that will carry it forward in this new context, and building intentional and appropriate infrastructure. We will need to know ourselves, and that means we will need to, in the words of Beth Zemsky, “imagine the WE”. I get incredibly excited at the possibility of re-energized and re-focused Jesus movement. One that embraces the framework of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and seeks to mobilize around a relational community of disciples. I am hopeful that as the Church we can discern the narrative of this movement, and begin to create and support a space for profound transformation. And, if I’m honest, when I listen closely, I think I can hear it happening already. Thanks be to God!

*NRSV

**Claiborne, Shane, and Chris Haw. Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

***Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008.

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Belonging

I’ve been reflecting lately on the importance of community in the health of the individual. Finding myself in a time of transition between a number of communities I have been confronted with the loss of community, or at least the perceived loss of community, and with the uncomfortable task of trying to establish new connections in new communities. At the same time, I have tried to remind myself of the vitally important connections that remain even when the structure of community as I have experienced it fades away. It’s exhausting. I long for that community structure that offered so much reprieve from all the other stressors in my life. The comfortable one that I knew and loved. I can feel its absence like a lost loved one. I suppose in essence I am mourning. It was this sense of mourning that really got me thinking about community as an aspect of spiritual health.

Benedictine spirituality is founded on the principle of community. The Rule was written to offer guidance to monasteries in the 5th & 6th centuries, and Benedict’s first chapter is explicit that the monk that lives with other monks in a monastery is to be preferred to the lonely, itinerant monk. The subsequent 72 chapters illustrate the ways in which monks are to live in community. The monks are instructed to eat together, to work together, and to pray together. They are to be obedient to each other and to the abbot, and to seek to outdo the other in mercy, humility, and service. It is in these acts of community that the monks are brought into ever closer communion with God, illustrating the immanence of God in midst of community. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” *.

This is why most of us go to church. Because we have experienced the closeness of God most intimately in the gathering of people around ritual, music, and fellowship. I know for myself, the worshipping community, at its best, has been the place where I find comfort, support, and challenge. It’s been a place where I can safely allow my vulnerabilities to be seen and still find acceptance and love. At its worst, it’s been a place where vulnerability is seen as inconvenient or inappropriate. Where competition and divisiveness are allowed to interrupt the stated purpose for gathering in the first place.

It is this diversity of possible experiences that can make the loss of community so anxiety producing. We are not guaranteed a community that will support us. We are not promised the same level of trust and mercy that we may have encountered in previous communities. It’s like breaking up with a person you were in love with, and then comparing all subsequent suitors to that one who made you feel so safe and cared for. It’s a difficult process that many of us have to face. We lose and leave communities for so many reasons. Maybe we move, or get a new job. Maybe we are called to a new community, or perhaps the community is simply unable to gather anymore. For whatever reason, this loss is something we all face. And for many of us, this loss is the first time we may realize how vitally important our communities are to our spiritual and mental health.

I wonder if so many of us ignore the importance of community because of how radically connected we are every second of every day. At any moment we are able to communicate with many thousands of people on Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat. We often find some level of value in the number of “friends” we can accumulate on our various social media platforms. Now, there are plenty of good arguments for the veracity and effectiveness of online communities, but I wonder if those online communities that truly create a sense of belonging and support are the minority, rather than majority experience. For myself, I often think that my “online community” offers the appearance of community, just enough for me to neglect the more intensive work of building lasting community relationships face to face. This may postpone that feeling of loss, but eventually I find myself realizing that my Twitter followers and Facebook friends cannot offer the kind of belonging I need to experience that closeness that drew me to community in the first place.

In the midst of thisexperience of loss, and this entrance into new community, I have been especially grateful for those relationships that are the foundation of my belonging. My primary community is that experience of belonging and acceptance with my wife. When it seems that all other connections fall away, or are unable to fit within the busyness of daily life, I am fortunate to have the nurturing and loving belonging in the community of marriage. This is where all of my experiences of community have their beginning. I am grateful also for those other relationships that are able to survive and continue in the face of transition, busyness, and time apart. Without these experiences of belonging, the loss of a particular community would be simply too heavy to bear.

This desire for community, and spiritual community in particular, is built in to the faith tradition I claim as my own. In the person of Jesus, God revealed God’s relational essence. Jesus is simply not interested in claiming a position of above and beyond, but rather claims a position of among and within. Jesus reveals God to the people by intimately connecting in community. It is the foundational structure of the Jesus movement. This structure is confirmed again and again by those traditions that react to a Christianity that loses touch with this primary value by refocusing again on the community. Monasticism, Anabaptists and Quakers, emergence Christianity, and New Monasticism. There is a sense that this return to community is healing in and of itself, and this seems to me to be absolutely true.

It is this belief that has challenged me to push through the awkwardness of establishing new relationships and new communities. I know the healing that can come from a safe and accepting community, and I acknowledge that, for myself, I simply cannot be without it. I am hopeful that I will find belonging in a lasting and loving community, and I continue to pray that we all might find this belonging. Find that community affirms and supports you. That challenges you, and asks you to challenge yourself. Do not settle for accumulating followers, and don’t let the loss of one community prevent you from seeking another. We all need belonging, we need community. Thanks be to God.

 

*NRSV

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Caring for the Sick, Including Ourselves

I woke up this morning to a congested head, a headache, and the chills. I don’t often get sick, but when I do I always feel compelled to just push through it. I don’t have time to get sick. There is simply way too much to accomplish in twenty-four hours, and I am not about to neglect those duties. Of course, I often pay the price for this later, but I never seem to learn well enough to do it differently the next time around.

So, this morning, I forced myself out of bed for Lauds. I could barely keep my head up, but I was determined to start my day the way I wanted to start my day, illness be damned. I made it to the Benedictus before I couldn’t keep my head up any longer. I popped a couple Dayquil and crawled back into bed. As I drifted off into sick sleep, I thought about what being sick in the monastery looks like. What would Benedict have to say about my inability to make it through prayer?

Luckily, Benedict is very explicit in the Rule. Chapter 36 is entitled “The Sick Brothers”, and in it Benedict lays out the care for brothers who are ill, and the overarching theme of this chapter is radical compassion as spiritual practice. Benedict says, “Care for the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may truly be served as Christ” *. For Benedict, caring for the sick is not only our duty as Christians, but is an opportunity to serve another as we would serve Christ. This compassion for the sick even supersedes some of Benedict’s most rigorous rules. The sick are given their own room, they receive a personal attendant, and they even get to eat meat. It’s as if Benedict throws the book out the window in order to serve the sick brother or sister.

This is where I confess my own shortcomings when it comes to caring for the sick in my own life. As I said before, when I get sick I feel like I cannot take time to recover, I need to power through it and just hope it goes away eventually. This lie I tell myself filters into the way I treat those around me who are sick. My wife often receives the brunt of it. When she feels sick (as she is right now), I find that my first thought is, “Well, get over it”. Not compassionate in the least. It’s hard for me to understand why someone would let sickness stop them from doing the things they need to do. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t. This judgmental and unreasonable response to another person’s need is completely antithetical to the nature of Benedictine spirituality, and of decentness itself. But, if I refuse to care enough about myself to consider my health and recovery, how can I ever expect to care for someone else who needs my care and compassion?

I suspect that I am not alone in feeling like I simply do not have time to get sick. So much of this feeling is wrapped up in my fear of being perceived as weak. As an American man it has been programmed into my mind that sickness equals weakness, and the worst thing an American man can be is weak. So we push through it, neglecting our own self-care at our peril. A survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that 36 percent of men only went to the doctor when they were really sick, and psychologists who looked at this survey speculated that societal and cultural sensibilities about what is “manly” may also play a role. “According to one study by researchers at Rutgers, for example, men who strongly endorsed old-school notions of masculinity – the ideal man being a strong, silent type who doesn’t complain about pain – were only half as likely as other men to seek preventive health care” **. Even if we don’t fully endorse this image of what a man is, we’ve picked up enough messages over the course of our lives that remind us to be tough, and to push through the pain. Unfortunately, this masculine myth may help to explain why women tend to outlive men. We’d rather appear tough and capable than take care of our own health needs.

Part of becoming whole selves is the requirement that we care for our own well-being. This is something that is often rejected in our culture of efficiency and productivity. We apply these values even to our health and our relationships. We avoid the necessary maintenance of our bodies and minds so that we will not be perceived as lazy, or unproductive. It’s bad enough that we do it to ourselves, but this poor treatment of our own needs often is transmitted to those around us. This is exactly why I struggle to be compassionate when my wife becomes ill; I’m buying into the myth that sickness equals weakness, and weakness gets in the way of my productivity.

I wonder if this mindset plays a role in the battle for Paid Sick Leave in congress. Many people in this country have to decide between missing work and losing out on a paycheck, or recovering from an illness. It seems like common sense that people should be able to recover and not be put in economic danger, but our cultural value system rejects this notion. Time is money, and time off shouldn’t be rewarded. A New York Times article published last week discussed the Obama Administration’s rule that all federal contract workers will be required to provide paid sick leave to their employees. This piece-meal effort to enforce paid sick leave nationwide is in response to congresses refusal to pass the Healthy Families Act. The article states that “…more than 35 percent of private-sector workers do not have access to paid sick leave” ***. That is a huge number of people who may not be able to recover from an illness, or be able to care for a sick family member, without jeopardizing their economic position. This is not an experience that I know personally, but I cannot imagine the fear that illness might represent to those who cannot afford to recover. I hope that our leaders will do the right thing and mandate paid sick leave nationwide.

To care for the sick is to see a person as worthy of love and compassion. It is to recognize the Beloved in them. Benedict’s admonition to serve the sick as we would serve Christ, reminds us that the love of God in Jesus is to be found in the hands and feet of our brothers and sisters, and our willingness to care for their needs as we would care for our own. This means that we must learn to recognize the Beloved in us, so that we can also learn to care for our own needs. If we cannot see our own worthiness, we will never be able to see it fully in someone else. When we can see our brothers and sisters in this light, we will find that we are willing to throw whatever rules impede our compassion, straight out the window. So, rather than continue to play into the myth of sickness equals weakness, I’m going to get up, take a few more Dayquil, and go get my wife and I some soup. Just like Benedict would do.

*Benedict, and Timothy Fry. RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.

**http://www.everydayhealth.com/mens-health/men-and-doctors-understanding-the-disconnect.aspx

***http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/30/business/economy/paid-sick-leave-government-contractors.html