Tag Archives: Map

Cumbersome is good for us: Love is not easy

The church makes decisions and plans in any number of ways. We decided making decisions as a community was crucial in an age where individualism kills the soul, loneliness is epidemic and people really need to see the church in action not hear about it in theory. So our mutual mapping process is central to our calling as a church. It is much more radical and important than we seem to think!

If we are used to the risky work of participating in mutual discernment, our prayer might be, “Oh Lord, that is a lot of time and energy!” But if we are mapping like it is a new beginning, here in our eternal now, then the process teases out all its inherent joys:

  • It includes the most recent partner, so a living body is strengthened and grows. I want to live in one.
  • It listens to the latest and greatest word from the Lord, so the soul of our group is fed and energized. I love it when you can feel that happening!
  • It teaches us the lessons of love that only serious public dialogue can do, so it makes us real in a world of fake. Nothing makes me feel more relevant.
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Porziuncola. Scene of a lot of Franciscan mapping, now surrounded by its pilgrim reception hall.

Resistance to the work of love has killed some of the best churches

One of the things I learned in Assisi is how the church bureaucrats stole the heart of the early Franciscan way of “mapping.” Francis called Pentecost gatherings and many of the brothers showed up to have a creative , disorganized, Spirit-led, and often-miraculous time of seeing what God was doing and feeling out what should happen next. It all happened at the navel of the Franciscan world: Porziuncola.

As soon as Francis was too weak to exercise his tremendous weight over the process, as a living “saint,” the Pope-led hierarchy of the church made the brotherhood into an “ordo” (that’s Latin for “order, rank, class”) according to canon law. The order people folded the radical Francis right back into everything he had resisted and made the Franciscans like the other monastic orders he never wanted to join.

Francis never saw a need for a rule or much of a map, but he sure managed to make an impact! He mostly relied on the presence of Jesus and the simple, but profound, style of teaching he picked up from the Bible. His own teaching style was like a living parable that he often explained in proverbial fashion.

In any organization, the “ordo” people have a point and I have reluctantly served it in order to build something for Jesus in this VERY organized United States. But the parable and proverb people have a deeper point, and I hope we never lose track of it. Or, I could say, I hope we never have it stolen from us by people who think they are doing us a favor by conforming us to the prevailing ways of the world.

Practicing discernment is harder, but more important, than interpreting law

Every subsequent Pentecost is going to be followed by “ordo people” talking over the future with “proverb people.” It happened in the early church. It happens among us every year as we map, and that is good for us.

For instance, our pastor, Ben, made a list of things he heard at the recent discernment meeting concerning our next Map. One of the things on the list popped out at me: The proverbs are cumbersome.”

Since I was probably in Padua when that critique was offered, I have no first-hand knowledge of the context. But I have my suspicions, since I have heard similar things since forever. Similar thoughts have been popping up ever since economic efficiency and Enlightenment/scientific thinking created a pulpit and tried to make Jesus preach from it. I texted Ben a smiley face and cheerfully said, “Perhaps your 10:30 meeting should become a drive-thru!”  That would be less cumbersome than relating, after all.

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Innovation from Upland, CA, my old stomping grounds.

My point was, proverbs of every kind are supposed to be “cumbersome!” — in a good way. Maybe the biggest reason they persist in being hard to handle is because we should slow down and mentalize! — they force us to do that.  Don’t you think we should resist assessing whether information is taking 30 seconds more to receive than it should?

The proverbs we have collected so far as part of our Map aren’t “information,” anyway. They are invitations to keep talking, to slow down and listen to God and each other. They are the best little parables we could come up with to express the sense of our discernment about who we are called to be. They are more than the traditional value statements ordos/organizations put in their business plans.  They are proverbs like the ones in the Bible, such as, “Love  your  enemies  and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44-5). There’s cumbersome for you!

Here are a few reasons hanging in there with “cumbersome” is good for us.

Cumbersome fights the desire to control the data and feel powerful.

A proverb is designed to be open-ended. One open end faces God, who is going to supply meaning daily (like “daily bread,” right?). The other end is open to the Body of Christ, where ongoing dialogue brings the best discernment to the moment (if we have a “common spirit” as Paul hopes). Chewing on a proverb with others is part of being appropriately out of control. It is another way Jesus heals us from the wounds of data biting us in the butt all day.

Cumbersome develops your spiritual capacity.

It is a difficult world; we can’t afford to be spiritually shallow!

I used to “fight” with a much-loved covenant member who really wanted a Wiki for our teaching, which he thought was splendid. I told him, “I, and others in the Body, are personally much better than a Wiki, which is why you want a Wiki!” But we gave him and other “ordo” people the Way of Jesus site, which will one day have a better table of contents so people can take less time exploring and access what they are looking for.

But, I have to say, wandering around the foothills of the Kingdom of God, taking time, listening, having our normality challenged is SO much better than seeking God according to what we already know in a fashion we already understand. We don’t know anything like we are known, Paul says.

Cumbersome assumes we need help.

I hope we keep resisting well-meaning people who think it is an outrage, or a shame, if they need someone’s help. Collecting stories, parables and proverbs like the early church and first Franciscans is how we form life in Christ together. Proverbs call together a circle of people who add their personal angles to and applications of a big truth. “What is it?” and “Who am I?” are not the only questions! “Who is God? To what is Jesus calling? Who are WE?” are basic questions for forming new life in Christ.

Goodness is not found alone. It usually comes in a way that seems cumbersome to our normality. Solitude always leads to love. And love leads to goodness —  both for us and for others. Love of and for others, naturally leads to cumbersome mapping,  and irreducible proverbs in the 1200’s and in the 2000’s. I’m glad Jesus is getting us and our brothers and sisters all over the world to risk the miracle of tangible, practical, cumbersome love in an age when it is hard to find.

Who knows but that God made Circle of Hope for such a Trump time as this?

Maybe we have some Esther in us. When plots against the Jews were uncovered in the Persian capital, one of the king’s favorite wives, Esther, was well-placed to do something about it. But there were great risks to face! She was one of the Jews being slandered; she was just one of many wives; she was not sure whether she would not be killed if she appeared unbidden before the king. But her uncle laid out the situation to her again: Terrible things were about to happen and she was in danger, as well as her people. He said, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” So she told everyone to fast and pray and said, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (see Esther 4).

I will go to Trump and if I perish I perish

Now we will need to “Go to the Trump.” Maybe that has always been inevitable. My twenties began with the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency and ended with the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s We sat on our porch and talked very seriously about how we needed to be ready for the police state to rule us. We told each other we needed to be an alternative community to sustain ourselves in the coming time of troubles, as well as to hold out the light of Christ. There was plenty of trouble, but not the collapse of civilization we expected. And ever since, I have witnessed inspired people fighting hard for the poor, for rights, and for goodness when the government was doing things wrong. There are still a lot of inspired people doing the same thing. But there is also the fruit of this stream of power-mad, self-interested, pure-capitalists that resulted in Donald Trump.

In a perverse way, the president-elect is very good for the radical Christian “business,” since he causes the right kind of disgust and desperation with the world. The Bible writers think those feelings of conviction and repentance should be normative for anyone who has met Jesus. But generally, they are not normative for Christians in the United States. Yet here we are. Just like Esther was dragged out of her perfumed harem and into the necessity of the looming disaster, so are we are dragged out of our denial, or stupor, or relative comfort, or wherever and into the necessity of facing a fearsome future. “Who knows but that God made Circle of Hope for such a time as this?”

If you look at the goals we set last June after a few months of good thinking, they seem rather prophetic to me. We must have been ready then for what is now.


We said “This year we we are going to”

Help thirsty people meet Jesus:

This is the big thing. When they finally admit the government is a big shoving match between the elites, when 25% of the eligible voters elect the president who did not even get the majority of the votes people deigned to cast (if they were not felons or suppressed) then maybe, just maybe, people will realize they need the Savior they have. Our alternativity is the living proof people need that there is another way.

Strengthen our mutuality:

We really do not know what will happen to every despised minority (like radical Christians, too!). What if we have a war, a police state, a financial meltdown, a climate meltdown? We need to take care of each other.

Create jobs and strengthen our finances:

This is also an ambitious response to needing to take care of ourselves when the societal climate won’t. I am not expecting the financial bonanza Trump promises to reach us, do you? We need to find our own way and not be so dependent on the unstable and immoral government.

Open our eyes to the power of technology:

Didn’t the manipulation of the media just result in a predatory slanderer being elected? Didn’t Hillary’s dependence on her data sink her? Didn’t we all buy in for two years? Isn’t the leader of the Breitbart slander machine head of the transition? We need to start thinking more clearly.

Long term, we said we needed to address four big problems that are looming, We don’t know what is going to happen in the world, of course, but we are also not without hope or wisdom.

The Northeast megalopolis is losing contact with Jesus

We are here for a time like this. We were purposefully planted in the middle of the megalopolis to be the light in the darkness.

The “one percent” is effectively enslaving many people

We are here for a time like this. We need a compassionate, creative response to capitalism, especially now, since a man who can sell an empty brand name is president. Our mutuality web is not just for us, it is also for the people who are going to fall off the edge of the disasters first: the undocumented, the gentrified poor, the mentally ill, the broken families, veterans, felons, and anyone who is not considered lawful and orderly.

Large forces are threatening our children

We are here for a time like this. The internet is full of psychological land mines. The schools are run for profit. The scourge of data and legalism is everywhere. We need village parenting more than ever.

Advances in technology are undermining incarnation and blurring the image of God

We are here for a time like this. It always seems like an abstract thing to point out; we are having a hard time getting our minds around it —  but we must not underestimate what technology is doing. It is not only destroying the climate, it is undermining what it means to be human. It is creating a new humanity faster than we are helping Jesus to do. Yes, there are people who are fighting against every bad expression of our escalating powers, but each day increases the data cloud taking various shapes we have never encountered before. We need to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves, unleash our best prophets and stay deeply connected to our place, our community and our Lord.

“Who knows but that God made Circle of Hope for such a time as this?”

I am not even sure what time it is, yet. But we are certainly awakened to the horrible possibilities that have been simmering for decades. Our situation is not new to God’s people, perhaps it just seems new to us. But we have been preparing ourselves and being prepared for a long time to be our own faithful response to this very circumstance that seems so surprising and difficult. May we have Esther’s courage in the face of it.

How do YOU think people see your church?

The first question we asked our cells in order to gather some discernment about where God is leading us was this:

When a newcomer or unbeliever gets to know us, whether in a cell or Sunday Meeting, through one of our events or teams, or through an individual, what are the things they will most immediately notice about us and what gifts will they find easiest to access?” 

What do you think?

Examine yourselvesWe dared to take Paul seriously when he tells the Corinthian church: Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Cor. 13:5). If we can be honest about what others see in us, we will not just follow the scripture, we will probably follow our humility right into spiritual growth! We are who we are, but who knows what we might become if we listen?.

Our cells had a LOT to say about this question (and all the other questions!). When I set my mind to sort all their responses, I came up with eighteen different headings for this first one! I was encouraged by what the cell members thought people see in us when they first get to know us. I thought you might be encouraged too. I am not going to list all eighteen things! But I thought I would give you ten. I’ll give you my heading and then one of the answers I culled out which intrigued or moved me. So you get my heading and one answer verbatim.

Whether you are part of our church or not, these things might give you something to think about. What’s more, I don’t doubt someone who is in our church will think the person I quote does not completely know what they are talking about. So we all might have more to think about, too. Regardless, I think we’d all like to be a church moving in the direction these thoughts signal.

Whether you think your church is seen in these ways or you think it just ought to be, let’s pray that we get there. Yesterday was Pentecost, and the Spirit of God is moving to take us into our fullness.

Here are ten ways the cell members think newcomers see us:

We are welcoming/hospitable/friendly/open.

  • You can be who you are.  You are relevant.  You have an opportunity to an actual path where God is leading you.  Walk with us – not your fear or a stereotype.

We create a distinct atmosphere.

  • We create an atmosphere where we try to attract those who are timid with things like the bible through our vulnerability showing it is OK to have doubts and disbelief.

We are a connected community.

  • We are not an obligation – this community is real and authentic and people are here out of choice.  We are not a thing to do.  We want to know you.  

Leadership is respected and varied.

  • Leaders don’t have to be older, mature people who have all their stuff together. Anyone can potentially be a leader and should see their gifts and insight valued and nurtured (not just for white male extroverts).

We have an open seeking spirit.

  • Vulnerability in sharing by both women and men. It’s good modeling by those in leadership because it sets a space to be real and to address deep set needs – we are a deep people because of this.

We are devoted to compassion.

  • Our good works are a natural progression from our togetherness

We share.

  • It is not hard to get resources of spiritual direction (informal), counseling, financial help, job connections.

We take action, are ambitious, intentional.

  • We are doers of the word. While other may talk about examples of how you may get involved the overwhelming expectation is that we are people who live through action and action particularly for both one another and those with need.

We expect people to participate.

  • They can get connected to anything (cell, team’s, leadership, etc.), the church is their oyster.

We are committed to dialogue.

  • It is the judge-free zone.  We all pretty openly discuss a lot of topics, personal and otherwise with widely varying opinions sometimes, and no one is upset.  

When you answer the question about your church, what are the answers YOU get? Let’s keep praying for the Holy Spirit to move us into the place the Lord would like us to be.

[Originally published on Circle of Hope’s blog]