Friday, July 29, 2011

Change is not easy

Now that Kevin is back in Jax. with us for good, I am trying to return to a more healthy, balanced life. I have my new running shoes, and I've started back to running a few mornings a week. I knew that it would take a while to get back in the groove, but I underestimated how difficult it would be to ditch my early morning leisurely coffee and reading routine. Change is rarely easy, but in my experience it is worth the hard work.

The neighborhood in which we are planting The Well has been undergoing change for quite some time. While the statistics show a reduction in crime and other illegal activity, change has been a slow process. Making matters more difficult, residents and community activists disagree on what types of changes need to occur and how they should be carried out. One of the most recent breakthroughs came with the beginning of the demolition of a long-time vacant inn that had served as a haven for the homeless (but not a good one, since the building was unsafe and unstable). The picture above shows the work that has begun, but like the rest of the road to new life in the community, it's going to take a while.

I find that the road to starting a new church is similar. Like community development, church starting and re-starting requires patience and determination. Even more than that, it requires confronting those habits, routines and assumptions that keep me from seeing all of the options available for the path ahead. This week, I realized just how limited my imagination can be as we began looking at alternative meeting spaces. One space almost looked too tied to the past, and the other too lacking in history. As a friend and I began to talk about reconfiguring the seating and adding a few elements, things started to look different. It never fails that when I feel "stuck", it is because I am reverting to old patterns of the way things have always been done, to what is comfortable and familiar. Pioneering a new way of doing and being church is difficult because it challenges me to risk that new, untried, innovative options are more effective, and sometimes they are not. The willingness to choose a new path, the willingness to change, inevitably involves failure. Some of those failures will be really small and others will be big, there for all to see....another thing that makes change so difficult for me.

I've decided that there is no better place to be trying something new than in Springfield. There seems to be almost no limit to what people will try to create new life in this community - neighborhood bike rides to expose suspicious activity, community gardens to improve health and environmental stewardship, a Relay for Life to bring the neighborhood together around a great cause, new and unique businesses (organic candy, the best coffee shop in Jax., yummy ice cream combined with financial literacy , and an awesome home-style Caribbean cafe to name a few), and a chili-cook off to have fun and support a local charity. Yes, change is challenging and is certainly not the easier path, but it's nice to be in like company. It's fun to be pioneering with other dreamers who don't mind failing to help pave the way for a better, more hope-filled future for a community.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Just beyond our busynes

Last Sunday night at The Well, we had a discussion about the role of Sabbath in the biblical story and in our lives today. Sabbath is about more than physical rest, it's about reflection and re-orienting ourselves to the ways of God. In The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan describes how, by observing Sabbath, we discover the rest of God - yes, rest from work, but also that rest of God that can only be experienced when we stop our busyness.

I am not good at Sabbath. I am often so consumed with my to-do list that instead of stopping, I move on quickly to the next thing on my agenda. This week has been a great example - I have had multiple meetings, conversations and surprise encounters. Yes, it was a busy week, but when I stopped to reflect, I was reminded of its richness and I began to feel full.

This week began with a meeting with my Clearness Committee, a group of friends that take time from their busy schedules to guide me through a discernment process. It was not an easy hour, but it brought self-awareness, focus and courage. This week also brought several occasions for me to sit with struggling Springfield neighbors who have lost hope due to financial hardship. I heard first hand of programs and people that are doing their best to find real solutions for these individuals. This week also brought an important vision team meeting, dinner and great conversation with a long-time friend, encouraging emails, and unexpected offers for help with our upcoming back-to-school event...and, it will end with a much needed day with my girls and the much anticipated homecoming of Kevin tonight! There have been low and high moments, but when I stop, I am made aware of a depth and richness that is both present in the busyness, and yet surpasses it. I sit speechless at the overwhelming sense of the divine and mysterious Presence that has sustained and stirred without my notice.

These moments of Sabbath are invaluable to us as human beings, and to us as faith communities. At The Well, we have been having potluck and Bible study on Sunday nights for 4 months now, but for the next 3 weeks we are breaking from our routine. This Sunday, we are taking a walk around the neighborhood. It's about having fun, getting to know one another, getting a little exercise (all those potlucks can take a toll) and it's also about becoming more aware of our surroundings. As we walk, we'll be challenged to become more mindful of that which we rush past every day. I hope these next few weeks will be a good starting point for considering ways to build Sabbath time into the rhythm of our life together. Walks and picnics in the park help us to see and encounter the rest of God, the part that we miss in our routine and sometimes repetitive activity, the part that lies just beyond our busyness.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Just living

As I have re-familiarized myself with the religious landscape of Jacksonville, I have engaged in numerous conversations with church-goers of different denominations and affiliations. One such conversation occurred shortly after I returned to Jax. I was introduced to a woman who attends a local church, and I asked her about the congregation's involvement in social justice in the community. "What are some of the ways your congregation is meeting to the social needs of those in the community?", I naively asked. I guess I assumed that because the church was well-endowed with resources and people and was located in the center of downtown, this would be the beginning of a lengthy conversation. I was wrong. She gave me a puzzled look and responded, "We don't really do social ministry. We are more concerned with winning souls for Christ." The end. (Can I just say...awkward moment?)

I really believe that this is one of the biggest disconnects that many people today experience with the Church and with Christianity in general. We have somehow acted on a misguided belief that life is somehow lived in compartments - the physical, spiritual, emotional are separate and are to be addressed separately. One consequence of this way of thinking is fragmented living. Instead of guiding people into understanding ways to follow Christ in their day to day lives, we make Christianity about a place we go to enhance our spiritual lives - and, often there is no connection to the day to day challenges and choices that permeate our living.

I was excited to run across this video on TheOOZE.TV promoting Julie Clawson's book, Practicing Everyday Justice. She talks in the video about just living as a deeply spiritual discipline that is grounded in our desire to holistically live out the gospel in practical ways. Following Christ through just practices will impact our choices and should cause us to think about all of life in a new way (including where we shop and what we eat). Truthfully, this is much more challenging than showing up at church on Sundays for a spiritual "fix", but it certainly seems like a more true expression of our claim to be resurrection people. I'm reluctantly ordering my copy this week...