Sunday, September 1, 2013

Our Final Post: What We Found On The Road

Theology is not only about the fight to realize a form of human existence that is more just. It is also about the contemplation of the astonishing "fullness" that already is.
James Perkinson

God...Help us to renounce all killing, torture and violence, to stop demonizing our adversaries, to value all life as sacred, and to see the Iraqi people and all Muslims and Arabs as our brothers and sisters...Amen..
Art Laffin, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House, Washington D.C.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen! Say Amen! And Amen!
Rev. Joseph Lowery, January 20, 2009, Benediction at the Obama Inauguration

As we started planning this journey in the Spring and when we officially embarked on June 14, we simply wanted to meet people whose lives of Faith were compelling. We wanted to get a taste test of what some might call "Movement Christianity" or "Radical Discipleship" (radical in Latin means "roots"), a particular strand of faith and action that goes all the way back to the roots of Judeo-Christian faith: Moses' contemplative meeting with the Divine at the burning bush and his ensuing confrontation with the beastly bastards of Egyptian Empire, calling the underdogs out of enslavement and into a whole new Way of being. This was the substance of the prophetic torch passed on to Jesus of Nazareth 100 generations ago, resulting in his untimely assassination at the hands of those state and relgious leaders offended and threatened by his teaching and life.

Movement Christians are like Moses and Jesus: they meet God in the quiet of the Land and it leads them into a Life of contextual, creative and consistent engagement with and subversion from the Systems (whether family, church, corporate, government, etc) that exploit all God's creatures. This minority report within the Christian tradition has always been alive, yet often overlooked and/or discounted. Indeed, in our native Orange County, CA, we experience daily a brand of faith that emphasizes a Lord & Savior Jesus of personal piety and eternal salvation in heaven divorced from political, economic and social realities on earth.

Yet what we are looking for, despite the powerful way our American dualistic minds work, is not a "progressive" or "liberal" brand of following Jesus. We are not content to be liberal wolves dressed up in Christian clothing, although it may often appear that way. Much of what we've experienced in the world of progressive Christianity is a contentment to debate the political issues as framed by the American corporate media and those being shaped by the daily consumption of it. Most progressive Christians we have met are delightful conversation partners, but basically limit their political involvement to voting, campaigning, financially contributing to causes and sometimes even protesting. Most of these folks are what my friend Charles Cha calls "limousine liberals," pledging wholehearted allegiance to the Democratic Party while benefiting financially and socially from the rules of capitalism and nostalgia of The American Dream.

Many of the people we've met on this trip have made major financial and social sacrifices as a direct result of what their faith in God compels them to do. And what they are doing is hard, unheralded work, coming in at a 1 on the sexiness scale (and no matter how you spin it, wearing bright orange jumpsuits as an act of witness to torture in front of tourists at the White House every Friday at noon is not sexy). Here are 10 things that have resonated with us over the past 75 days and hopefully will serve to convey what is uniquely going on in these communities:

1. A Circular Church

Many of the communities we connected with literally sat in a circle for their times of worship, but many had more traditional seating. All of these groups, though, were adamant that power was shared among all the people. Sure, there was a leader or facilitator, but it was clear that she was not the Bible Answer Woman (and sometimes men led too). Some, like the Catholic Spiritus Christi in Rochester, have been excommunicated from the larger body because of the stances they have taken on women in leadership and the full dignity of gays and lesbians. Most of the others just do their thing, committed to being an alternative in a male-dominated, jack-of-all-trades pastor oriented culture.

The more than 100-year-old Calvary Baptist Church in Minneapolis has a time of sharing called "Praise, Pain & Protest," where members of the congregation are invited to stand and share from their hearts. Communal prayers are offered after the sharing ends (many of the communities had a very similar, vulnerable time of sharing, including Reba Place in Chicago, Faith Community in Greensboro, Seattle Mennonite and 1st Mennonite in San Francisco). The truly indigenous church setting of Eloheh Farm ("the Jesus sweat") had a structured time of prayer where every member of the circle offered a prayer and then (another time around the circle) every member offered a sharing of what was fermenting in their head/heart. The Mennonite Worker & Jonah House (below) read Scripture out loud and had a free time of Spirit-led sharing.

This egalitarian vision was evident in so many of the married couples we met. Many do not share the male's last name (Ched Myers/Elaine Enns; Will O'Brien/Dee Dee Rieser; Jim Perkinson/Lily Mendoza; Liz McAlister/Phil Berrigan; Wes Howard-Brook/Sue Johnson), some have hyphenated (Nilsen-Goodin, Wylie-Kellermann) and some have just dropped the husband/wife title and refer to their spouse as "partner."

2. A Contest Within The Bible

It is evident within Movement Christianity that the Bible is vital to the identity and vocation of individuals, couples and the communities they covenant to. Scipture, for these folks, does not have one clear voice. It is not a set of inerrant timeless truths and principles that makes obedience a self-evident practice. For these leaders, activists and scholars, the Bible is a contextual compilation of many voices from all over the theological-political spectrum within Israel and the early Christian movement. There are prophetic texts that call for an overturning of the wayward status quo. There are priestly texts that call for order and discretion.

The Seattle-based biblical scholar and cat-whisperer Wes Howard-Brook (below) famously calls the Bible a contest between those who advocate for an indigenous "God of Creation" and others who propogate a triumphalistic, patriarchal and vengeful "God of Empire." The key for Howard-Brook and Movement Christianity is the Jesus of the Gospels. What Jesus says and does puts a stamp of approval on what is Real. Jesus keeps us accountable to the violence and colonizing and hoarding that we so badly want to justify from within God's Word. But in Jesus we find the very God of the Universe enfleshed as a Way of enemy love, non-violent resistance to evil, power-and-possession sharing, a rugged solidarity with the poor-and-oppressed, a willingness to be arrested for civil disobedience and on and on and on.

As the late biblical scholar, activist and farmer Clarence Jordan once wrote, "The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers with him." Christian faith is not about going to heaven when we die, but instead bringing the life of heaven to earth. This is the lens through which the Bible, and all of life, is read within Movement Christianity.

3. Manna, Not Mammon

None of the Movement Christians we met were living in luxury. Many, in fact, were living in intentional community (Reba Place Fellowship in Chicago; Jeanie-Wylie in Detroit; Jonah House in Baltimore; Romero House in Toronto; Mennonite Worker in Minneapolis; Dorothy Day in D.C.; Simple Way in Philly), sharing meals and sometimes even money. They served up potluck style and many emphasized local and organic ingredients used (a "tour of the table" is how Heidi Thompson put it in D.C.). Everyone was tremendously hospitable and it was obvious that this ministry of "taking in" the sojourner was a part of the heartbeat of what they do in real-time. Many did not own a car (which is actually possible in bikeable cities and those with public transportation infrastructure) and it was evident that they didn't pay a whole lot for their clothing (this is certainly not to say that they looked shabby or unkempt).

4. A Contemplative & Indigenous Spirit

Prayer and Scipture reading, both individually and communally, are at the heart of these communities. Many of these spiritual pilgrims are committed to yoga and meditation. There seems to be a strong pull towards "getting back to our roots" in regards to honoring traditions of Native American/First Nations traditions and staying connected to the Land. Over and over, we encountered lucious backyard (and frontyard) gardens and community gardens like the Jeanie-Wylie Community's in Detroit (below), encroaching upon the urban jungle with native veggies and fruits. It was clear to us that these spiritual practices weren't a reflection of what is hip or trendy, but, in fact, deeply and thoughtfully theological. These were quite simply a natural outgrowth of what it means to follow Jesus: the One who spent 40 days praying and fasting in Nature and, indeed, the One who used all sorts of lessons from the plant and animal world to bring alive the Way of hope, joy and liberation.

5. A Knack For Creative Expression

Movement Christians aren't afraid to take plenty of inspiration from art, music, poetry, food/drink and every other form of beauty and goodness all around them. Their homes were beautifully decorated and we were inundated with recommendations and samples of great music and book recommendations. They were quick to offer advice on the best restaurant, coffee, beer or wine in their neighborhood. Perhaps the pinnacle of artistic expression was the spoken word poetry of Jim Perkinson (below) after dinner and then, the next morning, the tour that Bill Wylie-Kellermann gave us of the Diego Rivera mural at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. The DIA is Bill's House: it was as if we walked into the living room of this scribe of the kingdom of heaven as he unveiled treasures old and new for an hour. In Philly, the Alternative Seminary is masterfully committed to an engagement with the Bible that utilizes song, dance and costumes.

6. Taking Personal Inventory

We were deeply impressed with how emotionally attuned these new friends are. Many of them utilize the enneagram and/or the Jungian Myers-Briggs test. They are sensitive to the pain, struggle, woundedness and imperfection of their lives. They don't hide from it. They read Richard Rohr. Many go to a therapist. There seemed to be a strong realization that too many activists burn out because of their idealism, lack of boundaries and abject failure to connect with their internal lives. Many of these Movement people, like Clancy & Marcia Dunigan (below) who participated in the original Bartimaeus community in Berkeley in the early 80s, spoke of what they've learned about themselves over the years and decades. They all took their unique vocations seriously, but laughed quickly and heartily and, often times, at themselves.

7. The Politics of Courageous Confrontation

A key theological concept for Movement Christians is the "principalities and powers" language in the letters of Paul. Although generally rendered as demonic or Satanic spirits by most Christians, both historic and contemporary, the work of theologians like Walter Wink, John Howard Yoder and William Stringfellow has captured a more compelling and contextual understanding that these Powers were (and are) the systems that organize our world and, inevitably and idolatrously, use their power to oppress and enslave humanity and the rest of God's Creation. These Powers, like Moses and Jesus, must be nonviolently confronted and creatively exposed for what they are.

The Catholic nuns at the Jonah House confront the atrocity of nuclear weapons by walking onto military bases and pouring their own blood (in the shape of a cross) on nuclear warheads. They use hammers to symbolically beat them into plowshares (see Isaiah 2:2-4) until they are arrested. Sister Ardeth served 40 months in federal prison after their last action in Colorado Springs.

Bill Wylie-Kellermann (and others) calls this action "public liturgy," taking the work of the church outside the building into the sacred struggle of good and evil in the real world. Kellermann himself stopped counting the times he's been arrested for civil disobedience after he hit 50. His most recent arrest came during a Detroit city council meeting where all elected city officials were stripped of formal power by the governor: Bill led a group of activists in singing spirituals and anthems for more than 90 minutes. No doubt, he's creative: he keeps a can of spray paint in his car at all times to artfully re-frame sexist and militaristic billboards.

Seattle Mennonite Church goes to the Federal Building on Good Friday for a Eucharist service. Why? According to their website:

We gather at the federal building because it is the local parallel to where Jesus was held and abused: the Roman governor’s local head-quarters. Then, as now, the central government claimed the power of life and death, while so often doing the will of the wealthy elite. Our federal government, like that of ancient Rome, blatantly serves corporations and banks while taxing and exploiting the poor and middle class. We stand in its shadow to announce God’s Victory over this system of global oppression and empire

The 60-something and about to retire pastor of SMC Weldon Nisly (below) shared with us that he is convinced that Barack Obama has been the best President in his lifetime. But this isn't enough. Weldon is deeply disappointed in so many of the policies that Obama continues to condone: the droned civilians and "suspected" terrorists, the deported undocumented workers, the sequestered poor and the caving in to corporate privilege. Weldon and SMC are committed to enacting a whole new world. This means a confrontation with materialism and militarism--the very heart of the American Dream.

Many of the folks we met in Durham, NC were participating in the Moral Mondays protests, arrests and rallies in Raleigh this summer. Too many new laws enacted by the GOP governor and legislature are having drastic effects on teachers, women, gays and lesbians and people of color. Like Jesus, they know an unjust law when they see one.

The Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House is committed to two protests every week in Washington D.C.: Mondays at the Pentagon and Fridays at the White House (below). They believe they are called by God to witness to the violent destruction and torture. If Obama steps outside his House and listens for it at the noon hour on Friday, he will hear Art Laffin leading the dozen or so activists in a sweet song: "Oh Muslim Brothers..."

Eco Faith Recovery in Portland is an ecumenical project taking the economic and ecological addictive cycle seriously. These folks are taking personal inventory and organizing for action against the coal trains running roughshod along the beautiful Columbia Gorge. As the earth heats up, they are preparing themselves for a deeper engagement with the corporations and the state to witness for a better, more sustainable Way.

8. Surrounded By A Cloud of Witnesses

Movement Christians honor their saints and feed off their teachings and lifestyles. They take great care to faithfully inhabit the Tradition of Moses, Jesus, Francis, the early Anabaptists, de las Casas, the abolitionists, the woman suffragists, Bonhoeffer, King, the Berrigans (below), Day, Jordan, Merton, Stringfellow and Zinn, as well as living exemplars like Grace Lee Boggs, Bill McKibbon, William Barber, Wendell Berry, Cornel West, Jim Douglass, Kathy Kelly and, of course, Bradley Chelsea Manning. This selection of saints, perhaps, tell more about Movement Christianity than anything else.

9. A Commitment to Cultural Analysis

These spiritual pilgrims read and study the signs. They seek a deeper understanding of current events. Particularly, we were struck by the fact that these folks had very complex understandings of the highly sensitive (especially amonsgst white males!) systematic racial/ethnic issues, as well as a thorough analysis of the causes of poverty, income inequality and other economic maladies. They are fully committed to learning just how overpowering and unaccountable the U.S. military-industrial-complex has become. They take seriously the ongoing effects of King's "giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism." They live out Karl Barth's vision, carrying the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other (below: in Philly with Will O'Brien of Alternative Seminary & Tevyn East of Carnival de Resistance).

10. And It's OK to Have Some Fun Too...Dammit!

We'll never forget our time getting to participate in worship and common meals with the Mennonite Worker in Minneapolis and then joining them in their Sunday night ritual: karaoke. Mark Van Steenwyk belted out delicious samples of Garth Brooks and, yes, Weird Al, while we made complete asses of ourselves stumbling through the lyrics of Paul Simon and, yes, Carly Rae Jepson. We'll never forget joining in on the laughter, passion and great beer at the round table discussion at the local brewpub in Winnipeg with Ched & Elaine and their entourage (including Geez Magazine editor Aiden Enns and Canadian Mennonite prof Kenton Lobe). We'll never forget reading Bill Wylie-Kellermann's basketball memoir published in a local Detroit newspaper a few years ago during the Final Four. We'll never forget swigging beer with Bill Heffernan and then watching him perform live at the Hole-In-The-Wall in Toronto. We'll never forget the blend of laughter (and tears) shared during lunch with the leaders of Ripple, an urban Mennonite Church in Allentown, PA (below). We'll never forget Sister Carol telling us about the weekly tradition of beer, popcorn and movies every Friday at Jonah House in Baltimore. We'll never forget our impromptu dance party with the children of the Wilderness Way community in Portland.

Getting Rooted in Movement Christianity

Some Daily Meditations
Richard Rohr has a daily meditation emailed to you here

Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. has a daily meditation on their Inward/Outward site

Weldon Nisly helped start Bridgefolk, an ongoing Mennonite/Catholic dialogue and is an oblate at St. John's Abbey in Minnesota (good daily prayer and liturgical resources)

Online Resources From Some of the Leaders We Met
The Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries of Ched Myers & Elaine Enns

More books and articles from Ched Myers

Read Bill Wylie-Kellermann's articles here

Many folks cited the late William Stringfellow as an influence.

Read Jim Perkinson's theological interpretation of life in the city here

And a sample of Perkinson's spoken word poetry here

Mark Van Steenwyk rants and raves here and he contributes mightily to the Jesus Radicals site

Tim Nafziger & Charletta Erb are major contributors at Young Anabaptist Radicals and Pink Menno

Aiden Enns is the editor of Geez Magazine

The Wilderness Way of Portland has some good resources on sustainable practices here

Read Rose Berger on faith & politics here and here

Read Sheldon Good on faith & politics here and here

Read Jenn Svetlik on urban gardening & food justice here and here

Jenn recommended this great site on women in theology

Read the work of Isaac Villegas here and here

Josh McQueen recommended the late John Alexander's Being Church and anything Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes

Mike Boucher recommended the work of David Whyte and the Enneagram personality test

Wes Howard Brook and his partner Sue Johnson team up on their Abideinme spiritual direction site

C.John Hildebrand recommended the On Being site

Check out Will O'Brien and the Alternative Seminary in Philly

Check out Tim Kumfer and the Servant Leadership School in DC

Friday, August 30, 2013

Last Stop & Home Base: Oak View, CA

You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.
Wendell Berry

I imagine good teaching as a circle of earnest people sitting down to ask each other meaningful questions. I don't see it as a handing down of answers...
Alice Walker

On Tuesday, August 20, we ended our time in Portland with Lindsay's noon-time flight back to SoCal. She was coaching and chaperoning at the annual Capistrano Valley H.S. girls cross country training camp in Mammoth. Tom drove south through Corvallis, Oregon, to Oregon State University, where his parents met exactly 50 years ago. He took the next week winding south through the rugged Oregon coast and the Redwood Highway of Northern Cal, down into civilization with stops in Sacramento, Berkeley, San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

On Tuesday, August 27, after a week of cross country training camp and recovering, Lindsay took the train to Ventura and Tom picked her up to go celebrate the end of our journey and debrief with Elaine Enns (and share dessert with fellow travel-weary sojourners Tim Nafziger and Charletta Erb!). Elaine and her partner Ched Myers (who had a speaking engagement in Sweden) have been absolutely vital to even imagining this road trip. When we spoke to them of a free summer and asked about some good ideas, they recommended visiting leaders and communities all over North America involved in the "radical discipleship" movement (more specifics on this rich tradition in our next and final posting). We literally laid out the United States road map on Ched & Elaine's kitchen table and they pointed out each and every place that they thought would be worth visiting (and they discussed plenty of places that we were simply not able to visit...alas, we only had 75 days!).

Ched and Elaine have been an irreplacable source of nurture and wisdom for us over these past couple of years. Because they live only 150 miles away (they live one hour north of LA, we live one hour south) and because Ched's 90-year-old mother lives just a stone's throw away from us in Aliso Viejo, we've had opportunities to connect with them over meals, beer & tequila tastings, slumber parties and relaxations on the beach. These times have refreshed, inspired and challenged us to live more intentionally aligned with the Gospel's call to sabbath economics, restorative justice and contemplative creation spirituality.

They possess a rare blend of personality and giftedness. Ched's extroverted intensity plays out in prophetic utterance through pedagogy and scholarship. Elaine's introverted enthusiasm is highlighted by pastoral tenderness through wise intuition and eager encouragement. Both, however, are prophetic and pastoral and both are rooted in decades of experience of challenging work and study. Ched is a 5th generation Californian, theologically trained at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Elaine is a Canadian Mennonite and received her MA in Conflict Management and Peacemaking from the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno. Both have been active in a variety of peace and justice work for decades.

They make up the core of what is the Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, focused on biblical literacy, church renewal and faith-based witness for justice. They accomplish these tasks through 3-5 day institutes, monthly webinars, speaking engagements, writing and relationship-building. Ched & Elaine are those rare leaders who listen, mindful mentors who allow space for skepticism. They don't claim to have all the answers. They live with awe and wonder at the mystery and majesty of a God found both in a blooming creation and a bleeding crucifix.

I was blown away after reading Ched's ground-breaking commentary on the Gospel of Mark (Binding The Strong Man, 1988) at the end of my seminary journey in 2008. I got a chance to meet Ched over coffee a couple of years later and Ched invited us to come up to the Ojai Valley for a weekend to meet Elaine and find retreat from work and ministry in South Orange County.

Name-dropping Ched and Elaine allowed us to connect with so many great people on this summer journey. Their ministry and experience garner oodles of respect among those committed to biblical scholarship, church work, spiritual direction and social activism all over North America. All these old friends offered so much hospitality to us, a couple of Orange County kids who had relatively little knowledge of the lives and vocations of so many of these pioneers. No longer. We have had the rare opportunity to meet so many and to see their lives up close and personal.

It has been a whirlwind journey, often times needing to pinch ourselves in the presence of greatness, sometimes waking up and wondering where the hell on earth we were. We hope to keep in touch with all of these new friends. But let's be honest, life takes over and proximate relationship become a priority. It will be the cherished memories that rise up over and over that will keep the road trip going into "real life."

I suppose sometime in October I'll be in my classroom (or a local coffeehouse) and something will remind me of the work ethic of Liz McAlister or the wide-eyed wonder of Clancy Dunigan or the energy of Sheldon Good or the warmth of Mike Boucher or the stridency of Mark Van Steenwyk or the consistency of Art Laffin. Or perhaps sometime in November Lindsay will be in the therapy room (or out at the cross country course) and she'll be reminded of the vision of Solveig Nilson-Goodin or the quick wit of Sara Stratton or the curiosity of Isaac Villegas or the dignity-bestowing of Will O'Brien or the hospitality of Wes Howard-Brook. We've already thought of so many of these heroes in the most random of moments back in SoCal.

But, of course, there's nothing quite like being in the presence of real live people who we admire and want to be like. Ched and Elaine will remain a life-line in this upcoming year of teaching and therapy work, intentional community and interpersonal relationship, writing and working with adolescents. We are deeply grateful for the authentic masterpiece of identity and vocation that their coupleship attests to.

Along with our parents and our Open Hearts intentional community, we dedicate all these blog posts to Ched & Elaine, who not only made this 75-day journey possible, but also continue to provide the blueprint and sustenance to raise audacious questions about what "radical discipleship" in South Orange County might actually look like.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Keeping Portland Weird

Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable, it is true.
Thomas Merton

Portland is where young people go to retire.

On the morning of Saturday, August 17, we left Whidbey Island on the ferry and drove south to Portland for a 4-mile run along the Williamette River, across a couple of bridges and into the Southwest part of the city. The weather was perfect. We then drove to Newberg to participate in our very first Native American sweat lodge ceremony at the Eloheh farm administered by Randy & Edith Woodley.

Randy, a theology professor at George Fox Seminary, invited us to join their monthly "Jesus Sweat" after I met him this Spring on my trip to Portland with Ched Myers. Randy has been conducting these for the past 23 years and on this day, there were 13 of us led by Randy's 18-year-old son Young, the first time he has ever led! This was a powerful experience of prayer, song and open sharing around the circle. We spoke individually, counter-clockwise and finished each prayer or sharing with a communal "aho," the Cherokee word for "amen."

The focus of a sweat is on confession and purgation. The completely dark lodge is heated with lava rocks and symbolizes a mother's womb, where each participant has a born-again experience, emerging out of the refining heat into New Life. Each "round" of the ceremony got hotter and, by the end, we were both laying on our backs to avoid passing out.

Randy & Edith have been mentoring radical disciples and conducting retreats for years now. They are passionate about connecting their Christian faith to their Native heritage, something we continue to learn on this trip are two things that are extremely compatible, strengthening each other along the Way (both of which focus on what Seattle-based biblical scholar Wes Howard-Brook calls "God of Creation" opposed to "God of Empire"). While teaching, farming, writing and raising children of their own, the Woodleys infuse everything with a Gospel of hospitality and inter-connectedness. Randy gave Lindsay a copy of his recent Shalom & The Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision as a parting gift.

We got to stay with Tom's cousin, Jeff, on Saturday night in Sherwood. Jeff truly has a global vision of Life and definitely appreciates a good road trip. He has been all over the world, participating in Peace Corp missions and all sorts of other adventures. He currently works at New Seasons, an alternative grocery store (competing with Whole Foods) in Portland. He made us a phenomenal batch of his nachos bell grande out of the freebies he got from the deli the previous day.

His wife, Melissa, is a speech pathologist who gets to ride her bike to work everyday in the beautiful Williamette Valley. She missed the Saturday night festivities because she was attending the birthday party of her 91-year-old grandfather in Bend, but we connected for Mexican food in Southeast Portland on Monday. Afterwards, Jeff introduced us to his signature dessert: Stumptown ice coffee and a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie from the local New Seasons.

On Sunday, we met up with The Wilderness Way community for their Nature/Sabbath Sunday, a once-a-month hike to intentionally connect to the Source of ancient wisdom, spend time (re)connecting with each other & learning more about the history and challenges of their own watershed context.

The Wilderness Way community is committed to the biblical practices of Sabbath, Jubilee and Shalom as a community while each member is encouraged to commit to taking personal inventory of their own process of practicing the Way of the wilderness. This community has a deep structure with a beautiful liturgy focusing on LEAVING empire, LOVING one another and LEARNING the Way of the wilderness (just like Israel & Jesus) and every Sunday of the month has a different focus:

First Sunday focus: The wisdom of our lives (last year, they shared their nature autobiographies)

Second Sunday focus: The wisdom of Jesus and the Jesus movement

Third Sunday hike: The wisdom of nature/sabbath

Fourth Sunday focus: The wisdom of Sabbath, Jubilee and Shalom (learning about this wisdom more deeply, and sharing about how we are living our community practices)

Fifth Sunday focus: As the Spirit guides

We were welcomed into the home of Peter & Solveig Nilsen-Goodin and their precious boys Soren and Stig. Tom (known to the family as T-Bone) met the NGs in the Spring and Lindsay (L-Bone) was really looking forward to meeting them and participating with the WW community on a Sunday. Solveig is an ordained Lutheran minister and Peter is a junior high music teacher.

We had a great dinner, met Matt Smith and his son, Jack, heard more about the Leaven Project and related Salt + Light community, swapped life stories and then capped the night off with a dance party to the latest hits from Alvin & the Chipmunks.

Married for more than 20 years, Solveig & Peter are committed to leading their boys into the challenges of the Wilderness Way. Their authenticity and passion for neighborly hospitality and peace & justice work are clearly evident. What a perfect family to officially end our journey with.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sleeping In Seattle

Playing God, aw nah here we go
America the brave still fears what we don't know
And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago
I don't know.

Macklemore, Seattle native

A lot of people read the Bible stupidly, but that doesn't make it a stupid book.
Wes Howard-Brook, professor of Religious Studies, Seattle University

On Friday night, after a delicious Thai dinner in the surprising little college town of Ellensburg, WA, we drove two more hours and arrived in Sammamish, the home of Tom's cousin Cindy and her husband Greg. Sammamish is a town nestled between Seattle proper to the west and Snohomish Pass (elevation 4,000) to the east. Cindy and Greg live in a beautiful home at the end of a maze of roads about 15 minutes off I-90. It is what they call a "tear-down home," built in the 70s and will, no doubt, inevitably get snatched up by developers who will turn the acreage into 3-4 new homes.

Cindy is the firstborn of all the Airey cousins and is clearly the most organized and committed to staying in contact. She always makes it a point to connect with us when she comes down to SoCal for business with Boeing. In fact, I have fond memories of bonding with both Greg and Cindy on the night of April 2, 2008: we watched the Jayhawks win the national championship together at my parents' house in Mission Viejo. We are tremendously thankful for their hospitality this week and that they sacrificed their usual Saturday (sailing? golfing?) to entertain us!

On Saturday morning, we were delighted to participate in Cindy and Greg's Saturday morning ritual: sleeping in. Apparently, we had slept right through a major summer lightening storm. No surprise. We awoke to cool weather and eventually the four of us, and the energetic Kya (a mysterious collie mix), jogged through their forested neighborhood, past Pine Lake, the soapbox derby and over to cousin Larry's fixer-upper about 2 miles away. Larry and his daughters Alexa and Sydney showed off their pool, new dog and remodeling projects.

Then, it was time to party with the cousins, aunts and uncles. Coming to the Pacific Northwest is a bit like coming home to my roots. My grandfather Val Airey came to the States as a young boy just more than 100 years ago and eventually settled his family in nearby Renton to start his pharmacy business. My dad's younger sisters Kathie and Vicky (see below) still live in the area close to their children and they continue a decade-long tradition of meeting on Sunday mornings for a lakeside walk to stay connected.

On Sunday morning, we met up with Dan Jones at Seattle Mennonite Church in the north district of Lake City. Dan was a Capistrano Valley H.S. Fellowship of Christian Athletes student leader a decade ago, a fellow student at Fuller Seminary and a participant in our 2nd house church experiment back in '08-'09. He currently is the Residents Life Coordinator at his alma mater Seattle Pacific University while studying for Presbyterian ordination.

At SMC, Weldon Nisly preached a sermon on Ephesian 2:11-3:21, what Biblical scholar Tom Yoder-Neufeld calls "the greatest peace text in the entire Bible." Weldon lamented a laundry list of recent hostilities (Trayvon Martin, the Mexico/US border, the Israel/Palestine border, the Pink Mennos' missoin to bring full dignity for the LGBTQ community...and more) while proclaiming the good news that Christ has "broken down the dividing wall" (of race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, gender, etc) that separates too many of us with the hope that he will "create in himself one new humanity" to experience true reconciliation and redemption in the world.

After church, we drove east to Issaquah, the home of biblical scholar and activist Wes Howard Brook. Wes had just arrived back home the night before after 6 weeks in Australia with his partner Sue. Wes was apparently jet-lagged but no one would have guessed it. He whipped us up a pasta and salad lunch and then led us on his daily hike up Tiger Mountain.

Wes grew up as a secular Jew in Beverly Hills raised by a single mom. He went to Berkeley, became a lawyer, worked in DC for a US Senator...and then read Ched Myers' Binding The Strong Man cover to cover (has anyone else ever done this?) in the late 80s. This event catapulted Wes into a life of biblical scholarship and teaching at the Jesuit Seattle University.

Since then, Wes has done to John's Gospel what Ched had done to Mark's: recovered a socio-political reading that is more at home in the Roman imperial world of 1st century Palestinian Judaism. In addition to other writing and editing, Wes has published the ground-breaking Come Out My People: God's Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond, a full-length anti-imperial treatment of Scripture. His thesis is that, when we open the Bible, we find a competition between authors advocating for a top-down, hierarchical, dominating and triumphalistic God of Empire and those scripting a from-below, compassionate, indigenous-privileging God of Creation (of which Jesus is the fulfillment and climax).

Rumor has it that, in addition to his scholarship and teaching at Seattle U., Wes serves Sue a latte in bed every morning. With the rest of their free time, Wes and Sue host a couple of Gospel of John studies in their home. They started with John 1:1 9 years ago and they are now on John 19 (there was an 18 month review in there at some point). Each session the focus is on undomesticating the Gospel while they eat, pray and (of course) laugh. Check out Wes and Sue's spiritual direction website here.

After a lunch of prayer and story-telling, Wes led us on a hike up nearby Tiger Mountain, playing nature tour guide, Bible Answer Man and pastor-therapist all the same time. Wes even fed us snacks from the local wild blackberry bushes.

On Sunday night, Dan's wife Sara joined us for Thai food in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. Sara is in the MFT program at Seattle Pacific University. She and Dan met during their undergrad years at SPU and, although Dan still suffers from mental illness (see photo below), Sara has been a huge factor in his ability to be a functioning member of society. But seriously, these two have been incredibly busy this past year. Sara has worked full-time while being a full-time, first-year MFT student and Dan just completed a graveyard shift at the hospital (an unpaid internship for his Presbyterian ordination work) while working full-time as the chaplain at Northwest University. As always, we combined some deep dialogue with a lot of laughter.

On Monday, Pastor Weldon took us out to Persian food in the Lake City neighborhood. Weldon grew up in Iowa and, from early on, was passionate about electoral politics (a rarity in his Mennonite context). Just 2 days before my birth in 1973, Weldon felt the call to ministry, a life dedicated to a blend of prophetic preaching and peace witness. After a stint in D.C., Weldon has pastored churches in Cincinnati and Seattle. He has thrived in this urban context, while his wife longs to bring it back to the countryside as retirement approaches this November.

Weldon told us the phenomenal story of traveling to Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003. He was part of an American peace delegation with Jim Douglass, Shane Claiborne and Jonathan & Leah Wilson-Hartgrove (among others). This was an extremely dangerous mission that his church and family prayerfully sent him on. While in Iraq, the car he was riding in blew out a tire and careened off the side of the road during an air raid by U.S. forces, dislocating Weldon's shoulder, breaking bones and gashing the back of his head. The people of the local village of Rutba carried him to safety and doctors cared for him.

This Good Samaritan-Iraqi saved his life and Weldon (along with some of the American delegation) came back years later to thank him and the other members of the Rutba crew of lifesavers. The intentional community in Durham, NC (started by the Wilson-Hartgroves and Isaac Villegas) is called Rutba House to honor these compassionate, enemy-loving Iraqis.

Weldon also shared about his commitment to being a pastor, activist and monastic. He has been taking short retreats to St. John's abbey in Minnesota for many years and he was instrumental in starting up Bridgefolk, a Catholic-Mennonite peace group. As Weldon spoke, we were struck by his balanced and passionate life of pursuing a deep connection with God and service to others.

On Tuesday, we met up with our old friend Josh McQueen who, with his wife Neely, used to work in youth ministry at Saddleback Church. The McQueens moved up to Seattle a decade ago to work at Overlake, a megachurch going through difficult leadership transitions back then. Josh took us to a soulish coffeehouse in Redmond and told us the story of their conversion of the imagination. About 5 years ago, Josh started reading works by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (among others) with his brother Joe. They have continued a long-distance dialogue over the real-life implications of these ideas about God, faith and everything else there is.

Josh has challenged other members of the Overlake staff to immerse themselves in this dialogue and has led small group studies on some of these books. The McQueens (with three kids of their own) are in serious discussions to develop an intentional community under one roof, centered around practices of prayer, meetings and meals. Sure enough, this rugged commitment to deeper relationship and sacrifice is even infecting the megachurches!

Josh pointed us towards nearby downtown Kirkland for an afternoon of rest, reading, running and Thai food.

On Wednesday, we drove to Mukliteo and took the 15-minute ferry ride to Whidbey Island.

This was a much-needed 48-hour getaway for us. We slept in, caught up on some reading, played Scrabble, went for a run, caught a film at the local theater, picked blackberries, made our own food, and lounged around the little two-bedroom house that we rented off Airbnb, tucked away in the trees, just a mile from the town of Langley.

On Friday afternoon, we drove 15 minutes to the home of Marcia and Clancy Dunigan, a couple who participated in the Bartimaeus intentional community in Berkeley with Ched Myers and others back in the late-70s/early-80s. These two moved to the heavily-wooded island after the birth of their son, Kevin, in the mid-80s.

Marcia and Clancy poured on the hospitality and story-telling. We were especially interested in how they met each other, how their faith convictions evolved over time and their time in intentional community. Their unique personalities played off each other as they recanted moments from 30 years ago, ranging from hilarious to heart-rending. They took a 3 month road trip all over the US back in the late-70s and even stayed at some of the same places we have. With hours of road ahead, they lavished upon us some vitally useful gifts: some country blues gospel from Clancy (he is known as the top blues DJ on the island) and some Richard Rohr CDs from Marcia (they knew Richard back in the 70s...when no one else did)!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

On The Road

The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.
John Muir

On Sunday, August 4, we left Durham, NC with the goal of getting to the Pacific Northwest as fast as we could. Lindsay will be taking a flight out of Portland on August 20 so she can get back to SoCal for the annual Capistrano Valley HS girls cross country training camp in Mammoth. On Sunday night at 9:30pm we arrived in Columbus, Ohio at the home of Joe McQueen and Kellyn Muller-McQueen.

Joe was the worship leader for Fellowship of Christian Athletes 10 years ago when Tom was the campus faculty advisor. Joe has put down the guitar and taken up some serious literary critical work, finishing up a PhD in English at Ohio State University after teaching English for two years in Japan.

Joe and Kellyn have been on a very similar spiritual-theological-political journey. In all his free time, Joe has immersed himself in reading and writing and dialogue. They have participated with Columbus Mennonite Church the past two years and are seriously discerning a move to Seattle to join Joe's brother Josh and his wife Neely (more on these two in a future post!) in an intentional community experiment. Sure enough, the Brothers McQueen visited the Rutba House in Durham for a week this year to learn from Jonathan & Leah Wilson-Hartgrove and the rest of the community about what it takes to commit to this more radical form of communal discipleship.

We stayed up until 2:30am, eating homemade smore bars and drinking beers from North Carolina, Kansas City and Michigan, talking and resonating about travels, readings, church and where the the Divine Hand will prod us next. We awoke at 7:30 and hit the road for the 2nd longest day of driving on our pilgrimage. Destination: Minneapolis.

We met our old friend (whom we met 6 weeks prior) C. John Hildebrand at Luce's Pizza in Minneapolis as the sun set over the Mississippi River. John was getting ready for a road trip of his own: he and folks from Reba Place in Chicago were meeting in just a couple of days for a trek down to the Wild Goose Festival outside of Asheville, North Carolina. WG has become a summer mecca of sorts for progressive Christians who enjoy camping out in the Southern humidity. We met a handful of others (like Sara Stratton in Toronto, the Esaus from Germany, and Tevyn East in Philadelphia) along our journey who were planning on Wild Goosing in August. Pictured below are C. John, right, Joyce and Nelson Johnson of the Greensboro Beloved Community Center, center, and Tevyn East with the Carnival de Resistance, left (featured in our previous Philadelphia post), at the Wild Goose Festival in 2011.

From Minneapolis, we traveled across South Dakota (the land of eccentric art and billboards) to Rapid City where we met Carl Meyer and Karissa Ortman. Carl first discovered the beauty of South Dakota during a Christian Peacemaker Team mission to Pierre (the capital) while in college at Goshen. Carl and Karissa joined up with Mennonite Central Committee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Porcupine for four years (when they were newly married!). Carl served us home brew that tasted like Chimay while Karissa served us zucchini and squash from the backyard garden dipped in homemade hummus and a lovely homemade green tomato salsa.

On Wednesday morning, we met Rev. Robert G. Two Bulls at Red Shirt Table. This was the first time either of us had stepped foot on a reservation. This is beautiful Lakota land, just a few dozen miles from the awful Wounded Knee massacre of the late 19th century. The Pine Ridge reservation has the lowest life expectancy of males (48) in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti. The unemployment rate is 80%. This is a place of historic atrocity. Of genocide.

With the gorgeous backdrop of the Badlands and the eerie silence of the Land all around us, we sat and listened to Robert tell his Story at Christ Church Episcopal, the host site of more than a thousand Taize worshippers from all over the world this past Spring. Robert joined the Navy as a teenager, traveling to the North Pacific, China Sea & the Japan Sea on a Destroyer named USS Radford. After his proud service to country, Robert convinced the beautiful Dolores to marry him and they moved to Rapid City, just a 45 minute drive from Red Shirt Table. Robert worked long hours for decades at an auto body shop to support his wife and five children (we got to meet Twila: see below). He eventually heard God's Call to a commitment to study and service in the Episcopal priesthood.

Robert shared generously with us of his life and wisdom from decades of serving at Christ Church Episcopal. Perhaps most striking in our Time with him was the strong truth-seeking spirit woven throughout his story, reflected in a constant willingness to learn and reform whenever he came across new understandings of the Way. He sang a couple of hymns in the Lakota language for us and took us for a short tour of the church grounds. The view was breathtaking.

We planted ourselves in Montana territory for two nights, splitting the time between two university towns: Bozeman & Missoula.

On our last big travel day of the trip, we visited Tim & Stephanie Lyons (as well as their twin boys Sam and Sean and Tim's parents George and Jean) in Spokane. Tim and Tom first met each other on the 4th Grade Mission Viejo Youth Basketball All-Star Team and they roomed together at the University of Kansas. We had not been to Spokane since their wedding back in 2007. We spent good time with the Lyons catching up on life and getting to meet their two precious little boys, as they fed us generously before getting back on the road for our last 4 hour stretch to Sammamish.