House show this Thursday!

I’ll be playing a house show this Thursday night at 7pm for a THRIVE event at the Yellow House!

THRIVE, a college/young adult group that meets on Thursdays at the YH, is wrapping up a teaching series on Doubt, and instead of the usual weekly line up of worship tunes and study, THRIVE & the YH crew are collaborating to put on this house show. I’m honored to be the artist for the night and am excited to bring my friend Caitlin Milam along with me (who always makes the songs sound about 6x’s better than they would have otherwise).

Looking forward to a night of songs, stories, conversation, coffee, free food, and some space for reflection...

Hope you can join us!

(Add it to your iCal or gCal with one click here.)

The 12 Marks of What?!

“Some have become domestic communities and are eventualizing in what we now call “the new monasticism,” a way of being in which Christians, bound together under vows of stability, living out their private lives together in radical obedience to the Great Commandment...

Life on the margins has always been the most difficult and, at the same time, the one most imaginatively lived.”

— Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence

As some of you may know, I'm part of a New Monastic community that has put down roots in the Highland neighborhood of Shreveport, LA. A new mona-what? If that's your question...no worries. It's a common one. And while it's not the easiest question to answer adequately, I write today in hopes to do it some justice. 

WHAT IS MONASTICISM ANYWAY?

Let's start with the word monastic. Think of the communal life that has been shared by the monks, nuns, & mystics throughout history. I'm not exactly talking about Friar Tuck from Robin Hood or The Reverend Mother singing "Climb Every Mountain" from The Sound of Music–though they are both awesome characters. But I've digressed. Back to reality...

Monastic movements have sprung up throughout history as a means by which to preserve the character of the Church in the world, to remind the Church who She is in times when Her sense of identity is in jeopardy. The New Monasticism is no different in this basic premise. However, the world is different today than it was in the 4th century for the Desert Mothers & Fathers, in the 6th century for St. Benedict his fold, and even in the 16th century for the Reformers. 

OK, SO WHAT'S NEW ABOUT IT NOW?

Monasticism today in many ways looks different. Many exciting ways. Most notably, the New Monasticism goes into society–relocating to the abandoned places of imperial culture to embody the kind of life we hope to preserve, rather than retreating from society to do so. Put simply: Same goals for the Church and for the world. Different geographic starting place & execution strategy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer–20th-century German pastor, martyr, and expert on Christian community–wrote in a letter to his brother in 1935:

“The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this…”

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Prophetic.

Perhaps one of the simplest ways to describe the New Monasticism would be "Sermon-on-the-Mount Christianity." However, we've abstracted and complicated (or worse, ignored) the Sermon on the Mount so much in the American church that we hardly have a picture in our minds of what exactly "Sermon-on-the-Mount Christianity" looks like in the real world anymore. (To read Jesus' Sermon on the Mount see Matthew 5-7, and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:17-49.)

OK, SO WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

In 2004, a group of New Monastic communities came together to articulate some of their primary common threads–something like a summary of the "rule of life" that was guiding them and a starting point that future communities in the movement would be shaped by. There is much diversity among the communities all over the US (and the globe), but these are 12 values generally upheld by most communities associated with the movement. You can read the official 12 Marks here, and the following is our particular community's current adaptation of the language to best translate into our context:

1. We make sure we are located in an abandoned place of the empire. If we are not, we relocate. 

2. We share our economic resources with fellow community members and those among us who are in need.

3. We make our homes and our lives hospitable to the stranger, maintaining a willingness and preparedness to open our door to friend, foe, neighbor, and traveler alike. 

4. We lament for division within the church and our communities, combining that with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation (for the hate and division concerning race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, gender, and all types of othering that isolate and dehumanize those made in God's image). 

5. We humbly submit to Christ's Body, the Church, dedicated to always pursuing unity and seeking to be the church we dream of rather than complaining about the church we do not see. 

6. We are committed to intentional formation in the Way of Christ and the community's agreed upon lifestyle (common rule) along the lines of the old novitiate–valuing the depth and freedom of discipline as we embody a new way of being in the world. 

7. We nurture the common life among members of intentional community by following the rules of relationship (eat, play, study, grieve, share, celebrate together, etc). 

8. We support celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children, committed to coexisting as one family. 

9. We live in geographic proximity to community members who share a common rule of life, understanding and promoting the wisdom of stability. 

10. We care for the plot of God's earth given to us along with supporting our local economies. 

11. We make peace in the midst if violence and practice conflict resolution within the community along the lines of Matthew 18, committed to the nonviolent enemy-love exampled by Jesus. 

12. We are committed to a disciplined contemplative life of prayer, agreeing to silence ourselves in a busy world that we might free up the space to listen to God and respond. 

I can't help but be a little overwhelmed by writing those out, uncomfortably aware of how far we have to go before our lives fully reflect these statements. But we know values shape our lives, so we stay committed to aspiring to live in line with these values–trusting that we'll be molded into a people that embodies them at some point. And trusting that the mere but earnest attempt is the willingness to which we are called that can make us better little by little, in turn making the world around us better little by little.

OK, SO WHERE'D ALL THIS COME FROM?

The New Monastic movement's birth is hard to pinpoint, but stirrings of what is now a global movement seemed to take shape in the UK in the 1970's & 80's, following soon thereafter in the early 1990's here in the US. One of early leaders and articulators of the movement here in the US was Jonathan Wilson, who proposed 4 characteristics of the New Monasticism in his book Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World, published in 1998:

  •  it will be "marked by a recovery of the telos of this world" revealed in Jesus, and aimed at the healing of fragmentation, bringing the whole of life under the lordship of Christ;
  •  it will be aimed at the "whole people of God" who live and work in all kinds of contexts, and not create a distinction between those with sacred and secular vocations;
  • it will be disciplined, not by a recovery of old monastic rules, but by the joyful discipline achieved by a small group of disciples practicing mutual exhortation, correction, and reconciliation; and
  • it will be "undergirded by deep theological reflection and commitment," by which the church may recover its life and witness in the world (p72-75).

...4 statements that, I think, are proving themselves to be prophetically accurate in characterizing the movement.

OK, SO WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR ME?

In short, I don't know. 

But I suspect it means something, and I hope you'll consider what that might be. And remember, the invitation is always open to come & see...

This writing was largely theoretical, I know. That was intentional, as I hoped to provide some foundational understanding of what motivates those of us pursuing this sort of life-together. However, there are plenty of places to read stories about the day-in-and-day-out practicalities and experiences in New Monastic life, which surely get closer to the heart of all this.

Here are a few of the many places you can find those stories:

  • britneywinnlee.com Gandhi Got Out Again: A Blog About Intentional Community (Stories from neighborhood life here in Shreveport)
  • jonathanwilsonhartgrove.com New Monastic Leader, Founder of Rutba House & School(s) for Conversion
  • redletterchristians.org Red Letter Christians' Goal: To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • The list of books we read as part of the Yellow House internship. Great stories. Great resources.
  • Reba Place Fellowship, a community in Chicago, IL
  • The Simple Way, a community in Philadelphia, PA

Note to the reader 

I've grieved the lack of understanding &/or the misrepresentation of this movement lately, and it's moved me to share some words from my very small perspective, from our very small corner here in Highland to attempt even a brief overview of the New Monasticism–one of integrity, one that might make a little sense. One that I hope at least sparks curiosity, clears up a few things, &/or opens a mind or 2 to the possibilities that such a lifestyle holds for the Church and the world, for families and individuals, for adults and children, for people and environment, for neighborhoods and cities, for countries and the world.

Thank you for reading,

sd.

25 in 25 Update: Book Reviews

These are the 8th-12th of 25 books I have committed to read & review this year for a project I’m calling “25/25.” Follow visual updates on Instagram (& Twitter) with the hashtag #read25in25.

In interest of both sticking to my project goals and the deadlines I've publicly committed to, I've decided to shorten most of these 25-in-25 reviews considerably. I'm splitting my time between a number of different projects at the moment, want to best give what I can to each of them, and am trying to be realistic about just how much that is. If ever you're curious to know more about a book, don't hesitate to ask! I love to discuss what I'm reading, so perhaps these can function more as conversation starters rather than full out reviews. Thanks for following, everybody! And happy reading...

Joni: The Creative Odyssey of Joni Mitchell by Katherine Monk

I'll read just about anything I can get my hands on that's about Joni Mitchell. She's a huge influence on my own work as an artist–both musically & visually–and has been a great source of comfort & inspiration in recent years. 

This book was a worthwhile read, though not my favorite take on the Joni Mitchell life-story. The facts are there, the stories are there, but Monk's insight seems a bit limited (or even off-base at times). This may be due largely to the fact that she was unable to get much if any direct conversation with Joni in the process of compiling this biography. I did appreciate that Monk, like Joni, is originally from Canada and could speak to some of specifics of growing up there was like.

I'd recommend Will You Take Me As I Am? Joni Mitchell's Blue Period for more insightful, accurate portrait of Joni Mitchell. I'm no expert necessarily. This is just my personal take based on my extensive "research"–or hours upon hours of watching documentaries, interview tapes, listening to/analyzing records, and studying related personality types. As you can see, I tend to get a little obsessed...but we can just call it "focused." Right? Maybe?

Art & the Bible by Francis Schaeffer

This is a classic that should be on the shelf of any artist who claims a Christian worldview/lifestyle.

It is essential to read the brief foreword to get situated in the book's historical context–to understand why it was written. However it is eerily applicable still (or again?) today, over 40 years later.

"In a world that had become suspicious of the beautiful, Schaeffer reminded us that the Father of Jesus was also the God of beauty." (Foreward, p8)

Schaeffer encourages artists to take seriously the lordship of Christ over every aspect of our lives. Meaning that if Jesus is the lord of all that has been made and will be, that we are at liberty to make art about anything and everything in creation as we experience it, so long as we remain submitted to the lordship of Jesus. This essentially obliterates the sacred vs. secular divide, and states that Christians don't have to feel limited to making art only about religious themes (though of course they are at liberty to make religiously themed art as well). If all has been made through Jesus (John 1:3), there isn't a secular molecule in the universe. And at a time when about 98% of the mainstream art & music coming out of the "Christian market" is only focusing on about the 2% most "spiritual" aspects of our human experience, this is good news to us. We need art made by folks looking at the world with a Christian worldview about all sorts of things they see and experience, not just art about the worldview itself. We need art that's honest about the hard, unresolved aspects of our lives that doesn't try to tie up the pain of those neatly by the end of every 3 minute song. The whole body of work of a Christian should certainly be dominated by the hope of full life we know, but by no means does that require an artist to be dishonest about doubt, pain, confusion, loneliness, anger or anything of the sort in any given piece of art...with no rush to resolve prematurely.

And ultimately–artist or not– Schaeffer reiterates time and time again that the ultimate artwork is our life itself. We can and should learn to see our lives as works of art, crafting them into things of truth and beauty amidst a world in deep need of both.

And the Floor Was Always Lava by Michelle Junot

So, one of my best friends and college roommate Michelle Junot wrote a book. It's been special for me to see a number of these stories be developed over the last few years, culminating in this project. But I recommend this read to you from the most unbiased stance I can muster. Really, I'm putting on my let's-be-objective pants for this one...

Michelle has this uniquely entertaining-while-insightful voice in her writing, and there's really nothing quite like it (as far as I can tell). There's dry wit, blunt realism, and deep insight in her observations that will have you all over the spectrum of emotion by the time you're done with this book. I read this by the pool one afternoon and noted how grateful I was for my sunglasses as tears, giggles, belly-laughs, and my thinking face (not super attractive) were surely all on display at one point or another.

A book of stories that chart a coming-of-age in the world. Michelle's coming of age, yes, but somehow in someway our own coming-of-age too.

Buy the book at michellejunot.com

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(Photos of Michelle & me...Good writing requires: good friends, good teachers, good ice cream, and good coffee shops.)

The Intentional Christian Community Handbook by David Janzen (and a community of friends)

The opening line of the foreword reads, "This is a book we've needed for a long, long time." And that couldn't be more true.

We've had books of big visions and stories of radical living. We've had books on the theologies and ideologies that drive the visions and experiments in life-together. And many of these are excellent books. Deeply excellent and needed. However there's been something missing from the shelf...whether we knew it or not...and this book can now fill that gap.

Practical. Deeply honest. Real. Humble. Hopeful. Helpful.

Janzen and his friends have been at this life-together thing for a long time, being formed by community for almost twice as long as I've been alive. The relief, joy, confirmation, and conviction a few of us have felt as we've immersed ourselves in this wisdom is invaluable and essential past the point of words.

If you've been confused and curious about what the heck this intentional Christian community stuff is...or what New Monasticism is (or just how to pronounce it)...and how these intentional communities of all kinds are relating within themselves, to each other, and/or to the wider church body, this is a great place to start learning. And if you're in thick of community wondering if you're falling apart or growing, what covenanted life can look like in different seasons, or just how to get the dishes washed regularly...this is for you.

"This is a book for people who long for community and for people who've found it; for young seekers and for old radicals. Like a farmer's almanac or a good cookbook, it's a guide that doesn't tell you what to do but rather gives you the resources you need to find your way together with friends in the place where you are." (Foreword, xiv)

Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke

Ok, I went through a Judy Garland phase as a kid. Not a Wizard of Oz phase or an Andy Hardy phase or anything like that, but a full out Judy Garland phase...as in a fascinated by her life story, begging my mom to take me to Blockbuster (remember those?) to find the DVD of Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows phase.

I was probably 12 years old. Having recently re-watched that film and read this 528-page book, I see now that this was maybe an odd thing for a 12 year old to be so interested in, but nevertheless I just was.

She's one of the greatest talents yet to walk the earth with a story that fluctuates between tragic and triumphant until that little body that housed such a huge voice and even bigger heart just couldn't keep going anymore. With an overbearing stage mother who started her on amphetamines at age 10 and the monopoly that was MGM never satisfied with her weight or face or friends for years and years...she really barely had a hope of a stable adult existence. Sure, there were a lot of poor choices along the way for which the responsibility is hers, but it's hard to deny that the cards were stacked against her from an early age. And with that in mind, the brilliance that she blessed millions with seems all the more magical...

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An agile, curious mind that loved to learn. The photographic memory that could memorize a script in one read-through. The capacity to seemingly become the character she was to play. The endurance and supreme work ethic (when healthy). The electric presence that moved audiences time and time again. The overflowing love and affection for her audiences and children. The playfulness and humor/wit that many knew and loved. The list goes on...

The opposites could surely be listed as well. Judy was a drug addict before anyone knew much how to help with such struggles–and she, her family, her coworkers, her staff, and her acquaintances all fell victim to problems this created. 

But don't call her life a tragedy...it's clear enough that she'd hate that. She was adamant that she loved life. This was a roller-coaster of a read, but one I'm glad to have invested time in. I've learned much about the human capacity for both beauty and destruction from her story–feeling the potential of each to manifest in myself. I'm grateful for the inspiration to draw from Judy's triumphs and the warnings to be heeded from her struggles. And I'm grateful we still have so much of her here to enjoy through the films, recordings, her children, books, etc.