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.

The first step to a non-violent society is...

...wait for it...self-awareness.

That's right. Now, if you really stop and think about it, it makes so much sense. However upon first hearing it, this did give me pause. Partially because you don't often hear deeply personal things like "self-knowledge" and "change of heart" mentioned in discussions on world peace and whatnot. And that's exactly where I first heard these claims. I remember it vividly, though it must have been 4 years ago now: I was sitting on the 2nd floor porch of the Yellow House working on a painting project with my iPad open next to me streaming a series of TED Talks when Scilla Elworthy's "Fighting with non-violence" started to play. The second reason this gave me pause was less about shock and more about excitement because, even back then, my friends and I were beginning to learn the immense importance of self-awareness work, the study of our personalities, counseling, etc. in keeping our friendships alive and the community thriving.

It just made sense. The more aware we were of ourselves, the less violent we were with each other. 

Don't misunderstand me. I don't mean that we're the kind of people that went around throwing literal punches, drop-kicks, shooting things, or putting one another in choke-holds. No, not that kind of violence. Though on some days, I could see how things could escalate to that. (I'm kidding...sort of). But in all seriousness, we can do just as much violence with our words, our silences, our body language, and in our comings-and-goings as we can do with your fists and feet and weapons.

When we're aware of how we innately react to certain things and why we do, we're a little freer to choose whether we will or won't react that way the next time a similar situation arises. When we know that not everyone is going to react the same way we are, we're freed from the pressure of putting unfair, unrealistic expectations on each other...and from the hurt feelings and frustration that follow in our disappointment when those expectations aren't met. We can take fewer things personally, understanding that rarely is an interaction with a person only what it appears to be on the surface–there's always more going on. We can be aware of when we're nearing our breaking points, when we're tired and need to recharge. And we know that different people need to recharge in different ways–one becomes a hermit with a book for the weekend, the other fills the weekend with friends & shopping–and we can willingly make space for each other to do those things. When we're at fuller capacity, we can be most present and love each other more selflessly–avoiding the harsh words, brooding, over-sensitivity and/or outbursts that can come from tired persons. When we're aware of the different gifts and abilities that we each bring to the table, we can make space for each other to contribute in those ways–functioning as body less plagued by power dynamics, where everyone plays their particular part that is just as essential to the whole thing working as is the next person and his/her particular part.

That's a brief look at the interpersonal level of the connection between awareness and non-violence. I'll let you watch the TED video below if your curious about the bigger picture. But I'm grateful to be reminded that the bigger picture only changes if each of us individually is changed. I'm convinced that maybe we can't really change the world (yes, a millennial just said that), but we can change ourselves which will change our friendships which will change our communities. And a whole world of changed communities becomes a changed global community–a changed world.

So, if society is simply a system of relationships–and I believe it is–I think we're on to something here that is radical. Not radical as in extraordinary and hardly attainable by a normal person. No, but rather radical as in what that word actually means...getting to the root of something. 

It doesn't feel extraordinary to have a conversation about why the dishes didn't get done (again)...or to confess an insecurity...or to take a neighbor-kid with a stinky cast on his arm to the ER for a few hours...or to ask the hard questions...or to bury a dead chicken...or to listen to confession of sexual struggles...or to watch "daddy issues" rear their heads again...or to feed your kid and change the diapers...or to sit with a friend through another day of grief over loneliness and waiting for a partner to do life with.

But these are all part of life together. And if we can do these things more peacefully and lovingly with the help of cultivating self-awareness, that we might be better aware of those around us, then by all means let's do it. And let's acknowledge that it's radical. It's healing and nourishing the roots of a giant tree that won't change for the better until it's roots are strong again... 

PLANT PAINTINGS!

These are 2 small paintings I recently did as gifts for our interns at the  Yellow House  to commemorate their first year together and the commitment they've made to stay and continue growing together :)

These are 2 small paintings I recently did as gifts for our interns at the Yellow House to commemorate their first year together and the commitment they've made to stay and continue growing together :)

One of the values we learned and internalized this year around the Yellow House is the importance of stability...of committing both to people and a place and staying put for the long haul. None of us came to value this easily, naturally, or before throwing a few "adult temper tantrums" (I'm kidding...kind of) as it is so counter-cultural these days, especially for us young adults. Whether you call it "on-the-road syndrome" (thanks, Jack Kerouac*), "the-grass-is-always-greener disorder," wanderlust, or just 20-something ambition...it's hard to deny that those of my generation typically more often have our eyes on the next exciting thing than the tangible here and now...the next text message, the next place, next job, next 3-month internship, next trip to the mountains, next relationship, and so on. When we can't even commit to a dinner offer because something better might come up (true story), we're missing the people we're "with" and they're missing us. When we can't stay in a lease agreement longer than 2.5 months (another true story), we're missing all that the neighborhood/city/state has to offer and surely not seeing the myriad of things we could offer to it.

A seminal book on all this planting business. It has surely challenged and formed us significantly. Check it out if you're curious!

A seminal book on all this planting business. It has surely challenged and formed us significantly. Check it out if you're curious!

I'm convinced this whole life thing is one big search for home. Home doesn't just happen. Home isn't going to randomly be found up one mountain or another, in that city with the cleanest water and organic produce on every corner, or in your dream apartment. Home is something we make...by showing up and being present where we are with the people around us. Home is both place and people. We can make home where we are. By committing and being committed to, and by result making a safe place to share life and all of ourselves with those around us.


This is the design that the above paintings were based on. Click the image to check out the Yellow House's online store for more prints and other products like this!

This is the design that the above paintings were based on. Click the image to check out the Yellow House's online store for more prints and other products like this!

Ok, that's a super short snippet of what we've been learning and trying to live out together here in Shreveport, here in Highland. Not everyone will be called to make home in Shreveport obviously, but I would venture to say that we are each made to do so somewhere with some community. Where is that for you? It won't be the "perfect" place because that just doesn't exist. It won't be with the perfect, conflict-free community because that's even less likely to exist. Could it be where you are now? If not, I hope for you, that place, and your future friends that you find it soon:) But could it be where you are? For us, that's Shreveport and Highland as I've said, and we've decided to plant here and trust that we'll grow...as individuals, as a family, with our (literal) neighbors and that as a result the block, neighborhood, city, and beyond will grow and change by extension. And we trust that there will plenty enough adventure along the way, as there surely have been already! 

Here's to finding the freedom in planting and flourishing in that life together...

sd.

*To clarify, no hard feelings toward Kerouac! In fact I'm fascinated by him, his work, and it's influence on culture. It's just a reality that part of that influence was contributing to this myth that freedom is found on the move.