Going Through Transition – Help from Walter Brueggemann

A journey into newness

A journey into newness

Tom and I have just returned from one of our quarterly retreats. These usually focus on our personal lives and the direction we sense God is nudging us into for the next three months. This time however I was focused on the transitions we are going through at Mustard Seed Associates. We are seeking to discern what MSA will become in the future, with new leadership at the helm. During the retreat I skimmed through three very helpful books which I will share about over the next few days.

The first of these was Walter Brueggemann’The Prophetic ImaginationBrueggemann has played a major role in shaping my theology in the past and I can that he will in this transition too. Though this is not a book about how to transition a ministry to new leadership, it certainly has a lot to say that can help in a situation like this.

MSA has always been a prophetic organization, challenging followers of Jesus to consider how the world is changing and how we as God’s people need to change to be more effective in the future. At its centre is a vision of hope, the belief that God’s kingdom of shalom is not only possible but is already breaking into our world and God calls us to be a part of that. We have always done a broad array of ministries – from Tom’s and my speaking and writing to networking and consulting and it is easy for us to look at the future and say – who can we find that can take over these tasks? It is easy for us to look at what we have done and attach the word forever.

As I read through Prophetic Imagination I realized that this will never move us into God’s future. The forever language is the language of kings and rulers who want to maintain the status quo. MSA has always been a prophetic organization and to continue to be prophetic we must be willing to let go of what has been and embrace the possibility of newness. Newness is only possible when we have the freedom to hope for something different and to allow for the possibility that everything can and should change.The question Brueggemann raised that really challenged me is: How can we have enough freedom to imagine and articulate a real historical newness in our situation? (44). Maybe beyond that, how can we allow others to have the freedom to imagine and articulate something that is totally new? Brueggemann goes on to say: The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined.  At this point we are not wanting to ask the questions – how can we manage change – that could stifle any possibility of something new. Our question is What is God’s vision of newness for us as an organization?

The prophet offers symbols of hope for a new future. Change and newness do not spring into being in a void however. It is not accomplished by discarding all the symbols and accomplishments from the past, but rather it means to move back into the deepest memories of the community and activate those very symbols that have always been the basis for contradicting the regnant consciousness (66). Israel stood agains the regnant consciousness of the Pharaoh in order to bring a new reality into being because they believed in God’s promise to Abraham that this alternative reality was both possible and desired by God.

So my question for us at MSA is what are the “deep memories”, the DNA of our organization that God would draw us back to? Interestingly as I thought about this none of what we do came to mind. It is not our activities but our beliefs and our passions that make it possible to face a future of newness.

Here is my sense of what that is, though I realize this is not something that can be defined without the discernment of the MSA team, Board and even the broader MSA community.

  1. From Biblical hope to new design: the core of MSA is its desire to articulate and bring into being something of God’s kingdom dream of a world made new where justice does come for the poor, healing for the sick and wholeness for all creation.
  2. A spiritually discerning community that seeks together to discern the will of God for us as an organization and the implement it. Ministry flows out of spiritual discernment in community not out of “what we do well”.
  3. A questioning organization (or should I use the word prophetic) that calls others to question the status quo of the secular culture and inspires them to create new models of life and faith that flesh out something of what they hope God’s kingdom will look like. It is only when we question that our imaginations can be stirred and newness can come.
  4. We are an organic organization and see planning as a fluid process that flows out of our spiritual discernment and constantly allows us to be reshaped by the ways God speaks to us as a community.
  5. Praxis and academia are both important to us. We don’t just want to talk about change, we want to be a part of it, allowing it to shape who we are so that we can move along the journey towards becoming the people God wants us to be.

I wold love to hear your thoughts on this. Some of you have travelled with us in MSA for a long time. Others have recently joined the journey. What is it that inspires and ignites your passion? As we move into the future we want to make sure that we listen to all the voices through whom God would speak to us. We want to make sure that allow for all the newness that God wants to give birth to.

Getting Ready for Advent – Its Time to Start Preparing.

Let Us Come As Children

Let Us Come As Children

Advent this year begins late on December 2nd. It is still over 2 months away but I already have people asking me what the theme will be for blog posts so thought that I would get an early start in focusing all of us on this important season of waiting and preparation. This year’s theme will be: Let Us Wait As Children Wait. If you want to contribute you can sign up to receive ongoing information in the Godspace Writing Community on Facebook or email me at christine@msaimagine.org for more details.

In Luke 18: 16, 17 (NLT) Jesus tells his disciples: “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (from Biblegateway.com)

I have been thinking a lot about this recently. What does it mean to come as children come? What are the attributes of children that make it possible for them to enter the Kingdom of God when those of us that are adults cannot? Last year, in a post entitled God Created the World By Imagination I wrote:

Childhood is filled with creativity and imagination, a place of mystery and wonder in which kids discover themselves, the world and the God who created it.  For a child every moment is filled with looking, listening and learning.

I love to watch children explore the world. Everything is new. Everything is exciting. Everything is worth noticing. Everything is worth questioning and every smallest pain ache and pain that others experience draws forth compassion and a desire to help. But something happens to squelch all that. Just as our excitement in waiting for the coming of our Saviour is drained by the world around us, so is the excitement and creativity of children. In my previous post I went on to say:

Schools and universities squelch creativity and imagination forcing kids to live in a world of science and technology where we convince then that flowers are made of molecules and rainbows are caused by the refraction of light. Childhood’s vivid purple clouds and yellow skies give way to the real world where clouds are always white and skies are always blue.  In this world of head knowledge compassion gives way to competition and life, we teach them, revolves around buying goods we don’t need and holding jobs we don’t enjoy.

So how do we regain the excitement, imagination and expectation of childhood? How do we regain the ability to wait for the coming of our Saviour with an anticipation that has us standing on tiptoes, asking continually Is it time yet? and maybe even more importantly, how do we maintain that same excitement and expectation in children? One of my most popular posts during Advent is this one on Celebrating Advent With Kids. People are looking for resources – and I think not just to celebrate with their kids but because many of us want to find again that childlike enthusiasm and excitement we once experienced in our faith.

There has been a lot of controversy flying around lately on how we educate our children – Tony Jones’ article Death to HomeschoolingAs he suspected and documented, homeschoolers turned out in force. My concern is that in the heat of the argument we miss the point. Children need to be allowed to be children no matter how they are schooled. And Jesus tells us to become like them.

So once again I am offering an invitation to join me during Advent and the weeks preceding it. If you would like to contribute a post for this series leave a comment here or sign up to receive ongoing information in the Godspace Writing Community on Facebook or email me at christine@msaimagine.org for more details. If you know of others who might be interested please send them the link. I hope that this series will provide us with a rich array of viewpoints from around the world so that together we grow in our faith and rediscover some of the wonder and awe of waiting for Christ as children wait.

f you want to contribute you can

Launching CCSP Cascadia Sustainability Semester September 2013

Future Mustard Seed Village Aerial View

Future Mustard Seed Village Aerial View

Well-known author Shane Claiborne calls CCSP Cascadia, “ a space where you can re-imagine the way we live.”  Come join the inaugural CCSP Cascadia semester September 2013 and re-imagine new community based ways to live…new ways to become agents of sustainable change through organic gardening, social entrepreneurship & creation of resilient local communities.

CCSP Cascadia http://creationcsp.org/programs/cascadia/ is located half way between two urban centers of sustainability innovation, Seattle and Vancouver BC. Situated on 40 forested acres on Camano Island by the Salish Sea,  the Cascadia program offers abundant opportunities for sea kayaking, backpacking in the Cascades, as well as discovering a clearer sense of the call of the Creator God on your life.

Cascadia http://creationcsp.org/programs/cascadia/ is CCSP’s first North American based program, and the first Christian off-campus study program exclusively focused on sustainability.  Here are the course options.

Cascadia Core Courses include:

  1. God and Nature: Theology of Community and Creation Care http://creationcsp.org/programs/cascadia/god_and_nature2/
  2. Social Entrepreneurship and Environmental Justice http://creationcsp.org/programs/cascadia/pacific_northwest_ecosystems/
  3. Global Environmental Studies http://creationcsp.org/programs/cascadia/environmental_literature2/

Sustainability Electives:

  1. Native American Worldview: Conceptual Models of Stewardship and Sustainability
  2. Sustainability Internship/Field Study http://creationcsp.org/programs/cascadia/internship_elective_Cascadia/

This cutting edge program is a partnership between CCSP http://www.creationcsp.org/ and Mustard Seed Associates (MSA) http://msainfo.us/.  Like all CCSP’s programs Cascadia’s mission is to be “agents of, and to participate in, God’s shalom, particularly through care of creation.” It is overseen by CCSP’s academic committee, and is run using CCSP’s educational philosophy and policies.  Thus, CCSP Cascadia is a CCSP program through and through, only it is managed day-to-day by the visionary and dedicated  MSA team.

This spring CCSP Cascadia was introduced to CCSP’s supporting schools for approval, and so far the reception has been positive.  The first college coordinator responded “It Looks impressive! I am sure we will be able to get approval without too much difficulty.”  We hope to hear word regarding approval from all CCSP’s supporting colleges by the end of April.

We are limiting this inaugural class at CCSP Cascadia on Camano Island http://msainfo.us/mustard-seed-village-2/ to 12 students for our January 2013 Semester.  So, if you are interested or know of a student who might be, please contact us immediately.  We will quickly send you a detailed description of CCSP Cascadia and answer any questions you may have ranging from field placement to recreational opportunities in the Northwest.

Contact team leader, Dr. Tom Sine, today with your questions and/or the names of other students who might also value receiving information about CCSP Cascadia Tom@msainfo.org  206-524-2111

Mustard Seed Associates… creating the future one mustard seed at a time  www.msainfo.us

Leading Spiritually – What I learned from the Business World

Starfish at Esperanza Canada

The art of leading spiritually

This is the final post in the series on Leading Spiritually. Thank you for joining with me in this journey. I particularly appreciate your thoughts and comments which have helped me grapple with these issues.

Check out the other posts:

The Art of Leading Spiritually – An Invitation to a Journey

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Why Are We Leading?

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Where Are We Heading?

The Art of Leading Spiritually – How Do We Do It?

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning Together

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning on Your Own

Leading Spiritually: What I Learned from the Business World 

Not everything about leadership in the business world is counter to what good spiritual leadership should look like. However, for me personally the insights I have gained from the business world are more likely to affirm or flesh out what God has already been saying to our discernment group rather than give new or fresh ideas.

Sometimes they have helped us name the processes we are using. When we started using a more organic approach to strategic planning, it was very encouraging to find information on organic strategic planning which is a recognized model in the business world. It bears a lot of resemblance to the group discernment process we use, but has helped us refine what we do and walk with confidence in our new approach.

When we were looking for networking models The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations  was an excellent resource to help us think strategically about what we wanted to accomplish and how best to achieve it.

I love articles like Productivity Lagging: Take A Nap  that remind me that taking a siesta increases productivity and creativity affirming my belief in the importance of balance and rhythm to our lives.  The business world even affirms the importance of contemplative practices in the creation of good leaders as in this article: Mindful Leadership: Compassion, Contemplation and Meditation Develop Effective Leaders  

Unfortunately most of the best messages I have learned from the business world are about how not to lead. The grasping after position, power and wealth, the centrality of self ambition and the use of others to gain these ends is widespread. It is also devastating to those they supposedly lead and is often destructive for society. Surely this was one of the lessons of the recent recession. Spiritual power looks very different from this.

What I am strongly convinced of is that there is no substitute for the wisdom of God when we want to discern how we should operate as leaders and the ways of God are often foolishness to the world. God does indeed delight in using the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. As Richard Rohr says:

The bottom, the edge, the outsider… is the privileged spiritual position. In a word, that is why the biblical revelation is revolutionary and even subversive…. Stop trying. Stop forcing reality. Learn the mystery of surrender and trust, and then it will be done unto you, through you, with you and very often, in spite of you. You could say that God’s forever pattern is creatio ex nihilo; Yahweb is always creating something out of nothing…. God “brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist” (Romans 4:17) You could call it God’s primary job description. (Things Hidden p 90)

So let me end with a prayer from the apostle Paul who I suspect is speaking here to all aspiring spiritual leader.

We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. (Colossians 1:9-14 NLT)

May you grow in wisdom and become the leader and the follower that God intends you to be

Reading the Scriptures – How Do We Form Community Together

Reading the bible together with all God's community

Reading the bible together with all God's community

Tom and I go to an Episcopal church.  Part of what I love about the liturgy we read each Sunday is the rich experience of reading scripture together, knowing that others around the world are reading and studying the same scriptures.

In this last post in the series Reading the Scriptures – How, When and Why?  I will focus on reading the scriptures as a way to build community.  One upon a time reading the scriptures was the focus of community worship.  Before the advent of the printing press, in a world where many people could read, an entire village would gather each week to hear the priest read and expound the scriptures.  Celtic Christians in the 3rd to 7th centuries set up high crosses as teaching stations.  These crosses were often decorated with bible characters which formed the focal point for the sharing of biblical stories.  The beautiful stained glass windows of the Gothic cathedrals served the same function.  Whole communities gathered together to hear, to see and to learn.

The printing press changed all that.  Suddenly people could possess their own copies of scriptures and they no longer needed their community to help them read the word of God.  Not surprisingly, for many of us today, reading the scriptures is an individual pursuit.  We all have our own bibles, commentaries and now even internet access to websites that read the scriptures for us. We no longer need others to help us delve into the word of God and don’t realize how easily we can be led astray by our own often self centred interpretations.

Reading and studying the bible as a community is I feel as essential a part of our Christian discipleship as reading it alone is.  And I would go further and say that we need to study the word of God together with as diverse a group of God’s worldwide community as possible. I once heard Biblical statesman John Stott say: The answers we get depend on the questions we ask. People from other cultures, other faith traditions and other social groups force us to ask new questions about the bible and our interpretation of us.  Unless we read the bible in the context of the broader community our understanding will be limited and our faith will stagnate.

The Jews love to argue – three Jews four opinions is an old proverb that sums up the Jewish Rabbis’ approach to studying the scriptures. The name Israel literally denotes one who “wrestles with God.”  Wrestling with God about issues of injustice, oppression, pain and suffering is meant to be a part of our biblical study. So how do we accomplish this?

  1. Put together a bible study group from as diverse a population as possible. If we only read the bible with like minded people we will never face the difficult questions that it poses for us.
  2. Read commentaries and theological viewpoints from outside your culture and faith tradition.  If it is not a possibility for you to read the bible together with a diverse group of followers of Jesus, then acquire commentaries that challenge your interpretation and stretch your thinking.  Read the works of theologians from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America as well as those with a more traditional western viewpoint.  We are formed by God to be a part of community and it is only as we listen together in community that we grow into the people God intends us to be.
  3. Listen to all the voices within a community. I have learned much from my Quaker friends who believe that they should not move forward in a decision until all voices have been heard from and all opinions weighed. Sometimes God speaks through the seemingly most insignificant member of a community.  I think that this is a great principle to apply to our bible reading. Listening to the many voices through whom God speaks should be an essential part of our Christian faith.
  4. Ask questions that challenge the status quo. I have read that Jewish rabbis believe that argument is the highest form of discourse.  If there is not dissension then there is something lacking in a discussion.  In fact if in a discussion there was no disagreement then someone was elected to present that dissenting viewpoint.

Reading the Scriptures – What Do We Get Out of It?

Reading the scriptures - many ways to stir our hearts

Reading the scriptures - many ways to stir our hearts

In this second post in the series Reading the Scriptures – How, When and Why?  I will focus on different methods for studying the scriptures – not specifically different techniques but rather different attitudes of heart.

Reading the scriptures – we all say it is a priority in our Christian lives but few of us take the time or put in the effort to make it really effective.  We often read the scriptures without a clear sense of what we plan to get out of it.  We want scripture on the go for life in a whirl people. For some it has become rote obedience rather than God seeking desire and we rarely evaluate our efforts so have a false sense of how effective they are.  No wonder many of us slip away from the faith when we face trials and temptations that undermine our rather shallow foundations.

So my challenge to all of us today is to take time to evaluate our use of the scriptures.

  1. How much time and energy do you give to reading the scriptures on a daily or weekly basis.  Do you hunger for its “food” in the same way that you hunger for physical food.
  2. Do you really reverence the Bible as the living word of God or do you read it as an intellectual exercise?
  3. Do you read the scriptures as a way to transform your life or do you see them as a way to justify your life as it is?
  4. Do you memorize scripture so that specific come to mind when you are in a place of spiritual or emotional crisis?

There are many ways to read the scriptures from inductive bible study to lectio divina. Often the method we use depends on our faith tradition.  Some churches love inductive, formative studies that dig into the theological meaning of the words. Others prefer the more informal intuitive methods.  No matter which method we use, what we get out of reading the scriptures depends on our attitude of heart and the purpose, conscious or unconscious, with which we study and this is primarily what I want to focus on here. In the next few days I will explore several methods possible approaches to Biblical study that I have been thinking about.  These include:

  1. The listening mode
  2. The study mode
  3. The strengthening mode
  4. The equipping mode
  5. The community forming mode
If there is another very distinct reason for which you read the scriptures that you would like to share please do not hesitate to contact me about contributing a guest post.  We are all learners in the ways of God and have much to contribute to each other’s understanding of God and of the scriptures.

Obesity Rate in US Higher than AIDS Rate in Africa

I am sitting here waiting for my red peppers to get nice and black under the broiler and thought that I would do a little browsing on healthy eating as a follow up to the article I wrote a couple of days ago on What Makes Us Fat?.

I have known for a long time that obesity rates are increasing.  Worldwide today, 10% of men and 14% of women are obese – compared to 5% of men and 8% of women in the 1980s. But in the U.S., 32% of men and 35% of women are obese – compared with 15% for both sexes during the 80s.   So I should not have been surprised to come across this article:

It’s no secret that Americans have an obesity problem, but since we’re awfully skilled at looking away from the scale and towards our next drive thru, it can’t hurt to take a moment to check in with the numbers: According to an annual report from the Trust for America’s Healthadult obesity rates have gone up in 16 states between 2008 and 2010 (and gone down in none). Which puts over two-thirds of U.S. states at obesity rates of over 25 percent, while only one state — Colorado — has a rate lower than 20 percent.

You could roll your eyes and tell me you’ve heard it before; you could question all these studies’ definitions of “obese.” But if I told you that 25% of the population had AIDS, you’d be frantic. Everyone would freak out. The news would make front-page headlines. We’d be raising funds to resolve an epidemic; in fact, that’s exactly the reaction that the world’s highest AIDS rates, which hover around six percent in Sub-Saharan Africa according to the most recent report from UNAIDS, have gotten from the media and world organizations.  read the entire article

And it is true – why aren’t we frantic about the obesity epidemic in our society – not just in the US but throughout much of the Western world?  And of course it doesn’t help that gaining or losing weight to play a role has become fair gain for Hollywood Stars as these articles show:

Ten Hollywood Celebrities who Gained Major Weight for a Movie Role 

Ten Celebrities Who Lost Serious Weight for a Movie Role

It also doesn’t help that some people are trying to convince us that what you weigh doesn’t really matter.  Evidently body-acceptance advocates are picketing NBC’s reality hit The Biggest Loser. “Real health doesn’t come from conforming to society’s standards of size and shape,” says Connie Sobczak of The Body Positive, a Berkeley, California nonprofit, which, along with the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, is fighting for the rights of the overweight.

From my perspective acceptance is not the problem, bad health is.  Obesity adds to the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and the risk of coronary artery disease.  I am so glad that Michelle Obama has taken on obesity awareness as a personal crusade,with the Lets Move movement.  She has even been seen jumping rope and hula hooping in public to promote healthy exercise.

If the current economic recession can spark a revolution in home gardening and local food production why can’t it also result in more healthy eating and less obesity?  What do you think?