i’m seeing a spiritual director…

May 31, 2007

I’m sitting outside of st. Olaf’s Church in downtown Minneapolis. In minutes I’ll be meeting with my spiritual director for the first time. I’m a little nervous…


I wrote the above with my cell phone because I was bored.  I didn’t think folks would actually comment on it.  But I’m glad some folks did.  It gives me an opportunity to explain what spiritual direction is, and why I am pursuing it.

Someone goes to a spiritual director to share about life and spiritual issues.  The spiritual director listens, asks questions, and helps the person discern where God is present in the person’s life.  The director helps process and may give suggestions about spiritual exercises or practices.

I approached my director because I felt like I needed help experiencing God’s peace in the midst of my ministry.  I have lots of anxiety about my place in life right now.  We’re struggling financially and I feel like there are tons of things that I could put on my plate and I needed some help with discernment.  And because so much of these struggles and feelings I have are tied up in Missio Dei, I felt it would be good to see someone outside of my situation.

The idea isn’t to have my spiritual director replace the intimacy of spiritual friendship, but to supplement it.  Nor is he an “Answer Man.” He is there to help me center my spiritual life on God.

My spiritual director is a man named David Rothstein. I got into contact with him through a Mennonite pastor friend.  I was praying for a spiritual director who understood monasticism, undertood Anabaptism, and would be able to “get” my situation with Missio Dei.  David was an answer to prayer.  He spent 17 years as a brother at St. John’s Abbey and understands exactly where I’m coming from.

I’m slightly uncomfortable sharing this…it has come to my attention that lots of friends and family read my blog (but never comment)…and many of these family and friends might be “weirded out” that I am visiting a former monk for spiritual direction (though I’m sure I’ve divulged much more disturbing things on this blog!).

Some people have voiced concern that I’ve gone off the theological deep end. How does a good conservative charismatic evangelical end up a Social-Justice-promoting, Catholic-loving, anti-imperialist, neo-monastic, peace-loving Anabaptist?  I understand their concern. I really do.  But I’m still the same Mark, but certain areas of my thinking have indeed intensified and developed.  While other areas of thought have recessed.  The only part of my Christian past that I’ve rejected is Calvinism.  I’m still a charismatic (by most general definitions).  I’m still an evangelical (by some standards).  I’ve always had anti-imperial, anti-consumerist leanings.  I’ve always teetered on the edge of pacifism.  And I’ve been a secret admirer of much of the Catholic Tradition (especially the monastic stuff) for a LONG time.

So what happened? Well, when I decided to leave comfort, security, and common sense behind, things shifted.  As I began to read the Gospels seriously–as though Jesus’ teachings and actions were CENTRAL to my life, things shifted.  As I began to try to live out the Christ-life, things shifted.  My theology began to shift and move as I EXPERIENCED Christ in my life.  When you experience Christ in the poor, you read Scripture differently.  Orthopraxy rises up to the lofty perch of Orthodoxy and they become best friends.  And my best reading of Scripture, mixed with my best theological thoughts, combined with my experience of God’s presence (in Christ and through the Spirit) end up looking very much like a Social-Justice-promoting, Catholic-loving, anti-imperialist, neo-monastic, peace-loving Anabaptist who still maintains the best (as I see it) of the charismatic and evangelical movements.

A Review of Soul Graffiti…Introduction

May 30, 2007

For almost a month, I’ve been promising to give a review of Mark Scandrette’s new book Soul Graffiti. I thought about doing a one-page review, but rejected that idea. Instead, I want to give the book more of my attention…I want to write a worthy review. And so, each week I will review a section of the book (Soul Graffiti is divided into 4 parts). Next week, I’ll take a look at Part 1…this week I’ll focus on the preface and introduction.

But before I begin my review, let me make a disclaimer: I am friends with Mark Scandrette. He is one of my favorite people. I haven’t known him that long, but he’s the sort of guy that I’ve already decided I want to know for the rest of my life. Folks like that are rare in life–the sort of person you instantly connect to. From what I hear, he has that sort of effect on people–he’s creative, charismatic, and a bit eccentric. And so, given my affinity for the guy, I am a biased reviewer.

On the flip side, however, my affinity for Mark gives me the benefit of knowing something that many people don’t know about their authors: is this author practicing what he preaches? The answer is: “Yes.” Though Mark travels around a bit speaking, he isn’t one of those authors who writes abstractly about ideas they’ve barely explored. This book flows out of his life and the life of his community.

Soul Graffiti has been getting some buzz, here and there, but not enough buzz. Most of the review out there are short and pithy. But this book isn’t the sort of cheap fluff that can be quickly consumed and digested. This book is poetic–and all good poetry requires a degree of discipline. It isn’t organized by trite chapter titles and nifty sidebar comments. Most mediocre books only require a skim and you’ve got the meat. You know the books–one needs only read the chapter titles, the first and last paragraphs of each chapter, and the conclusion to get the gist and then move on. And usually a deeper read ends in frustrations, for all-too-often the thousands of mediocre Christain books are poorly written and cheap. They are good sermons turned into poor books for quick profit.

But Soul Graffit needs to be embraced. You must emerse yourselve within its pages. I tried to skim it and found myself PROFOUNDLY frustrated. But then I began to read…to actually read through the book. Once I gave the book the sort of attention I only pay to “literature” did it begin to give up its treasures.

And that is what this book is: it is literature. It is prose. It isn’t the trite eruptions of a would-be writer. It is the work of a craftsman.

The preface sets off the tone for the books. In the first paragraph, the stage is set:

In many religious traditions, Christian faith, as it has been shaped culturally, has brepared people to die, but has not equipped them to live well amid the complexities of contemporary culture…Many of us find ourselves searching, not only for a way to believe, but also for a way of life.

This book is an exploration of the that way of life. And instead of exploring it abstractly, it firmly roots itself within the life and experience of Mark Scandrette and his adventures in San Francisco. But–and here’s the thing I enjoy the most about Soul Graffiti–it doesn’t do so stupidly. I find that most most books in the “Christian Living” or “Ministry” sections of the Christian book store are not only poorly written, but also insulting to my intellegence.

The introduction continues to set the stage for the rest of the book–it cries out for an integrated faith that stands up in the midst of our fragmented lives. It is in the midst of this fragmentation that our souls cry out for a life that makes sense–one that “clicks.” We don’t long for a system of thought–for a Jesus who simply paid the price for our sins or who helps us get through the bad times. We long for a radical Christ who is present in our lives–whose eyes dance with creativity and energy. We long for a Christ who experiences our lives with us in the depths, but who also invites us to drink deeply of the Divine.

Scandrette depicts Jesus as a Companion (whose arms are open wide to all people), an Artist (whose imagination explored the depths of God’s kingdom), a Healer (who was present to the hungry, thirsty, sick, lonely, and imprisoned), and a Mystic (who dwelled in God’s presence and found, through contemplative prayer, the power to love).

Scandrette invites us on a journey–to experience THIS Jesus and and follow in his footsteps. Soul Graffiti is a call to discipleship in our post-Christian, fragmented world. Pick up your stencil and your can of paint: we’ve got some soul graffiti to paint.

Google makes it hard to be a Luddite

May 29, 2007

Google just came out with its “Street View” feature of Google Maps.  It doesn’t work for Minneapolis…yet.  However, I tried it out for the Mission District of San Francisco, and the results were amazing!  The Mission District is the home of Church of the Sojourners, Seven, and one of the Innerchange communities–perhaps one of the most neo-monastic friendly neighborhoods anywhere! I got to interact with all three communities during my trip to San Francisco in February.  Here is a great shot of two of the community houses of Church of the Sojourners.

If Amy and I were ever to leave Minneapolis (which is highly unlikely), we’d probably end up in San Francisco (Seattle and Vancouver are runners-up).

Happy Memorial Day…

May 28, 2007

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Okay, after you watch that, read an excellent post by one of my favorite bloggers here about Memorial Day and the religious syncretism of the state.

I think it is funny that Memorial Day and Pentecost shared the same weekend this year. I suspect that, for most Christians in America, Memorial Day has a larger identity-shaping role than Pentecost.

Christarchy :: June 2nd :: 8pm

May 28, 2007

We have another Christarchy meeting coming up on June 2nd!  The first Christarchy meeting went well–good turnout and good discussion. About 15 of us gathered in my living room to explore what it “looks like” to live out the Gospel.  The conversation tended towards the abstract–but it was definitely better than I expected.  It is no easy thing to get a group of people from different backgrounds to come together to talk about what it “looks like” to “live out” the “Gospel.”

To facilitate the group discussion for our next meeting, I want us to ponder 2 questions–and maybe spend time discussing these questions when we gather in a couple weeks.

The Gospel-call is a call to the margins. It is a call to serve the poor, the oppressed, those in bondage–it is a call to bring good news to the abandoned. It is a mistake to think that brokenness and poverty are urban issues. If we look closely, we can find abandoned places and abandoned people in every neighborhood–whether it is urban or rural, small town or suburban.

Here are the two questions:

1) What are the abandoned places and who are the abandoned people in your neighborhood/town/area?

2) What is keeping you from ministering to them? What is it that you lack?

Twin Cities Parade of Churches…

May 25, 2007

…has been postponed.  We decided that we didn’t have enough time to do it the way it needs to be done.  We haven’t set a new date for the event, but when it comes back, it will be revamped and we’ll put more energy into planning and promotion.

smoke smoke smoke that cigarette

May 25, 2007

Today I woke up into a world where a parent who smokes in front of their child is looked at with eyes of disdain, but parents who let their kids watch R-rated movies are quaintly permissive. 

For the record, my mother died at the age of 50 because of her smoking.  She had emphysema, got a lung transplant, started smoking again, got pneumonia, and died.  I think smoking is stupid.

But it isn’t a great moral evil.  It bothers me that people get SUPER upset with other people when they start smoking again…but they shrug their shoulders at promiscuity and the like. 

What’s with this trend? What does it say about our society’s moral priorities?

Pentecost in the Basement

May 24, 2007

On Pentecost Sunday at 5pm, Missio Dei will launch a special monthly gathering called “the Basement.” As you know, Missio Dei is a church that focuses its efforts in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. But we have friends, supporters, and well-wishers all over the Twin Cities. So, on the 4th Sunday of each month, we’re inviting all such friends, supporters, and well-wishers to fellowship with us.

Join us in the basement of Mapps Coffee and Tea (1810 Riverside Ave in Minneapolis) if you’ve wanted to visit Missio Dei but have never done so (after all, it can be intimidating to simply “drop in” on a neo-monastic community in an urban setting).

Oh…and if you decide to drop by, please bring some sort of snack or food item, since it is Missio Dei’s custom to eat at every gathering.

On Sex Slaves in Minnesota (and an accompanying rant)

May 23, 2007

It is a mistake to think of human trafficking as something that only happens in the developing world–or in uber-cities like Los Angeles.  Recently in Minnesota, the police cracked down on a prostitution ring that relied upon sexual slaves (though it could be argued that most prostitutes are sexual slaves).  Read the article here.  Here’s a snippet:

The women came mostly from Mexico and Central America.

When they arrived in Minnesota, the women had their passports and other identifying documents taken away and they were forced into a world of prostitution. In one night, two women serviced more than 80 men in a south Minneapolis house.

On Monday, in what might be one of the biggest such cases in Minnesota, 25 people were charged in federal court with running eight brothels. Eighteen of the suspects are illegal immigrants, according to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court.

Five of the brothels operated in Minneapolis and the others were in Richfield, West St. Paul and Austin, Minn., according to the indictment.

“The leaders of this prostitution ring … are responsible for the bondage and sex slavery of women, an intolerable condition in a twenty-first century America,” U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose said at a news conference.

Most people think this stuff doesn’t happen in the US.  I have friends that are studying to become missionaries so that they can address human sex trafficking.  But few churches even have something like this on their radar.  What if churches were more tuned into these sorts of problems–and actively sought to bring freedom to those who are in bondage? 

Sure, some urban churches reach out to prostitutes.  But if you read the quote above, you’ll notice that three of these brothels weren’t urban–two were in first ring suburbs and one was in a mid-sized town. 

Forgive me for the anguished rant that is coming…

Things like this f’ing break my heart.  There is a whole world of slavery, prostitution, abuse, molestation, drug addiction, homelessness (most homeless people are women and children by the way) that the church is largely ill equipped to address.  And here’s the thing: can anyone refute the notion that, according to Jesus, these are the very sorts of issues that the church should address FIRST? Aren’t these EXACTLY the sort of people Jesus was most interested in serving (Luke 4)? 

Don’t get me wrong.  Missio Dei isn’t really on the front lines of most of this stuff.  We are feebly trying to do what we can.  But with 15 people and a budget of about $6,000 A YEAR (I can’t believe that we’re working with so little, in a neighborhood that needs so MUCH!) there is only so much you can do.  And meanwhile large churches with large budgets spend MOST of their money (or should I call it Mammon?) on staff (whose jobs are almost always preaching, worship, spiritual education, and administration), facilities (which are usually only used by the church for preaching, worship, and spiritual education), and outreach (which is usually marketing and fun events). 

We’re failing here, people.  I don’t know what else to say.  And don’t you dare say that it is the government’s job to take care of sex slaves and poor people.  We should be there–bathed in the darkness of the world as we try to bring forth light–before the cops show up.  I know that is a heavy burden to lay on the Body of Christ.  I KNOW that it makes you feel guilty.  I feel guilty too.  Not simply because I don’t do “enough”–but because I’ve wasted so much time on things that don’t matter so much. 

This isn’t to say that teaching, worship, and spiritual formation aren’t important.  Of COURSE they are.  But we’ve put it all into the wrong package.  Good teaching is easy to come by.  Spiritual formation isn’t a giant mystery.  It is the shiny package we want to put it in that takes time and money.  Most of the energy of most churches goes into accoutrements–fluffy trappings that distract us from the meat of the Gospel. 

Every church should open its books to their congregation and say: “The biggest budget items are what we care about the most…the smallest budget items are what we care about the least.” Then someone should read through a Gospel–pick any of the four–and begin to rework the budget, without too much concern for the survival of their own organization. 

Let’s BE the church.  Please, for the love of Christ, could we stop wasting our time with things that don’t matter? Yes…I know that spending all that time and money on fluff gets people saved.  But saved into WHAT?

Remembering dlw

May 23, 2007

My friend (and worthy blogging adversary) David (aka “dlw”) has stopped blogging.  David is a brilliant economist/seminary student and it shows–he consistently (and intellegently) challenges me on this blog–most notably in my series “Church and State.”

Thankfully, I know David in real life.  But for those of you who only know of him through his blog (or through his treatise-like posts ;) on other people’s blogs), a unique blogging voice has gone silent.  Feel free to visit his blog The Anti-Manichaeist and pay your respects.  Rest in peace,

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