“With Bread”: The Etymology & Theology of Companionship

I’m a bit of a nerd. For instance, when I was younger, I, like many youngsters, memorized the alphabet. But that wasn’t enough for my young mind. I memorized not only the individual letters of the alphabet, but their corresponding numbers. So, A’s corresponding number is 1, B’s is 2, C’s is 3, and so on. This might sound simple enough, but wait, there’s more. I took it upon myself to memorize the sums and products of adding and multiplying letters by their corresponding numbers. With very little hesitation I could come up with the letters, numbers, and mathematical results when asked. Surprisingly, not too many people were looking for this information.

Fast forward to present day and I am still rather nerdy. (Thankfully, my wife has a soft spot for nerds.) I love words and their origins. Etymology is a hobby of mine that is – in my mind – worth its weight in gold. Mining the ins and outs of a word opens up meaning and interpretation. Like a flower in bloom, examining word origins, contexts, and histories allows for vibrant colors and nuanced designs previously hidden from view to emerge.

A few years ago, I was purchasing some bread from a grocery store for a shared meal. It was thinly sliced and aromatic. Perfectly baked crust protected the soft innards waiting for us to pluck apart. It was the kind of bread you should probably buy two loaves: one for the car ride home and one for the meal. Yet, what struck me on this particular occasion was the name of the bread. It wasn’t entitled “Italian Bread” although it was. Rather than translating the Italian, they had aptly and simply left it as, Pane.

And this triggered my etymological impulses.

Pane is a word derived from Latin meaning “bread.” It has a long and variegated history as it has been paired with a multitude of other terms. Nearly all of them center on bread of some sort.

The interesting thing is that the prefix com- means “with” stemming from the original Latin cum. When cum is used, it indicates a conjoining of two things. Pairings, groups, usage of items are all placed in relationship with the term cum.

Together cum + pane give us companion. Thus, your companions are the ones whom you are together “with bread.” Literally. Again, the etymology of companion opens our eyes to its history in that its Latin ancestor used to mean “messmate.” For the Latin speaking world and its cognates, companion wasn’t a general term. Your companions were the ones you ate with, the ones your broke bread with, the ones you shared a common table.

Companion points beyond itself to indicate the kinds of relationships eating together produces. Strangers and acquaintances become companions through eating together. Families flourish as they sit face-to-face sharing what is provided. Meals have been – and still are – the primary means of breaking down relational walls between folks. They are often the glue within communities due to their inherent hospitable nature.

The question then becomes, “With whom do we regularly share meals?” For those of us who claim to be Jesus-followers, this is a question central to our faith and discipleship. All too often, however, it has been relegated to a peripheral position in the life of faith. For many it has fallen too far down the list of Jesus-priorities, so much so, that it has become invisible for many. In my opinion, if there is one central practice we must reinvigorate and reincorporate into the life of the Church it is eating together. And, it seems, etymologically speaking, if we are to do this as companions, we must be true to the word by breaking bread together.

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Want to read the rest of this post?

You can read it at Missio Alliance where it was originally posted. There I discuss the postures and practices of presence, vulnerability, mutuality, and creation care inherent to shared meals and companionship. You can find the rest of it here: “‘With Bread’: The Etymology & Theology of Companionship”.

A or B?: A Few Thoughts on Discernment and Decision Making

“A good journey begins with knowing where we are and being willing to go somewhere else.” – Richard Rohr

For several months now, my wife and I have been praying, thinking, and discussing with friends and family regarding a potential shift. Not only the possibility of a move in geography and locale, but one of occupation as well. It has been a long, developing set of circumstances filled with doubt and frustration, joy and laughter, bewilderment and irony. This past week brought some conclusion to this time as I have accepted a position with a company here in Syracuse.

While traversing this time in liminal land, we have had to deal with times of disorientation as we wondered what was around each corner. For us as a family, it was a much deeper and concerning time as we now are not only responsible for ourselves as a married couple, but also for our 3 children. In many ways, the decisions we were facing had the potential to alter the trajectory and direction our family has been headed. For us, it is imperative to filter our own longings through the interrelated grids of community, incarnation, and mission.

Through it all, we knew discernment had to permeate all we did. This wasn’t a task we took lightly as it had/has enough inherent force to change how things play out in the future.

We are by no means experts in any of these things, but I’d like to share a few lessons we’ve come across and implemented through this particular season.

Discernment

Community Discussion

We knew through it all we could not and should not pretend we could make it alone. The lie of autonomy is exactly that: a lie. We have been taught in many ways that independence is a higher value and aspiration than interdepedence. Whether it be engrained in us implicitly or explicitly, the modern imagination has been shaped by power, prestige, and self-importance. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with the illusion of autonomy and the good life it purports. The interdependent life sees these and names them as antithetical to its very existence. Postures of humility, mutuality, and vulnerability are the hallmarks of interdependency and run counter-intuitive to our individualistic mindsets.

So, we tried our best to incorporate not only our thoughts on things along with the thoughts and feelings of others. We began with our family and closest friends, along with co-workers and neighbors. Knowing our decisions would have effects on people beyond ourselves, we deemed it necessary to include the voices of those we are tethered to. Through their input, we were able to discern gifts, talents, possibilities, and the ripple effects of potential decisions. For this we are/were extremely grateful.

The next step, however, was to begin to talk with those outside of our closest circles. In many ways, those who are not too familiar with the ins and outs of our existence can give us eyes to things we don’t see. Those closest to us are invaluable, but there are communal blind-spots we share that an outside perspective illuminates. As I began to talk with friends across the country, I was able to gain insights I wouldn’t have gained otherwise. They poked and prodded in ways our friends and family here couldn’t.

If you can, I suggest you look at both of these circles in your own life and ask how they can open your eyes to things you may not even be aware are present.

Stage of life

Discerning our stage in life was vital. We have been married for 7.5 years and have attempted to live as simply as we can. In some seasons this has been easy; in others, a bit more difficult. I was 24 when we were married, 25 when I started my Masters, and by 26 we had our first daughter. Those first two years of marriage we were both working full-time and had plenty of time, money, and energy. However, the past 5 years has given us 3 daughters and time, money, and energy have been found wanting.

Dreams and aspirations change as the seasons of our life change. The things I was chasing after have taken drastic twists and turns. With each new child, those potential endeavors and passions have changed as life has become more about family and less about Scott. Even within the past 5 years of having children, each successive child brought new challenges and opportunities. What I saw as necessary when I was 25, I now have been able to bury in the ground. Paradoxically, life has still emerged and emerged all the more beautifully.

So, for us, determining what stage of life we were in was a must as we came to decisions. There is a whole new set of questions we have to be asking as we form answers to what directions things might move in. They are different for everyone, but I suggest you prayerfully reflect upon them and your current stage of life.

Prayer

I know. For many, this is a given. Still, for many others, it is a given in thought, not in reality. I was certainly in the latter camp for a long, long time. It is interesting – and somewhat embarrassing – that it takes tough times to truly turn to God. Desperation has a funny way of tearing down our arrogance and providing the framework necessary to realize our finiteness. God is a being of participation, rather it be small or large decision. As Ruth Haley Barton says,

As strange as it may sound, desperation is a really good thing in the spiritual life. Desperation causes us to be open to radical solutions, willing to take all manner of risk in order to find what we are looking for. Desperate ones seek with an all-consuming intensity, for they know that their life depends on it. (Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, p. 30)

The longer we prayed about our potential change, the more we became open to whatever God had for us. As the Richard Rohr quote above states, we were becoming ever-increasingly willing to go somewhere else. Rather ironically, our “going somewhere else” will take place in our staying put geographically.

And this leads me to perhaps the weightiest part of this all.

Decision Making

I’ll be with you regardless.

There is a strong idea, perhaps even a doctrine, embedded within many Christian communities regarding God’s will. It has several variations, but essentially goes something like this: “God has a wonderful plan for your life and as long as you’re in the center of God’s will, you will be blessed.” Have you heard this before?

I have had numerous conversations with people who have heard this. They were facing decisions with tectonic shift-like power and were ruminating on some permutation of the aforementioned Christian axiom.

Now, hear me: I’m not saying this statement is inherently evil nor are those who perpetuate it. I have said it, believed it, encouraged it, and acted upon it. However, as of late, I have come to the conclusion that I have no idea what it means.

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s my inexperience. Maybe it’s my faith.

Regardless, my worry is that it has created more confusion than clarity. For those whom I have spoken with who were wrestling with the ramifications of “being in God’s will” there was a paralysis brought upon them by this belief. It’s as if there is either A or B and you must choose and choose wisely or else. There is no “both” because they are typically seen as mutually exclusive and singular in their pathways. As such, there is a visceral fear of making the wrong choice in regards to God’s will and finding God is blatantly absent from our lives due to it. (Obviously, there are decisions we make that are outside of the life and kingdom Jesus beckons us into. The thought here is central to decisions decidedly not of that nature.)

In place of this fear, we have found freedom in finding God’s presence in both A and B. Recently, we were reminded, “God made humans, not robots.” Again, it is one thing to understand this; it is another to embody it. Yet, the beauty of God’s love is its allowance for choice.

God is infinitely patient. He will not push himself into our lives. He knows the greatest thing he has given us is our freedom. If we want habitually, even exclusively, to operate from the level of our own reason, he will respectfully keep silent. We can fill ourselves with our own thoughts, ideas, images, and feelings. He will not interfere. But if we invite him with attention, opening the inner spaces with silence, he will speak to our souls, not in words or concepts, but in the mysterious way that Love expresses itself – by presence. – M. Basil Pennington

I firmly believe we would do well to crack the illusion of both God’s non-involvement in our lives and God’s commandeering of our wills. We have certainly found the grace of God in the tension of earnestly praying for his will to be done all the while knowing it was our decision to make. As we have decided, we have rested in his promise of “I’ll be with you regardless.”

What about you? What has aided you in discernment and decision making?

There is a lot more to be said. What am I missing?

I’d love to hear your story.

Some Questions for Your Farmer at the Farmers’ Market

Every Saturday my family and I load up and go out to our local farmers’ market (pictured above). We’ve been going for awhile now as it has become part of our Saturday routine liturgy. From there we depart for the local library and then head home.

When we first started these practices, we really had no idea what to expect or what to do. We weren’t aware of any differences between this farmer and that one. Why is this bundle of carrots more expensive than that one? Is there a specific certification I should be looking for? Basically, we walked in wanting to better our diet through local organic foods, but didn’t know where to begin.

The odd fact that there were bananas for sale in the middle of the winter in Syracuse didn’t really phase us. The plastic wrapping some vendors had around their produce seemed normal. After all, we were comfortable with plastic wrap because of its ubiquity at the grocery store. It took reading, research, and getting to know our local CSA farmer – now friend – to chisel away at our grocery store-formed imagination when it came to food.

When our imaginations begin to crumble or shift, we begin to have a new world open up before us. This new world we enter into hands us questions we must ask in order to make sense of things. Not only do coherent questions give us new markers by which we can live by, they also lead to deeper investigations and stories we (possibly) never knew existed. I know for my wife and I that this was the case in regards to our food. We were ignorantly accepting things as normal, good, and healthy simply because we didn’t know what questions to ask.

For many of us this is true due to this simple truth: we are the most divorced from ecology and agriculture civilization in history resulting in a cultural ignorance when it comes to food. As was recently said by Joel Salatin, “we know more about the Kardashians than we do about what we eat.” And because of this multigenerational predicament, many of us do not have anyone in our lives from whom we can imitate their healthy ecological and agricultural ways of life. Rather, the situation as it is, isn’t that we aren’t imitating others’ ecological and agricultural practices altogether; the problem is we are imitators by nature, thus leaving us to imitate those who are formed predominantly by the industrial/commercial/political forms of ecology and agriculture and we are unconsciously perpetuating this phenomenon.

This is fresh in my mind as we returned from the Farmers’ Market this morning. Next week a friend of mine is joining us as he and his family prepare to embark on a similar journey to ours. As I stood there today in the presence of farmers, pseudo-farmers, and food shysters I began to ponder what initial questions we asked while perusing produce and what might be helpful to others. Here is what I came up with:

1. Are you organic? Eating organic is certainly a hot topic today. Many people are wondering anew what it means to eat organically. I find it ironic that we must label what is inherently organic as such. Doesn’t seem to indicate a looming problem? Now, not everyone who grows organically is certified as organic. This is due to amount of profits, inspections, and some other factors. Regardless, they should be able to tell you how they practice organic farming. If you aren’t aware, check out the USDA Certified Organic website for more info. For local folks, check out Northeast Organic Farming Association for an abundance of helpful info.

Any easy way to tell – and a true story, no less – is to compare prices of produce from different organic farmers. If a quart of tomatoes from one seller is a steep $3 difference from another, you can bet the cheap one isn’t actual organic.

2. Where is your farm? Or in other words, are you local? Many people at the Regional Market – some even say 60% of the vendors – do not actually farm. They attend an auction where they buy surplus produce and then sell it at a major mark up for the betterment of their bottom lines. In some, if not many cases, they do not know what it is they are selling because they don’t know what it is they are buying at auction. Sure, it looks like a potato, but the conditions it grew in, the treatment of the workers who harvested it, and the amount of miles it has traveled to get to them is unknown. Unknown produce is a commidified product that will empty your wallet as it fills your stomach with potentially harmful material.

3. Can I visit your farm? If they are local and grow their own food, stay with them. Shop there for a few weeks and then ask this follow up question to, “Where is your farm?”. Many farmers are on their property for the majority of their work week. The ones I have spoken with have been more than hospitable in inviting me to visit. The ones I have visited have allowed me to see their fields, barns, animals, etc. which has easily ensured me of the quality of their harvests. Be wary of a farmer who won’t let you visit their farm.

I don’t presume to be an authority on any of these matters. I bring up these questions and concerns as one who is curious, worried, and longing for health. For me, there is no fragmenting between spiritual, physical, and ecological/agricultural health. The further I have investigated and participated in healthy ecological/agricultural practices, the further I have wanted others to join with us. I hope what I have learned thus far is helpful.

What questions do you ask? What has been helpful in your context? I’d love to hear.

 

Hermeneutics of Delight: Mutual, Interconnected, Curious

Hermeneutics. It’s an intimidating word. Many of us have never heard of it, let alone understand what it means. Which is interesting, considering we all have a hermeneutic we employ on a daily basis. Or, perhaps another way of saying it: a hermeneutic has us all and is manifested through us on a daily basis.

Basically, hermeneutics is the method or manner by which we interpret the world we inhabit. Texts, verbal communication, body language and all other forms of communicative interchanges are in need of interpretation as they flow between people, both the individual and community. The collection of explanations we come to – again, both on the individual and communal levels – expose our hermeneutical framework.

Moreover, hermeneutics is not a mere theory or an art, but encompasses the essence of our existence. The manner by which we interpret followed by the conclusions we espouse give us a trajectory by which we actually live out our day-to-day lives. The stories we tell, the symbols we make, the institutions we form, the communities we partake within all have to do with hermeneutics. Again, we might not always be – indeed, we are more often than not – making conscious decisions due to our hermeneutical orientation, but, nevertheless, we are making conclusions evidenced in our actions. There is not a moment that goes by where we are not interpreting. In many ways, it is the metaphorical water we swim in.

(This is a very diluted, non-specific view of hermeneutics. Please don’t think this is a blanket statement defining it at all. I am very aware of the immense complexity underlying this conversation.)

I have tried to take notice to how many people interpret the world around them. I come from a placed position, which informs, guides, and directs my hermeneutics. And so do you. The question is whether or not we are aware of it.

In today’s world, we have a host of hermeneutical methods vying for our devotion. Many of them are at odds with each other, of which violence – whether physical or not – is often used to help us make a decision as to where to place our allegiance. This has been called the plurality of our age and while certainly being true, is not necessarily an evil in itself as it is often described. Liberal/conservative, theist/atheist, postmodern/modern/post-postmodern, the list goes on describing polarities of interpretation.

However, it seems to me, that regardless of one’s (either individual or communal) interpretation, underneath much of this is a pervasive hermeneutics of suspicion. This isn’t a new thing or an unexamined thing, but again, many of us have fallen into lives bereft of self-reflection and are unaware of how much we have been interpretively persuaded. Lives that aren’t reflected upon tend to be spastic, disconnected, and atomized all the while being highly individualized. Much of this can be given to our tendencies toward suspicion.

Part of the problem is that excessive doubt prevents us from fully entering into the world, as Susan Felch states. Far too often doubt and suspicion go on unchecked flattening the world around us into an experience that is lacking diversity. Constant questioning and interrogating produce “modes of distance and distrust” leaving our vision muddy rather than clear.

I have seen this time and time again at both the individual level and the communal. Our current cultural mode of existence is nothing if it isn’t highly suspicious. We question everything. And I think this is a good thing. A healthy dose of suspicion is very needed. Questions are a staple of life; if you aren’t asking questions, you might need to ask why that is. Yet, when our suspicion transforms into cynicism we have a problem.

“In our desire to be critical we have simply become cynical.” (Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, 136.) Contempt, bitterness, and division are the hallmarks of the cynical life. When our hermeneutics of suspicion jump into a hermeneutics of cynicism, nothing is good enough for us. We stay isolated in our own worlds, disparaging of the rest. In the communal form, this takes on the embodiment of autonomous cliques, cults, and factions separated from the world. Finger pointing, verbal violence, and general destruction become the norm for relating to those around and outside of us.

What I am afraid of – if it’s not too late in some cases – is that our need for deconstruction hasn’t allowed us to move into reconstruction.

Perhaps an antidote to this predicament would be to follow Susan Felch’s hermeneutics of delight. As a method of interpreting the world, it encourages us to ‘look up and around’ and to loosen the ‘constricted pathways of precept and rule'”. Delight is thus something that only comes about through the releasing our wanting to dominate and control.

When we practice the hermeneutics of delight, we will put ourselves into a more honest position as learners, not because we have forsaken all critical doubt but because we have opened ourselves to the mystery and grace of God and made ourselves available to share in, be responsible for, and enjoy the embodied love that creation itself is. – Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, 137.

So, delight comes when we begin to see, experience, and live into the interconnectedness of life that only comes through mutuality. Yes, doubt can be there, but only in that is balanced by and rounded off by a seeking after mutual delight. It relishes in relationship and seeks the flourishing of all. Curiosity brings us into contact with others as we seek out the otherness of our world. Wirzba reminds us, “Delight follows from an affirmation of another’s God-given goodness” breaking us from our utilitarian quest to benefit ourselves above all through the powerful using of others and/or creation. As such, we are then inclined and allowed to be joyful in participating with the world around us. We enter into it not as skeptics seeking our own good, but as learners perpetuating further connection and relationship.

What I believe is needed is a turning to a hermeneutics of delight that affirms doubt and suspicion all the while being aware of its propensity for fragmentation. In an ecology of delight, we are pushed to recover the interdependence and interconnectedness of God’s creation. In a world plagued by division and rootlessness, a seeking after delight might be exactly what is needed.

Have you seen suspicion turn into hardened cynicism?

What does interconnectedness and interdependence look like in your context?

What is holding you back from delighting in the world?

I’d love to hear from you.

 

Lord, may we be like mycelium: A Missional Lesson from Creation

As I read, my mind traveled past the abbey church across the fields to a cluster of sheds, where millions of tiny threads of mycelium worked in the darkness. A stringlike network of fungal cells, mycelium is the organism that produces mushrooms. The brothers cultivate mycelium, whose ‘fruit’ supports their life of prayer…the relationship of fungi to life as we know it goes back nearly 450 million years. Indeed, without mycelium, there would be no life at all. Only recently have we come to understand the true magnitude of our dependence on these organisms. We now know, for instance, that at least 90 percent of all plants on earth form symbiotic relationships with a fungus called mycorrhizae. Greek for ‘fungus-root,’ mycorrhizae are ubiquitous, found in nearly every ecosystem in the world.

The relationship works like this: the fungus penetrates a plant’s roots and provides the plant with nutrients and water from the surrounding soil, which the fungus accesses through its mycelial network. The fungus in turn receives starches from the plant. When mycelium grows out into the surrounding soil it is said to ‘run,’ and in doing so it not only forms symbiotic relationships with single plants; it provides links between plant species. In 1964, two North Carolina scientists chopped down a red maple tree and poured radioactive liquid into the stump. Eight days later they found that, within a radius of twenty-two feet, the leaves of nearly half of all the trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs contained radioactivity; mycelium provided the pathway through which the radioactive material spread. The experiment confirmed fungi’s link to every living thing. And every dead thing. Fungi are our biological go-betweens to the world beyond animate life. And like monks at prayer, fungi do their best work in darkness. – Fred Bahnson in Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, p. 19-20.

Mycelium:

– Connect non-related living things in mutually beneficial ways

– Provide pathways for mutual nourishment, not the actual nourishment itself

– Skillfully, intentionally, and silently do their essential work

– Work communally

– Become involved in all areas of life for the sake of the ecosystem

Lord, may we be like mycelium.

Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most by Mark Scandrette (A Review)

Many of us are too busy or distracted to sustain a life of compassionate engagement. We lives lives of hurry, worry and striving, finding little satisfaction in our manic work and recreational activities. Instead of being free to create beauty, nurture relationships and seek the greater good, many of us feel stuck in lives dictated by the need to pay bills or maintain a certain (often consumptive) standard of living. We can’t have it all – the prevailing level of consumption, a life of deeper meaning and relationships and global equity and sustainability. To realize these good dreams we must adjust our values and practices and seek creative solutions. Mark Scandrette (p. 15)

If you’re looking at the title of this book and thinking you’ve read a hundred books on this topic, might I ask you to think again. Please don’t dismiss this book as another time and money accountability/competency resource. It is not. It is much, much more than that.

Method, Purpose, Goals

Three core beliefs have shaped this book and are taken from the invitation of the gospel:

1. We were created with a purpose, to seek the greater good of God’s loving reign.

2. We have enough.

3. We can make intentional choices about how we spend our time and money.

What would it take to realign our lives around these three beliefs?

At its core this is a book about doing just that: aligning our resources – time and money – with our values and talents. Part theology and part praxis combine to make a whole comprised entirely of experiment. Unlike some resources out there that focus solely upon “financial freedom” or obtaining “financial abundance,” the Scandrettes challenge us to pursue the holistic purposes of the Creator through simplicity, gratitude, trust, contentment, generosity and sustainability on personal, communal, and global levels. This call isn’t a mere intellectual assent to particular principles, but, as is characteristic of Scandrette, is to be followed through in the mundane of our everyday lives.

Moreover, this isn’t a call to individualistic freedom. We are urged to do this with others – spouse, friend, or small sized group. Not only does this allow for accountability, transparency, and honesty, it allows for the encouragement and sustainability communal practices embody. Videos, discussion guides, and more are given within the book and/or are found online to ease us into building community.

Our attention is called to developing practical skills by which we can align our resources with our goals and values. Seven steps are given as the book unfolds in chapters by the same names:

1. Name what matters most to you.

2. Value and align your time.

3. Practice gratitude and trust.

4. Believe you have enough.

5. Create a spending plan.

6. Maximize your resources.

7. Live generously and spend wisely.

Within each chapter, stories of the Scandrettes’ journey mix with action-reflection steps. These action-reflection steps come in the form of experiments and tasks. Each experiment takes between 15 and 45 minutes and are various. The underlying design of each experiment is “to help you become more conscious of your thoughts, motives and behavior, and to risk an action that might open you up to new possibilities.” (p. 21) Due to the variety of experiments, one is able to, well, experiment. One exercise might not be pertinent, another might be much needed. “The key is to do something tangible and measurable to see what effect that action has in your life. Be specific and know that intensity is important.” (p. 21)

Tasks are longer in duration and are “specific assignments to help you develop a tangible plan for spending your time and money.” (p. 21) For each task you should devote between 2 and 6 hours as they will require more reflection and long-term thinking. By the end of the book, if you’ve completed all the tasks, you will have a thoroughly detailed and comprehensive resource for actively pursuing a life marked by freedom. Staying on track is much easier since you’ll be able to look back at your values, talents, and goals.

In the end, their hope is to give guidance and encouragement towards a life of freedom found in simplicity. Rather than the prevalent tendencies of challenge through guilt or over-the-top recommendations, their angle is that simplicity is “‘choosing to leverage time, money, talents and possessions toward what matters most.'” (p. 37) This won’t happen all at once, or by ourselves, or through reading through this book once. It is a life-long process of repetition, reflection, and action.

Personal Reflections

I loved this book. Let me say it again: I loved this book. It is simple, but not simplistic. It is challenging, but not burdening. It is difficult, but in the good sense of pushing me beyond the status quo.

This is due to the place in life my wife and I find ourselves and the book’s holistic view of life. We are in the throes of transition and “what’s next.” We now have 3 children and are facing future-oriented questions and realities unlike ever before. The timeliness of this book is tangible as it has allowed us to step back and truly ask the questions of life. Values, talents, and practices are getting honed through the extensive and penetrating experiments and tasks. All areas of life – physical, relational, spiritual, etc. – are up for reflection and action, bringing an interconnected picture of our life into view.

Practically speaking, I read the book first and then my wife. Now, together, we are working through the material with paper and pen. We will eventually type up our answers in a more cogent manner and place the resulting actions somewhere visible. 1 year goals will begin to be worked on as we work in the everyday to maintain and obtain the goals we mutually come to. Revitalization of some latent hopes, dreams, and talents in both of us have been warmly received.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone wondering what’s next, feels stuck, or is hearing, like us, the whispers of simplicity. Find some friends, a small group, your spouse, and begin the excavating work this book provides. You will be greeted by experienced and wise sojourners – Mark, Lisa, their children and like-minded friends – who speak from years of testing, trying, and applying the thoughts found on these pages.

Purchase the book here.

Full Disclosure: I received this book for free from InterVarsity Press with the condition I would read it and write a review. I was under no obligation to write an endorsement for the book; nor did I receive any monetary incentives. All words, unless cited with a page number, are my own and are not reflective of the authors or IVP.

 

 

 

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: End of Summer Compilation

Last Friday was the final day of summer school, which meant it was my final day with Stan. That is, of course, until school starts back up in a few weeks.

As I look back on this summer, I have been hit with the mutual learning that has taken place. As I said earlier in this series, working with Stan, and my other special education students as well, is an exercise in co-learning. It is not just me teaching them; in many real ways I am taught just as much, if not more.

I’ve also been reflecting upon Jean Vanier’s life and work with the less-abled. Back during this past season of Lent, I shared Vanier’s seven aspects of love taken from his amazing book, Becoming Human. The more I marinate in his thoughts, the more I find truth deeply embedded within them. He is not a mere thinker, but is one who has given his life to those at the margins of society: the weak, the feeble, the downtrodden, the vulnerable.

I’d like to share some of these aspects again as they have been at the core of this little blogging project. It has been my conviction that the more we reveal, communicate, and celebrate those around us, the more we begin to live as God intends. Paradoxically, I have found Stan and his friends to be the ones who have taught me much about love, community, and forgiveness even as it seems I am the one doing the above things. There will never be a “Thank you” attached to the work I do with these students, but that does not negate the work my friends and I have given ourselves to. What it has done, however, is taught me the necessity of doing work regardless of it being noticed or not. Furthermore, I have learned the communication of thankfulness transcends the verbalization of the words, “Thank you.” There is a deeper sense of communication that takes place when you move beyond spoken language (especially when it is not available, as is the case with many of my students) and begin to know others through body language, moods, and actions. All of this re-learning takes patience and constancy: the bedrocks of love.

When I step back and am attentive enough, my eyes are open to their subtle revealing, communicating, and celebrating of me.

I pray as you read Vanier’s words below and examine the drawings of Stan that follow, you will ponder who it is in your life – perhaps someone unlikely – that you need to love through revealing, communicating, and celebrating.

To Reveal

The first aspect of love, the key aspect, is revelation…To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention…As soon as we start selecting and judging people instead of welcoming them as they are – with their sometimes hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses – are reducing life, not fostering it. When we reveal to people our belief in them, their hidden beauty rises to the surface where it may be more clearly seen by all.

To Communicate

Communication is at the heart of love…I have learned that the process of teaching and learning, of communication, involves movement, back and forth: the one who is healed and the one who is healing constantly change places. As we begin to understand ourselves, we begin to understand others. It is a part of the process of moving from idealism to reality, from the sky to the earth…We must learn to listen and then to communicate.

To Celebrate

It is not enough to reveal to people their value, to understand and care for them. To love people is to celebrate them…they need laughter and play, they need people who will celebrate life with them and manifest their joy of being with them.

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For more in this series:

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: A Series Called “The Weather”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: A Series Called “The Airport”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: “Elephant”

Beauty From the Margins: Drawings by “Stan”: “Once Upon A Time” (An Unfinished Storybook)