Tag Archives: Shalom House

Wonder. We manifest the Spirit.

The first thing that happened to me yesterday in my experience of the body of Christ was sitting around a table with a devoted team having a phone interview with a great guy who wants to be in Shalom House. It was a wonder.

We made a connection around one of our favorite parts of the Bible: Acts 2. His faith got me going! Look at just a couple of lines of the famous account of Pentecost and we’ll get started.

Dali Pentecost wonder
Dali Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place….All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

A new community

Christians, in general, put so much emphasis on personal experiences of God that we often miss the fact that the Holy Spirit’s basic work is to form a new community, an alternative culture, a new creation, God’s family business. We are all together and God makes something new happen; that’s how it works.

After the crucifixion and resurrection, the remaining followers of Jesus, the ones who had not scattered never to return, the ones who were not too afraid of the Roman and Jewish opponents to stick with it, were all together waiting for what Jesus had promised. They were praying and hoping for something new. Even though their own families thought they were nuts, they banded together in expectation and faith. The Holy Spirit came upon all of them, as a group, and they all demonstrated the fire.

That’s the blueprint for our church. I know some people are not fired up and are not demonstrating, but that’s all we’ve got. I know some people perpetually live in the house and don’t pay rent, some keep consuming bits of religion instead of owning the store, but they don’t wreck the heart of us. We’re all together, we are filled with the Spirit, our tongues and lives are loosened to demonstrate Jesus or we’re a joke. And we are no joke.

How the Spirit forms the body of Christ

In First Corinthians (well, maybe THAT’S the favorite part of the Bible) the Apostle Paul gives some pretty exhaustive teaching about how the Holy Spirit forms the body of Christ. It all starts with people who are not among the wise in the ways of the world revealing the Spirit’s power, not like slick marketers, but like clay vessels carrying glory. The leaven of the Spirit makes us a particular kind of dough; we are culture where

  • people are sacred not sex objects
  • relationships are spiritually discerned, not just adjudicated by laws
  • real freedom is worked out even while the free are compassionate towards those who can’t handle the radicality
  • people gain strength to discipline themselves for completing the Lord’s mission
  • everyone’s individual gifts are honored as part of the new community, an organism that lives out truth and love
  • we are the resurrected body of Jesus

The Holy Spirit keeps creating a spectacle of grace. I think sometimes when we do our public ceremonies, like sharing in communion or lighting the fifty candles on Pentecost Sunday, we often avert our eyes and let people have a private moment as they eat and drink or light their candle. It is very intimate, and it almost seems embarrassing to have it out there in public. Some people won’t even do it because it makes them afraid to be so noticed. But we should not avert our eyes. We should watch people and pray for them and be one with them as they are doing their acts that symbolize their oneness with us as the body of Christ. We often keep a lot of space to protect people’s autonomy, but I think we should touch each other like we have all been touched by the one Holy Spirit. We are living beyond ourselves. Just like Paul writes to the Corinthian church:

 

No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

The common good

The Spirit of God fills each of us, but it is for the common good. The Spirit works in each of us, but God is doing His work in the world. One of the best demonstrations of the Spirit we can make to the world is by sticking together: we exist, we share, we love, we are self-consciously the body, we don’t go to Circle we are a Circle of Hope in Jesus Christ. From that base we conduct the family business; the world is like our family farm and we are all important to the harvest.

Our kind of service means that we did not withdraw into a small group and preserve our holiness. We put out a sign on major streets and let people know we’re open for business. We made major financial commitments to buildings, staff, stores, and mission teams. We created maps, plans, disciplines and schedules to keep us pointed in the right direction and relevant to the next person, for whom we exist to touch and incorporate into the body of Christ. A few of us just hang out in what we have built by the fire of the Spirit at work in us. But most of us are manifesting the Spirit for the common good.

The last thing that happened to me in my experience of the body of Christ yesterday was being in a group of men who were asked to share how God was moving them to live as people who claim Jesus as Lord — and they did it. It was a wonder.

America Bashing in the Movies for the Fourth

I was treated to two America-bashing movies over the Fourth of July.

The first one I viewed was by invitation of Shalom House. I was not surprised that a movie they liked went after our war-fueling government! Watching a truth-telling movie with the peacemakers ended up feeling like an extremely appropriate way to observe the Fourth of July in 2013.

dirthy warsDirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield [NPR review] chronicles the quickly-expanding role of the secret wars the White House wages out of our scrutiny — even scrutiny by Congress, it appears. Jeremy Scahill is the investigative reporter/star who is extremely cool and extremely helpful — we need some reporting beyond the usual Kanye updates and courtroom dramas we usually see masquerading as news. Scahill is the National Security Correspondent for The Nation magazine and author of the international bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

As soon as I mentioned Scahill (who had been previously unknown to me, which might disturb him), Joshua popped up on my FB and said, “Jeremy Scahill and I were together for about a month in Iraq back in ’02. Good guy and his work has really blossomed. The film looks good, too.” Then Sarah Grey said, “Saw him speak and chatted with him a bit at Socialism 2013 last weekend– he introduced Glenn Greenwald. Two of the best journalists working.” So if you need him stereotyped, my very with-it friends can give you a feel for him. But even if he skews the facts and you are tempted to stand up and shout “You lie!” I just want to say — if only half of what he says about JSOC is correct, then everything you think about the Fourth of July might be in jeopardy — unless you think “freedom day” means that the “secret president,” Obama, has the freedom to fight a world-wide war on “terrorism” without any public knowledge, much less accountability. If that’s your idea of freedom, you are living in your preferred future.

The second movie was Gwen’s pick. I did not expect any America bashing from Disney. I just had gift card and nothing to lose. (I discovered we had used up the card at Tandoor, but we went anyway).

lone rangerI was surprised. The Lone Ranger: Ride for Justice (or more likely, The Lone Ranger: Jonny Depp Looking for a Franchise) [multiple reviews] is a pretty dumb, long movie — but that does not usually stop people from seeing what Jerry Bruckheimer is up to [personal fav]. This film has all the usual superhero formulas in it accomplished with trains and horses. But it also takes surprising swipes at all sorts of American conventions, pointedly noting how the Asians and Native Americans were mercilessly exploited in settling the Southwest (Monument Valley inexplicably standing in for Texas).

What surprised me most was one of the main themes of the engorged, lumbering plot. You will not likely see this film (and shouldn’t), so I will tell you. They keep asking the Lone Ranger, “What’s with the mask?” and Tonto, less frequently, “What’s with the bird?” Their answers have to do with their complicity with railroad barons killing and exploiting their way into silver country in order to buy the United States. That is a good theme to ponder while singing God Bless America!

It turns out that Tonto helped them find the silver and the dead bird he wears on his head is a sign of his grief and guilt. This makes him an outcast. Also, the Lone Ranger thought the rule of law would save the land and his mask is his recognition that the only appropriate response to the lying powers-that-be is to be an obvious outlaw. This makes him lone.

At one point the railroad man/silver magnate (also with a secret army) plummets off a destroyed bridge with his trainload of silver. The audience is treated to the vicarious satisfaction of the rich being destroyed. Wow! Happy July Fourth! Being complicit, grief-stricken, guilty, cast out and a bit lone are all appropriate ways to spend the national holiday, at least if Jesus is  any example. And He is.

I see no evidence that any of the prophecy being crammed into the media these days has any impact on the rulers or the general population. It is possible that presenting the truth by film blunts any actual human response. Movies artificially stimulate the brain and leave people doused with natural opiates [Bonus: Ted talk warning about kids and media]. Perhaps we all watched so many Power Ranger episodes as kids that we can’t keep our mind on the problems the prophets are noting — I did think both films kind of dragged, I must admit.

Maybe we can’t focus on what God says either. Too bad. Even the movies are echoing the Lord. As far as both these American-bashing movies go, this is what we should be listening to, over and over:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm. Psalm 20:7-8

Can’t you just hear Jesus saying that? You can certainly see him doing it.

Lesson from Palestine: Existence Is Resistance

My new favorite phrase.

I don’t want to use the phrase “existence is resistance” as if I just invented it. I learned it from Palestinians, like those from Stop the Wall, and from the Christian Peacemaker Teams in At-Tuwani, south of Hebron.

From top left clockwise: the village, surveying settlement takeovers, the villager tells his story, lunch with CPT

At-Tuwani

In At-Tuwani our MCC Learning Tour delegation met a woman from Switzerland who had been living in the village for six years as part of CPT’s work of support. She was about ready to return to Europe. The villagers are now organized enough to do without the protection of witnesses from the U.S. or Europe.

At-Tuwani is in “area C” of the apartheid system Israel is perfecting in its occupied territories. That means the village is under direct military control. Living in area C means that almost anything can happen to a Palestinian for “security” reasons. It means that one’s rights are adjudicated by military justice. Practically, it means that one’s land is subject to seizure and that the housing developments being planted on your grazing and farm land can supplant your long-held practices – and will be protected by the military (which, by the way, is protected by the United States). The village is something of a showcase for people devoted to nonviolent resistance. They have been dedicated to the proposition that existence is resistance.

We listened to one of the village’s activists talk about the awakening that caused him to be a leader in direct nonviolent action. When the nearby Israeli settlement was built nearby, it disrupted all the village’s ways. The “settlers” commandeered farmland and claimed grazing areas for their use. One day they beat the man’s mother when she dared to graze sheep in land they were trying to control. As we looked over the village (see the pic) he described how he had participated in securing its ongoing existence against the constant pressure and harassment of the Israeli settlers, military and bureaucracy. Their existence is resistance.

Shalom House

That phrase made a lot of sense to me yesterday when we were meeting as the Shalom House Guidance Team. We have had a notable lack of success this year in keeping the house full. The Guidance Team, Listening Tour Team and House have done remarkable things, anyway. But we have a dream of nurturing a vibrant intentional community that makes peace and gives peacemaking a solid footing in Circle of Hope and the east coast megalopolis. We’re having trouble getting people to move across town to be a part of it. Much more do we have trouble getting people to move across the country! We think it is going to work out, but it has been discouraging. As we sat around the table yesterday, I could not help thinking that having such a community in the world is our version, in the United States, of “existence is resistance.” Someone needs to care about ending the reliance on military oppression to guarantee what passes for the “freedom” of United States citizens! I don’t think that someone is a big charity or some aberrant charitable corporation; that someone is me (and maybe you!).

Circle of Hope

The phrase applies to Circle of Hope, in general, as well. To be the vibrant, growing network we are in the Northeast megalopolis, existence is resistance. We live in a place that is famously the “most godless” part of the United States. We won the tag from the northwest a few years ago. Traditional Christians are lamenting the loss of market share. Pundits are noting the end of Christian America. To be honest, I don’t think I will miss whatever “Christian America’ was. But it is worth noting that it can be hard to be a Christian these days around here. People don’t mind bashing you; they feel the tide moving away from Christian dominance. Mere existence is resistance to the new domination of nothingness.

The hopeful thing about existence being resistance is that everyone can do it. Live in your village. If you are just that much of a thorn in the Israeli military’s flesh, that is noble. Be a part of Shalom House. Even if you don’t accomplish as much as you think needs to be done, the fact that you exist with the convictions you carry makes a difference. Be a living part of your living church. Even if your social circles think that is odd, at least they know a Christian who is not in a museum.

I think At-Tuwani, Shalom House and Circle of Hope are doing a lot more than existing —  they are creating! But I find it encouraging to think that if I just hang on and don’t cease to exist before my time, that is a good thing.

U.S. Duty to Report on Israel

After being in Israel and Palestine for ten days, I am a bit shocked. I don’t think it is just jet-lag. The situation there is much worse than I imagined.

I’ve decided that the relationship between the United States and Israel is much like the relationship Penn State had with one of its popular coaches before he was accused of being a child molester. This particular coach has been in the news for the past few days. Word is: He adopted foster children, set up a foster care home that became a chain of homes around the state, used Penn State facilities for activities, and then it was discovered that he had a decade or more of illicit sexual relationships with some of the boys in his homes for “at-risk” children. School officials apparently knew about the behavior and covered it up. Joe Paterno himself may have known all about it and did not inform the police. It looks like they really love the guy and can’t bear to admit he’s a blackguard.

I’ve never thought of Paterno and Obama as similar, but maybe so. The United States knows all about Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians who live in the occupied territory that Israel does not admit is occupied. It knows that the security barrier is ruining the lives of Palestinians. It knows that the wall is grabbing land and depriving farms and whole towns of water. It  knows that the settlements which the sixteen-foot-high “security fence” encompass violate international law. It knows (at least Jimmy Carter knows) that Israel is creating another apartheid system. Even Moshe Dayan’s widow was lamenting the sorry state of affairs this week in Newsweek – it must know about her! It looks like the government really loves Israel and can’t bear to admit it is a perp.

As a Christian, I don’t have much faith in governments beyond what they are ordained to do under God’s direction. Since I don’t think most of them are much interested in God’s direction, I leave them to God. I don’t think I can sort out what to do about the United States cutting UNESCO funding because Palestine became a member. Why in the world would the U.S. government protect the manifestly weird and cruel policies of Israel? It is mind-boggling.

But as a Christian, and as a Christian who now has some first-hand knowledge of the “facts on the ground” in Israel/Palestine I have some responsibilities. Here are a few things I am doing.

1)    I keep talking and so should you. We should tell the truth as far as we can presently see it and engage in the dialogue so we can find out more. For instance, military aid to Israel is budgeted already at 3.09 billion per year from 2012 to 2018 – talk amongst yourselves.

2)    I keep recruiting people for Shalom House. We’ve created enough stir
lately that I think gifted and available people are about ready to take the leap to join the community and make a difference. I am collecting a list of people who can recruit further members on our behalf, too, since I know  peacemakers are out there, we just have to connect with them.

3)    I keep doing my part to build the Lord’s antidote. I am enthused to, I am aching to, be a part of creating an alternative community called Circle of Hope, in which we can speak the truth in love and not cover up things we find unlovely. Last night at BW we were alive with people talking about what Jesus is doing in their lives. At the Cell Leader training Saturday I was thrilled to hear how quickly people could testify to how God had met them on retreat. At the BW Men’s 9PM I was amazed at how we could talk about our sexuality with compassion and honesty. We have a great opportunity to invest our spiritual wealth to buy back people who have been kidnapped by the world with its constant talk of economics and security.

I know I have very meager-looking weapons. The Penn State Football program is to Circle of Hope as Israel is to Palestine as the United States is to Israel. But as 2 Corinthians 12:9 was teaching us again last night, our weakness may be our biggest advantage in the cause of truth and love.

Last Twelve Weeks of Shalom House?

[The ShalomHouse Guidance Team has posted this a couple of places — why not here, too? You might be a future member, or someone who will help!]

In 12 weeks Shalom House might end and its function distributed among the Circle of Peacemakers. We don’t want that to happen. So we are going to tell you our story for twelve weeks to see if your convictions and prayer can keep the flame burning bright.

We have a great idea for proactive peacemakers — SHALOM HOUSE.  We are trying to become excellent promoters because we have a do or die opportunity: we can either find the people who are called to do this great work, or we can close it down.

Before I go any farther, let me remind you that we live in the middle of the biggest war machine the world has ever known. The cost in lives and dollars of the Afghan and Iraq wars is staggering (unless you can’t stagger anymore, you’re so used to astounding numbers!). Just think of this one fact — the United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites outside our country! Unless we close our eyes to it, that is what our country is, primarily — a persistent warmaker. If you are 21 right now, half your life has been associated with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq!

Christians need to talk and act about this situation. We do talk and act as a church. Shalom House leads us to keep our minds and hearts open to what our country is and what we can do about it. As an intentional community devoted to proactive peacemaking they make the big difference a group can make when they concentrate. The house doesn’t just speak out against things, they act to build the alternative way of life, not death, that  Jesus inaugurated with his resurrection.

We have had great people found the house and live in it for the past four years. Really, we are just now ready to build on what they organized! Even when a few people lost their commitment and even lost their faith, the house was a great witness for peace and has lead the church in all sorts of things we would not have normally done. Right now, our mainstay, Mimi Copp, is about to complete her final term. Another  house member is considering leaving. A new house member is considering joining. But we are up in the air because the house is not sustainable as a community and a mission with too few people in it. We have one in, one maybe-in, and one maybe-coming. That won’t do it. The Guidance Team is unsure we should keep the house going if we do not have enough people who want to be a part of it. The thought of closing it breaks our heart, so we are making sure we have tried everything can do before we move on to other things.

There is room for 3-4 people in the house. They make one, preferably two year commitments. They make a huge difference just by being there, much more as they get good at proactive peacemaking. You can be young or old, married or single, male or female, from Circle of Hope or not — all sorts of people are welcome. You just need faith, a commitment to proactive peacemaking, and a willingness to live by the simple rule that aids the community life and mission of Shalom House.

If you are interested, read through our blogsite, or talk to the Guidance Team Leader, Jane Clinton. If you know of someone who should be interested, even if they don’t live in Philly, please let them know about us! And please pray about our future. We are writing you with our plans and progress because we trust that whether we are on a particular team or not, we are all in this together and we all care about each other.

Kristen and the Sword of Wendell Berry

I have been meaning to tell this little story about Kristen for a few weeks. The Monday after resurrection Sunday seems like a good time to tell it. Our good feeling of new life is going to meet up with our schedules. The resolve we honed with our Lent disciplines is going to meet up with opposition. The week after Easter can be such a let-down because we get tested and we don’t meet the test as well as we would like. So I thought I would offer you a story about how Kristen got tested met the test. I think of her up on her soap box quite often, making herself heard among the big loud men speaking for the empire. I appreciate her example, because I also need the courage to open my mouth and speak my heart. Like her, I am also confronted with a world that desperately needs what has been lavished on me in Jesus.

She was doing a summer internship last summer at a farm in Massachusetts. It was some, wonderful organic farm that invites the kids up to do some work, get themselves dirty and get reconverted to humanity. One of the farm’s outlets for their produce was the farmer’s market in a village nearby. Kristen went along to help sell the kale and whatnot.

It happened that the village had a good Massachusetts tradition of having a “speaker’s corner.” When there was a farmer’s market, they set up a place where people could exercise their right of free speech. Since it was near the Fourth of July, speakers were feeling especially patriotic and quite a few people were getting up to say something. The rhetoric was tending to lean Tea Partyish.

One man got up and read a familiar paragraph: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. — That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it…”

He thought that the government was doing a relatively admirable job of securing our rights with its various wars. He exhorted the crowd to support the troops. Kristin was not having it. She had been reading Wendell Berry. She was about ready to join Shalom House for a couple of years (at least). So she decided to get up on the soapbox and speak back with poetry. She whipped out the sword of Wendell Berry and said: 

The year begins with war.
Our bombs fall day and night,
Hour after hour, by death
Abroad appeasing wrath,
Folly, and greed at home.
Upon our giddy tower
We’d oversway the world.
Our hate comes down to kill
Those whom we do not see,
For we have given up
Our sight to those in power
And to machines, and now
Are blind to all the world.
This is a nation where
No lovely thing can last.
We trample, gouge, and blast;
The people leave the land;
The land flows to the sea.
Fine men and women die,
The fine old houses fall,
The fine old trees come down:
Highway and shopping mall
Still guarantee the right
And liberty to be
A peaceful murderer,
A murderous worshipper,
A slender glutton, Forgiving
No enemy, forgiven
By none, we live the death
Of liberty, become
What we have feared to be. — 1991 – I

Her new friends at the farm we a bit concerned. Not only were her listeners the prospective buyers of farm-fresh organic tomatoes, they later told her that they were not entirely convinced that the villagers would not do her harm if she kept reading her poetry. But sometimes when Kristen gets going she needs to complete her thoughts. So she kept going and closed with this: 

 Now you know the worst
 we humans have to know
 about ourselves, and I am sorry,

 for I know you will be afraid.
 To those of our bodies given
 without pity to be burned, I know

 there is no answer
 but loving one another
 even our enemies, and this is hard.

 But remember:
 when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
 he gives a light, divine

 though it is also human.
 When a man of peace is killed
 by a man of war, he gives a light.

 You do not have to walk in darkness.
 If you have the courage for love,
 you may walk in light. It will be

 the light of those who have suffered
 for peace. It will be
 your light. 

1995 – V To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzak Rabin, November 6th 1995.

Thank God for people with the courage to share their heart for peace! Jesus died on the cross for reconciliation with God and others. Jesus pointedly did not raise an army to achieve his ends. Jesus rose again and continues to rise in people who have the courage to be the light. The light comes from being at peace with God. But peace with God that does not make peace on earth doesn’t really have much to get up on the box and say, does it? Let’s meet our tests this week with audacity and hope.

My Week of Seeing Jesus in the Morsels

Lent is coming soon and it will inspire a good fast. That’s good, because I could use one. But until then, I think I am determined to receive whatever I am served at whatever table I am seated to see God revealed. Last week was a feast.

Monday it was linguine, Mexican linguine at Paloma. (I don’t understand them, but it was delicious). My Valentine told me she was going to let the conversation flow wherever it flowed and enjoy it. She gladly wore the bracelet I bought her from the Eyes Gallery, which is always full of Mexican oddities. (Do you detect a south-of-the-border theme?) The blessing was easy to spot in the surprisingly good pasta: many Valentine’s Days and deep, comfortable love. Given where we come from and our native incapabilities, that is no small blessing.

Tuesday it was a quesadilla at ten o’clock after buying a minivan. I have the van sitting in the garage waiting to be driven, waiting for grandchildren to grind chocolate into it, chocolate I probably shouldn’t have given them. The quesadilla asked the question as I impatiently waited for the cheese to melt, “How much are you going to pack into this week?” The voice of Jesus was in the quesadilla.

Wednesday morning it was the granola of brotherhood with the band of cell-leading brothers at Morning Glory. Their partnership seemed like a sudden development. Suddenly everyone loved one another and was committed to the group like it is life-saving. It made my yogurt especially sweet to be with them. In spite of all their professional and family pressures, they want to have a life in Christ that makes a difference.

Wednesday night it was limp pasta at the Gold Standard with my neighbors. We decided to have dinner together rather than just meet for snow shoveling. My one neighbor was ready to tell stories about Vietnam and gang life in North Philly. We were focused on his seventeenth and eighteenth years. They were entertaining years. Jesus was in the entertainment, in seeing people who I don’t normally see just the way they are, in offering understanding, and in waiting for love to do what love does. 

Thursday noon it was spanakopita with the pastors in the Lebanon Farmers Market. (No kidding). I could have had the Kenbrook Camp lunch but we evacuated to visit Jonny’s mother (thus preventing his early demise). She has an Egyptian-food stand in the market and served us what undoubtedly amounted to the entire day’s profits. Delicious. The pastors are deliciously spiritual and committed to one another. The conversation was deliciously spiced with talk about Coptic Christians in the midst of Egyptian upheaval.  Jesus was definitely at the table. Rich fare.

Thursday night it was a horseradish chip at the cell meeting. My cell knows I am repenting of my weird dietary habits this year, but what is a few chips going to hurt? They also know I rarely leave the supermarket without buying something I have never eaten, like horseradish-cheddar potato chips. God was in the being known and still being loved.

Friday it was the family feast for the twins’ birthday — toddlers and babies everywhere, new houses and new developments, faith stories, disappointments, negotiations about how to be a clan. Again, even while washing every dish in the house afterward, it all seemed like a blessing. I am so happy it is all right to come to our table and tell the latest miracle story about how someone bumped into Jesus by bumping into one of us.

Saturday it was overpriced burb food with friends who are worth suffering bad food for. We were shooting for PF Chang’s and ended up at Redstone (don’t bother – but then, I realized I am very spoiled by Philadelphia food). Jesus was especially in the tales of woe that surfaced, and which were received, and which benefited greatly from being told in a place where one is sure to be loved.

Sunday it was a carb-feast with the women of Shalom House and their Guidance Team (I look forward to meeting the men of Shalom House, soon). Jesus was easy to see in the vision of their listening tour, and in the creativity around the table. In the desire to see big things happen, it is often easy to overlook just how big it is to participate in what is happening already!

Then, Sunday night, Josiah made sure I got one of the Tootsie Pops on the snack table. That’s a big deal to me. Papa needs a Pop. Being loved by a child loosens up the hard candy shell around my inner child.

This week, I honestly hope my spiritual food is not accompanied by so many calories. But I am encouraged to consider each morsel as a gift and have a feast of love when the babaganoush and diet cherry Pepsi are passed to me like bread and wine.

Can We Do Without the House, the Body, the Incarnation?

We have been looking all over the region and all over the country for the people God is nudging into the proactive peacemaking work of Shalom House. I’m not sure we are the best lookers, but we are manifestly not the most successful finders. The fact that we are not successful recruiters raises the question, “Can we do the work of Shalom House without the house? Do we need an intentional community to incarnate our hopes?”

We could probably do the work without the house. I, for one, will have to keep working even if we can’t sustain it. But the work would not be nearly as brilliant. Enough of us in the church would shine the light, but it would probably be a dimmer light. One of the great things about Shalom House is that it gathers the radicals in one place and calls them to live in peace, not just talk about it. They get practical about peacemaking every day, not just write blogs about it. They get up each morning and conflict stares them in the face in the dining room, not only because it is on their bulletin board but because it is on their to-do list and it is sometimes staring at them across the breakfast table! The church needs intentional communities at the heart of us to remind us that community is possible, much more, maybe, do we need a community devoted to peacemaking.

Finding the next people to join in with Shalom House is a specific case of our larger everyday search. We are scouring the region looking for the people God is nudging into Circle of Hope.  Being “in” Circle of Hope is a relative concept, of course. A man who lives in Brooklyn most of the time was at the PM last night and considers himself a part of BW. People who aren’t part of a cell and who attend a PM randomly consider themselves part of “Circle.” Their slight attachment brings up the question, “Can we do the work of Jesus without all the trappings of church – all the meetings, common bank accounts and obligations?” Do we need an organization to be our organism?”

People certainly think they can do without the Church. On the one hand, it is good that they feel like they carry their faith in their heart on their own and don’t require a lot of handling or support. On the other hand, it is so common that people lose their faith by swimming alone in the sea of opposition that it is a wonder that jumping overboard is so popular. We Christians in the U.S. are kind of a strange species; our strongest swimmers are often the ones who jump ship. They are busy with a brilliant, individual life that is conceptually attached to the body of Christ, but practically, is not much of an incarnation. Sometimes they parachute into “missionary” places looking for more individuals, such as themselves, who will leave their community to live an individualistic Christian life and find themselves having a tough time being connected to their own neighborhood (unlike the people they meet), because they don’t connect — at least for very long.

I suppose it comes down to the big question, “Could someone do the work of Jesus without Jesus?” No one reading this is likely to answer, “Sure!” But I am not so sure a lot of us aren’t trying it. The great challenge of turning from our godless way of life to a God-filled way of life is following the living Lord in the day to day, being an incarnation of Jesus as a member of his incarnation, the body of Christ, the church. The past 100 years of Christianity, in particular, seems to have allowed the faith to be one among many religions, a personal decision about meaning, a private experience that can’t be transferred, a “spiritual” matter, not a practical, legal, political, genetic or sociological matter, a collage of concepts, not a relationship with God.

Advent is the season when we are reminded that we can’t do the work of God without God-with-us. I suppose the fact that the season of Advent seems kind of weird to many Christians reflects our desertion of the doctrine of the incarnation —  so many of us are mainly concerned about right thinking or the heat of our personal feelings and less concerned with right living. But, as Paul says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal 5:6) and “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [or any other argument] means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal. 6:15) Advent calls us to express our faith in God expressing his love — in a body, in time, in creation by birthing a new creation. We might prefer a more convenient “salvation,” one more personalized to our needs and desires. But we can’t do without the one we’ve been given.

Conversion Stories

In my circles, the word “conversion” sort of has a bad reputation. I think that is because strange, power-hungry men (for the most part) have been in the mass media for decades prowling for conversions. People feel like it would be a sign of low self-esteem to give in to them – sort of like owning the Pocket Fisherman because you saw it on TV.

That’s too bad. Because conversion is a good word. It basically means an event that resulted in transformation. Maybe we don’t like getting coerced into conversion, but people yearn for transformation, and that is the essence of what relating to Jesus is all about. So maybe I don’t need to be “converted” in the worst sense of the word, but no matter how many people try to get me to accept myself just as I am, I long for the transformation God promises. The more of it I experience, the more I long for the fullness.

I got to thinking about conversion when I was sitting at breakfast yesterday with the members of Shalom House and their Guidance Team celebrating the entry of Kristen into the household. We told peacemaking stories. Many of them included the conversion it took to be committed to Christ’s way of peace. I needed to be converted to that even after I was a Christian! My father was in the Navy. My brother was in Vietnam. I enthusiastically voted for warmongers. My conversion was mainly due to an honest reading of scripture. When Paul talks about the armor of God he says to have “your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (Eph 6:15). I don’t know why I would need to be a Christian at all if I have to undo Christianity so I can fit war into Christ’s peacemaking.

So I was encouraged by the Shalom House people.

As I was remembering them this morning, a flood of realization came to me. Last night at our PMs, I was surrounded by people who were experiencing conversion. Some of it was rather dramatic.

A person quit his high-paying and high-powered international job last week because he feels convicted to have a life in Christ.

A person risked her job to get off in time to get her family to the PM, now that they have just one car.

A person is making a covenant with the church, even though it goes against his grain to be so noticed and connected.

A person has been released from her former ambitions and is bravely looking into the brand-new future that is opening up before her.

Even as I am listing these conversations that all happened during the course of one evening, I realize that there are many more I could be listing — some small examples, some large. There is a lot of conversion going on. Knowing Jesus and being one of his people is changing people and allowing them to go with further change. I don’t know if transformation is breaking out, but I am glad to at least have my eyes opened to it a bit more. Are you noticing any conversion in your quadrants?

A Fast with Shalom House

We had a great blessing-of-a-feast last night – turkey, all the accoutrements, Gwen’s famous (or should be) dessert punch, amazing friends and comrades. Now for the fast.

The people of Shalom House have called for a fast today. Our friends over in their West Philly outpost are proactive peacemakers who just seem to get more devoted, creative and assertive all the time! They bless me. At our feast last night, as we toasted 2009 in various ways, someone got us to raise our glasses to the great triumph of shutting down Colissimo’s Gun Shop. Mimi even went to jail over that! In an age where, somehow, the “right to bear arms” has been interpreted as the right to flood the street with weapons designed for personal “shoot outs” and spraying the neighbors with semi-automatics, thank God for young women who don’t take “no” for an answer.

I invite anyone reading this to fast, in some way, with the people of Shalom House and their partners. Don’t eat a Christmas cookie for a couple of hours or send them a check for $50,000 – whatever works for you. And PRAY! This is what they are doing: “In this season of advent, of expectation, we at Shalom House are feeling the expectation of new community members.  We are feeling the burden of the longing for Peacemaking efforts to be multiplied among us.” They want to do more and get more house members to do it with them! Thank you, Lord!

As part of their suggestions for what to do as we all pray with them today, they offer a quote from a great peacemaker we should never forget, Oscar Romero: “I do not tire of telling everyone, especially young people who long for their people’s liberation, that I admire their social and political sensitivity, but it saddens me when they waste it by going on ways that are false. Let us, too, all take notice that the great leader of our liberation is the Lord’s Anointed One, who comes to announce good news to the poor, to give freedom to the captives, to give news of the missing, to give joy to so many homes in mourning, so that society may be renewed as in the sabbatical years of Israel.” Someone still longs for jubilee! Someone is not so worn down, defeated, overwhelmed by evil, discouraged by hope-that-ends-up-in-increased-troops-to-Afghanistan, that they can’t still apply themselves to the cause of redemption! Thank you Lord! That is also a feast, and a great motivation to fast and pray.