Walking Epiphany: encountering Christ at the Bruderhof

The Bruderhof Community

various locations across the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Paraguay

 

I'm excited to share with you the fourth and final in a series of guest posts to celebrate the liturgical season of Epiphany. I've asked a few friends who live around the world to take a walk through their neighborhoods, and share some of the ways they encounter and exhibit the presence of Christ. 

Of all the pleasant surprises 2016 held for us, the friendship I've made with members of the Bruderhof community rank as one of the most surprising and pleasant.  Last spring, one of the editors of Plough Publishing House (an initiative of Bruderhof) reached out to me after I shared some quotations one of Plough's books for Lent. I was delighted to begin a correspondence (now almost a year old) with Maureen Swinger, and count her as a lovely friend especially meaningful in the season of transition we've experienced this year.  In December I was honored to publish a piece in the Plough Quarterly magazine, and have been happily reading through many of the titles in the Plough catalog.

A highlight of this new relationship was a visit Brian and I made to the Fox Hill community in Walden, NY the week after Thanksgiving. I was able to put faces with the names in my email inbox, and we were treated like special guests.  Our visit included rich conversation, a shared meal, a tour of the settlement (including the brilliant Community Playthings woodshop), and time with Maureen and her family in their apartment, in which her children sweetly entertained these two sad empty-nesters with delightful conversation and musical performances. Of all the gifts we received that day, the highlight might have been singing a capella with the entire community before lunch was served.  It might have been the acoustics of the dining hall, but the sound of four-part harmony sung by several generations joyfully singing together is a sound I never want to forget. 

I've learned much from reading and conversations about the Bruderhof's Anabaptist heritage and commitment to intentional Christian community.  I'm heartened by their dedication to issues of justice, beauty, and dignity of life. I'm enriched by their emphasis on curating voices from across time and faith backgrounds in all of the work they publish. I'm grateful to the whole Bruderhof community for sharing a bit of their lives with us on the blog today.

Before we begin, here's a brief summary of Epiphany, in case you're not sure.

What is Epiphany?

 Throughout the daily readings in the Epiphany lectionary, we follow the early life and ministry of Jesus as He is revealed as the Son of God, appearing as light to a dark world. He is the very God shining forth, manifesting the glory of God. Oftentimes the accounts are private affairs (Transfiguration), other times public (Wedding at Cana, Baptism).  All of them take place, though, in the places Jesus lived and worked, within the context of his relationships of family, friends, and followers -- the sick, possessed, poor, celebrating, drinking, seeking, religious, fearful, apathetic, discouraged neighbors.  

Walking EPIPHANY blog series

Each of the friends contributing to the series this year has selected from a variety of thoughtful prompts (collected from my subscription to these excellent daily readings) to consider the ways the Light has moved into their neighborhoods. 

Will you join us?

p.s., Don't miss the opportunity to engage with thought-provoking questions for your own neighborhood, listed following each prompt.


Prompt: God's household

Life, breath, food, companionship -- every good thing is a gift from the abundant providence of God. The kingdom of God, this great economy, is embodied in the world when God's people respond to God's provision with gratitude, sharing God's gifts generously with others. The word economy reminds us again that creation is God's household; we are tasked with sustaining it and keeping it in the order God intended. It should be a place where all humans and all creatures are loved and honored and where generosity is commonplace.

C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus

What are some ways your neighborhood is generous to each other?

Put another way, what are some of ways your neighborhood naturally loves and honors others?

New babies born into the community are embraced not just by their parents and immediate family, but by everyone in the community. We welcome every child, just as Jesus welcomed each one. In all children, and especially in the unborn, we recognize the link between human life and eternity. The family of father, mother, and children is a creation of God and must be held sacred. Parents have the God-given task of raising their children in His stead, but all members of the community are responsible to love, care for, and provide direction in the lives of each child.

To learn more about how the Bruderhof community enjoys life together:

http://www.bruderhof.com/en

http://www.bruderhof.com/en/life-in-community

http://www.bruderhof.com/en/life-in-community/education


Prompt: Salt and light

The way of being salt and light is a role (a part and position) that Christians are called to in the world.  It is a role that requires us to take up a place in our world, at work, at school, and in the neighborhood.  Christians are called to imagine another world, and to do so by living amid the divisiveness, alienation, suffering, and violence, as well as the good things, the loves and hopes of where we live now.... However, we are called to make a home that is not established on our own authority and perfection, but instead is set on the foundation of repentance, forgiveness, mutual care and correction, and reconciliation.

David Matzko McCarthy, The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class

In what ways have you been or do you hope to be salt and light in your neighborhood?
 

We live in church community because we must concern ourselves with the need of the whole world. We each acknowledge our share in humanity’s guilt and suffering, and we must respond through a life devoted to love. Love of neighbor means doing the works of mercy commanded by Christ: giving food to the hungry and water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, giving alms to the poor, and visiting the sick and those in prison. Like the early Christians, we see piety as false unless it is proved authentic through deeds of social justice. Our outreach takes many forms. In seeking to fulfill Christ’s calling, we work with others of goodwill, regardless of their faith or affiliation. We support the works of global nonprofits addressing high-profile crises, yet we also labor side by side with town neighbors to re-roof a local food bank, tutor children, or visit with senior citizens. It is by no means our task to solve all the problems of the day. But we must do what we can. 

To learn more about the ways the Bruderhof community reaches out locally and globally:

http://www.bruderhof.com/en/reaching-out


Prompt: Practice resurrection

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,

vacation with pay. Want more

of everything ready-made. Be afraid

to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.

Not even your future will be a mystery

any more. Your mind will be punched in a card

and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something

they will call you. When they want you

to die for profit they will let you know.

Wendell Berry, "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage

Are there any cultural practices in place so that your neighbors are able to get to know each other? (associations, community centers, annual block parties, newsletters)


Do you live in a neighborhood where neighbors naturally get to know each other? If so, what are some of the things they do to make that happen?

Most Saturday dinners at our Bruderhof locations are open to the public. Many locations, especially the larger settlements, host public seasonal events, such as summer barbecues, open houses, Christmas carol singing, or autumnal lantern walks. These events typically draw a few hundred visitors from the area. Our smaller, urban house communities often host weekly bible studies, youth conferences, block parties, and more.

To learn more about community events at the Bruderhof:

http://www.bruderhof.com/en/events


Prompt:  Subversive Christianity

Build houses in a culture of homelessness. Plant gardens in polluted and contested soil. Get married in a culture of sexual consumerism. Make commitments in a world where we want to always keep our options open. Multiply in a world of debt. Have children at the end of history. Seek shalom in a violent world of geo-political conflict and economic disparity. This is Jeremiah's word to the exiles. This is Jeremiah's subversive word to us. And in this vision we just might see, with Jeremiah, "a future with hope" (Jer. 29:11). This is what it means to work and wait for a miracle. This remains at the heart of a subversive Christianity.

Brian Walsh, Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time

Where do your neighbors hang out when they are not inside their homes? Front porches? Backyards? Town parks?

We’ve been blessed with some beautiful, child-friendly properties, both urban, and rural. Whenever possible, we meet, worship, and share common meals outdoors.

To learn more about the Bruderhof's beautiful settlemens:

http://www.bruderhof.com/en/where-we-are


Prompt: Foreigners As Neighbors

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Pope Francis from "Pope Francis' Address to Congress" on Sep. 24, 2015

How does your neighborhood embrace foreigners? Are there organizations set up specifically for that purpose?

What other signs of “immigrant” culture can you find in your neighborhood?
 

Love of neighbor means that we keep an open door. The blessings of a life of brotherly and sisterly community are available to all people, rich or poor, skilled or unskilled, who are called to go this way of discipleship with us. Following the example of Christ himself, the Apostle Paul sought contact with a wide range of people: Jews, God-fearing Gentiles, intellectuals and statesmen. The Apostle Peter was led to people who were deemed “unclean” by the Jewish Christians of his day and yet who were chosen by God. As Jesus said, the wind blows where it will, so we are constantly on the lookout for where God’s Spirit is moving. Connecting with seeking people, whoever they happen to be, enables our movement to be stirred by the working of the Spirit and by the dedicated, compassionate service of others.

To learn more about how the Bruderhof community connects with refugees:

http://www.bruderhof.com/en/voices-blog/justice/what-happens-then

http://www.bruderhof.com/en/voices-blog/justice/update-from-lesbos

http://www.bruderhof.com/en/voices-blog/refugee-crisis-offers-opportunity


Bruderhof bio.jpg
We're a bunch of families and children, singles and older people living together in Christian community. We share our money, possessions, and we try to live our lives like the first Christians as described in the Acts of the Apostles. There are more than twenty Bruderhof locations around the world in Europe, Australia, South America, and the United States. Our vocation is a life of service to God, to each other, and to you, our neighbor. Jesus prayed that his followers would be one, and we believe this can, and does, happen when people commit themselves to a life of sharing and mutual care.


IMAGE: TRAMPOLINES BY BRIAN KERSHISNIK (SOURCE)

IMAGE: TRAMPOLINES BY BRIAN KERSHISNIK (SOURCE)

p.s. The affiliate links in this post are to help me be a good steward. When you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism, my family gets a little pocket change. Thanks!

How we prepare for Lent (join us?)

"Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned.

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted."

Ranier Maria Rilke, from "Requiem For A Friend"

Lenten wreath.jpg

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 1.  Have you thought about participating this year?

Why Lent?

No season of the liturgical year has been more formative in my healing journey than Lent.  While, my religious background trained me well in the reality of sin, death, and crucifixion, it did not provide much in the way of liturgical or devotional practices for lament, grief, and confession.

In my experience, this dissonance between teaching and practice fostered a sentimental approach to Jesus' life, death and resurrection, which produced Christians stunted in their ability to experience or empathize with suffering.  In this view, the cross becomes a photoshopped decoration hanging in the background of a Church resistant to the invitations of the Suffering Servant who longs to save us in our suffering, and make us completely new in resurrection.  

Of course, personal and global suffering permeate every day of our lives in one way or another.  We live in a broken body on a broken earth, and the Church calendar doesn't intend for us to ignore the entire spectrum of human suffering and joy based on the liturgical season.  Instead, the cycle of fasting and feasting, celebration and lament provides practice, piece by piece, to form us wholly as Christians.  Through each season, we meditate specific portions of Scripture year after year to learn the whole story of God and His people, and not just the portions with which we are most comfortable.  

When we celebrate the liturgical seasons, we grow not only in our knowledge of Scripture, but we learn also how to embody its life-giving truth. In the wisdom of our Church fathers and mothers - themselves informed by the collective memory of millenia of Jewish feasts and fasts initiated by the Creator - each liturgical season marks itself with daily, physical practices.  

We are not disembodied spirits just gritting our teeth until we are released from these bodies, like an unwanted overcoat, when we die.  Nor are we merely defined by the physical matter that just happen to contain a spiritual being for those who care about those things.  In the accounts of the Incarnated Christ we read through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, we discover year after year a Christ, God made Man, who is not either body or spirit, but both body and spirit. During Lent, Eastertide and Pentecost, we set up camp for longer periods of time in each essential part of our being: body and spirit.  

Because my calling to Jesus lasts a lifetime, I need to think about growth in repentance over many years, not just one Lenten season. As Eugene Peterson said, we are called to practice ‘a long obedience in the same direction.’ As I practice repentance—the turning of my whole self to God—it’s obvious I will need a lifetime of Lenten seasons to mature into the likeness of Christ.
— Jack King, Anglican Pastor blog

Lent is a 40 day lesson in what it means to be bodies cursed by death and decay.  If you've ever received the cross-shaped ash on your forehead, you've heard the pastoral reminder of a very real, and very sad state in which we find ourselves: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

From Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, we follow the account of Christ as he makes His way to the Cross. In Epiphany, we encounter the light of divinity dwelling on Christ, inviting us to join Him as the light of the world. In Lent, we recognize and mourn the curse of sin and death that has separated man from God, even as we are invited to carry our cross and follow Christ on the road of suffering.  We grow in humility and gratitude with the Lenten practice of remembering that once we were alienated from God and lived as people with no hope, and we seek mercy for those still living in that state.

There's so much joy to be found in humility.  If you haven't ever fully entered into the practice of Lent, would you consider joining me this year?  May I encourage you that this doesn't (and shouldn't) be complicated.  

So, it needs to be said that Lent is about dying. But it also needs to be said that Lent is about asking God to bring about new life in us. We are a people who have died with the Lord Jesus Christ in the waters of Baptism and have been raised with him to newness of life. This is not a one-time occurence, but beginning there – continues through one’s life. When we fast, it is about desires and impulses dying in us, to make room for new life. When we give something up, it is to make room for something else – something better, something good, something life-giving.
— Fr. Lee Nelson, Anglican Pastor blog
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Christ Crowned With Thorns  by Antonella da Messina

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Christ Crowned With Thorns  by Antonella da Messina

 

Here's a few essential ingredients we've learned to faithfully practice Lent:

1.  Attend an Ash Wednesday service.  

Read a description of the service here.  

Read about some of my Ash Wednesday experiences: Ash Wednesday and Adoration,  Living and dying palm, part 1, Living and dying palm, part 2, Ash Wednesday one year ago

2.  Make a simple commitment to participate in three historical practices of the Church throughout the 40 days of Lent:

  1. Fasting
  2. Praying
  3. Almsgiving

We have followed this pattern in a variety of ways throughout the past eight years we've been practicing Lent.  While there have been years we've practiced a more severe fast (e.g., all sugar, alcohol, processed foods and TV), perhaps the most beneficial years are the ones we chose 1 or two things to give up.  We've also learned to take up practices in their place.  For example, you might choose to give up eating an entire meal (or day of meals), and in place, set aside extended time for prayer or meditation.  You might fast from a certain technological device, while taking up reading or walking or letter-writing in its place.

The point is to make space in our lives to give up reliance on one thing in order to grow in dependence on Christ.

Lent is not intended to be an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures. It is meant to be the church’s springtime, a time when, out of the darkness of sin’s winter, a repentant, empowered people emerges. 
Put another way, Lent is the season in which we ought to be surprised by joy. Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart’s deepest longing: unity with Christ. In him—in his suffering and death, his resurrection and triumph—we find our truest joy.
— Dorothy Sayers, Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter

3.  Choose a daily devotional guide.

I've listed some of our favorites below.  

4.  We light candles, look at art, sing hymns, pray and read Scripture together and we try to do that every day (but we're more like 4 out of 7 days).

My best tip for you if your family feels awkward doing this? Turn the lights off! There's nothing like sitting in the dark looking a few flickering candles to break the ice of awkward family Bible time!

 

A few of our favorite devotional books for Lent:

  • God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter - This is my favorite Lenten devotional. The full-color artwork is gorgeous and the writings include authors like Scott Cairns, Kathleen Norris, Richard Rohr, Luci Shaw, James Schaap and Lauren Winner. We put this book on an easel next to our candles,  along with some Bibles for people to pick up and read when they have quiet moments. 
  • Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter - This collection will satisfy the growing hunger for meaningful and accessible devotions. Culled from the wealth of twenty centuries, the selections in Bread and Wine are ecumenical in scope, and represent the best classic and contemporary Christian writers. Includes approximately fifty readings on Easter and related themes by Thomas à Kempis, Frederick Buechner, Oswald Chambers, Alfred Kazin, Jane Kenyon, Søren Kierkegaard, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Christina Rossetti, Edith Stein, Walter Wangerin, William Willimon, Philip Yancey, and others.
  • Lenten Meditations: A Book by James B. Janknegt - Forty paintings based on the parables of Jesus, one for each day of Lent.  Artwork, meditations, and prayer all by the author/artist Jim Janknegt. Brian and I had the privilege to help fund the creation of this beautiful book by one of our favorite Austin artists, and we highly recommend it to you.  Great for individuals or families.
  • Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home (Advent and Christmas) is a simply-gathered collection of ideas for living out the liturgical year with your family.  This book is especially geared toward families with young children.
  • Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross is a great devotional for the entire year.
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones -  "The Moonbeam Award Gold Medal Winner in the religion category, The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the Story beneath all the stories in the Bible. At the center of the Story is a baby, the child upon whom everything will depend. Every story whispers his name. From Noah to Moses to the great King David---every story points to him. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle---the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, as the Story unfolds, children will pick up the clues and piece together the puzzle. A Bible like no other, The Jesus Storybook Bible invites children to join in the greatest of all adventures, to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the center of God's great story of salvation---and at the center of their Story too."

Lent Daybook posts, 2017

I'm planning to post each weekday during Lent, combining daily Scripture readings, art, prayer, song and a simple meditative exercise for each day.  You can receive the posts in your email inbox by subscribing in the sidebar (top right of the blog web page).  I'll also link each post at the blog's Facebook page. In order to make sure you see each post, you'll need to "like" the page and click on the "Following" button and then the "On" option in the drop down box.

1.  Go to the blog's Facebook page. 2.  Click "Like" 3.  Click "Following"  4.  In the Following dropdown box, under the "Notifications" heading, click "On".

1.  Go to the blog's Facebook page.

2.  Click "Like"

3.  Click "Following" 

4.  In the Following dropdown box, under the "Notifications" heading, click "On".


Do you celebrate Lent?  Why or why not?  

What are some traditions you keep to help you slow down and pay attention to the presence of God in the days leading up to Holy Week and Easter?  Comment below - I'm listening!

*Please note that, in an effort to be a good steward of time and resources for our family, this post includes affiliate links.  When you purchase any item you click through from these links, you'll pay the same amount, but we'll get a few pennies in our coffers.Thank you!*

Walking Epiphany: encountering Christ in Tokyo

The Pousseur Family: Chris, Tracy, Ella & Jemma

Higashikurume-shi, Tokyo, Japan

 

I'm excited to share with you the third in a in a series of guest posts to celebrate the liturgical season of Epiphany. I've asked a few friends who live around the world to take a walk through their neighborhoods, and share some of the ways they encounter and exhibit the presence of Christ. The Pousseurs have been the kind of friends that have walked through so many of seasons of life with us, we've kind of lost track of when we first hung out together.  We have walked through thick and thin, celebrated and been celebrated by them.  They prayed with us and worked with us through some major transitions in our own family, and I'm somewhat sad that we had to watch their own major life transitions from so far away.  I say 'somewhat' because it's hard to be too sad when we can see plainly how God has led them and provided for them in every way. The other emotion that comes to mind is pride.  Brian and I read their updates and say to each other, "We are so proud of them! They persevered at a level so few are able, and look what God is doing!"  Although they've only been on the ground in Japan for just over a month, Chris and Tracy graciously took out time from unpacking boxes to contribute some photos and stories from their new neighborhood.  

Before we totally heart Japan with the Pousseurs, here's a brief summary of Epiphany, in case you're not sure.

What is Epiphany?

 Throughout the daily readings in the Epiphany lectionary, we follow the early life and ministry of Jesus as He is revealed as the Son of God, appearing as light to a dark world. He is the very God shining forth, manifesting the glory of God. Oftentimes the accounts are private affairs (Transfiguration), other times public (Wedding at Cana, Baptism).  All of them take place, though, in the places Jesus lived and worked, within the context of his relationships of family, friends, and followers -- the sick, possessed, poor, celebrating, drinking, seeking, religious, fearful, apathetic, discouraged neighbors.  

Walking EPIPHANY blog series

Each of the friends contributing to the series this year has selected from a variety of thoughtful prompts (collected from my subscription to these excellent daily readings) to consider the ways the Light has moved into their neighborhoods. 

Will you join us?

p.s., Don't miss the opportunity to engage with thought-provoking questions for your own neighborhood, listed following each prompt.


Prompt: Local ground

The likeliest path to the ultimate ground leads through my local ground. I mean the land itself, with its creeks and rivers, its weather, seasons, stone outcroppings, and all the plants and animals that share it. I cannot have a spiritual center without having a geographical one; I cannot live a grounded life without being grounded in a place.

Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put: Making A Home In A Restless World

If I walked around the block in your neighborhood, what would I see (hear, smell, etc.)?

What are some of the “creeks and rivers, weather, seasons, stone outcroppings, plants and animals” that share your neighborhood?

Put another way: If you were asked to coordinate a walking or biking tour of your neighborhood, what would you include in the tour? Also, how would the season of the year affect your itinerary?
A typical view of Mt. Fuji from our bus. It hasn't lost its wonder!

A typical view of Mt. Fuji from our bus. It hasn't lost its wonder!


Prompt: What is important

The availability of places where we are invited to stop and enjoy our rest provides a tacit reminder of what is important. If these places invite us to stay because we are consumers or producers, we will learn to see ourselves as valuable only insofar as we contribute to the economy. If our public spaces are ugly or inconvenient, we learn tacitly that our value as human beings is minimal.

Eric Jacobsen, The Space Between: A Christian Engagement With the Built Environment

What sort of public ‘rest stops’ are available in your neighborhood? Are they used well or barely noticed?
This beautiful wood-panelled subway, modeled after a famous movie train, made me want to stay on well past my stop

This beautiful wood-panelled subway, modeled after a famous movie train, made me want to stay on well past my stop


Prompt: God's household

Life, breath, food, companionship -- every good thing is a gift from the abundant providence of God. The kingdom of God, this great economy, is embodied in the world when God's people respond to God's provision with gratitude, sharing God's gifts generously with others. The word economy reminds us again that creation is God's household; we are tasked with sustaining it and keeping it in the order God intended. It should be a place where all humans and all creatures are loved and honored and where generosity is commonplace.

C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus

What are some ways you see the economy of God’s household, not only in the natural beauty of your neighborhood, but also in your fellow neighbors?
Carp swimming in the river next to our home in Tokyo

Carp swimming in the river next to our home in Tokyo

This is the moment. The moment I was struggling to take a photo of this bird with my phone (and failing) when a man came beside me and joined in admiring the beauty of God's creation. Then he spoke to me. He said something jovial, something warm and inviting. Something I didn't understand. God, use these moments to encourage me through the language learning process. I will see you again, my nature loving friend, and we will talk!

This is the moment. The moment I was struggling to take a photo of this bird with my phone (and failing) when a man came beside me and joined in admiring the beauty of God's creation. Then he spoke to me. He said something jovial, something warm and inviting. Something I didn't understand. God, use these moments to encourage me through the language learning process. I will see you again, my nature loving friend, and we will talk!


Prompt: Practice resurrection

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,

vacation with pay. Want more

of everything ready-made. Be afraid

to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.

Not even your future will be a mystery

any more. Your mind will be punched in a card

and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something

they will call you. When they want you

to die for profit they will let you know.

Wendell Berry, "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage

Are there any cultural practices in place so that your neighbors are able to get to know each other?  (associations, community centers, annual block parties, newsletters) 

Do you live in a neighborhood where neighbors naturally get to know each other?
Even in 30° weather, neighbors get together to share morning coffee. Still unsure why they don't do it inside.

Even in 30° weather, neighbors get together to share morning coffee. Still unsure why they don't do it inside.


Prompt: Homegrown economy

Losing local businesses to national chains stores is by no means inevitable. Indeed, the growth of chain stores has been aided in no small part by public policy. Land use rules have all too often ignored the needs of communities and undermined the stability of existing business districts. Development incentives frequently favor national corporations over locally owned businesses. Increasing numbers of communities are rewriting the rules around a different set of priorities that encourage a homegrown economy of humanly scaled, diverse, neighborhood-serving businesses.... Active decision making at the local level and a creative approach to zoning can provide a powerful arsenal for defending community.

Stacy Mitchell, The Home Town Advantage

Are there are any signs of a ‘homegrown economy of humanly scaled, diverse, neighborhood-serving businesses’ in your neighborhood?
Tasty, tasty tako. Looks pretty gorgeous as well! We love exploring our local grocery stores.

Tasty, tasty tako. Looks pretty gorgeous as well! We love exploring our local grocery stores.


Prompt: Life on foot

Walking is the beginning, the starting point. Man was created to walk, and all of life's events large and small develop when we walk among other people. Life in all its diversity unfolds before us when we are on foot. In lively, safe, sustainable and healthy cities, the prerequisite for city life is good walking opportunities. However, the wider perspective is that a multitude of valuable social and recreational opportunities naturally emerge when you reinforce life on foot.

Jan Gehl, Cities for People

What are some different methods of transportation your neighbors use? 

What would be needed for more people to be able to enjoy your neighborhood on foot (or bike)?
Only a fraction of the bicycles parked at our small train station.

Only a fraction of the bicycles parked at our small train station.


We are a young family from Upstate New York with a passion for culture, and seeing the world from God's perspective. 
Chris (husband, father, artist, and foodie), Tracy (wife, mother, crafter, and party-planner-extraordinaire), Ella (daughter, creative fashionista, and too smart for her own good) and Jemma (daughter, budding ninja piano player, and tiny bundle of joy). We comprise the Pousseur family.
We are partnering long term with TEAM and our local church to help create culturally relevant churches in Japan. We hope to use our gifts in the arts and our creativity to reach out and share the gospel, and to build discipleship groups to train strong Japanese Christians with a heart for spreading the kingdom of God.
(Note from Tamara: You can partner with the Pousseur family, to help reach a new generation of Japanese with the love of Christ by clicking on the DONATE tab on their website.)

IMAGE: TRAMPOLINES BY BRIAN KERSHISNIK (SOURCE)

IMAGE: TRAMPOLINES BY BRIAN KERSHISNIK (SOURCE)

p.s. The affiliate links in this post are to help me be a good steward. When you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism, my family gets a little pocket change. Thanks!

A Book Review: "You Carried Me" by Melissa Ohden

What happens when an abortion survivor finds and forgives her birth mother, who never knew her daughter was alive?

What happens when an abortion survivor finds and forgives her birth mother, who never knew her daughter was alive?

The well-documented and dramatic details of Melissa Ohden’s survival stand on their own as a important memoir, and are made more valuable by an invitation to readers to consider their own experiences of suffering. Chapter eleven of You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir,  opens with an epigraph by author Zora Neale Huston: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you.”  Ohden’s emphasis on welcoming the untold stories of others is her greatest strength, and what makes her book a life-changing parable for anyone willing to listen.

Throughout her life, the author navigates a tangle of untold and unwelcome story.  Where she imagines as a child that her birth mother gave her up for adoption in a loving act, she discovers, instead, she’d been left for dead after a failed saline infusion abortion. She spends her teenage years alternately escaping and grieving that harsh truth, and hopes for a regained sense of self in academic pursuit. As the first person in her adoptive family to attend university, she imagines a confidence gained with collegial acceptance. She discovers, instead,  a chilled response from her peers and outright rejection from her professors.  She painfully concludes, “In the midst of conversations about every kind of abuse, abandonment, and human heartache, I learned quickly that my story was one that could not be heard, and therefore must not be told.”

And this is only the beginning.  

From here, Ohden begins the arduous and lonely process of searching for the truth about her biological family.  Where a different storyteller might connect together the details of this search like a movie montage - discovery to dreadful discovery - Ohden insteads lays out a chronological journal covering the decades of her search.  In reality it takes years (well beyond the scope of a dramatized movie scene) for her to not only find, but absorb, each new detail punctuating her otherwise ordinary Midwestern life.  

Perhaps most importantly, Ohden creates a gracious space to not only give account for the tenacious uncovering of her tragic and miraculous birth story, but to also frame her story within an offer of hospitality.  Page after page, she invites us to see beyond the surface of her daily life (childhood financial insecurity, pursuit of academic degrees, vocation, marriage, children, faith, and social activism) into the complexity of her internal turmoil and, then, acceptance of the real story of her origins - the good, the bad and the truly devastating.  It’s in this methodical untangling, I find the unique gift of hospitality she offers to discerning readers. She welcomes us to fully engage with our own struggles at every level - body, soul and spirit.

As a newborn, in order to survive a premature birth induced by days of ingesting poisonous saline, Ohden fights for survival at a cellular, completely physical level.  As an adolescent, Ohden fights at a more emotive level - absorbing the shame of the knowledge her existence was completely unwanted.  She responds to the depth of that shame in some completely natural ways that further damage her sense of belonging within her adoptive family and among her school and church communities.  Still, she persists toward a deeper truth about herself and the Being who formed her in the young, unwed womb of the woman who - for reasons Melissa wouldn’t know for decades - did not want her.  As a young adult, Ohden presses into her story with her mind - trying to grasp the realities of human behavior and development through her studies in psychology and social work.  As she encounters the stories of others, she seeks to understand better her own.

And then, as a thirty-something wife and mom, we walk with Ohden through a more complete spiritual surrender to the mystery of faith, doubt, suffering and forgiveness. Maybe this is is the progression of healthy human development - a response of body, soul and spirit to both the banal and truly tragic events of our lives, but how many of us willingly engage our total selves with those realities? I find that sort of whole-heartedness to be a rare response, and one Melissa Ohden models beautifully for all of us. Her courage to share her story after repeated rejection and full-scale shunning invites us, the reader, to our own moment of choice.

We, the readers, can choose to welcome the totality of Melissa’s story or we can, like her collegial and professional peers, choose to look away.  Even further, we can choose to honor the author’s courage by embracing the complexities her story represents, or dishonor it by cherry-picking the parts of her life that further our own social, political or religious agendas.

Ohden’s story is inconvenient to everyone with deeply-held convictions on reproductive rights, no matter what their political posture. For those who’d choose to dehumanize her preborn self, there’s the reality of her will to survive the attempt to end her existence. For those who who’d choose to dehumanize men and women faced with unplanned pregnancies, there’s Ohden’s insistence on mercy, forgiveness, insight and acceptance of her own biological parents. For the reader  who would deny the equal dignity of womanhood, Ohden persists in championing women’s rights.  For those who’d argue no child should have to suffer physical limitations, she shares the experience of welcoming the complex health problems of her youngest daughter while growing in empathy for those “tempted to choose abortion to avoid this fate.”  To those who would deny the role of grief and suffering within faith, Melissa tells about the miscarriage of her second child and professes solidarity with “women everywhere who have lost a child in any way. Whether our child died through illness or accident, abortion or miscarriage, we share an unspoken bond of sorrow.”

The author’s perseverance to not only know the truth, but to know it within the bounds of love make her life story more complex than mere survival.  Like the unnamed and unclaimed two-pound newborn fighting to live against the odds, Melissa invites us all to a greater miracle: forgiveness and reconciliation.  She shows us that this is what’s required for a life that flourishes.

On a personal level, I found Melissa Ohden’s memoir to be most inconvenient to my disenchantment with pro-life activism.  I am older than the author by only a few years, both of us children of the 1970’s and 80’s.  The historic Roe v. Wade decision framed almost my entire view of both the religious and political worlds in which I grew up.  As a child raised in more conservative church communities than Ohden, it was completely normal to find me on any given day of my high school and young adult years protesting the politics of reproductive rights, picketing abortion clinics in my hometown and across the northeastern U.S., petitioning state congressional leaders and writing opinion articles for religious newspapers.  When I was 17, I watched through a fence line while police officers arrested my father for trespassing at a local abortion clinic during a nonviolent protest.  On my eighteenth birthday, I visited him in the county jail where he served a one-month sentence for that protest.

I’ve never stopped carrying a deeply-formed conviction that human life begins at conception and that any attempt to intentionally end that life is a human tragedy by both biblical precept and basic civic moral codes. I have, however, spent most of my adulthood distancing myself from the sort of activism that framed my youth.  I became severely disillusioned by the community of people who identified as pro-life on one issue only, while fiercely opposing matters of life on so many others. In my secluded Protestant upbringing I knew little of the long history of Christian teaching on a consistent life ethic which spanned the range of life-threatening issues I intrinsically questioned: war, abortion, poverty, racism, the death penalty, gun control and euthanasia.

Among those whose actions shattered my idealism was one of the key leaders of a nationally-known pro-life organization who lived in my hometown. He sent his kids to the same high school I graduated from, and led protests and prayer gatherings alongside area clergy like my father.  I can trace my decision to separate myself from this particular brand of activism back to two defining moments:  the mid-90’s abortion clinic bombings and news that the pro-life leader we’d followed had abandoned his wife and children in order to marry his former church assistant.  If this is what it meant to be “pro-life”, I wanted to get as far away from the label as possible.

Melissa Ohden’s persistence to live out her heartbreaking story with the courage of hope, healing, and forgiveness invites me to reexamine the integrity of my response to disillusionment.  If she can be joyfully reconciled to the woman who (against her own will) left her for dead, then I most certainly can be reconciled to honorable communities of people who speak up for the defenseless.  She didn’t choose to be pro-life as an idealistic posture, her very existence speaks for itself the sacredness of human life.

For the reader who longs, like me, to acknowledge every human being as image bearers of God, Melissa Ohden’s story should not be overlooked or oversimplified. The image of God was fully developed within the mother who carried her.  She, like us, could do nothing to manufacture that dignity.  It’s freely given to each of us, and we are mad to not just live but flourish with that recognition.  

When it came Ohden’s time to accept or reject the dignity freely offered, she chose to flourish within the paradox of God-given grace that does not replace suffering but, instead, carries us through it.  This choice is what makes her story especially important to those of us wanting to love humans well. It is a grace that offers to carry us all.


from the book pile.jpg

Go to my Book Reviews page to see reviews from 2016 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

Best of January

Jennings Beach, Fairfield, CT

Jennings Beach, Fairfield, CT


It is the peculiar nature of the world to go on spinning no matter what sort of heartbreak is happening.
— Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

2017. What a strange sequence of numbers.  On any given day, I realize I'm still back in 2010.  That number felt rounder, evener, astonishing enough to stay put for awhile.  But, here we are, one whole month into the new year, six whole months into our new home, and I'm still coming to terms with a lot of changes in our life in the past year(s).  I've tried often to short-circuit the natural process of transition.  I always end up getting frustrated with myself (Usually Brian, too. Isn't he lucky?)

There's so much about Connecticut that feels familiar to the forty years I lived in upstate NY - the climate, the culture, the glorious seasons.  But, then, I have to remember that no matter how close the fit, it's still a brand new home, job, and community.  Sort of like a pair of new shoes that are the right size, but still take a while to wear in, you know?  If that metaphor is helpful, then we're in the "getting pretty comfortable, but still need to wear a bandaid on the heel to keep from getting a blister" stage.  We know this is the right fit, but we're still limping a bit.

Of course, the transition it not only about moving cross-country and beginning a new work, but also entering the so-called "empty nest" era with all of our kids out of the house pursuing their own callings.  To be honest, that part of this transition has knocked me flat on several days.  I keep telling friends who ask, "I was never the kind of mother who had to be with her kids 24/7 so I didn't expect this to be so hard!"  I guess it's a primal thing, and I'm trying to be gentle with us in the transition stage.  If I'm being honest, though, it feels almost exactly like the months of post partum depression I felt after my kids were born. What I know now, that I didn't really understand then, is that, in time - like the landscape outside my window - this season of transition will become something new.  

In the meantime, we enjoy daily glimpses of joy in our "new normal".  I share a lot of those moments on Instagram, and you can see a few of the photos over there on the sidebar.  

A few other things we're excited about in 2017:

How about you?  How's 2017 shaping up so far?

May you know more and more the gentleness of Christ's presence and the faithful friendship of his people,

Tamara


What I Read


What I Watched


What I Heard

Bright Hopes! by Mike Crawford and his Secret Siblings

Hard Way by Moda Spira

Ordinary Love by U2

Lamentations: Simple Songs of Lament and Hope, Vol. 1 by Bifrost Arts

Tell All My Friends Will Reagan & United Pursuit

The Hamilton Mixtape

Epiphany, 2 playlist: Come to the Water

Epiphany, 3 playlist: Come, Follow


What I Wrote

(other places)

The Hole in Wendell Berry's Gospel at Plough Quarterly

(also referenced by Rod Dreher at American Conservative Magazine & by Jeffrey Bilbro at Front Porch Republic)

Making Space for Pro-Life Feminists at Think Christian

National Returns Day and the Consumer Liturgical Calendar at Think Christian

 

(on the blog)

Christmastide posts with G.K. Chesterton

Walking Epiphany guest posts

Epiphany posts for

A Few More Words on The Hole In Wendell Berry's Gospel


I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading, writing, watching and hearing these days? 

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p.s. there are all kinds of affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!