Category Archives: faith & God

Garden Version 2.0, or Sometimes Jesus Isn’t All That Cryptic

If you’ve ever been to church or Sunday school for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone teach on this parable of Jesus, the Parable of the Sower:

“Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” – Matthew 13:3-9

As I headed outside this morning to work on (read: completely re-do) our garden, I couldn’t help but laugh when I thought of it. As many times as I’ve heard this story in my life, I have always looked at it in terms of its metaphorical value, trying to understand what Jesus was telling us about God the Father through this agricultural analogy. Never once did I stop and soak in what the parable is literally saying, what all of Jesus’ listeners would have looked at me and said “duh!” about because they were all farmers and dealt with these scenarios all the time.

RIP zucchini and squash plants. 3/11-6/11

So when all the vegetable plants in my front garden plot sprang up quicker than everything planted in the side beds, I didn’t bat an eye. Good for you, little guys, I thought to myself. Getting a head start. When my zucchini plants, so giant that they looked like something out of the Cretaceous period, began to take on a yellowish hue, I wasn’t sure what was going on. It wasn’t until the squash plants committed seppuku by falling over by their own weight and uprooting themselves that I realized that something had gone terribly awry. At some point while I was picking up the dried plants and tossing them into the compost, I was reminded of this part of the parable: “[Some] sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”

It’s so crazy how hard those of us who grew up in suburban or urban environments without having any connection to where our food comes from have to work to “re-learn” the fundamental principles that thousands of generations of people before us knew by heart and didn’t give a second thought to. Now I know how my grandparents felt when we tried to teach them how to program the VCR.

Tomato plants in the side raised bed, still going strong.

Thankfully, we got one good crop from the snow peas before they gave up the ghost, and this bowl of lovelies from the garden bean plants, although I suspect they’ll dry up too before I can get another:

This morning I weeded and tilled the open spots in the front bed, and tonight when Marc gets home we’re going to plant a few more things to give it one more try–swiss chard, spinach, and onions. They all say “full sun” on the seed packets, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. That’s one thing that I love about starting plants from seeds. At $2 per packet, they’re cheap enough to gamble with. I just never though I’d have to worry about the plants getting TOO much sun; I expected the opposite problem. Any other gardeners want to suggest some edible plants that would be hearty enough to survive the face of the sun, i.e. my front plot?

In conclusion, the parable thing still cracks me up. I know that the point of Jesus telling that story was to communicate something spiritual to his followers, but I can’t help thinking that in His omniscience He may have also been projecting some practical gardening advice a couple thousand years into the future to His clueless daughter, if only she had “ears to hear.” =)

Amusingly yours,

Nikki

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A Prayer

This is a lot more personal than my usual posts, but I wanted to share this because it’s honest, and I think there is a severe lack of honesty in a lot of Christians’ spiritual lives, particularly the public expressions thereof. I have a lot of friends with very different beliefs than me, and I feel incredibly blessed to be able to have great conversations with these people about God and spirituality. And although I’m quite capable of talking about God and faith theoretically, taking an objective viewpoint for the sake of the conversation, and analyzing theology, I sometimes find it hard to express my personal feelings about my faith.

Sometimes this is because I’m hyper aware that the other person has had a bad experience with Christians in the past and I’m scared of saying something that will make them think I’m the same judgmental jerk that told them they were going to hell in 5th grade Sunday school. Sometimes it’s because I’ve got a lot going on in that little heart ‘o mine and it’s hard to be vulnerable. Most of the time, though, it’s because God is so big and complex and all-encompassing to me that I don’t even know how to start talking about it.

Recently, though, I had a pretty intense realization about God’s love and what it means to me. I was trying to pray in my head but it was way too noisy and crazy in there, so I tried writing it down. This is what I ended up with. I hope that it may encourage someone, or at least be an interesting idea to mull over.

<3

Nikki

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Dear God,

I really don’t want to be praying this prayer right now. In fact, for months now I thought that I may never pray to you again, and that thought brought with it a certain kind of freedom and a certain kind of despair. I don’t want to need you, and I can only hope there’s some birds or butterflies or mosquitos out there who have hated needing wings to fly, because I think they might know how I feel. One of my favorite hymns talks pleads with You to “let Thy goodness / like a fetter / bind my wandering heart to thee.” What a strange metaphor, but how appropriate. You shouldn’t need a chain to bind you to the one that you love, should you? But then again, is there anything more terrifying than perfect love? Every human has felt that pull of fear in a relationship that’s getting serious, in the eyes of a friend or a lover that’s started to see the ugly parts of you and loves you still. We are grateful to be forgiven by them, but we’re almost more thankful when they hurt us and we’re able to forgive them back, some little scale in our minds leveling off and telling us “It’s okay, it’s safe here. You’ve got something to offer. You’ve got a measure of your worth.”

I’d rather be hurt by a thousand people than stand in the terrible shadow of your perfect love. A love that sees to the very core of me. A love that exposes all of the evil that lurks in my heart and brings it into the light so it can be destroyed like a film negative. A love that demands that I come empty-handed. A love that cares nothing for my pride or my sense of accomplishment; that guts them like fish at my feet. A love that pursues me, tossing aside like rag dolls everything that dares to come between. A love that prefers Mary to Martha, who would rather me be intimate with Him and do nothing than save a million dying children in His name.  A love that will take nothing I want to give and demands everything I’m scared to let go of.

A love that will always accept, even when I want to be rejected. A love that will always show mercy, even when I want to be punished. A love that will humble me when I think I should be exalted and exalt me when I think I should be humbled. A love that will never, ever go away no matter what I do.

Of course I wander. Your love is overwhelming and painful, like forcing yourself to stick your arm in the fire to cauterize a wound rather than live with the dull ache of an infection that will eventually kill you…but only eventually.

I’m the girl who won’t dig her splinters out. I’m the girl who would rather live infected than rise to the challenge of being healed. I’d rather wander, thank you very much, and you can keep your scary perfect incomprehensible love and leave me with my nice manageable leprosy.

Except you won’t. Except that, like a bad horror movie, you are there around every turn, calm and still and brandishing a weapon much scarier than a hatchet. I never used to understand why the Psalmist lamented, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” And what’s even more terrifying than the fact that I can’t get away from you is the that the reason you are chasing me–that weapon in your hand–is not the stoic laws of the universe playing out. Surely you could have arranged this world any number of other ways that would have been way easier and required much less from both You and me. It’s not because anyone is telling you to, or because you have an obligation. It’s solely because You love me. Wholly. Fully. Just as I am. Forever. And you want me to love you back.

So what exactly is my prayer? I guess it’s only this: I give up. I surrender. I will let You love me even though it’s scary, because Your love is everything I’ve ever wanted packaged in the stuff of my worst nightmares. I will let Your hand guide me to open it. I will not look away. And I recognize that whatever happens after I do, I will have done the only thing ever worth doing in this whole world.

Abba, whatever I am, I am Yours.

Love,

Nicole

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Guest blog: Caroline’s Lent fast–goodbye guilt.

When I asked my lovely friend Caroline to write a guest blog, my initial suggestion was that she write something about doula-ing or the city of New Orleans, two passions of hers that would fit squarely into what I envision this blog to be about. When she told me that she planned on writing about her Lent fast this year, I knew immediately that I wanted that snag that post up, both because I’m always interested hearing about the experiences of my non-Christian friends who still choose to practice Lent, and because Caroline has chosen a zinger of a thing to give up, something that I have struggled with a lot personally: guilt.

Hopefully I can convince her to do a follow-up blog after Easter to let us piggyback on the wisdom I’m convinced she’s going to glean, but for now here’s part one. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and reflections on the season of Lent.

My thoughts are echoing through all 1700 square feet of my house, and the wind is beating on the windows, rustling the curtains through the cracks. It’s hard to believe that over the last few days, there has been a rotation of thirteen people (at least) in and out of this house, with the majority crashing on couches and beds, smoking on porches and steps, cooking soul food for the masses, and drinking, drinking, drinking. Oh, Mardi Gras. This week has been a fantastic excess for me — from sex and sleeping in to copious amounts of drinking and parades and revelry. So much chaos! By Monday night, I always start to run out of steam, and by Tuesday… I’m ready for a long nap, a hot shower, and a long reprieve.

It feels good to come back to the real world. Sometimes, I nary say I do prefer a pumpkin over a carriage.

Yesterday morning, I headed to my favorite church for my ashes. Unfortunately, due to mass traffic gridlock, I missed the service by a few minutes. Instead, I turned and headed back to a Catholic church I had passed on the way, where people were overflowing out the door. I missed most of the service, but as there were easily over 400 people waiting for their ashes, I made it just in time to head toward the end of the line. I even caught a song or two by the gospel choir; I’ve never heard the staid Catholic hymns sung by an all-black choir in a call-and-response fashion — so incredible. It was a gorgeous, traditional church, striding the border between the Treme and French Quarter, but clearly touched by the unique history and love and power of the community. I felt guided there, almost by serendipity.

The older white priest touched my forehead, making the sign of the cross in black, and spoke over me — “Remember, you are from dust and to dust you shall return.”

And so began Lent.

As a child raised Episcopalian, I remember debating each year what to give up. Cokes? Chocolate? There didn’t seem like many options. I usually chose something I liked, vaguely, always something superficial. I don’t remember Lent much until my sophomore year in high school. By then I had more or less walked away from Christianity, but for some reason that year, I wanted to practice Lent. I tried to give up swear words, and in my childish way, I would mark on my arms with a pen each time I used one. That lasted roughly a day or two, as I came home marked up on both arms, which my mother was not so pleased with.

The next year, at the urging of my girlfriend (who was raised Catholic, but was even further removed from any belief or practice than myself), I gave up soft drinks. Cokes, for those of us raised in the Deep South. All of them. That act went over much better — in all honestly, I still don’t drink them, except as the occasional mixer.

But as an adult, I find the ritual of cleansing, sacrifice, and self-reflection to be very important. Call it Lent or call it Ramadan — I don’t think the time of year, the nature of the religious affiliation (or lack of one!), or the motivation is so pertinent. I think what’s important is making sure to schedule time to reflect, to focus, to prioritize, to heal. For me, I choose Lent — even though I don’t identify as Christian or practice most Christian beliefs and rituals. But I do find power in rituals, and Lent is one I have chosen to take with me into my adult life.

Especially after the mad excess of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, there’s something appealing about a bit of austerity. It’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos, as I was this year — constantly going, drinking, seeing all my old friends who had come to visit, meeting new people, making sure that everyone is having a great time. My self care needs, my thoughts, get lost. There is no time to reflect and process.

This description could so easily be a metaphor for life. We get caught up in day-to-day work schedules, in school, in paying bills, in dating and partners and children, in family obligations, in dreams, in text messages, in friends and crises. It is easy to get swept away, to move from one thing to the next constantly, never giving myself a moment to think, a moment to reflect, a place and time to do so. I don’t believe Lent is simply about denying myself chocolate or caffeine, but instead, it’s about cutting down on some of the distractions and refocusing myself. It’s a chance to make improvements. Life moves so quickly; it’s difficult to slow down long enough to make positive changes. I’ve heard that it takes a minimum of 21 days to change or form a habit, so I feel like I’ve got twice as good of a chance to make that happen during Lent.

Last year, for Lent, I took on two major changes. First, I was approaching the end of a relationship, and I needed time to think and decide what I wanted — to continue dating or to end things. But in the midst of all the frustration, anger, and pain I was feeling, I had lost sight of everything else I wanted — I was drowning in school and work, having left those responsibilities behind. So I planned to refocus my thoughts and prioritize my needs and obligations better.

Second, I gave up something. I come from a Southern culture where gossiping is considered impolite but expected; I grew up in Mississippi surrounded by family and friends who didn’t make conversation any other way. But I find it hurtful and often, downright mean — yet, I felt like I did it much more than I should, almost as a guilty pleasure. So I gave up talking badly about people. I made an effort to refocus that energy — to try to find something good to say about everyone, to learn to think in the positive. I find this is a long-term change, one I still have to work on some days. But it has become tremendously easier as the days go by.

This year, my Lenten goals are equally complex. I’ve had an incredibly busy semester, in grad school full-time and in two jobs, and I’m finding that I’ve taken on so much that I’m giving half-effort to everything. It’s disappointing and frustrating. I want to re-prioritize. I want to make sure I still have time for myself and for my friends, and I want to make sure I’m cutting out whatever obligations aren’t necessary.

I’m giving up one of the biggest hindrances in my life: guilt. I have a horrible guilt complex, and I find that I can’t work past it, even when I feel guilty about issues and problems I can’t control. I find that many of my decisions and actions are powered by guilt in ways that aren’t healthy. I want to make sure everyone around me is happy, and I feel guilty if I’m not working to do so. I feel guilty about saying “no” to anyone’s requests for help, even when it’s in my best interest to not take on more obligations. I feel guilty when I don’t perform 110%, when I don’t accomplish what is probably superhuman. I feel guilty when I fear someone else is disappointed in me, even when I feel completely justified and sure of my actions.

Guilt has a place, yes. It drives me to apologize when I need to. It reminds me that there are some actions I shouldn’t take because there are long-term consequences, even if they seem pleasurable in the short-term. I’m not writing it off completely. But guilt can also be disabling, especially when that guilt surrounds things out of my control. It’s a powerful motivator, yes, but also a negating one. I would prefer to find my drive through love and strength, through my interests and passions, not through the fear of not accomplishing something, not through the fear of not satisfying everyone, and definitely not through the guilt that stems from that fear.

So for Lent, I’m going to refocus. I’m going to prioritize. And I’m going to find strength, not guilt, in doing so. I’m going to empower myself to rise above my fear and guilt, to give up indulging in those very powerful emotions. And hopefully, at the end of 40 days, I won’t be carrying so much baggage around — but instead, I’ll find that indeed, positive change and austerity can become a lifestyle — not simply 40 days without potato chips and chocolate bars.

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Caroline often includes songs with her blog posts, so I wanted to share the one she sent me:

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Guest Blog: Harmony, Rhythm, and the Transcendent Beauty of Music

My friend Kyle is what I’d call a rock ‘n roll priest-in-training. Those are two things about him that I’ve always be intrigued by and admired–his love affair with music and his passion for the Lord. I mean, seriously, does your pastor write theological blogs about how Jesus relates to Weezer? I didn’t think so. I’ve known Kyle since my early college days, and so when I was thinking of someone to ask to write a guest blog about faith, his name immediately came to mind.

My exact request of Kyle was to write a blog explaining how his faith and his love of music connect and inform one another, which was really just a sneaky way of getting him to answer that question for me personally, since it’s something I wonder about often. What I got back was a beautifully written treatise on the power of music to move human spirits and point them to the Creator.

But enough out of me, this is Kyle’s jam…

see? totally rock 'n roll

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It is very rare that I meet a person that does not enjoy listening to music. I always find them somewhat odd. It might be because I’m a musician and a music lover, but, even deeper than that, music seems to connect to the core of our humanity. It seems to be a specifically human thing. We organize beats and notes in rhythm and harmony due to reason, not solely due to instinctively attracting a mate. Music seems to captivate man. His emotions are moved by it. Passions are excited; anger rises up; anxiety is soothed; sadness is comforted.

Why does it cause pleasure inside of us? Why do we enjoy music? Because it is beautiful. It is ordered. Even back to ancient Greece, music was understood in a numerical sense. It was ordered by rhythm. Harmonies are harmonious due to their numerical distance from the root note. Beauty comes from order and symmetry, just like patterns and shapes in art. St. Augustine, in his treatise On Music, extrapolates from this orderliness in music a manifestation of the Holy Trinity. Such orderliness, although it comes from human creation and are sound waves, communicate something completely spiritual, the divine beauty and orderliness of the Trinity.

This all seems rather philosophical, and indeed it is, but does it connect to real life?

I remember the first rock concert I ever attended. I was a sophomore in high school and went with two friends to see Lit at the House of Blues here in New Orleans. “My Own Worst Enemy” was popular on the radio, and I was super excited to be in the House of Blues to see them. I had just started to get active in my faith at the point. I was a semi-regular at the youth group and was starting to perceive spiritual realities in my life. A band named Motorway opened up for them. They were decent, but I was ready to rock out with Lit. When they came on stage the crowd, myself among it, went crazy. Adrenaline was high, and the energy was strong. Lit put on a great show. The lead singer was very active and interacted with the crowd. He had a bottle of vodka in his hand, as liquid company, for most of the show. They played all the songs I was familiar with from the their album A Place in the Sun. I sang along with every word. There came a point somewhere in the show, in the midst of one of the songs, that my heart turned up toward God in praise. The beauty and orderliness of the rhythm and harmony of the music and my budding faith connected. Wow. Praise God for music, I prayed. “I praise You for the beauty of this music.” The content of Lit songs in anything but praise. They are rather quite melancholic. “You make me come / You make me complete / You make me completely miserable.” Yet, my mind and my heart transcended the content of the song to the beauty of rhythm and harmony, which then turned my heart to God, Beauty itself.

However, in that room, of a few hundred people, I was one of maybe a small number who lifted their hearts to God due to Lit’s music. Music, which has the capacity to lift our minds to God, can be debased or distorted (not a Boss foot-pedal) into glorifying man and his creation rather than God as creator. This is the trap of secular music. Some glorify the music. This occurs often in jazz and in jam bands but is not exclusive to these genres. The music is worshipped (for more on this see my blog). Many times, in Rock and Pop music, the musicians are worshipped. God, the true end of music, is lost in idol worship. I find it no ironic fact that the most popular music show on television is named American Idol.

In no way am I saying that secular music is evil or from the devil, as some of our Christian brethren will. I am rather saying that because of the culture surrounding secular music, we are more liable to be led astray. Strong Christian faith, even weak Christian faith like mine at the Lit concert, can transcend the lies of worshipping created things and see that music leads to God.

Here one might expect me to plug Christian bands that I like or certain types of sacred music, and, although, I am honestly tempted, I will not follow through. Music lifts man to God. Words lift man God. Each person reading this knows what music, which song, lifts their minds to God. They are beautiful, maybe not the most beautiful. They might not have the best harmonies or the most pleasing rhythms, but nor are we, who are images of God, perfect images our creator.

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To read Kyle’s blog, click here: Reverenced Reading

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Sharpie prayers for Treme

This past weekend Wayfarers Church, i.e. Marc and I and our housemates and neighbors, hosted the Anchor School of Ministry as they spent some time in New Orleans praying and serving the Treme and French Quarter community. This is our second time hosting an ASM group (as well as several other youth groups from various churches last summer), and it never ceases to amaze me to get out of my own perspective for a while and view my home city through brand new eyes. I watch people experience polar ends of the emotional spectrum–they fall in love with New Orleans, but they also cry for her.

The way I tried to explain the spiritual climate of New Orleans, especially of our neighborhood, is that we are a celebratory city. We celebrate our accomplishments, our passions, and our relationships, but we also celebrate our demons, our addictions, and the brokenness in our hearts that is poised to crumble us entirely, staved off only by engulfing ourselves in the next of an endless line of parties and parades.

The ASM students saw both the joyous and tragic sides of our celebration over the course of the weekend–Bourbon Street on Friday night, Krewe du Vieux on Saturday, bounce night at St. Roch on Saturday night, and tons of brass bands and seconds lines interspersed between. They danced and sang and stayed out later than most of them had in a long time, but they also had meaningful conversations with strangers, prayed without ceasing, and put their hands to work to make a small practical difference at one house on one block of this big crazy place. To me, it was a beautiful thing to see.

On their last night in town, I asked the group to write or draw prayers for Treme on some extra art canvases I had in the craft room. The housemates and I have taken to decorating the front of the house with trinkets and random art that makes us smile, and the idea was to add the prayer canvasses to our developing collage so that we could see them on a daily basis and be reminded of the hope that we have for our neighborhood. I was just expecting some simple prayers or words, but I should have known better dealing with a church group full of artists, because what I got back were these:

Coincidentally (or perhaps not?), I have a large chunk of Isaiah 61 stamped onto a larger canvas in the hallway of our house. This is what it says:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities

Isaiah 61: 1-4

Here’s to freedom, good news, and restoration. Laissez le revolution rouler!

Nikki

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Ten Things I Learned From Communal Living, or Lessons in Love and Passive-Aggressive Behavior

As you may or may not know, I have lived “in community” (that’s what the kids are calling it nowadays) for a year and a half now, since Marc and I and several of our friends moved into a double shotgun house in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans in August of ’09. For the first year or so, we operated as an intentional Christian community house with a commonwealth financial system, meaning that we pooled our income and shared all bills and expenses corporately. Since then, the house has morphed into a much less formal version of its former function. Marc and I are now the only remaining residents from the original crew, but we try to keep the spirit of the community house alive by hosting a slew of houseguests, travelers, and renters and trying to provide them with as much hospitality and love as we can.

As 2010 drew to a close, I found myself reflecting on the roller coaster ride of the past twelve months and how much character chiseling has occurred in me in that time–some much needed chippings-away and some unexpected losses. I recalled how, when I went to Cornerstone Festival the summer before we started the house and told people I was going to live in community, they all gave me this look. It was a look that said everything and communicated nothing at the same time. I got a bunch of vague warnings–“It’s going to be hard,” “Get ready to fight over the dishes”, etc.–but no advice that I felt was very substantial or helpful.

Now that I’ve walked the walk, I do understand where they were coming from. Communal living, like so many life experiences, is something you can never really be ready for. You mostly just have to dive in and learn as you go. Still, I do think there are some thoughts worth relaying. So with that in mind, I give you, very much like Mr. Letterman, my Top Ten.

Ten Things I Learned From Communal Living

(or Lessons in Love and Passive-Aggressive Behavior)

1. Get ready to fight over dishes. Seriously, get ready. You may read that and think to yourself, “That won’t apply to me. I am completely ambivalent towards dishes.” I guarantee you will find yourself cursing the sky at the sight of the kitchen sink within a month’s time. It doesn’t matter what your dish strategy is (morning washer, after-meal washer, end of night washer) or whether you follow the “everyone clean their own” line or thinking or the “those who cook don’t clean” maxim, your approach is going to tick someone else off. That person will, after several days of inner turmoil and futile hopes that you will self-correct your ways, ask you politely to conform to their methods. You will then overreact to this request, taking it way too defensively, and become solidified in what you’re now convinced to be your righteously superior dishwashing habits. This will ignite a passive-aggressive dishware war within the house, complete with intrigue, secret plots, treason, and bloodshed. There is no advice on how to avoid this; just know that it’s going to happen and try to get to the part where everyone laughs over how ridiculous it is to fight over dishes sooner rather than later.

2. Create protocol for conflicts before they start, and WRITE THINGS DOWN. The idea of drafting up a set of house rules, a mission statement, or an action plan for conflicts might feel unnecessarily formal or even pessimistic–like you don’t trust each other or you’re looking for things to go wrong–but trust me, they are invaluable. Not only does it force everyone in the house to think about and agree on how they will handle problems before they arise (and hence, before they’re in the heat of the moment), it provides a clear record of those decisions that no one can argue with. You’ll be amazed at how people’s memories work (your own included!) when you’re emotionally distressed or biased towards a situation. If you have regular house meetings, assign someone to take down notes from those meetings to keep a written record of what’s been discussed and decided upon.

3. People are beautiful and complex. This is a pretty generic statement, but I feel like living in community helped me see the beauty and complexity of people with a new intensity. I have a huge respect for all of my old housemates for being vulnerable enough to share themselves with me at their best and their worst, and for continuing to love me after seeing me at all points along the same spectrum. You will disappoint and hurt each other, make no mistake, but there hasn’t been a single housemate who has disappointed me who hasn’t also humbled me with some act of grace or kindness that I didn’t expect or deserve. If you can learn to see the beauty in that, then you’ll be doing well for yourself.

4. You are more selfish than you think. You may have been the most amicable person in the world when you lived by yourself and made all your own money, but sharing space and finances will, like a purifying fire, expose all of the ugliest parts of your soul. For me, this meant confronting a selfishness in myself that I didn’t realize existed and realizing that my worldview looked far too much like an eye for an eye and not nearly enough like the cross of Christ. More than any other experience of my life, communal living how profound it is that God doesn’t treat us like we treat each other.

5. You can never, ever, ever have too much toilet paper. Or extra blankets. Or coffee.

6. Make time to have fun. Sometimes, especially if you’re just starting a house, it can feel like there’s always work to be done. That’s probably true, but the truth is that enjoyment and fellowship needs to be your work too. One of the most attractive features of communal living is that it should allow all of its members, through cooperation, to work less and enjoy life more. But for many of us American workaholics, this inclination doesn’t come natural, and so it takes a little bit of intentionality at first. Plan fun days. Have a weekly Sabbath. I guarantee that some of your fondest memories and best conversations will happen during the times that you rest together.

7. You can live (and live well) on less than you ever dreamed possible, and the minute you start to feel sorry for yourself you run into someone who’s living on less than half of that. ‘Nuff said.

8. Don’t get creepy.  People are already going to think you’re in a cult. Don’t help the idea along by become insular and exclusive. Yes, you are a community. Yes, you will grow close and family-like. That’s the whole idea. But don’t forget about the world beyond your doors, and the larger community of your neighborhood, city, and country. If everyone in the house doesn’t have at least a couple outside friends from their job or school or yoga class, make them go get some. You’re going to need those outside friends to provide balance, sanity, and a place to escape when the house is about to drive you nuts.

9. Be open to change. Don’t be so tied up some utopian vision that you fail to recognize or feel threatened when the community goes in a direction you didn’t expect. Change isn’t automatically good, but it isn’t automatically bad either. Only prayer, wisdom, and time will tell the difference.

10. Nothing brings a house together like a good old-fashioned prank war. Getting tattoos together also works well.

with love and grace (especially about dishes),

Nikki

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To learn more about intentional community, see the desk reference.

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Dog spelled backwards is God

A quick post before retiring to bed…

I think the reason that I love dogs so much is because they teach me a very subtle and overlooked quality of someone living in the Kingdom of God: contentment.

Wrench and Lucy have needs just like humans do–food, water, shelter. They also have desires to play, mate, hunt, and eat far too much food. But no matter how many of those particular needs and desires are being met at the moment, those dogs achieve a supreme contentment that overrides it all when they are simply being loved by me. Wrench wants nothing else in the entire world when he is lying in my lap and I’m scratching his ears. Lucy sleeps the sleep of angels and babies when she’s curled up at my feet. Their master is near them and is pleased with them, and that is all that matters.

Sometimes when I look over at Wrench’s mushed-up, drooling, sleepy-face all sprawled out on the sofa without a care in the world, I try to imitate him. I remember that to love and be loved by God is the bare naked core of my existence in this world, and so long as that relationship exists, I have no reason not to be content. All other worries and troubles and needs and wants in this life will wither and pass away, but we will forever delight in the presence of our Father and Creator.

I hope that it looks like an way more awesome version of this:

Night all!

- Nikki

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Adventures in Advent part 1

Recently, a friend of mine posted this video about The Advent Conspiracy on Facebook:

It is, in my opinion, a splendid campaign to shake Americans out of this money-hemorrhaging black hole we’ve created during the month of December. (Side note: I say ‘Americans’ because my German friend Kira tells me that Christmas back home is a three-day festival of food and family time, and has very little to do with store-bought gifts) This year, I’ve enjoyed seeing even my most die-hard consumerist friends and family soften towards ideas like homemade gifts and simpler, less expensive holiday traditions, a change I attribute to equal parts Jesus and the recession.

Aside from the main point, though, the video got me thinking about the season of Advent itself. I grew up in a Lutheran church where I remember seeing the Advent candles lit every Sunday in December, but I didn’t have a real understanding of what the tradition meant or why we did it. Since then, I’ve bounced around the religious spectrum with a trajectory not unlike a ping-pong ball and forgot clean about Advent along the way. Now, however, I’ve come to adopt the attitude of St. Augustine when he said that “the Church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” I am part of a wrongly divided and sickly Body of Christ, and I long to see the various parts of that Body worship in unity. In my personal practices, that means appreciating all Christian traditions that are grounded in Scripture and that reflect the heart of God, even if they come from a sect that I don’t totally agree with, or that wouldn’t agree with me.

All that to say: I looked into it, and I really dig Advent.

I think the symbolism is beautiful, and the ritual helps me to take time out to meditate on one of the great mysteries of my faith: the fact that the God of the Universe chose the most humble, contradictory, and intimate way possible to save us from the evil–He became one of us. I think my favorite part about the Advent ritual, however, is the fact that it is one of the few church traditions that takes place both in the corporate congregation and in the home. Every Sunday morning, the priest lights the Advent candle for that week at morning mass, and every Sunday night the head of each household lights the family’s personal Advent candle before supper. When I strayed from the church back in the day, one of my biggest reasons for doing so was my frustration with Christians leaving their Christianity in the pew at the end of each service and refusing to apply any of the principles they were so eagerly nodding their heads to during the sermon to their own lives. The Advent tradition links two worlds that all too often remain separate. It leaks the Gospel from the church doors to the dinner table, exactly as it’s supposed to be.

Since Wayfarers Church currently meets in our living room, our home and church Advent candles are the same. Before digging into some delicious chicken curry I made for dinner, we lit our candle and read aloud the Scripture readings for the first week of Advent. This is the liturgical prayer we read:

Stir up thy power, O Lord, and come,
that by thy protection we may be rescued
from the dangers that beset us through our sins;
and be a Redeemer to deliver us;
Who livest and reignest with God the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
ever one God, world without end. Amen.

 

Happy Advent to you all, and to all a good night!

Nikki

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To learn more about Advent:

Advent Prayers and Liturgy

The History of Advent

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