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Becoming Ourselves: Conversions and Boundaries


FEATURES 7 I Have Called You By Name


8 Desert Winds


CONSP!RE editors “The best conversions sweep us up in grace, but they also can confront us with new realities.” Tod Wynward “What did Jesus find in the desert?”


Brian McClaren “What does it mean to love my neighbor of another religion?”


Joshua Dylan “I travel, knowing full well that my longing will never be completely fulfilled.”

Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning “Leaving prison is not a matter of simply walking out.”

Anton Flores-Maisonet “The issue the United States must face is not a fearbased need for more security but our hospitality to the stranger.”

38 Mouse On a White Horse

Jack Legg “I may not have been a good neighbor, but my stories were pretty damn impressive.”

40 Street Warriors

18 The Song We Share With the World

Bart Campolo “There is no peace in the life of the street, but there’s plenty of drama, excitement, and a singular purpose.”



Dee Dee Risher “Diversity comes only when we keep a strong sense of our own identity.” Christopher D. Henson “My conversion will never be complete.”

23 Real Sinners and Real Healing

POETRY Palmer Wooten


Cheryl Hellner

Bryan Langlands “I told the man what he said was satanic.”




Kathy Pride “I live in a neighborhood where I don’t belong.”

Books and resources





C. Christopher Smith “Conversation is the heartbeat of our life together as a church community.” Ashley Heideman “To convert our psyches and our spirits, we are slowing down.”

Brian Gorman shares the shadow side of many of our “boundary-crossing” relationships.

News from our co-conspiring communities



Samantha Sayer “What if sacred neighborliness became an infectious movement throughout our communities?”


I Have Called You By Name


or you are mine, and I have called you by name” (Isa. 43:1). This is God’s word to us. When we take this word in, it turns our life. It reshapes us. But into what? Scripture is full of stories of conversions. A voice from a bush sends Moses back from the desert into Egypt and the palace he never expected to see again. Saul’s encounter on the road to Damascus changes his name and his life. Peter baptizes Cornelius and alters forever the Judaism of his youth. Zaccheus the tax-collector repents and does restitution, and the unnamed woman at the well witnesses to a village. The best conversions sweep us up in grace, but they also can confront us with new realities. They alter old relationships and bring in new ones. They distance us from our old identities and create new ones. In doing this, they may also lead us into new communities. What is the fallout of this journey deeper into faith? What happens when our identities are altered at the core? When does our identity move from giving us common ground for authentic relationship—and into exclusivity and barriers, a line in the sand to draw those who are “in” and “out?” How does our faith call us to live differently with our neighbors of all kinds? These pages explore these stories and come back to this: Our conversion to the way of Jesus is perpetual and never-ending. It will take us into deserts and wilderness. It will draw our churches into unanticipated conversation. It will have us living places we had never imagined, some of them suburbia. “Teacher,” they asked Jesus long ago, “who is my neighbor?” He paused, and then told a story: of religious insiders and outsiders on a lonely road, of violent robbers, of outcast pariahs who care and provide for enemy-strangers. The story, which became shorthanded as “The Good Samaritan,” is at its heart a story of love, community, and conversion. And this is what we offer you in this issue of CONSP!RE—more beautiful stories of love, community, conversion; more witnesses to the turning heart. May they burn in you like fire, wherever you stand there on the road. —the editors


Brian McClaren

ecause I believe that Jesus Christ is true and right and good, I want to help every willing person to become his devoted follower. The more people who follow the way of Jesus, the better off both they and the world will be. Yet I face this tension: although I am convinced that Jesus is right and true and good, I can’t demand that others agree with me. After all, Jesus was not one to force people to accept his way. He allowed them to misunderstand him, reject him, and even to torture and kill him. So what is our duty to our neighbors who are not followers of Christ? What do we owe them? What does faithfulness to both God and our neighbors demand from us? Traditionally, this question has had four popular answers: convert; condemn or exclude; persecute; or ignore. Ironically, most of these responses would violate my commitment to Christ by causing me to practice a way of life Christ did not model. So how can we love our neighbors of another religion or no religion? We can listen. People of other religions have stories to share—stories of pain, of joy, of hope, of faith, of disappointment, of searching. If we take their stories seriously, we honor 12

their spiritual selves. Jesus, who of all people could have claimed prerogative to engage in monologue, shows himself an extraordinary listener on numerous occasions. This is a very different approach from evangelism that only listens in order to create obligation in “the other” to listen to our own monologues. We can look for the image of God in others. We can expect to see ways in which God is already active in their lives. Philip takes this approach as he joins the Ethiopian eunuch on the Gaza road (Acts 8), and so does Peter as he encounters Cornelius (Acts 10–11). We can ask good and interesting questions of our neighbors: Tell me what it’s like to be a Muslim (or Buddhist, or Orthodox Jew, or Wiccan). Tell me about some of your spiritual experiences. What has your spiritual journey been like? Has it always been easy to believe? What are some of the rituals and holy days of your faith? What do you enjoy most about your path? These kinds of questions and

Hakuna Wakaita sa Jesu by Ben Sloan

inquiries will open the door to seeing good things in our neighbor’s faith. As followers of God in the way of Jesus, we are obligated to love and appreciate whatever is good, wherever it appears (Phil. 4:8–9). For example, I have a friend who is an Imam in a sect of Islam. He loves that his sect has never persecuted anyone, even though it has been bitterly persecuted. This is something I honor and respect in his faith, and I often have told him so. He loves that

his faith teaches respect for elders and moves people to do good works for the poor; again, I admire this about his faith too. Once he helped me understand that even things I might call rules and regulations—things that might seem burdensome to me—are things that add dignity to poor people’s lives. When rich and poor, for example, bow together toward Mecca for daily prayers, the poor feel that they are on the same level before God as the rich. In this light, I had a new appreciation 13

for this aspect of his religion so different from my own. We can show hospitality, following God’s example in making space for people. Through entering people’s worlds— eating in their homes, going to their parties, joining them in their activities—we imitate God’s outgoing, incarnational nature. Through manifesting a spirit of friendliness, service, welcome, kindness, and joy, the wind of God’s Spirit blows through us. We become evidence for the reality of God toward people of every religion or no religion. We can extend peace and grace to others. Buried in the fifth chapter of 2 Kings is a fascinating case of astounding grace and peace. Elisha, the Jewish prophet, brings God’s healing to Naaman, a Syrian military commander. Afterwards, Naaman confesses, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” He then asks whether he can be forgiven for continuing to kneel in the temple of Rimmon, a Syrian god. Elisha responds, “Go in peace.” As the story unfolds, Elisha’s servant, a Jew named Gehazi, engages in some rather shabby religious corruption, so that Naaman the outsider is seen as a better man than Gehazi, the insider—a pattern quite common in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. There are many “righteous outsiders” like Naaman, including Melchizedek, Jethro, Ruth, Uriah, the Magi, and the Roman centurion. With stories like these in mind, we can stop comparing “our best” with “their worst,” and instead, we can honor goodness in “them” and admit shabbiness among “us.” Whatever our religion, we have our share of heroes and villains, people to take pride in and people to be embarrassed about. We 14

are being faithful to the biblical narrative when we continue the tradition of acknowledging that both our religion and those of others have strengths and weaknesses. We can also find shared ground and work for the common good, as the Jewish people did in the Babylonian exile. It would have been easy for the exiled Jews to grouse in bitterness or react in revenge. Instead, Jeremiah is given this message: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if the city prospers, you too will prosper” (29:7). In other words, cooperate with the people who are of a different religion than you— who are, in fact, your oppressors—in seeking the common good of peace and prosperity. Never has our world, fractured across so many religious lines, needed this kind of collaboration more. If Christians, Jews, and Muslims decide to capsize the world into a stormy sea of empire and terrorism, we’ll all drown together. But if we work together for the common good, we’ll all benefit together. I recently visited a Muslim country where it is illegal to convert from Islam or to proselytize Muslims. There I met a Christian woman who had decided to join a group of her Muslim compatriots working against domestic violence and for women’s rights. They were shocked that a Christian would join. She explained, “I’m a woman, and a citizen of this country. If I only help Christian women, I’m helping a tiny minority of the population. I am grateful you have accepted me into your group so we can work together.” Relationships across such schisms will bring the only healing we know.

Stained Glass Graffiti by Ben Sloan

My Aussie friend Dave Andrews was a missionary in India. When a political assassination inflamed interreligious hatred between Hindus and Sikhs, Dave immediately thought of his Sikh neighbors. He and a friend went to their home, only to find a crowd of angry Hindu youth preparing to burn down the Sikh home with its residents inside. Dave realized that if he wasn’t willing to act like Jesus, what right did he have to proclaim Jesus as Lord? He stepped between the crowd and the front door. Eventually the crowd dispersed with gasoline cans unopened. A group from my church traveled to Sierra Leone, a predominately Muslim country, and discovered that Christians and Muslims had found a wonderful way to cooperate. During the day in the fasting month of Ramadan, Christians cooked meals for their Muslim neighbors to eat after sun-

down. During the Christmas season, Muslims prepared cookies and other treats for their Christian neighbors. We all have gifts to share with one another. A friend of mine, born Presbyterian, became disillusioned with Christianity and studied the spirituality of America’s original inhabitants. He read, visited pow-wows and Native shamans, and developed a life of devotion to the Great Spirit, which included constructing an authentic tepee on his farm. He invited me to pray with him. We went into his tepee and sat on two stones. He raised his hands and poured out a beautiful prayer to the Creator. He prayed for his family, for himself, for the planet, and for me. He cried as he prayed. I prayed for him, but it was hard because I felt so close to tears myself. I was the first Christian to enter the tepee to pray with him. He went on 15

to share stories about how badly he had been hurt by Christian churches, and how this drove him away from Christianity in the first place. My willingness to pray with him was a significant moment of healing. I did not demand that he enter my world to pray with me; I entered his. I see the “Great Commission” as the vocation of my life. I believe these attitudes of respect and openness will result, not in fewer people wanting to be followers of Christ, but more. Recently a friend wrote me of his surreal experience on the other end of the evangelism stick. A Christian, he was invited to a Muslim mosque. Fellow missionaries urged him to go to learn about Islam as well as to gain the respect of those who invited him. His experience was terribly unpleasant. He understood for the first time how unnerving it must be for “un-churched” people to cross the threshold of a church for the first time. His stomach was in knots wondering what awaited him and how he would be treated. He feared being cornered by a young Muslim eager to add a new convert to the fold, and was concerned that his faith would be treated as inferior. Following the prayer, he was approached by young men who shared various rationales to believe in Islam instead of Christianity, desperately trying to “sell” Islam. They left him with contact information so that they could get together for further “discussion” (onesided though it was). Then another three

youth surrounded him, equally eager to add him to the flock, sharing stories of Christians who had become enlightened and “switched over” to Islam. My friend commented: “I felt like I was on the ugly side of evangelism, seeing many approaches I’ve used to win people to Christ. I felt pressured, uncomfortable, and angered. Someone handed me a book about Jesus with a statement that riveted me: ‘The question is whether this “Christianity” can rightly be said to represent (or even resemble) that which Jesus taught and lived.’ What a challenge that was!” When we face the question of how we relate to people of other religions who don’t want to become Christians, we bring with us a whole set of assumptions. Some are formed by a well-rounded reading of Scripture; and others are guided by a biased, partial reading of Scripture. Some reflect a whole set of unconscious cultural influences from colonialism to racism to nationalism to sectarianism. As we get more experience living in a pluralistic, post-Christendom, and post-colonial world, we’ll need to question many of those assumptions. Through it all, the example of Jesus guides us. He too lived in a pluralistic culture and frequently interacted with people of other religions who didn’t want to become Jews. He didn’t condemn them, exclude them, ignore them, or persecute them. He loved them. May we go and do likewise.

The words in Ben Sloan’s oil painting on page 15 by are taken from several Kalil Gibran quotes. These quotes read: “We extract your elements to make cannons and bombs, but out of our elements you create lilies and roses. How patient you are, earth, and how merciful.” “Do not the spirits who dwell in the ether envy man his pain?” “I love you, brother, whoever you are, whether you worship in your church, kneel in your temple, or pray in your mosque. You and I are children of one faith; fingers of the loving hand of one supreme being, a hand extended to all.” Ben Sloan comments, “In this painting I wrestle with how my tendencies toward inclusive spirituality can facilitate my detachment from real suffering and pain in the world.”


Dee Dee Risher

n the quiet southern backwater where I grew up, identity was a foreign concept precisely because it was so intact. Who we were and where we came from was woven into our daily lives. The first three lines of any encounter would address the question of “people”—who my people were and how they were related to yours. The world was largely divided by people who were “from here” and people who were not. If this had the wary characteristic of a boundary, it also had the sense of being known, protected, and secure. Now I meet people reared in suburban, middle-class environments who feel so deracinated that they believe they have no distinctive cultural identity to claim at all. Consumer culture, technology, and incredible mobility have steadily eroded that sense of identity. Globalism and monoculture have removed the distinctive features of place. Perhaps that erosion of strong identity has fed our craze for all things ethnic, tribal, and rooted in place. We yearn for what we do not have, that which we have lost. I once was able to have a conversation with Ysaye Barnwell about her life as a singer in which she offered me a powerful insight about identity and pluralism. Ysaye is the fabulous bass voice in the stunning a cappella group Sweet Honey In the Rock. One of her most famous songs is called: “No Mirrors in My Nana’s House.” The song is really about unconditional love. Her lyrics celebrate the fact that her grandmother’s house had no mirrors to reflect features the world called unlovely, and so she felt both loved and beautiful. The chorus runs like this: “There were no mirrors in my nana’s house / no mirrors in my nana’s house / and the beauty that I saw in everything was in her eyes / so I never knew my skin was too black / I never knew my nose was too flat / I never knew my clothes didn’t fit / and I never knew there were things that I missed / ‘cause the beauty of everything was in her eyes.” Ysaye was shocked at the powerful impact the song had on very different audiences, and it taught her a lesson. “I have learned that the more specific we are, the more universal we are able to be. Because at the core, we all share something. When I get specific, I am getting closer to that core. I no longer appeal to everything out there. I go deeper inside myself. This is the only way I can account for a reaction to a song like “No Mirrors.” “I could not be more specific about my own pain around how I look than to put 18

into a song that my nose is broad and that my skin is dark. That experience was so specific to my growing up, and so painful. “Yet we sing that verse, and I see white women on the front row crying. I get letters from white, gay, male ensembles who want to sing that song because they see in it unconditional love. We yearn for authenticity, yet it’s hard to be authentic when you are eclipsed in monoculture. I know that the intuitive kinship in rural communities is a gold I always hunger for, and can never get enough of. I remember Ysaye’s wisdom every time I have the urge to be general—to water down my faith language or to be all things to all people. I believe it is this intuitive sense of identity that draws so many of us to vibrant communities or to groups. There is nothing like belonging. Identity, however, is a two-edged sword. If there is a culture with which you identify, there is usually a world of people against whom you define yourself. You can’t have an inside if you don’t have an outside. Similarly, the gift of a group identity is accompanied by a very clear sense of who does not belong in the group. This intuition that our diversity actually comes from embracing our particularities then lifts my heart. And I have seen it work. Because when you know your particularities, you are so much more able to let those of others alone. To say: “Wow, that is so fascinating, and I love that.” When you stand in your particularities, you are able to speak more deeply and with more respect to those who are different from you precisely because you understand that feeling of being different from others, in distinctive ways. Our best identity must, after all, be rooted in love and the deep warmth of self-acceptance; the sense that in the eyes of the God-Spirit, we have each been, in the words of the psalmist, “Fearfully and wonderfully made.” As we wander that spacious God-house, where there are no mirrors but love, we hear a different song. That is the only song we have to share with the world. 19

C. Christopher Smith

When we speak of conversion, we think of the big stories. Saul, on the road to Damascus. Constantine bending a kingdom toward his newfound faith. We often read these narratives, true though they be, through the lens of our Western individualism. Communities, however, may be in as much need for conversion as individuals. Darrell Guder, in The Continuing Conversion of the Church, argues that our churches are starved for experiences that continually transform them into cultures that are maturing together into the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11–13). Left to our own devices, our church communities would be domesticated, tamed to conform to the larger culture in which they exist, which here in the United States, means conformed to individualism, consumerism, and nationalism. I am a member of Englewood Christian Church, on the urban Near Eastside of Indianapolis. Our 115-year history is a story of ongoing conver28

sion. We’ve been a homogeneous neighborhood church and hotbed of KKK activity (in the 1920s), one of the first mega-churches in Indiana (1960s), and an urban mission (1980s). Today, we are a small neighborhood church beginning to share life together in deeper and more intentional ways. Our story is a sign of hope, witness to the good news that God desires and is able to transform church communities as well as individuals—even those domesticated by the powers of Western culture. Our most recent transformation occurred in the late 1990s. For the two decades prior, we’d tried a number of incarnations—charismatic renewal, pantry ministries that distributed a lot

of goods but made little relational inroads with our neighbors, trendy evangelical programs. Not only had these programs failed; they had fragmented our congregation, each leaving behind a cluster of adherents who still wished to see the church continue in that direction. We eventually stumbled into the practice of conversation. It radically reshaped our life together. At the time, Englewood had a Sunday night service that was little more than a “lite” version of Sunday morning. Attendance and interest in the service was waning. Unwilling to abandon our Sunday-night habit, we tried something completely different. We set up a big circle of chairs and started to talk together about our faith, its meaning, and how we saw it embodied in our life together. As in any conversation, there was some awkwardness in getting started. For us, this awkwardness was amplified by the deep fragmentation of our recent history. Like so many Western churches, we had nurtured a culture of individualized faith. So when we gathered, we brought with us a divergent array of theological, social, and political convictions to which we had deep emotional attachments. We reflected a broader culture that was rapidly losing the capacity for conversation. It quickly became apparent that we did not know how to talk to each other. These communication breakdowns in the culture have been highlighted by authors like Robert Putnam and Bill Bishop. Putnam’s Bowling Alone explores the rapid decline of participation in social groups. (While more people bowl than ever before, league bowling is at an all-time low.) In The Big Sort, Bishop documents how our social interactions are increasingly

being limited to like-­minded people. Our earliest years of conversation were spent trying to understand how some terms were used in the Bible, and what these terms meant for our life together in this place—concepts like “the word of God,” and salvation. Our conversation in those earliest years was extraordinarily volatile. People frequently got angry and yelled at others; some would get up and walk out. The conflict was intense and not everyone was prepared to handle it. Some members quit coming on Sunday nights, others left the church completely. Despite the conflict that raged, a sense of commitment emerged over time among those that remained: a commitment to one another and to God’s work that ran deeper than the depths of our disagreements. We eventually would spend a long time discussing truth: is there such a thing as absolute or objective truth? What did Jesus mean when he said: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)? Later, we discussed the kingdom of God and its implications for our identity and allegiances. We struggled to understand the role of the church in God’s redemptive work, and spent six months discussing four verses in Ephesians (4:7–11). The ongoing effect of our continuing in the Sunday night conversation 29


was that we were beginning to love and trust each other in meaningful ways. Love was gradually becoming something more than a hollow, religious word to us. As the conversation moved forward, many of the sacred cows of modern American culture were nudged toward the slaughter: individualism, nationalism, objectivity, and consumerism. We learned to talk together, shaping a vernacular, local language rooted in the shared convictions about what God was doing in our midst. Today, this Sunday night conversation is the heartbeat of our life together as a church community. There is still not complete agreement on all the questions, but there is a deep trust that God will continue to work in our midst. Because of our Sunday night practice, we find ourselves being drawn into a way of life that is not simply passive discussion but rather full of life and of careful activity that is starting to contribute to helping our neighborhood flourish. We’ve started businesses that allow some of our members to work and converse throughout the week. We have been at the forefront of neighborhood conversations that are making our community healthier. We regularly engage other churches in dialogue through conferences that we host and through our magazine, The Englewood Review of Books. Fifteen years into our experiment, we’re convinced that conversation is essential to the abundant life together into which we have been called. We also firmly believe that God is calling all churches to mature as communities into fuller and more truthful representations of Christ Jesus. Every church’s journey toward conversion will be different, but there are three key facets

that churches need to bear in mind as they grow together in community. First, we need to stay put. In our hyper-­mobile culture, our church leaders and members move on so fast that most church communities can never get the traction and stability that they need to become a sustained, embodied presence of Christ. Congregations and their members need to realize that place matters. We are doing great damage when we abandon churches for bigger and seemingly greener pastures. Secondly, we need to focus on the life and teaching of Christ, particularly the radical self-­denial that characterized his life and ministry and ultimately led him to the cross. To the extent that we are driven by selfish desires, our embodiment of Christ will remain immature. Finally, we need to stay in conversation through the inevitable conflicts, for they will arise. We must submit ourselves to Christ and learn to communicate and work together as diverse parts of his body, just as the parts of our physical bodies work together in order for us to live. To this end, it is essential that we create spaces in which conversation can flourish, open to anyone in the church community. God longs to transform our churches as well as our individual lives. The process is long, but consider that God tarried in the wilderness with the Israelite people for forty years! To experience conversion as communities, however, we must be willing to abide together in God’s presence in our particular places. As we seek to grow into the fullness of Christ, God will graciously and lovingly transform us, causing us to flourish. We can then become a sign of hope—hope that change is possible; and that the loving and caring community for which we all yearn can, in fact, exist!

News from our Conspiring Communities This section features news from some of our many groups across the country. For contact information and description of each community’s mission and activities, go to While there, join our conspiracy of goodness! Alterna (LaGrange, GA): We’ve been named “Organization of the Year” by Mundo Hispanico, Georgia’s largest Spanish-language newspaper. We were honored because of our hospitality house, El Refugio, located outside the largest immigration detention center in the U.S. We chuckle at being referred to as an “organization,” considering we have no paid staff ( Alternative Seminary (Philadelphia, PA): Last month, we hosted our annual “Peace on Earth and the Politics of Christmas” event, which we hope to have viral soon. One offering in the coming year is a study using the book Liberating Bible Study, reviewed on page 42. Anthony’s Plot (Winston-Salem, NC): We joined our friends on the streets for a week in October to celebrate Sukkot, or the Festival of Shelters—a profound experience of public worship, feasting, and justice and solidarity. We’ve mentioned local “mismanagement” of a government program meant for economically vulnerable households. In response, we are weatherizing our qualifying neighbor’s homes ourselves this January! ( Camden Community Houses (Camden, NJ): Timothy and Cheryl HeatwoleShenk welcomed their second child, Matteo Justus Shenk, on October 28th! Our neighborhood, church, and community are brimming with Epiphany joy. Carpenter’s Church (Lubbock, TX) Every year, a group from our church spends Christmas abroad. This year we were at a lake in south Texas. There are few things better than Christmas away in a new family­—especially when someone is walking along the beach or mountains for the first time! ( Dathouse (Indianapolis, IN): We’ve had new folks move in. Winter is here and the wood-burning stoves keep us warm. Our housing projects are starting, and we’ve been meeting a lot more neighbors! ( DC Area Community of Communities (Washington, DC): We are looking for someone to help with a simple redesign of our website. Contact us if you’re will46

Pictured above: “Gather ‘Round” event at Mercy Station.

ing. Congress Heights house is continuing to serve as the local chapter of Food Not Bombs. This spring, they are planning to paint a mural on the side of their house! ( Detroit Villages/Ailanthus (Detroit, MI): We had a great Gather Round, which reconnected various Detroit Villagers. We are looking forward to more holiday potlucks, some alternative spring-break visitors, and an artist retreat to Northern Michigan. See you in the Motor City! ( Mercy Station (Anderson, AL): We have been involved in marches, rallies, and prayer in opposition to Alabama HB 56, a terribly unjust law. Also, we are traveling to Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti, in February to do some heavy lifting. Join us! Missio Dei Community (St. Petersburg, FL): We are planning “A Sustainable Faith: Ecology, Incarnation and the Connectedness of All,” April 20-21, 2011. This conference focuses on themes of justice, and speakers include Brian McClaren, Doug Paggitt, Tim Keel, Danielle Shroyer, among others. For more information, visit www. ( MOVEyouth (Rutherford, Australia): We are running a Friday night youth group and Sunday night informal worship gathering. We’re seeking to build a different vision in the heads and hearts of our youth leaders, and seeking to connect with individuals. Pray for us as we engage in meaningful ways (www.moveyouthrutherford. Mulberry House (Springfield, OH): It is illegal to beg for food or alms in our city. We have assembled a Coalition of the Complicit to repeal this law—planning creative demonstrations and general acts of light-hearted subversion ( Nehemiah House (Springfield, MA): Our Gather ‘Round in November was fun and delicious. Our community is expecting a baby boy in late December and a baby girl in March. We are organizing to purchase a building in downtown Springfield where we envision a home for an artists’ community ( Plow Creek Fellowship (Tiskilwa, IL): Plow Creek Bakery is offering a summer internship. Apply to live in Christian community, serve local families, and learn about baking. Visit the website or email ReIMAGINE! (San Francisco, CA): We took steps this fall with Occupy S.F., bringing food, listening, and making signs to contribute to the public conversation about economic justice. We had our yearly vow ceremony in October, renewing our commitment to our shared values. Soon, we’ll discuss our household budgets and what to sell, share, or give away. We’ve worked at a local food pantry, cleaned up a park and thrown a great neighborhood block party ( Relational Tithe (Oakland, CA): We are excited to launch a new forum on faith and economics, a place for folks to contribute to the conversation as we discover more about how God’s economy of love is possible! Join us at and share your two cents! ( Rutba House (Durham, NC) Our winter retreat this year will be in Washington, D.C., so we can publicly mourn the thirtieth anniversary of the United States resuming capital punishment with the execution of Gary Gilmore in 1982. We are praying that last year’s terrible loss of Troy Davis will help the nation see that it’s time to abolish the death penalty.


Servants Vancouver (Vancouver, BC): We have a small number of places for interns. Apply now to live in our intentional community and experience full-time ministry amongst folks struggling with addictions and homelessness ( The GAPS Community (Downey, CA): Our gardener-in-residence (Alfredo) has moved in. We are working with a local environmental planner friend (Anne) to begin a community garden in the dilapidated play yard of the church next door. Also, ClothesHelp (our pay-what-you-will clothing shop) is open weekly. We are seeking a shopkeeper in residence to oversee things and to help us expand into a larger space ( The Simple Way (Philadelphia, PA): The holidays were busy with Thanksgiving basket give-aways, Christmas toy drives, and our annual open house. A few of us also went to El Salvador with Cielo Azul to learn from various communities about liberation theology and the struggle for peace and justice ( Join CONSP!RE at the Justice Conference 2012 in Portland, Oregon, Feb. 24-25. This is the second annual international gathering of advocates, activists, artists, professors, professionals, prophets, pastors, students and stay-at-home moms working to restore the fabric of justice. Come weave your voice and gifts into the conversation (www.the

More conspiring communities: Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary Caritas Village (Memphis, TN) Centurion’s Guild (Honolulu, HI) Chicago Catholic Worker (Chicago, IL) Church of the Sojourners (San Francisco, CA) Conspiring for Coatesville (Coatesville, PA) Coral House Community (Lake Worth, FL) East Central Ministries (Albuquerque, NM) First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights (Pittsburgh, PA) Georgetown College Campus Ministry (Georgetown, KY) Hyaets Community (Charlotte, NC) Incarnation Station (Kansas City, KS) Justus (Sioux Lookout, Ont.) More Than Thursdays (Oakland, CA) New Providence Community Church (Nassau, Bahamas) Reba Place/Shalom Mission Communities (Evanston, IL) Sacramento Conspirators (Sacramento, CA) San Rafael First UMC (San Rafael, CA) Solomon’s Porch (Minneapolis, MN) The Book Parlor (Spokane, WA) The Vine (Haverhill, MA) Tierra Nueva (Skagit Valley, WA) United Church of Milton (Milton, VT) 48

Flowers for Etty Hillesum

I am with the hungry, with the ill-treated and the dying, every day, but I am also with the jasmine and with that piece of sky beyond my window. . . —The Letters and Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941-1943 1 In your journal, in this soul house of bound white pages, again and again (how can this be?) I find flowers, one bright anemone, or the snowdrops you trowel dug from the cold dirt purple violets, tiny yellow roses white hyacinths, jasmine lilies of the valley, once a spray of orchids once in a translucent blue vase scarlet cyclamen. 2 It is late Spring, 1942, Amsterdam. It is rain dark. Walking home from the offices of the Jewish Council— the soles of your feet blistered—


home from your gray metal desk, its neatly stacked petitions typed all day, all day, all in triplicate particular details of each story seared into your brain. And how did you dare send your heart into that scorched earth, hour after hour, that country of bone ash and dream? 3 Around the corner you see her— tucked in under an awning— the old woman, scarf-tied, selling her flowers and you know seeing her that somewhere outside the city there are still scented fields, the slow dance of bees and clouds over them. A few coins from your damp pocket and one coin more you press, gently, into her palm.

4 In the woods where I live there is a flower in the cold spring its blood stained root— thick, tough— its white blossom delicate. Every year it rises from the litter of winter and withered leaves, flowering for a day and afterwards its broad, heart-shaped leaf opens like a hand blessing the small ragged earth beneath.

5 In your own room you arrange them cutting, trimming the stems spilling water from the tap into a plain brown jug. Within the center of each purple tulip one yellow pollen-dusted star. You put the flowers on the waiting desk open your journal take up your pen: you have made me so rich, Oh God, please let me share out your beauty with open hands. . . Outside night rain is falling hard. Inside you sit leaning forward, touching each silky petal. —Cheryl Hellner 51

Conspire Issue #12 Conversions & Boundaries  

Becoming Ourselves: Conversions & Boundaries

Conspire Issue #12 Conversions & Boundaries  

Becoming Ourselves: Conversions & Boundaries