Redemption in the Broken Places
Redemption in the Broken Places VOLUME 2, NUMBER 4// Fall 2010
36 GOOD NEWS IN THE BARRIO
7 WEAVING US WHOLE CONSP!RE editors “God is not the Savior who bails us out. We will fall on our faces.”
“Our assumption that we know what God wants to say is why it’s so hard to hear God’s voice.”
THE WOODSHED OF GRACE
Dee Dee Risher
“When answers come, they will not fit our perfect ideologies. They will be born of failure, concession, and compromise.” 14 FROM THE ASHES
“The question is not: ‘Will my life be easy or will my heart break?’ The question is: ‘When my heart breaks, will I choose to grow?’” 17 BEAUTY AT THE BROKEN PLACES
“If we are broken, we are also more beautiful than we ever dared to suspect.” 18 PALLIATIVE FAITH
“Our faith tries to understand God. But ultimately, all we carry is our trust that God is ahead of us, leading us and loving us and preparing us for what is to come.” 22 THE STORY GOD WRITES
Dawn Noelle Smith Beutler
“I tried to do all the right things. Still, my marriage failed.” 24 LESSONS OF A LIFE UNDONE
James W. Smith
“Mine is a dramatic, crash-and-burn story, but every one of us will live through failure.” 28 GOD’S BIG CANVAS
“Finding myself with a family, no job, no home, virtually no money was deeply traumatic. This was not how our life in community was supposed to turn out.” 33 COMMON PRAYER “Liturgy invites us to become a peculiar people.” 34 GOD’S LONG SHOTS
“Win or lose, loving people is a beautiful pastime.”
38 THE MASTER TEACHER
“When you do fail and come to terms with it, a strange hope emerges.” 40 HOW LOVE LEADS US BACK
Vicki Marsh Kabat
“I looked into the eyes of my community, waiting for recognition of my pain. It never came.”
POETRY 21 WHAT I COULD BECOME
50 WILL THERE BE TIME
DEPARTMENTS 43 REVIEWS 44 BREATHING TOGETHER
Cheryl Heatwole Shenk
“Only a few weeks after her arrival, our intern left for home, expressing deep disappointment with her experience.” 46 NOTES FROM SCATTERED PILGRIMS Our Co-Conspiring communities share what they’ve been up to. 49 CONTRIBUTORS On the Cover: Caladrius, Oil on Linen, by Luke Hillestad In Roman mythology, the Caladrius is a white bird who has the power to draw out sickness from a person, and take it upon itself. Here, the healed girl has sought out and thanked the Caladrius as it lay dying in her hands. We are featuring Hillestad’s work throughout this issue.
Find the study guide for this issue on our website: www.conspiremagazine.com
Weaving Us Whole
cripture weaves a dreamcloth of miraculous stories, visions to catch our imaginations. At first glance, they’re shot through with triumph. The powerful ruler is forced to free his hordes of slaves. The boy fells the bloodthirsty giant with a slingshot. Armies and thick-walled cities are vanquished by ill-clad desert wanderers. A young peasant woman bears the illegitimate child who turns history. The dead are raised, the blind see. A book of miracles. Scripture is also a parade of failures, losers, and holy-minded followers gone judgmental. Sarah condemns a powerless woman and her child to starve in the desert. Moses is prone to rage violent enough to crack stones and skulls. Jacob is a weasel, and his mother Rachel helps him rob his twin brother. David is a rapist and a murderer. A cock crows over a betrayal, sworn-to-the-death disciples desert, and Saul of Tarsus is a murdering vigilante who spends a lot of time after conversion vacillating between over-blown pride and self-doubt. Not to mention that the Son of God gets executed. This is not Hollywood. We, though, are a Hollywood people. We eat up those holy triumphs against the odds. We want the great Vindicator, the cowboy God who gallops from the hills to save our ministries, our bodies, our children, and restore justice to the plains. God doesn’t play that role. God is not the Savior who bails us out. We are going to get old, run into walls, hurt others and be hurt, and participate in injustice. We will fall on our faces. God is going to make us deal with our stuff. Some “stuff” is embedded in Scripture itself. You have to turn the story of the Canaanite woman on its head to make Jesus look good calling her a dog. Paul advocates for human slavery and calls the entire population of Crete degenerate slackers. Not to mention the woman chopped into twelve pieces and sent around to the guys in the neighborhood. CONSP!RE’s editors conceived this very non-triumphant issue as way out of the shadows of self-condemnation which accompany failure. Here are anguished cries for grace, fist-shaking at the heavens, tears of remorse. We dare to call these, too, testimonies of faith. For only when we can look our failures in the face are we able to touch the robe of God. As we grope towards that power, we finally begin to recognize that it does not spring from victory or triumph. Instead, it is rooted in experiences of failure and loss. Because of that, it is woven of stronger cloth—mercy, grace, forgiveness, and unrelenting love. It is cloth large enough to hold the strands of transformation which will make us a new people—broken, merciful, singing. —the editors
used to think that the growth we experience through pain, physical or not, was a consolation prize, like being told you “have a good personality.” Who wants a good personality when you can have good legs or a face that launches a thousand ships? What we really want, I thought, are easy lives, but if we can’t have those, then we can at least become deep, grounded people who grow through heartbreak. But I don’t know anyone who has an easy life forever. Everyone I know gets their heart broken sometime, by something. The question is not: “Will my life be easy or will my heart break?” The question is: “When my heart breaks, will I choose to grow?” Sometimes in the moments of the most searing pain, we think we don’t have a choice. But we do. It’s in those moments that we make the most important choice: grow or give up. It’s easy to want to give up under the weight of what we’re carrying. Sometimes it seems like the only possible choice. But in reality, there is always, always, always another choice, and transformation is waiting for us just beyond that choice. This is what I know: God can make something beautiful out of anything. Out of darkness and trash and broken bones. God can shine light into
even the blackest night and leave glimpses of hope all around us. An oyster, a sliver of moon, one new bud on a black branch, a perfect tender shoot of asparagus fighting up through the dirt for the spring sun. New life and new beauty are all around us, waiting to be seen. I’m coming to think there are at least two kinds of pain. There’s the anxiety and fear I felt when we couldn’t sell our house. And then there’s the sadness I felt when I lost the baby or when my grandma passed away. Very different kinds of pain. The first kind, I think, is the kind that invites us to grow. The second is the kind that invites us to mourn. God is not trying to teach me a lesson through my grandma’s death. I wasn’t supposed to love her less so the loss hurt less acutely, nor am I supposed to feel less strongly about the horror of death and dying. When we lose someone we love, when a dear friend moves away, when illness invades, it’s right to mourn. It’s right to feel deep, wrenching sadness. But then there’s the other kind of pain, that conflicted anxiety. My friend Brian says that at the heart of all human conflict is the phrase “I’m not gettingwhat I want.” When you’re totally honest about the pain, what’s at the center? Could it be that you’re not getting what you want? As unwelcome as it may be, you are getting an invitation to grow. It’s sloppy theology to think that all suffering is good for us, or that it is a result of sin. All suffering can be used by God’s graciousness for good over time, after mourning and healing. But sometimes it’s just plain loss. It’s not because you needed to grow, or because life or God or anything is teaching you any kind of lesson. The trick is knowing the difference between the two. In my first job out of college, one person I worked with drove me crazy. He pushed my buttons and hurt my feelings and twisted my words, and I couldn’t get past it. After months and months, my genius boss Greg told me a couple of things. First, he said, “You’re not crazy. You’re not making this stuff up. He’s a difficult person to work with.” I exhaled, vindicated and feeling like a
deeply discerning person. But then Greg paused: “You’re not wrong about this guy, but why does it bother you so much? Why does his way of being make you so crazy?” Then he added: “It’s OK if you don’t know now. The good thing is that you’ll have plenty of chances to figure it out, because when someone or something taps into your deep emotion like that, God will keep sending that same kind of person or same kind of situation into your life over and over until you choose to do the work of understanding it and growing past it.” That was over ten years ago, and his words were absolutely true. You can learn it the first time, or you’ll find that same situation or same kind of person or same opportunity staring you in the face over and over again. You’ll begin to wonder at the coincidence. “What are the chances that I would keep having to work with people like this? What are the chances that my husband and I keep having the same fight over and over? What are the chances that so many different people would hurt my feelings in just the same way?” And there it is, an opportunity to grow, to transcend and transform, to break that terrible pattern. I’m beginning slowly to recognize my own fears and landmines—why some changes are so scary for me and how the crazy-meter ratchets up little by little. Now I notice these things and pay attention. And when we pay attention and when we grow, we become freer, more flexible, more faithful, more able to ask for help. We become less fearful, more able, more comfortable with the idea of life as a beautiful mess. You want me to say that when you grow, finally, all the changes will stop. But they don’t. There is another change ahead—another opportunity to grow, to shed your skin, to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. The image is prone to cliché or mythological reference because that’s what we’re all trying to do, now and through the ages. We’re all trying to emerge new from the pain, beautiful after the brokenness, to live, in fact, that central image of Christianity: life after death. Reprinted from Bittersweet, © Zondervan 2010
The Story God Writes Dawn Noelle Smith Beutler
n a recent visit to my grandmother’s house, we looked at old family slides. In one, I noticed a wall hanging for the first time. “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” That statement summed up my approach to life. Achievement— academic and moral—became my way of coping with the dysfunctionality of divorce, a reality in my life since the age of three. Counting their own from each other, my parents have gone through eight divorces. I learned early on the stigma that comes with being a child of divorce, and was determined to beat it. “You’d never guess that she comes from a broken home,” people would say. The words stung, but they also affirmed me. I earned straight A’s and won lots of awards. Doing the right thing became second nature. I went on every mission trip, was president of the campus Christian club, peer counselor at our Friday night outreach, and earned a scholarship to attend a pricey Christian university. When I felt called to marriage and to a ministry overseas, I approached both with the same intent to achieve. I was only too aware of the struggles marriage entailed. My motto had long been “No marriage is better than a bad marriage.” I was determined our marriage would succeed. Together, my husband and I ministered to shantytown children in Central America, and eventually gave birth to our own. Life was good, though not without challenges. But somewhere along the way, something went terribly wrong. A few months before I learned of my husband’s infidelity—news that turned my entire world upside-down—I had a remarkable dream, one that seemed significant enough to record. In my dream, I was looking through my journal. The first pages were scribbled over, black and unreadable. As I continued to leaf through, I came to new pages filled with amazingly beautiful artwork that I had never before seen. I gasped with wonder. I suddenly became aware of someone watching me. As I looked up and met a loving, gentle gaze, I knew that this someone cared deeply for me and had prepared this artwork for me. The intimacy with God foreshadowed in the dream did not become real until three years later—years marked by struggle, fighting, and hoping for 22
the reconciliation of my marriage. Though I tried to do all the right things, my marriage still failed. I felt vulnerable and exposed, as if a large piece of my midsection had been cut out, leaving a hole for everyone to see right through. I was in a crisis of faith. “What if none of it is true?” I asked myself. The God in whom I had trusted as a small child was a God of reconciliation. If I was doing everything God had put in front of me, why was the reconciliation of my own marriage nowhere on the horizon? I still have no answers to that question. Indeed, the restoration of my marriage is no longer even something I desire. God has given me a new future. It is not one in which I am achieving. It does not hinge on my doing all the right things. It simply requires that I receive what God is giving me, rather than grasp after what I think best. This is the spiritual discipline I am now seeking to practice. I am trying to live into grace. The role of waiting prayerfully for the return of an unfaithful spouse put me on a pedestal of admiration. But I’ve found that when God’s gifts, which are many and great, fall from heaven, it’s a lot easier to catch them from down here on the ground, where I feel close to the suffering of others. I know that this place, struck through with the goodness and light of God, is where I want to stay. God’s goodness is what has brought me this far, though perhaps not exactly in one piece. The hole inside has been filled, but that fit has not been neat and tidy. Still, the darkest places of my soul are finding comfort. Yet the relief of traveling a new path is accompanied by disappointment that I was unable to beat the statistics or provide a stable, two-parent home for my children. Nevertheless, the future unfolding before me is a beautiful gift, filled with life and overflowing with a love that is too big to be constrained by the loss in my life. I guess that is the gift of abounding love—it can get a bit messy. Some might argue that this good future is a result of my own choices. I don’t see it that way. I lost that future, the one I sought to “achieve.” Now the choice before me is simple: to receive the story God is writing in my life. 23
God’s Long Shots
ne night a few years ago, I stayed up way too late in a Buffalo hotel room, eating string cheese and salami from the convenience store across the parking lot, watching the tail end of the Connecticut-Syracuse basketball game on television. Unfortunately for the folks to whom I spoke the next morning, that game went into six overtimes before Syracuse finally won around 1:30 a.m. And unfortunately for the guy sitting next to me on the plane ride home, I ate all the salami. Still, I have no regrets. That game had more drama than most Broadway plays. I will spare the details for those of you who are not basketball fans, except for this one: at the end of every period but the last (when the game was finally out of reach), whichever player had the ball took a shot, no matter how offbalance or far away he was from the basket. Basketball players always do that, of course, just as football quarterbacks throw Hail Mary passes in the last seconds. Nobody expects such desperate, unlikely attempts to succeed. Everyone knows that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they don’t even come close. But we watch them anyway, holding our breath, because we also know that every once in a while even the longest of long shots is good. And when it is, when that last-second basket or touchdown improbably— maybe even impossibly—wins the game, the crowd goes wild. The winning team goes wild, too, and together they mob their unlikely hero and joyously celebrate what is almost invariably called their “miracle shot.” That is what many of us are doing with our lives and ministries: throwing up desperation shots, secure in the knowledge that most of them are bound to fall short. Tutoring high school kids who can barely read, let alone hope for college. Searching out jobs for the least-employable adults imaginable in the midst of the worst economy any of us has ever seen. Securing mortgages so we can rent houses to families that have never lived anywhere longer than a year or two. Trying to create genuine, long-term friendships where some friends have cars and credit cards and other friends are losing their food stamps; where some friends read to their pre-schoolers and other friends still smoke and drink while they’re pregnant; where some friends have everything and other friends nothing at all. Loving people who are broken beyond repair. That is what God is doing, too, I think: loving us with all that divine might, seeking our salvation in every moment, ceaselessly calling us to do God’s will in this world, so as to make it over into that glorious Kingdom that Jesus was always talking about. God doesn’t always have his way, of course, at least if my
life is any indication. I thwart God. I don’t listen. I disobey. We all do. One day God will have his way with us, but for now we more often use our free will for other things. We are the problem, however. No matter how broken we are, God does his best. God always takes his shot. When I suggest that some people can’t be helped no matter how much you love them, friends of mine say I am limiting God’s power. But when those friends suggest that God can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants to, in the life of whomever he chooses, I wonder if they think God is a monster. Or maybe they are only watching God’s highlight reels, the ones where all those ‘miracle shots’ are collected and replayed over and over again. You know, cancer patients healed, junkies redeemed, families reunited, hurricanes averted, crippled planes landed safely. Don’t get me wrong. Over the years, I’ve experienced a few of those miracle shots myself. I’ve seen times when everything and everyone lined up just the way God wanted them to, in ways that only a good and loving God could have orchestrated. If I hadn’t, I think I would have given up ghetto longshots a long time ago. Still, I keep taking them because doing so feels like the best, most hopeful thing to do. It’s not that I think they will succeed—in fact, I almost never think they are going to succeed, and most of the time I’m right. Most of the time, at least here in Walnut Hills, broken people stay broken. So what? Win or lose, loving people is a beautiful pastime. Loving people is a good job, too, and the people who do it are good company. Loving people is a wonderful life. And, every once in a while…the crowd goes wild! And when that happens, I believe God is right there in the midst of the mob, celebrating the miracles that must be miracles to God as well. In the meantime, keep the faith. 35
News from our Co-Conspiring Communities CONSP!RE is sustained by communities and groups. Here, our Conspirers share what’s happening, from new kids to a new world; from the mundane to the inspiring. For contact information and description of each community’s mission and activities, go to www.conspiremagazine.com. While you are there, join our conspiracy of goodness!
Alternative Seminary (Philadelphia, PA): Peace activist and theologian Jim Douglass joined us for an evening on “JFK, Obama, and the Unspeakable,” based on his book reviewed in CONSP!RE’s Winter 2010 issue. Jim discussed what we can learn from the Kennedy assassination and how it can lead to a deeper vision of peacemaking in our times (www. alternativeseminary.net). Another World is Possible (Philadelphia, PA): Our feature film Return to El Salvador screened in seven Canadian cities in September. It will be screened at the School of the Americas Watch in November and in three hundred El Salvadoran communities this January. To screen Return to El Salvador in your community, visit www.returntoelsalvador.com.
Camden Community Houses (Camden, NJ): Camden Community Houses welcomed three new folks for the year—Kristin Schrum, Katie Jo Brotherton, and Mary Hulse. Pray for them!
Pray for healing on our streets with Carpenter’s Church
Carpenter’s Church (Lubbock, TX): We eagerly invite you to join us and many others November 20 for the third annual Prayer Vigil at Mahon Public Library in Lubbock, Texas. The housed and houseless will join together to pray, speak, and act for peace, hope, and healing on our streets. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org (www.carpenterschurchlubbock.org).
Church of the Sojourners (San Francisco, CA): Church of the Sojourners has entered a year of sabbath, drawing on the Old Testament themes of the Sabbatical year. We are welcoming rest, receiving gratefully the manna given as enough, and deepening relationships with God and with each other (www.churchofthesojourners.org). Coral House Community (Lake Worth, FL): Coral House Community has moved a few miles west onto a five-acre plot of land. We are now three households and sharing a community space with several other local organizations. The past few weeks have been spent preparing the ground for our 1000-square-foot garden. We are excited to see how God is going to use us in this new location! (www.coralhousecommunity.com).
Topsoil for Coral House Community
dathouse (Indianapolis, IN): The gardens are on their last fruits, and our community is ready for the cooler months. We’ve acquired two wood-burning stoves so we can now heat all three houses and have been gleaning wood wherever we can. We’ve been spending intentional time getting to know our neighbors. We have contracts with seven kids from our neighborhood, offering incentives for good grades and behavior (www.dathouse.wordpress.com).
DC Area Community of Communities (Washington, DC): We gather for prayer and conversation at a different house or place each month. It’s a great way to get to know our city’s diverse and interesting communities. This month’s topic was “Keeping God at the Center,” exploring how we maintain our larger vision while working through logistics (www.dc.newmonastics.org). Detroit Villages/Ailanthus (Detroit, MI): The Detroit Villages are alive and growing. New communities have sprung up in Corktown and Midtown/Cass Corridor. Existing communities have begun hosting permaculture urban farming intensives, and new friends discovered the CCDA conference and returned with passion for connecting with the poor. Come to the Motor City to see! (www.youngleadersinitiative.org). Dwell (Burlington, VT): In July, we joined forces with sister community, Mosaic: Burlington, to open the doors of the Atmis Art Space. It’s always seemed a little odd to have a building called a church, but used only a few days a week. Together, we now host gatherings of all shapes, sizes and varieties, from Sunday worship to morning prayer to Zumba classes to studio space for artists to office space for a web design/humanitarian firm which sprung up from within our community! So, yeah, we’re pretty stoked. On top of that, we’ve been sharing homesteading skills, which has lead to some delicious cheese, bread, and beer! The Kingdom is here and yet still coming (www.dwellchurch.com). FLOOD (Sacramento, CA): In September, we traveled to Kenya to continue our ongoing relationship with Empowering Lives International (www.empoweringlives.org) and the people of East Africa. This October, FLOOD begins sevenweek learning labs, designed to explore the Way of Jesus through art as well as collective and individual practices. What does it mean to be good news in this growing city? We ask for prayer as we move into a very new and important season (www.floodsac.com). Hyaets Community (Charlotte, NC): Zebulon Jarrell and Nora Williams were both born into our community during the summer. We are celebrating five years of life together with several events in our neighborhood and with friends from around our FLOOD folk in Kenya city. Recent activities have included harvesting, canning, foraging, retreating, camping with neighborhood kids, hosting mission groups, and feeding babies in the middle of the night. Visit us at www.hyaets.org—or in person to see the new babies and enjoy some homegrown pickled okra. Mulberry House (Springfield, OH): This fall, we purchased the abandoned lot next door. Throughout the winter, we will be conspiring with our friends and neighbors to transform this blighted space into a new community park (www.unlikelyinsurgence.blogspot.com). Nehemiah House (Springfield, MA): This past summer, we did our first “urban plunge” for church leaders and had a rich weekend with David Janzen from the Reba Community and Dayna Olson Getty from Durham, North Carolina. We’ve also leased a ministry and art studio space in downtown Springfield (www.nehemiah-ministries.com). Nomad Supply (Birmingham, AL): We closed our store in May, in part because we felt God moving us to other things and in part because it was not working out financially. That same month, we purchased forty acres of land (Nomad’s Land) that will be used as a place of rest, intentional community, and discipleship for nomads new in their faith who want to know Jesus more. By November, there’ll be fifteen of us there praying and preparing for what God has in store, and by spring we hope to host our people seeking discipleship (www.nomadsupply.com). Relational Tithe (Oakland, CA): Relational Tithe builds a worldwide network of relationship and redistribution. This past summer, we released Economy of Love, featuring video sessions with Shane Claiborne (reviewed in the Summer 2010 CONSP!RE). If
News from our Co-Conspiring Communities you’d like a copy, visit the resource section of our website or your local bookstore. To start a relational redistribution group, contact us at www.relationaltithe.com. Rutba House/School for Conversion (Durham, NC): After several years rehabbing one of our houses, the Rutba House community is looking to purchase another property to replace a rental we’ve occupied for six years. Prayers, wisdom, and noninterest loans are welcome (www.newmonasticism.org). Servants Vancouver (Vancouver, BC): Servants Vancouver is now accepting applications for one- to nine-month internships. Join us and learn the rhythms of community and ministry among people struggling with addiction and homelessness in inner-city Canada. Contact us for an information pack (www.servantsasia.org). The Book Parlor (Spokane, WA): We are adding book clubs, discussion groups, and other events to build community and challenge people to recognize God in their midst. We also want to give a shout out to our neighbors at Project Hope, who have had another successful summer using urban farming to bring positive change to our community’s youth. Check out all the new events at www. TheBookParlor.com. The GAPS Community (Downey, CA): We seek a gardener, an artist, a psalmist, and a shopkeeper who are willing to reside in sunny Southern California. (Partners and small children are welcome.) Email email@example.com for details (www.downeymoravian.org).
The Book Parlor and neighbors Project Hope
The Simple Way (Philadelphia, PA): We pulled off our first-ever summer daycamp—three weeks of games, crafts, the beatitudes and Jesus, and endless art! And this past Labor Day, we not only gave out hundreds of bags of school supplies, but we had a blast hosting the best magicians, jugglers, and drummers in Philly for a huge street party (www.thesimpleway.org). The Vine (Haverhill, MA): We’re looking for a house so that our intentional community can grow and will be closer to the people to whom we feel called to minister. We’re excited as we work to find the resources that will enable us to move into this next phase of life together (www.thevinehaverhill.com).
More Conspiring Communities: Caritas Village (Memphis, TN) www.caritasvillage.org • Centurion’s Guild (Honolulu, HI) firstname.lastname@example.org • Church Communities International (Rifton, NY) www.churchcommunities.org • Circle of Hope (Philadelphia, PA) circleofhope.net • Conspiring for Coatesville (Coatesville, PA) • East Central Ministries (Albuquerque, NM) www.eastcentralministries.org • George School (Newton, PA) www.georgeschool.org • Georgetown College (Georgetown, KY) • Incarnation Station (Kansas City, KS) • Lahash International (Portland, OR) www.lahash.net • New Providence Community Church (Nassau, Bahamas) www.npcconline.org • Raising Micah (Thousand Oaks, CA) www.raisingmicah.org • Reba Place/Shalom Mission Communities (Evanston, IL) www.rebaplacefellowship.org • ReIMAGINE! (San Francisco, CA) www. reimagine.org •Solomon’s Porch (Minneapolis, MN) www.solomonsporch.com • The Rabbi’s World (Santa Rosa, CA) • Third Street House (Lexington, KY)