Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear - Chapter 8

In this chapter Scott Bader-Saye kicks off the final stretch in which he talks about hospitality, generosity and peacemaking as ways to combat fear in his book Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear.

He begins with The Risk of Hospitality, calling us back to the discussion in chapter 2 about how a culture of fear can lead to an ethic of security, with 'virtues' like suspicion, accumulation and preemption. These 'virtues', however, easily lead to a decline in hospitality - if we view the stranger with suspicion and see him as a threat, we are unlikely to risk opening our homes or lives to him. In a post 9/11 America, it is quite easy to see how individually and corporately we have adopted this attitude. But this mentality threatens our commitment to the Christian ethic of love for God and love for our neighbor.

Next he identifies a less obvious threat to hospitality: community. We've all probably experienced to some degree how easy it is to start to tribalize within our communities, with sharp boundaries defining who is in and who is out. When we are driven by fear, it becomes increasingly important to surround ourselves by people like 'us', disavowing all that may be 'strange' in a stranger in order to feel secure. It goes against most of our natural impulses to trust in God (see the previous discussions on providence) rather than our own ability to protect ourselves, especially knowing that "following... God will lead us into the unknown where safety is simply not the point." (102)

However, community can also serve as the context for hospitality. If we allow the boundaries to remain porous, shifting our communities from being 'bounded sets' to 'centered sets' as suggested by Brian McLaren, we become defined by where we are in relation to the center (Christ) rather than if we fit into the boundaries established by the group. This is immediately uncomfortable, as it adds a certain fuzziness to our identity. Christine Pohl (whose book on hospitality, Making Room, is excellent by the way) says this:

Part of the difficulty in recovering hospitality is connected with our uncertainty about community and particular identity. Hosts value their 'place' and are willing to share it; strangers desire welcome into places that contain a rich life of meaning and relationships. By welcoming strangers, however, the community's identity is always being challenged and revised, if only slightly. While this is often enriching, it can occasionally stretch a place beyond recognition. (108)

We can look to the early church in Acts to see some of the ways in which welcoming the stranger forced the Jewish core to reshape their notions of identity as they invited gentiles into their communion. Serious centuries-old boundary breaking took place that required much more of a total paradigm shift than most of us will have to undergo. We need to embrace the body of Christ metaphor given by Paul and start celebrating diversity in our communities, risking the 'death to self' that takes place when we start to actually welcome difference, letting go of our pride and holding our identity loosely enough to allow it to be refined.

Next week: The Risk of Peacemaking


Thursday, July 24, 2008

And I'm Back

Thus ending the long string of lasts, and beginning a new series of firsts. Right now? First time back on the internet. It's still strange to me that I can get online in Bellevue but not at my parents house.

Other great firsts in my new life back in Texas include margaritas, mushroom fajitas, firecracker sushi, walking with Dad and the dog at the crack of dawn, working out with mom and realizing she can lift more than I can, lunch with grandma, and a trip to Target. Good stuff. It's amazing how much you can pack into a day when you get started at around 3:30 in the morning. Jetlag, gotta love it.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear - Chapter 7

Continuing the discussion of providence as it relates to fear, in this chapter of Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, Scott Bader-Saye takes a look at Security and Vulnerability.

He begins by reiterating the point that the drama we are participating in is ultimately comic, not tragic. Not funny comic, but comic in the sense that because of God's providence, we can trust that it will end well in Act 5, to continue using Sam Wells' metaphor from last week.

But as we live in Act 4, with its attendant suffering and brokenness, we need to dig a bit more deeply into providence not as an insurance policy against harm, but as a promise of provision and redemption. This flies in the face of the 'health and wealth' gospel that draws heavily on the verses which seem to promise blessing and protection. What do we do with these verses? Well, it seems that we ought to treat them in the same manner as we treat other parts of scripture: Read them in their context. The larger narrative paints a picture that includes not only these verses, but the story of Job.

So given the reality of the world, and our deep instinct to seek security in fearful surroundings, where do we go looking for it? Well, it seems clear that wealth, power and domination aren't the answer if we look even only superficially at scripture.There we find a "paradoxical reversal of strength and weakness" (93) that manifests itself most clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But to place our security in a God whose power is vulnerable love? Seems sort of risky. It seems counter-intuitive almost to trust a God who seems silent in the face of evil. But as you can probably guess, Bader-Saye again has something to say about interpreting events that helps give voice to the silence.

He draws again on Sam Wells and his metaphor based on theatrical improvisation, which I really love. "In the lingo of improvisation, an actor can respond to an 'offer' (an action, speech or gesture) from another actor by 'accepting', 'blocking', or 'overaccepting'." (94) Accepting the offer is to play out the scene on the terms as given. To block is is to refuse the offer and "disrupt the scene in such a dramatic way that what follows has no coherence with what preceded." (94) To overaccept is to receive the offer, even an evil offer, but in a way that refuses take it on its own destructive terms.

The Genesis flood could be taken as an example of an act of blocking on the part of God, after which he promised to not 'block' humanity in such a way again. Joseph serves as an image of overacceptance by both he and God, taking the 'offer' of his brothers selling him into slavery and, rather than responding in violence, transforming the evil into a good in the larger narrative. Obviously, Christ again also presents to us the pinnacle of overacceptance, turning the evil of the cross into victory. In all of these stories, we see God refusing to 'block' the sin of humanity, but instead working through it to produce good. He redeems the situations and provides for the people within their own experience, even if not in the direct way they (and we) might initially choose.

So when faced with fear producing realities like, say, cancer, while we are powerless to fully 'block' the offer, we can choose to re-narrate and transform the event (and ourselves) by responding in trust to God. If we seek first the kingdom of God, making Him rather than security our primary goal, we can better meet life with courage in the face of fear.

Again I find these chapters on providence difficult to condense, so I hope that this makes some sort of sense. From here Bader-Saye moves to combating fear by risking hospitality, generosity and peacemaking.

Next week: The Risk of Hospitality


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Going, Going, Gone

Well, I've been up since about 3 this morning doing a final pack, and Kay and I will be catching the 6 o'clock bus to begin our long haul over the ocean. It's all too crazy.

See y'all stateside soon!


Saturday, July 19, 2008

More Lasts

Another day of lasts... my last formal meal, my last Bellevue dinner crew. Tomorrow is my last final high tea. It's all very.... just, very.

Also, the last installment of Dr. Horrible. If you haven't watched, do it, you'll love it.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear - Chapter 6

This week we'll be diving into Narrative and Providence in Scott Bader-Saye's Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear.

Now you may be wondering what in the world providence has to do with the topic of fear. Well, a lot actually. You see, he identifies a common yet subtle fear that afflicts most of us at some time or another: purposelessness. It's easy to worry that our lives are simply a series of meaningless actions, but he argues that the Christian story provides the larger context that gives us meaning. Not to mention hope.

One of the important skills we must learn is to read our own stories, the story of history, the story of culture, etc. figuratively with the story of scripture. An example of this can be found in Elie Wiesel's book Night, written about his experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp. In it, some of his fellow inmates struggle to interpret the horror in terms of the biblical pattern of exile, while others drew on apocalyptic imagery. Wiesel himself attempted to interpret the experience through the lens of Job. In each case, they placed themselves within the biblical narrative to interpret the events. Again, not to explain causation, but to interpret them in a meaningful way. This type of figurative reading is poetry, not science, and is flexible enough to allow multiple readings at once as well as for the interpretations to change as times and events change.

In addition to learning to read figuratively, we can read our lives within the larger narrative of God's redemptive plan. Sam Wells' uses the analogy of a 5 act play (86):
   *   Act 1: Creation
   *   Act 2: God's calling of Israel
   *   Act 3: God's incarnation in Jesus Christ
   *   Act 4: God's calling and sending of the church
   *   Act 5: The culmination of the story in the reign of God

As we walk through scripture and become acquainted with the overarching themes and the narrative that enfolds us from beginning to end, we are able to place ourselves in act 4, part of the continuing story. This placement gives meaning to our lives, reconnects us when we are feeling disconnected, and frees us of the burden and pressure of creating a new story by allowing us to participate fully in a story that is already being told. And we know the ending: the kingdom of God. So while we strive and try and persevere, we can also rest in the true hope of God's redemption, knowing that whatever surprises life throws at us, as the author of the story God can and will write a good ending. Or has written it: in Christ act 5 has already definitively been decided.

Well, to be honest, this was a chapter packed full of important theological nuances and helpful anecdotes, and I feel certain that in condensing it for blogging purposes it has lost much of its punch. Please comment if I've left out the bit that makes it all make sense, and I'll try to clarify it there.

Next week: Security and Vulnerability



Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Status? Is Not Quo.

Act 1 of Dr. Horrible is up, and it is fan-freaking-tastic. Check it out ASAP!


Monday, July 14, 2008

Little Surprises

Still packing, still going through drawers, still feeling sad, and I found this:


given to me by Anna ages ago. Made my day a little sweeter.


Ugh. Packing.

White Out This is the week that it all has to come together. After my last worker meeting this morning (yet another last) I pulled out the suitcases and began the somewhat traumatic process of going through desks and closets and drawers and trying to figure out what should stay and what should go. The weather matches my mood - it's a virtual white-out, and we can scarcely see the mountains through the fog. It's an apt metaphor, really.

But the good news is that Thomas, upon witnessing my plight, made me a delicious chocolate pie to give me comfort. Seriously, what else could a girl want? Such a thoughtful guy! (Ladies - he's available!)

Pie for Packing!


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Medical Missionaries in Need of Support

Susan, a woman on ravelry, is doing a raffle on her blog to help support her aunt and uncle, who are medical missionaries. Her uncle, Jan, fell out of a tree and broke his neck and spine and is now partially paralyzed. She's trying to raise enough to get them the wheelchair they'll be needing.

Read more about these folks here. Tickets for the raffle are only $10, and even if you don't want the stash she's raffling off, it's a great way to support them if you'd like to do a good deed today.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Really, Really, Really Ridiculously Good Looking

This has been a week of 'lasts' for me. I had my last High Tea on Sunday and did my last lecture/discussion on Wednesday. It's hard to believe how quickly my time here at l'abri is drawing to a close!

The FlickFor my last High Tea, once again I showed Zoolander in the afternoon, served up enchiladas (yum!) for dinner, and then everyone got gussied up for a Ridiculously Good Looking party in the lounge. With a walk-off, of course!  Some pics of the evening...

 Meghan & I  Ben & I









               Me and Meghan,                                Ben & I - dude doesn't
           my beautiful tutee                                even have to try!

The Boys














The Boys - Erik, Eric & Ben

Me & Kellie




Me and Kellie






Kara The Gals








        Adrienne,  Me and Renea


Kara, strutting it  during the walk-off

Dance Party!

Dancing the night away...


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear - Chapter 5

Buy From AmazonHere, in the 5th chapter of Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear by Scott Bader-Sayer, the role of community in developing courage and overcoming fear is addressed.

He begins by noting that in our times, the culture of fear and the culture of disconnection are very much related. More and more people suffer from loneliness, and are truly very alone in the world. Much business can be done electronically, more people work from home, with the rate people move around our communities have less stability... it all adds up to greater fear.

To combat fear, we need to develop courage. Courage is, in his definition, "the capacity to do right and good in the face of fear." (67) Courage doesn't dismiss fear, it perseveres in spite of it. This is much different than recklessness, which mimics courage but doesn't have the sister virtues of prudence and humility.

So what role can/should community have in developing courage? First, he asserts that courage, like other virtues, is best learned by having it modeled. It's just not the same on paper - he likens it to sheet music vs. a symphony actually performing. In a well functioning community, courage (and other virtues) will be being sought and lived, and a living community is reinforced by the stories of the communities of the dead (tradition). For example, the lives of the martyrs can help sustain a church community by modeling faithfulness.

Another role the community plays is by providing a space in which one can be vulnerable and confess their fears in anticipation of support rather than judgment. Often our churches don't have this reputation, which is tragic. We need a place to name our fear. "Fear grows strongest when we allow it to fester as a 'wordless darkness'. Words not only help us understand our fear but, more importantly, make it possible to share fear. To speak our fear to another is to begin to loosen the grip that fear has on us. To make fear take form in speech is to name it as something that can be confronted, not confronted alone but in the community of those willing to speak their fears aloud and thus begin to subdue them." (71)

He draws on the early church portrayed in Acts as an example of courageous community, especially as they shared risks and resources. Alone, resources feel much more scarce, and fear can drive us to spend more time protecting ourselves. After all, if I get sick, who will help me? Or what if my car breaks down? Fear seems much more manageable when we know that there are people who will support us both with prayer and material help. This flies in the face of the Western elevation of the autonomous self.

I wouldn't advocate an attempt to go back in time and recreate this exact scenario, but I wonder how we could implement some of the principles into our current context in a better way. Any ideas?

I'd also be curious to hear what anyone thinks about online communities. Most of you on my blog are connected to me solely electronically. Geographically we are very distant. Could we be called community? Can an online community be expected to take on any of these characteristics? Should it?

Next week: Narrative and Providence


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Beat the Press

You gotta love Fox News...

You also gotta love that MSNBC has a segment devoted to exposing the manipulation of other networks, which basically serves to manipulate our perception of their network. Ah, the media.



I may be late to the bandwagon on this one, but I just heard about this site, that has free audiobook downloads. I haven't actually listened to any of them yet, so I can't vouch for the quality of them, but as an avid audiobook person, I'm definitely curious to check it out.

Have any of y'all listened to any of them? Any titles you'd recommend?


Monday, July 07, 2008

Prayer and Fasting

Today we are doing a day of prayer and fasting in our community to spend an extended time of bringing the needs of L'abri and the world before God. I'd love to invite anyone who desires to join us...


Saturday, July 05, 2008


On July 15th, part 1 of Joss Whedon's musical extravaganza, Dr. Horrible, will be begin airing online. To tide us over until then they have put out an online comic featuring Captain Hammer, the "hero" of the piece. It's hysterical -  Check it out!


Friday, July 04, 2008

My Day

I ate a lot of cheese. A LOT of cheese. That is all.


The Chateau

The Ladies of the Castle

One of the things that was on my list of things to do before I left Switzerland was to  get a picture of the Chateau de Chillon in Montreux from this exact spot. So the ladies (Adrienne, Trisha, Renea and Bethany) trekked out with me and we made the rounds: Montreux, then Vevey for lunch and meandering, and finally to Lausanne to check out the brocante (a second hand shop) for steals. Which we found in abundance: Books for 2 francs a kilo! Clothes for 1 franc! Awesome leather shoes for 2 francs! Hurrah! And then to top off our day of bargain hunting, Adrienne got a new iPod in Aigle for free. Okay, not exactly. After getting stuck in the downpour last week, her iPod had a meltdown, and they replaced it for her. But still...

Earth. Water, Air


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear - Chapter 4

Buy From AmazonIn this 4th chapter of Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, Bader-Saye tackles the topic of Putting Fear In Its Place.  After all, we've said already that being overly fearful is not good, nor is being fearless, so how do we start reflecting on our fear to discern what's going on?

To do this, he returns to Aquinas, offering his definition of fear as a jumping off point: "[F]ear arises from the imagination of a future evil (something that threatens the loss of something we love) that is both imminent and hard to resist." (53) From here he extrapolates that we can offer two broad categories that a 'disordered' fear could fit into. We can either fear what or as we ought not.

As far as fearing what we should not, we can return to the definition and find a couple of criteria to test against. 1) Is the object actually evil? 2) Does it threaten the loss of a proper love? 3) Is it of great magnitude? 4) Is it imminent either in time or distance? 5) Is it difficult to fend off?

A couple of fears of mine that get critiqued under this rubric are heights (not of great magnitude), death by snake bite (not imminent), a computer crash (not a proper love)... and you get the picture. Some of these things get more difficult to discern, particularly imminence and magnitude, as the media floods us with constant streams of information. So how much should we fear global warming? Economic crisis? Poor water quality?

Here we step into the (I find) grayer arena of fearing as we should not. This comes in when we fear excessively, when we allow our focus on avoiding evil to overwhelm our dedication to doing/being good. So, for example, loving my dad tremendously (a proper love) and having the threat of his loss feel more imminent post-rattlesnake shenanigans, and agreeing that death is of great magnitude and impossible to avoid, I have some huge fears about losing him. But if this fear prohibits me from enjoying fully the times I share a beer with him, or limits my ability to be excited about his adventures, then my fear has become excessive. It contracts my world rather than expanding it.

Or what about our possessions? Our homes? It seems important to take care of the things we have, and to understand that goods, to whatever degree, are 'goods'. But does it limit our generosity and hospitality?

Bader-Saye makes the point at the end of the chapter that while reflecting on these things and critiquing our fear is a necessary part of putting fear in its place, we don't have the capacity to simply command ourselves to stop being afraid. No, our fears have to be overwhelmed by bigger and better things.

So I'd be curious, do any of you have stories of conquering a fear, be it trivial or major?

Next week: Community and Courage


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Summer Storms - Part 2

Overcast DaysYesterday I told you about our little (actually, according to Greg, the biggest since he's been here) hail storm in Huemoz. Like a lot that's going on in the world these days, even though it was beautiful it was destructive. It tore up much of the l'abri vegetable gardens, and no doubt hurt lots of local producers that rely on their harvests for income. This in turn will drive up our food costs even more.

Not a unique tune, and certainly not even close to the volume of  damage that the flooding in the Midwest is causing. I don't even know how to begin praying in the face of such overwhelming destruction: China, Myanmar, the Philippines, the Midwest, California... it seems that almost daily there is more bad news. And that's just the weather! Attempts at eloquence when I pray have faded as words fail me, and I am left with the refrain:  "Lord, have mercy on us."

With the credit crisis, gas prices, food shortages, etc. times are tight for everyone. It seems like the forecast for our lives this summer is 'overcast'. Here at l'abri, as at many other non-profits, we are definitely feeling the crunch. We've already had a couple of months of salary reductions, and this month the hope is mostly that we will be able to pay all of our bills, much less any of our salaries. Please pray for us. Not only that we will get the donations that we need, but that this time will spawn a growth in trust. That the words of Jesus will gain new depth; that things like leaky roofs, squeaky brakes and the like wouldn't deter me or any of us here from seeking first God's kingdom. That all these things would take their proper context in God's providence, and that my feeling of scarcity wouldn't make me less generous. Already I find myself holding the money I do have a little more tightly.

I recognize that as a relatively affluent Westerner I've never even scratched the surface of 'need' in my life. Please pray also that this tightness in my chest as I face (somewhat minor in the scheme of things) uncertainty in my life would not breed doubt, but increase my compassion for those who truly want for the bare minimum to survive. And that this, too, would increase my generosity.

Thanks to all of you, the friends who read this blog and remember me (and l'abri) in prayer!