Breathing Exercises

Refuge and Prospect

Starting Directions To

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This is a poem mashed up with a piece of music … wherein a robot takes over a Glitch Mob song and manages to give directions to a place worth getting to.

I’m imitating the experience of my smartphone interrupting my music to give me directions. I decided to write my own directions, get the computer to read them, and then mash it up with a song with a beat (with apologies to The Glitch Mob, who just made the song, called Fistful of Silence, but had no control over what I did with it).

Listen first (loud), then read the words


Starting directions to
the land that I promise you.
Proceed to the route.
Proceed to the route.
Turn thou neither to the right nor to the left.

Do not be afraid of the desert.

Turn thou neither to the right nor to the left;
nor make up your mind to return to the land
where Pharaoh broke your back …
with bread

In the endless horizontal,
there has always been a pillar
of fire

And after the scorching desert heat by day
and fire by night
only a blind man would miss the cloud.
Proceed to the route.
Proceed to the route.
Proceed to the route.

At dawn,
turn to the east and face the rising sun.
Raise your fist.

At the right moment, open your hand,
to reveal its well-traveled lines to the brightening sky.
And as the heavens read the roadmap of your palm,
know that you have already come


Written by dmaddalena

2014/05/19 at 4:20 pm

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Easter art offerings

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For Easter this year, we encouraged people to think about ‘resurrection’ and bring some art or other offering to share at our annual lamb roast. This was Mike M’s art:

2014-04-20 18.03.39

Mike M sounding better than anybody practicing guitar has a right to sound.

And, the document he put on display to explain what he was up to: Easter_Celebration_Artist_Statement

And, here are a few more things we had on display.

And, a few minutes of video of the installation inside the house:

Written by dmaddalena

2014/05/14 at 5:42 pm

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Art and Scripture for Advent

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Dec. 6, Bruce Herman, Magnificat Miriam Virgin Mother_1_advent_image

Miriam: Virgin Mother and Second Adam Triptychs–
Bruce Herman (Permanent installation–Monastery of San Paolo, Orvieto, Italy) … from the devotional

A simple and beautiful ‘Advent calendar‘ and devotional from Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts, combining interesting art, music, scripture, and comment from members of that community (and, in a classy touch, letting you choose to enjoy all or only some of what’s on offer). Like all good Advent calendars, this one reveals some fun and thought-provoking surprises along the waiting way that precedes Christmas day.

I also love the brave use of technology and non-traditional art. I’m inspired.

The Advent Project

Written by dmaddalena

2013/12/15 at 2:52 pm

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A Primer On Non-Directive Community

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In recent months, we’ve been trying on a unique shape of community, one discerned over years of prayer and practice. It’s been good … but recently, I’ve experienced an awkward kind of tension in meetings (and not for the first time). Part of the reason, I think, is because I still have habits, as a pastor, that fit a different model of pastoring than the one I feel is called for in our project, in this season. Pastoring is often done from a front-of-the room position, where the pastor as ad-ministrator stands in the place between God and the people, putting into words the things that need saying—the pastor speaks to God on behalf of the whole community and to the whole community on behalf of God. It’s a model that has deep historical roots, and can be powerful when the pastor is able to hear God and the community really well. That’s all I will say about that.

I haven’t felt like that is the right model for this community project. We’ve had occasion to talk about leadership as a shared domain, not belonging only to a pastor-type. Leadership can come from people striking out in the power and perspective of their own God-given gifts. It’s been a hard sell: that is, it’s been easy for all of us to talk about, but hard to do. Because we all have these same organizing habits, I think. In practice, I am still the person who talks the most in meetings, and I wonder if my jabbering makes it hard for people to believe that they have as much right to the floor as I. To make matters worse, there is an old story (rarely spoken, firmly believed) that nobody is as qualified as pastors to “lead” in church. I think that’s wrong, and the problem is in how we think about leadership. Leadership is not expertise, or even one kind of skill above others … it is choosing to go after something and inviting people to join you. The person who gets to do that is the one who sees the opportunity and responds, and that person may or may not know what they are getting into, or how they will get out of trouble when it comes. That’s why they don’t go alone.

The invitation has been open for some time for people to bring their thoughts, readings, questions, problems, ideas, art, whatever, and to share them with the group, where we can join in with each other. Here are some examples of what that might look like in community, regardless of who is doing the sharing.

From my own weekly musings on life and faith, here are my offerings, and ways that I would hope the the community could respond; how others could join me in my pursuits.

1. I have a long-term concern for the day-workers, undocumented, and/or generally low-income and service-industry hispanics in my community. I am not comfortable when I see one racial group largely relegated (?) to a single social/economic status. I am disturbed by what I see, confounded by the complexities, and don’t know how to respond.

I would like nothing better than to talk and pray and explore these themes in my Christian community. I imagine different people taking up different aspects of the conversation: some might have a prayer response, some might bring scripture or other stories from faith history to light, some might make art to work out something that words can’t express. Or, and this is OK too, the group may bless me in my struggle and not join me in it … but having been heard, I would feel supported in a basic way. And more important, I would be known.

2. I want to do an art project next Easter to focus on resurrection during our (now, annual) lamb roast.

I would love for members of my community to make art along with me, wrestle with the theological questions around resurrection, and help me think about the practicalities of creating a semi-public event to communicate something of the power of this essential Christian idea.

3. In reading the letter to the Hebrews, I noticed how the author has a different way of speaking to readers than can be found in the letter to the Romans (more about grace and rest than sacrifice and obedience), which I thought had a real resonance for our community. It prompted me to think about our community like the Hebrews, and draw out the unique way that author calls people to God.

As I explored some of these scriptures, and drew out themes of rest and obedience, it was cool to be able to read, discuss, and pray with the group. I was satisfied by that. What would have taken it to the next level was some art-in-response, or a story from others about how these scriptures continued to resonate in the weekdays-in-between. Or not–negative responses provide their own refining quality.

Non-directive community is not without direction. It is, though, without a single director. When the community joins an individual as they “work out their salvation in fear and trembling”… and where every individual can have a turn if they want, then community gets stronger by encouraging and strengthening each individual in their God-given impulses. That is the great theory. Non-directive community is not without direction. It can be specific, focused, and purposeful. But the direction comes from within the community in a dynamic and organic way, and not from a single person.

An obvious fear of letting people lead out of their unique perspective is that there would be chaos or weirdness. But what I’m describing here is not an absence of pastoring, just a more dynamic kind of leadership. I don’t think pastors should disappear, no way. As a pastor I will always have a shepherd’s instincts, to see that people are safe to grow and explore in peace (and I’m not the only person with those instincts). I’ve always thought that sheep (to extend the metaphor) do not need to be told where to eat … they know pretty well where to find the fresh grass. Shepherds don’t need to spoon feed sheep, or to protect them from wandering off of cliffs—sheep are not lacking in intelligence, contrary to popular misconception. But there are risks, and shepherds tend to be the kind of people who keep their heads up, not down in the grass munching. King David was a shepherd, and he was very dangerous with a sling. How’d he get so good at hitting targets at distance, unless he was used to watching the horizon?

Anyhow, having put these things out there to the group, by way of example, I return to the Awkward Tension as I walk the line between pastor, leader, and community member. Now, pastor-guy has spoken, and people may default to “What if my ideas don’t measure up? What if the questions I struggle with are less theologically or culturally weighty?” It’s for this reason that I have tried to keep my mouth shut, making room for people to bring their own things. But this wasn’t working so well. The lack of communication on my part was not creating an environment where people would spontaneously do something that they had rarely (if ever) been asked to do in church. So in this case, it seemed (with a little nudging from Anghelika) like a good opportunity to throw some examples out there.

Each of us has a personal storehouse of musings on faith and life. These are the content that gives our community shape and are the shared struggles that connect us to one another. That is, if we are willing to risk sharing these things with one another.

Written by dmaddalena

2013/12/08 at 1:37 pm

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The church is a community of outsiders

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For all the years I’ve helped in church communities, and gotten to know people who hang around at the edges, I’ve met people who believe they are guests at someone else’s dinner party.
It’s remarkable to hear so many people who share the same room, express the opinion that they alone are the ones who don’t belong … who aren’t comfortable in the room, who aren’t as spiritually fulfilled and connected and qualified as everyone else. I think I’m qualified to say that this belief was not true. The majority of people (even the ones closer to the center) feel this way some or all of the time. We all belong to the same community of outsiders.
When it comes to our community project, I’d say to anyone feeling disconnected: “You belong here. And not only that, but you are part of what gives shape to events, no matter if this is your first time or if you are part of the founders’ circle. Whatever you feel about being here, you’re here, and there is something about that that is important.” These words become more significant in a community that takes its design cues from a gazebo, a building with a purpose that varies, given shape by the different people that fill it at different times, and different purposes that form along the way. In a gazebo, you might have a wedding on one week, a brass band the next, and a variety of folks wandering through during the week to reflect on their lives, scribbling journal entries, sketches, and poetry in notebooks.
When people recognize that they are welcome in such a setting and settle in, and then are invited to share their questions or thoughts, there is another common self-doubt that kicks in. They ask, “Is my spiritual reading, my insight, my question good for the whole community? Maybe it’s only for me!” To this I reply that it’s good for the community in the same way that a new pair of shoes is good for your elbows. In a body (which is my favorite metaphor for church), new shoes aren’t for elbows, but happy feet make for a happy body. Benefits experienced by one part trickle down (or up, in this case) to the whole. When I share a thought, a reading, a question, or a finding with the group, it is valuable at a minimum because it tells people about me–if I’m glad for what I’m learning, then the group can share the good times; if I’m not glad, the group shares my burdens; if I’m confused, the community becomes a place to sort stuff out.
I’m not saying anything original. People who report on the comings and goings in God’s church have been saying the same things for thousands — thousands — of years. People like to talk about the qualifications that get you “in” the club. But God’s been bringing unqualified outsiders in for ever. A few decades ago, some missionary-theologians were fond of saying that God didn’t worry so much about the boundaries we needed to cross to be “in”, but more about the direction we were traveling. The argument said that the church was about being centered on the right stuff, and that everyone, near or far, that was pointed to the center, like, toward Jesus, was in. That’s a nicer picture of God’s grace than the old-skool boundary idea, in which you had to fulfill some requirement (memorize a creed, become a member, get cleaned up … cross a boundary) to be in.
But God does our bounded- vs. centered-set theology one better, chasing after the outsiders, even when we’re running in the opposite direction. God is an inviter, and if you’ve gotten an invitation, you’re in.


Psa. 139

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.

Written by dmaddalena

2013/09/22 at 12:56 pm

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A Pattern Language Revisited

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We’ve come to a stage in our journey foretold in the ancient scrolls …. Way back in 2009, I wrote an essay about Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. The book lists a multitude of patterns, each a way of thinking about design when making human-habitable spaces. The patterns are applied on a grand scale: from laying out a city to laying out the furniture in a living room. Alexander’s brilliant madness is that he builds a case that anybody can make their own spaces. From design to build, we’re qualified, and he will show the way.

A different kind of pattern language

A different kind of pattern language

One pattern in particular struck me (and inspired the essay). He instructs us on how to design our own house by spending time on our plot of land, enjoying it with family and friends, and after we’ve discerned the shape of the space we want to live in, simply to hammer in stakes where the corners will be. Outside expertise is not needed, and may be counter productive at this stage. The organo-hippie simplicity of this really appealed to me, and has been at the core of my philosophy of how to build anything (like this here community thing we’re doing), but it isn’t the end of the story. Because Alexander follows the chapter with an essay centered on a technical formula intended to make sure your columns are properly spaced, ensuring that the structure will withstand the test of time.

This is where we’ve come to. We have spent ample time discerning the shape of the thing we are building, and we have a sense of the life that it will contain. Now, the task is to build it well, perhaps to seek expert opinion from those who have experience and knowledge about such things. We want our project to last as long as it needs to, to survive storms, and to be here when people need it.

See the original essay on (Low) Tech Writer. It’s worth reading because it is one way of describing what we have been doing all this time, and what might be next.

“If technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, then there is a time and a place for it in all aspects of our lives. Technology can be a lifesaver. However, apply it too early in a design process and it cripples our products and projects, our homes and communities. They become cold and rigid–we fear any imperfection in them. They will be impersonal and homogeneous, ill-suited to our unique context or environment. You can see the results of an overly technological architecture everywhere you turn in suburbia: homes built according to some remote architect’s bland, marketable standard of what a beautiful home should look like … and when such “homes” are planted on a typical suburban half-lot, these mini-mansions look like part of a demonic plot to destroy a neighborhood. The best thing you can say about them is that they won’t fall down in a storm ….

“Let’s adopt this as a (low) tech writer principle: let individual or community wisdom, forged-in-context, dictate the unique shape of your house, project, product, or organization. Take time to listen for, intuit, and live with the implications of the designs you are working on. Only after organically discerning the shape and scale of a new project should you consult outside “experts” (or formulas). These may aid in developing levels of structure efficiently, but such expert witnesses will seldom have your local, contextual perspective, and so should not under any circumstances be allowed to dictate design.”

Written by dmaddalena

2013/08/25 at 2:08 pm

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On Patience and Names

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Treebeard speaks:

… Who calls you hobbits, though? That does not sound Elvish to me. Elves made all the old words: they began it.’

‘Nobody else calls us hobbits; we call ourselves that,’ said Pippin.

‘Hoom, hmm! Come now! Not so hasty! You call yourselves hobbits? But you should not go telling just anybody. You’ll be letting out your own right names if you’re not careful.’

‘We aren’t careful about that,’ said Merry. ‘As a matter of fact I’m a Brandybuck, Meriadoc Brandybuck, though most people call me just Merry.’ ‘And I’m a Took, Peregrin Took, but I’m generally called Pippin, or even Pip.’

‘Hm, but you are hasty folk, I see,’ said Treebeard. ‘I am honoured by your confidence; but you should not be too free all at once. There are Ents and Ents, you know; or there are Ents and things that look like Ents but ain’t, as you might say. I’ll call you Merry and Pippin, if you please – nice names. For I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.’ A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. ‘For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.

‘But now,’ and the eyes became very bright and ‘present’, seeming to grow smaller and almost sharp, ‘what is going on? What are you doing in it all? I can see and hear (and smell and feel) a great deal from this …. What is going on? What is Gandalf up to? … I like news. But not too quick now.’

… From The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Written by dmaddalena

2013/07/06 at 10:36 am

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