Breathing Exercises

Refuge and Prospect

Posts Tagged ‘timing

A Conversation We Get to Have

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A member of our community came out as gay/bisexual on Facebook a few weeks ago. Bravely and beautifully, I say. One can’t mean to say that it’s brave or beautiful to be gay, because what would that really mean anyway? But I think my friend* (and her gentle language in the post) is beautiful, and that it takes a lot bravery to speak up about such a controversial issue in public, especially when you carry the controversy inside of you. As a straight guy, I’m afraid to speak of these things in public, and I know that people with same sex attraction have considerably more reason to fear, especially when their culture includes friends of faith, where the questions are rooted in some pretty powerful old stories of meaning.

This friend came out in conversation with me a couple years ago, and we had many pretty amazing conversations, the three of us: God, the Beautiful Girl, and me. I’m telling you, they were amazing, but more about that in a minute. We had loose plans to talk to our community about these conversations, but she moved away and the talk was delayed. I’d been eager for it to happen primarily because I’m pretty weary of the sex talk in the church (when we talk at all) being about us and them. This kind of talk is problematic … for a couple reasons; first, we’re no longer isolated enough that it makes sense to talk as though we were part of a homogeneous demographic. Second, it’s reductionistic to suggest that any of us are firmly planted on one side of a black/white issue. If we can believe it, God wants to meet each of us in our desire to be whole, healthy, and connected to the ultimate good. If this is so, then everybody might stand before God with the same posture of trembling anticipation. So anything that helps us talk more about just us, than about us-vs-them, is good.

If you are used to reading articles and posts on questions of sexuality where people are quick to let you know where they stand, you may have noticed I am not doing that. Sorry. It’s not because I don’t have anything to say. It’s because I’m just not going to say it in print. You don’t get that part of me unless we’re face to face, deep into the conversation, and maybe not even then. What I will tell you is how the conversation with my friend went down, and maybe it will help you understand why I don’t give away my convictions lightly.

I wasn’t ready for it. That’s the first thing. That is, I knew that pulling a community together in this day and age meant that the question of who gets in (you know, to the community, to heaven, etc) was going to come up, because, that’s one of the ways people like to mark out the boundaries of community. It’s been this way for ever … really since we were children—especially so when it comes to boys and girls, and boyishness and girlishness: witness the little kids’ clubhouse where no boys (or girls) are allowed, because the gendered mysteries taking place inside could never be understood by the opposite sex. I knew years ago, long before starting our community project, that there was going to be a moment when we’d feel the pressure to decide how the boundaries get laid down. There’s no getting around it. Even no boundaries is a boundary, one that is as constraining and fixed and meaningful as any other. I knew the questions were coming, but I wasn’t ready.

One reason I wasn’t ready is that, while I have beliefs and thoughts and convictions, I really did not like the way the conversation was going, in both the faith-culture and the wider culture. Much of the language that gets published has been isolationist and combative … words thrown around like dumb-bombs dropped on cities in wartime, with most of the language shamelessly generalizing the enemy as a unified force with an agenda to destroy Our Freedoms, or Our Values. I wanted nothing to do with it, and was really not looking forward to being drafted into battle.

But as it it turns out I didn’t need to be ready. See, I’d long thought that the business of the church is to gather together to listen for God’s word to us, both as a community and as individuals. I also believe that church leaders are not here to dictate or direct, but to lead the way to the God Who Speaks. It’s a good theory anyhow, and God was going to give me a chance to test it. When I got together with my friend, each day I wondered if we were going to have the conversation I feared … the one where we draw lines in the sand and stand on opposite sides. While I was prepared to do whatever I sensed God asked of me, God never let me draw that line. I know that is a loaded statement, but you’ll have to trust me on that. In fact, as God had me stand with her it was as though we were on one side of a line, both desperate for the same thing—a word for us, for her, for me.

We had the conversation. Over months, we aired out the Big Secret, talked out fears (many of which we shared), shared articles, critiqued theologies, and questioned philosophies. We cried, laughed, and prayed a lot. Throughout, I never felt free in my spirit to talk about my personal perspective or to say what I thought in a bottom-line sort of way, and maybe I’m just now realizing that this was because it wasn’t about me. What I could do was make room for God to talk. And wow — like wow — we witnessed some amazing action in that department. … But no, I’m not going to talk about the things we heard or experienced, because, while I was there to bear witness, they do not belong to me. They belong to her and will remain with her as long as she can carry them or until God speaks a new word.

I bet, if you were to ask her, she could tell you how I might answer certain questions. But I never came out and spoke them. I never felt like that was my role. Still don’t. But here’s how not-simple this is. I don’t think my role is fixed—as one of only listening, or of silence, or passivity, or civil disengagement. At any time I will try to be whatever kind of pastor/leader/friend that God calls me to be. With my Beautiful Friend, my role was to stand by her in God’s hearing, as she heard God’s words to her. Another way this is not simple: having gone through this, I know that I am not any more ready to have this conversation with someone else, because no matter how much experience I have in the conversation, I don’t think I ever get to know the agenda ahead of time. Maybe that’s another piece of what God is doing with my little part of the church: no more agendas for a while.

If I have to move like a beginner for the rest of my life, never leaning on my experience or understanding, but always looking to God for the way forward, then this, at least, is a very simple thing. Simple, yet hard to grow into. Some days I’m less afraid of the conversation; some days I can see how little I have to worry about how it all goes down.

For a couple years now, I’ve been eager to share this story with our community, but I wasn’t going to do it until our friend was ready to share her part of it. We never got to do it live, but now that it’s out on the network, we no longer have to put it off. While waiting for it to happen, I’ve been postponing conversations about sexuality, because I didn’t want us to begin talking about these things until we were able to recognize that it was personal. Recent conversations where an opinion about sexuality or gender have come up have been a bit hard and bruising for many of us.

Now that our friend has made herself known to us, it will change our conversation. “Those people” are now our people. And we have to listen carefully, to God and to each other, if we are to go forward in any respect—together or separately. My dream is that even if we walk out our faith with different understandings, that we will continue to share a humble awe at the fact that each of us is free to face God in Christ with, at the very least, the expectation that we will hear what we need to hear.



*She’s out and public, but I want her to be able to control her name and story online, so I’m not going to identify her. Anyhow, while I shared this with her before publishing it, I’m only confidant that this is my story, not that I’m doing a good job of telling hers.


Written by dmaddalena

2014/05/24 at 1:03 pm

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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A Shelter In Open Places

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More than three years ago now, we set out to explore church planting for ourselves, with no expectations except that God could form a group of followers into a community of meaning for our particular time and place.

During our first few years of gathering, we’ve been patient and diligent. We have been diligent about listening to God and following the steps laid out for us. For the longest time this has meant that we’ve been practicing our community faith in such a way that there’s been little evidence of activity. This is where patience comes in! It has been a challenge. Each of us in turn has had the chance to remind the group to be diligent in following through with our chosen way, or to be patient while waiting to see the fruits of our efforts. Go team!

Even better, our hopes that God would respond and lead us have been largely fulfilled. We have a confidence we wouldn’t have otherwise, and we are stronger for it. Our practice during this season has included, almost exclusively, a focused program of prayer and listening to God that has helped to bond us together, and strengthened us as individuals and as a community. Now, we are leaving this season of intense weekly prayer, and moving into a new season.

To lay a little groundwork for a description of what’s next, let me say that I, for one, set out on our journey with the confidence that if we listened to God and were patient and did what we were given to do, that God would “call” us in a way that matched us uniquely. And we have come to that place, where we get to say, “Ahh, yes! That feels right!” We feel like we can serve a unique and needed purpose in this area. It’s sweet to know where we get to stand, and I love how we got here. It feels to me like God has proven that he knows and loves us.

So where have we come to?

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Written by dmaddalena

2013/06/09 at 9:35 pm

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New Babies and Beer

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Been a long time since anything has been written here …. We are still a group of 8 who meet and are practicing being like church. But it has been (for me) like we are all parents of a new thing, and all attention and energy has gone to attending to the new thing, so there has been precious little socializing going on. You know those young parents that are, all of a sudden, less available to go out for beers? It’s a little bit like that, but this baby is church and blogging is beer.

This isn’t to say that the work has been all consuming–I’ve just rather done it than talked about it. And we are not trying to do anything world-changing. We’re just trying to ease ourselves into doing something right, with regards to religious community. It’s been slow, but purposeful.

And, we are coming to the end of a significant process–one that we feel was uniquely given to us to go through, and one that seems now necessary as a foundation to growth. We’ll see, we’re learning as we go.

Anyways, I’m keeping this beer (blog) post short, cause my tolerance is low. But I think I’m ready to start socializing again.

Written by dmaddalena

2012/09/05 at 5:59 pm

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Carefully Follow Instructions

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From the inside cover of my last notebook (I cover the outside of my notebooks with homemade art, collage, etc. and sometimes the inside too). This one is called Carefully Follow Instructions.

Been thinking a lot about how much easier my life would be if I had instructions, rules, a path to follow. But then I remember I chose to walk off the path. I’m often torn between anxiously wishing I had a book of rules for my life … and patiently looking for signs that God leaves for me to follow.

It’s hard because God doesn’t put up permanent road signs. God drops bread crumbs, and they can get snatched up by birds if we miss them the first time through the forest.

At least I know that if I see a bread crumb, it’s fresh.

Written by dmaddalena

2011/06/17 at 6:29 pm

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Home Birth

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My daughter was born at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills, though, honestly, I can’t remember why: we lived a couple hours away in Pasadena. The hospital was far away by measure of miles, and it was a long way from where we were philosophically: 3 years later, our son was born at our home in Redwood City while our daughter slept in the next room. When I think about the new thing that was born on Saturday night in my home in Los Altos, it was way more Redwood City than Beverly Hills. Of all the ways that comment could be interpreted, none would be bad.

When babies are born in hospitals, almost every potential problem is considered and planned for–the long history and vast community of medicine has had it’s influence on the array of machines and policies that a mother is plugged into. It’s what doctors are trained (and paid) for. But patients can be forgiven for concluding that all this technology is applied primarily so that, should anything go wrong, there can be no questioning the doctors, because they provided the Standard of Care. This is not a criticism of doctors and nurses, who are amazing, no question, but it is a criticism of a wider system that seems to function at such times according to a cover-your-backside ethic.

So when our daughter was being born, the doctor’s first (angry) words upon entering the delivery room were, “Why does this woman not have an IV?”. Answer: we’d refused it on principle–we didn’t want interventions that weren’t expressly called for (note that we wouldn’t have refused any care if child or mother were at risk). But our posture was a problem for this doctor, who was thereafter set in opposition to us, because he knew that if we were refusing the standard of care, he would have to go slightly off his map, which clearly made him uncomfortable. And this wasn’t the only conflict we had with him: there were other moments when we would have preferred to focus on the Awesome Miracle instead of trying to argue the reasoning of our decisions. The only way to avoid conflict in such a setting seems to be to do what’s expected. Maybe our experience doesn’t represent what happens in hospitals today. Here’s hoping.

That’s not sanitary! But it’s awesome.

When babies are born at home, you quickly learn (if you are talking to a good midwife) that pregnancy is not a disease, and childbirth is not a health emergency, so why plan to spend this particular day in the hospital? Women are, in fact, biologically capable of giving birth, and they do a good job of it. If anyone is asking, my vote is to let them keep doing it. It looks painful enough, and I think it would be worse for me. But while pain hurts, it’s not always an emergency. I can hear a mother-in-labor asking, in between contractions, how exactly would I, a man define emergency? How about, a great deal of pain that you did NOT expect. I hope that’s helpful.

To the degree that Something New came into existence this last saturday night, it was definitely a home birth. I lead the meeting, and I did not … 1) follow a map, 2) conduct surveys, or 3)  design a meeting that would offend nobody. If had done that, and someone went ahead and got offended anyways, I could always say that I provided the standard of care, did it by the book — you can ask no more of me. But I didn’t do that. I am naturally wary of standardized systems anyways, so it wasn’t hard to look for a different way. But I still had to resist the temptation to put safeguards in place and follow well-warn routes.

What I did do was trust that coming together in community is something that people are are made for; that community isn’t a problem that needs solving–it’s a miracle that needs a space to happen in. So that’s pretty much what we did: we prepared a space for community to happen. Then we did our breathing exercises.

True, things sometimes go wrong and you need the help of a specialist … the midwife who attended the birth of our son had been an E.R. nurse. That was nice. But we never heard a thing from her about the problems she’d witnessed in delivery rooms or birth-crises that she’d dealt with. I was glad to know she had experience and the training to recognize trouble and respond. But we didn’t need her to prepare us for the worst: we knew childbirth would be painful and that there is always some risk to the mother and child. But that story gets enough air time: whenever childbirth is depicted on the TV, it’s a terrible crisis. If anything, we needed to be reminded that what what we were doing was God’s idea in the first place and a natural thing. Our midwife never said, “You need to have an I.V. because we might need to quickly administer drugs if you’re in too much pain or if something goes horribly wrong.”

She did say, “You’re going to do great.”

We felt confident that between the three of us, we would be able to meet any challenge. Anghelika did experience some serious pain when Timo was born, but she’d decided that her help would be … us. We helped her breath, talked to her when it seemed right to, and when it hurt, she squeezed my hand. I remember that part. Clearly.

So, back to Saturday night. I can already see that God took advantage of the space we made for this miracle … I see blessings I would never have been able to plan for, had I tried to. As with our Redwood City delivery, there was a little anxiety: I found myself briefly worrying that our choice to give birth at home might have put this brand-new life in danger. But ultimately, as with the birth of our boy, I was blessed to see a miracle take place without great constructions of watch-out-for-the-piano safety nets and just-in-case insurance policies.

For the record, a midwife is a very good idea when considering home birth. We have our ‘midwives’ for this new thing. They are sharing our joy and, yes, keeping their eyes on the horizon for signs of trouble. But they haven’t put us in a hospital room of their own design. They’re content to watch the process unfold in our living room. I’m thankful for that. Instead of a fear of what-could-go-wrong, what I feel the most is the freedom to be an awestruck witness, and an excited parent.

Written by dmaddalena

2011/02/24 at 9:25 pm

The Soil Knows How The Flower Grows

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Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows–how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself …”. (Mark chapter 4)

Something about the growth of the divine community is a mystery. It’s like this: a seed, dead and buried in the dirt, yields a flower. The farmer doesn’t know how that happens (doesn’t need to know), but the soil knows.

The kingdom is like that. A mother doesn’t know how the child grows in her (nor does she need to know), but she’s made for it nonetheless. The soil knows how the flower grows.

The community of God, the kingdom, the place where God’s grace is active, grows in strength and effectiveness in this way. We get up early, throw seed, pull weeds, go to sleep tired … and in the end we trust the soil to know.

The church is growing.

woodcut by Spyros Vassiliou, c. 1945

Written by dmaddalena

2011/02/15 at 1:20 pm