March 2010

The January–February issue of Outside Magazine features a dietary experiment performed and reported by endurance athlete John Bradley (All Systems Go, p.47). The exercise, as it were, included spending eight weeks each on six different diet plans ranging from popular fads to clinical studies: the Abs Diet, the Paleo Diet for Athletes, the Mediterranean Prescription, the Okinawa Program, the advice of a personal nutritionist, and the USDA’s nutritional pyramid. Along the way he recorded every meal, snack, and caloric drink, and workout, and made bi-monthly visits to his doctor for blood work, weigh-ins, cholesterol checks, and body composition analysis. You can read the entire article by clicking here.

The most interesting piece of this article to me, however, were the conclusions of the nutritionist, Laurent Bannock, he worked with during his research. Apparently Bannock has spent years researching diet strategies based on ethnicity. Bannock believes that one’s genes have “equipped” him or her for specific foods. Furthermore, Bannock contends, a diet comprised primarily of these “remembered” foods leads to greater wellness. For his part, Bradley experienced improved blood profiles, a leaner body, more sound sleep, and consistently higher energy levels using Bannock’s diet strategies. So it appears that our genes have what may be described as a “memory” that reacts positively to reminders of our heritage—in this case dietarily, but perhaps this phenomenon has broader application.

I remember hearing a few years ago that, in some sort of informal poll, the word “home” was acknowledged as the most favorite word in our vocabulary. (Who comes up with this stuff?) Like most people, I had never once stopped to consider what my favorite word would have been. But after thinking about the results of the poll, I could see why “home” was voted the most favorite. It has the long vowel sound that is so pleasant in our poetry and music. But it also asks us to … remember. And if “home” is our favorite word, then “remember” just might be our most profound word. In one of his most recent releases Peter Gabriel sings the words “I … I remember” from the most inner part of his heart. I cannot hear him sing “I … I remember” unmoved (not that I cry, mind you, but it always takes me to another emotional vicinity). There’s something so perfect about remembering—even the hard stuff. Scripture tells us, “… if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many.

A diet that reminds us, a word that stirs the heart, and a word that invites us into our own stories. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reveals that God has put an eternity into our hearts. I’ve seen this explained in more than one way, but what makes the most sense to me is that God has created us predisposed to “remember”—not only our own stories and the stories of our times, but the loss of Eden, the wonders of creation, and beauty of the gospel.

And so I wonder. I wonder if along with the spiritual disciplines of study, worship, service, prayer, community, confession, and submission, if we should also practice the discipline of remembering in our groups. It seems, in the spirit of Lauren Bannock’s dietary conclusions, that our hearts also have a “memory” that hearkens back to our heritage. As a way of practicing the discipline of remembering, set aside time for sharing stories—powerful memories, the things that move us, and the things that won’t seem to go away. As a part of this time you’ll also want to begin your own oral tradition by telling and re-telling the stories of Eden and the Gospel of Christ. Read from translations like The Message that tend to lend themselves more to story-telling. Consider those things that have been lost, those things that have been gained, and those things yet to be born from the womb of time, yet the heart still manages to “remember.” There’s karthasis in the process. Healing becomes more likely. And redemptive community is born. And what better time to begin exercising the spiritual discipline of remembering than Easter.

Neptune Pool. Photo courtesy of Karen Daniel

Just recently I had the opportunity to extend a trip associated with my role here for a few days to enjoy that virtual Eden that is California. My wife and I spent a couple of days in Disneyland, of course, but also took a couple of days to drive up to central California where we experienced Cambria and San Simeon for the first, and hopefully not the last, time. While there we toured the Hearst Castle—basically, the West Coast equivalent of the Biltmore Mansion. This incredible manor, built by media mogul William Randolph Hearst, has an incredibly rich history and story. During the tour and in subsequent conversations I’ve picked up on several leadership lessons that can be gleaned.

Partnership. For such a special project Hearst had to seek out the most gifted architect of the day. He found Julia Morgan. Julia completed hundreds of projects in her life but is probably most famous for her role with Hearst. The Hearst Castle took 15 years to complete and it necessitated a give-and-take partnership between visionary and builder, each most likely at times serving these roles alternately. There were probably moments of tension and exasperation, but in the final analysis both were well aware that they had crossed the Rubicon into the point of no return. As we say, they were “in it.” This sort of devotion comes right out of Acts 2 and is foundational to redemptive community.

Beauty Is Worth The Wait. There are little details everywhere you look on the tour we were on. The indoor pool Hearst referred to as the Roman Baths has thousands of tiles made of 22 karat gold. The marble implemented in creating the outdoor pool was imported from Italy. The art collection amassed painstakingly over the course of a lifetime. The story behind the furniture and paintings in the guest houses. Like a true redemptive community, not only was the resulting beauty worth the wait, but it remained a work in progress until Hearst’s death. True beauty is the work of a lifetime.

Work In Progress. The house sits atop  hill that’s 5 miles away from the coast. I mean it’s way up there—practically above the clouds. These circumstances required that the work site become a small-city where builders could actually live, supplies stored, and materials warehoused. In many of the pictures we saw it is an absolute mess. But in order to get where he wanted to be, Hearst and Morgan had to tolerate—dare I say encourage—the mess on the way to the destination.

Willing to Scrap. The outdoor pool, known as Neptune Pool (pictured), was originally designed to accommodate Hearts’s family and a few others. After it was completed, however, it was decided to scrap the whole thing to make it bigger—and grander. Similarly, the Casa Grande originally had just one spire. Because of the threat of earthquakes, all construction utilized re-enforced, fortified concrete making any sort of “re-do” a task of Ruthian proportions. But for all practical purposes they tore down the entire house so they could build in a second spire … just because. Taking this in I remember concluding, when creating something significant we’ve got to be willing to scrap our original plan if the occasion calls for it. To be a great builder often requires our willingness to scrap what we’ve already built.

Become Art Collectors. In the case of William Hearst, collecting art was a zillion-dollar habit that included roaming the entire planet in a quest for the most beautiful, rare, and wonderful finds. In our case, the “art” we collect translates into the stories being told and lived in and through group life. As a group member we must be willing to contribute the “art” that results from our own lives. As leaders we must become art collectors in the same sense.

Yeah It May Be Hard But ….
Not once on the tour did I hear the guide refer to a moment when something wasn’t done because it was too hard. (Disclaimer: Seeming endless resources does contribute in this case.) Hearst had a zoo on site. (He owned a polar bear.) He made substantial changes in construction and planning as a result of art acquisitions. Building on the hill posed enormous challenges given the technology of the day. Instead of seeing the obstacles, he chose instead to “live” in a yet-to-be-seen reality and plot every push of the fly-wheel in that direction—sometimes in small, hand-carved increments. I would refer to this as a form of romanticism. The process of building true redemptive community may be hard, but …

The journey to redemptive community may be daunting—moreso if we choose to look at all the reasons we shouldn’t be able to do it—but this only provides the impetus to look beyond the challenges and directly into what God is going to do. We must work together in community with the various architects God has brought into our lives, willing to scrap and re-direct with each new piece of “art” we fortunate enough to encounter. But in the end we’re building not only something beautiful, but something to stand the test of time.

A couple of months ago we said good-bye to Syeira (aka Jessie Weaver), a member of our family at The Gypsy Road. She and her precious baby girl, Libbie, moved to another city to join her husband who had already started a new job there. Their sweet family had been apart for too many months. We send Jessie off with blessings and much prayer as she enters a new chapter of her life.

Although Jessie is no longer with our staff, she left an incredible legacy. She had a passion for small group ministry and did much to sharpen the work of our team in providing resources to help people experience true, redemptive community through small groups. We’ll miss her, but her passion remains with us. I can only hope to leave a legacy half as powerful. I pray we make her proud. Thanks Jessie!

Because Jessie is impossible to replace, there will be two of us making appearances on The Gypsy Road to provide the female perspective. Girl power! (You’ll hear from my cohort in a couple of weeks.) Today begins my opportunity to share life with you—the ones who believe in authentic community and crave it as much as I do. I pray we will be able to sharpen each other, strengthen each other, and support each other.

Until next time,

This year’s Youth Evangelism Conference in Tennessee was a real blessing for all involved, leaders and kids alike.  Besides the head pounding from lack of sleep and more bass than I’m used to in a weekend, the thing I’m most excited about is this next generation’s desire and potential to greatly impact the Kingdom. Throughout the weekend, teens were challenged to live the REAL life, to find freedom in Christ and then to live it…to be the same people on Monday at school as they were over this weekend.

This assembly has been going on for as many years as I can remember in our state and I must say I’ve seen plenty of individual success stories as well as some letdowns in students’ lives when they returned to “the real world.”  This year there was definitely an extra measure of hope.  Testimonies of kids who were living missionally went a long way in helping these young adults see that there’s a big difference between a youth group and a youth ministry.  I pray that we would have the latter.

As I think about how the church can come alongside our youth this next year, there are at least three things that we can do to improve our AIM in leading our teens on the journey to be REAL:

1. Accountability- Match teens up with adults who have similar interests and can encourage them to set tangible goals in their Christian development. They need someone who has faced the same challenges in life to walk this journey with them.

2. Involvement- Find ways to involve youth in real ministry that matches their gifts, talents, and abilities. This is a generation of doers!

3. Modeling- Teens need to see adults who are genuine, not ones playing church games.  As they see us passionately pursuing Christ, they’ll be encouraged to run the race too.

What are some other ways that we can helps these kids along the way in their journey to be REAL?

Erwin McManus says that “every one of us have these intrinsic cravings—intimacy, destiny, and meaning—because they are soul cravings. These cravings are the fingerprints of God on our soul.” In the same context, I like to cite M Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable: “That little bit of sadness in the mornings you spoke of? I think I know what that is. Perhaps you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.” Either way, the point is that there’s a very good chance that those in your small group are not living out of the new heart that God has given them; that they are not drawing from their truest identity.

Whether it’s the lies of our culture or from something deep in their own stories or destructive relationships or the many other sinister messages around us, we wake up with that “little bit of sadness” each day. The new small-group resource from Erwin McManus CRAVE, available for purchase today, has been created to help groups and group members confront the things that prevent us from being all that God has created us to be. CRAVE: An Exploration of the Human Spirit asks groups to tap deep into who they have become not only better to understand the deep longings of their souls, but to demolish the little bit of sadness that continues to haunt so many of us.