Piano_1024x768So another Catalyst event has come and gone. Every year I’m amazed at the energy behind this event. Of course given the level of excellence in all areas there’s no reason to be amazed I don’t guess. I was there to find out what sort of reception our new small group resource, Small Group Life, was going to receive. It was very positive. Those I spoke with were excited about Small Group Life‘s missional bent and streamlined experience—not to mention the price. That was all great to hear. (By the way, become a fan on Facebook and enter to win some cool stuff for your group—including a group retreat to North Carolina or New Mexico.)

The list of presenters at Catalyst 2009 was as strong as ever. I had an opportunity to hear Mitch Albom and Tony Dungy. Malcolm Gladwell was his usual intriguing self. I managed to catch most of Rob Bell’s time, too. But the most interesting thing I heard came from Shane Hipp. Shane was only on the platform for about 20 minutes. Or at least it seemed very short to me. He talked about the medium of the message, but what I thought was most profound was his description of his recent visit to a museum during which he observed a security guard posted at a rare painting. The guard wore a gun and uniform. He was equipped with several devices as well. The painting was sealed in an air-tight frame, protected from both the light and the air. It was only available to be viewed a specific times of the day by small groups of 5 or so at a time. The art was firmly secured to its metal moorings making it for the most part impossible to be removed—a virtual hortus conclusus—and the guard’s job was to protect the beauty enclosed behind the 2-inch thick glass.

And then he went outside the museum where a gardener was working in a flower bed. The garden was open and vulnerable to the elements. If it was hot, then the plants had to find a way to sustain themselves. During the cold the flowers he care for must endure. There were no boundaries to the garden so the gardener’s art availed itself even to the reckless, inconsiderate, and ill-intentioned. It could be trampled or even destroyed. The gardener can diminish risk, but he can’t totally remove risk and danger. The gardener’s job is to create an environment in which the garden can flourish. The gardener is all about exposing beauty for the world.

It occurred to Shane that were the skills required to be a guard suddenly placed in the role of gardener then the garden would surely die. He concluded with this question to the leaders on hand at Catalyst 2009: Are you a guard or a gardener?

I think we all know where Shane is headed, but for my part I’d have to say that this is another context where we must resist the urge to think in either/or propositional positions. Just like we are charged both to take care of the orphans and widows AND keep ourselves unstained by the world at once, we must also simultaneously play the roles of guard and gardener. And, yeah, it can be tricky and, yeah, the process might not ever be a tidy one. Go too light on the guard duty and you get something like what is described in Isaiah 5:5-7. Not enough gardener and you get the same: death. But does this have application to small-group leadership in the same way? Initially I thought so. But after thinking about it I wonder if small group leadership requires more of one than the other. Regardless, I thought Hipp’s Catalyst presentation was something for consideration.

justice2It often surprises me when I Twitter (@chinavols), or post on Facebook, which posts get the most attention.  I can always count on a lot of “thumbs ups” if I mention my children or if I brag on my wife.  If I post on my favorite college football team (Go Vols!), I can get a lot of cheers as well as jeers for sure. But the topic most likely to bring lengthy columns of conversation is politics. Since that’s such a small part of my life (especially considering the fact that I lived in a communist country and couldn’t have an opinion for eight years ;-)) it seems really strange when I look back and see it monopolizing my space. And then I’m even more surprised to see me filling other friends’ spaces in the same way! So why is politics one of the “big three”? What is at the heart of politics that brings out our passion?

While trying to think through this as objectively as I am able, it seems that at the heart of politics is really the idea of justice. Regardless of which side of the aisle we are on or which side of the issues, at the heart of most political debate lies the concept of justice. Those on the Right want justice for unborn babies. People on the Left want justice for unwed mothers. Those on the Left want minorities to be given an extra boost to be fair. And those on the Right think it is unfair to give one group a leg up. Conservatives see war as a way to bring justice to bear. And Liberals see war bringing much injustice to innocent people. While I have strong opinions about all of these political issues, for once I want to stand on the fence and try to understand what really makes us tick…all of us.

It seems that it really boils down to a sense of justice that dwells deep within our souls. Perhaps it is a key attribute of the image of God that remains with us, quietly working while waiting to fully come alive. Whether it is rightly or wrongly applied by one side or another, I will leave for another day or just leave for you to decide. One thing is certain: we are powerfully moved by our strong desire for justice.

The Bible has much to say about justice in the Old Testament and the New.  Deuteronomy 16:20 reminds us to “Pursue justice and justice alone, so that you will live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.” One of the key things that help me to step back and stop vilifying those who disagree with me on political issues is to remember that there is something deep inside them that echoes the heart of God. When awakened by the Spirit of God, redemption will make all things new and hopefully we will all make decisions, political and otherwise, that fully reflect His righteousness.

So, what are some things that you recognize in those with whom you disagree that are really a glimmer of the heart of God?

Any other thoughts on justice?

A term we toss around a lot up here on the 9th floor is redemptive community. Just in case you hadn’t noticed.

In our products, we urge Christians to be a part of small groups. Love one another and build each other up. Help each other see your true selves, diarming one another of the lies Satan’s convinced us are truth.

Never do we see the effect of community so greatly as when we are clothed in grief.

My grandpa died this past Saturday. While he was 86 and had congestive heart failure, it really wasn’t expected. I think he was ready, he was old, he is in heaven. And all that jazz. But, we still grieve. It’s natural.

After the tearful phone call with my mother, some time being held by my husband and remembering, I retreated to the computer to spend some no-brain time playing a Pogo game. But first I stopped by Twitter.


And of course, Twitter feeds into my Facebook account. Within the night, I had 16 sympathy notes on Facebook, 4 on Twitter, and multiple e-mails offering help. My cousin told me she’d keep Libbie during the funeral if we wanted, even though she lives an hour from where it will be. My co-worker said she’d watch the baby while we packed, if needed. When I shared at work, I got many encouraging e-mails and a circulated prayer request.

While this has certainly not been the sudden, overwhelming grief of an unpexected tragedy, I still appreciate so the comfort of community. Of knowing that many, many people in my life care about me enough to reach out when I’m hurting. That Christian friends grieve with me and yet rejoice that Grandpa is at home, finally. I’m not sure that we realize how vital community is until we’re thrust into a time when it is essential to our well-being.

Acts tells us that the first Christians met together every day: “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house” (Acts 2:46). And the writer of Hebrews urged his readers: “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). Community is important. Christ lived in community with His disciples, the Bible urges us again and again to join together in it, and God desires to have community with us. It’s all over His Word.

Don’t get to the point where you need the love of a redemptive community before you seek it. Whether it’s a small group, a close-knit group of friends, a Sunday School class, or even Facebook buddies, find it now and start communing. It is totally worth the time to make dear friendships.

notre_dame_12editedNetflix delivered the Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire to my house more than two weeks ago. My wife and I have been waiting for the perfect, angst-free, quiet, uninterrupted two hour period of time to push the DVD tray closed and watch Man on Wire. If your house is like mine, then you understand how just the thought of such a two-hour span reveals the eternal optimist that lies within me.

I’m not a big documentary fan. But given the Academy‘s recognition, a friend’s Facebook status, and that I liked Winged Migration a few years back, I thought I would give Man on Wire a go. I wouldn’t describe this movie as “must see.” I would, however, encourage anyone with an eye for style, an imagination that is too often found wanting in today’s world, and an appreciation for history to give it a shot. It documents tightwire artist Philippe Petit’s 1974 walk from the top of the South Tower to the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

The reason I would write the first words about this movie here is this: there is a subtle beauty inherent. Beauty is such a significant aspect of the spiritual journey we have accepted. I think much of my reaction has to do with the romance I associate with the world we lost on September 11, 2001. The filmmakers were intentional, I think, in making the World Trade Center a tragic centerpiece in the unfolding drama. But the subtle beauty is also associated with Petit’s “walk” across the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral in his hometown of Paris. I’ve read books on beauty. I’ve tried to write about it. It seems to be always just beyond my words. But there are those moments when you know you’re close. It’s in these times I feel like I should be grateful for what looks and feels like an invitation into something transcendent. For whatever reason, I felt like Petit’s tightwire walk at Notre Dame was his own unique invitation into beauty. Especially when you hear the description from one of those closest to Petit.

“He didn’t want to conquer the universe, just beautiful things.” That’s what close, if not romantically linked, friend Annie Allix said of Petit. Petit was in search of beauty and, by taking his tightwire act public, was–and somehow still is–invited us into his world. Beauty at this level has innate risks. It requires vulnerability. Pursuit. Sacrifice.  And so this is where we can talk about small-group leadership. You can draw your own conclusions, of course. Amid everything else, be sure to extend an invitation into beauty as you go. Conquering the universe is a noble endeavor, but there will be times on the spiritual journey when we we should just be still. Wait. And watch.

So I get a post on my facebook page last night from a good friend of mine named Roy. It seems Roy was surfing facebook last night and saw Jennifer who served with HisLife Ministries at the same time he did. Not only that but Jennifer’s roommate during this time, Rachel, would later become Roy’s wife. Isn’t that what facebook is all about, bringing the world closer together and reconnecting friends? Well here’s the kicker, as Roy read up to see what was going on in Jennifer’s life, he noticed the picture of the guy she’s married to looked strangely familiar…just like a guy named Jon that Roy had been in BSF with for 3 years. Roy’s first thought was maybe Jon had a brother…but living in Nashville too, no way. As it turns out, Jennifer IS married to Jon, the same Jon that spent 3 years with Roy in a men’s Bible study. So here’s my question, how can these guys spend 3 years together and NEVER know that their wives were roommates?? How many Bible studies have I been in that I didn’t learn anything about another person’s life and they learned nothing about mine. My heart tells me it happens far too often, that our idea of “community” becomes nothing more than a contemporary “Cheers” – a place where everybody knows your name…but not much else.

A few years ago, the guys at Serendipity launched out on a journey where we refused to settle for anything less than redemptive community. That’s a BIG difference from just the kind of community where you know someone’s name. Redemptive community is where you do life together…really. Where you integrate all aspects of yourself – your professional life, your spiritual life, your emotional life, etc. You don’t walk into the office and leave your emotions at the door. It’s expected that you bring the full weight of who you are every day and get called out if you’re posing. By the way, a group known as the Samson Society created by Nate Larkin was also crucial in helping me understand what authenticity really meant.

So this is really at the heart of what The Gypsy Road is meant to be in my eyes, to unveil the need for redemptive community and invite a fellowship to join us as we journey to more fully understand and more boldly embrace this core desire.

I hope you’ll come back often as the dialog will be rich and your story and your experiences will make it all the richer.