This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality for the month of February. MennoNerds is exploring through this event Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what it means concerning participation in the mission of God.
One fine evening about a year ago, my wife and I went to a coffee cupping hosted at my father in laws coffee shop in Hope, British Columbia. A coffee cupping is an event where you taste all sorts of different coffees from all over the world. Some ‘out of season’ some ‘in season’ and others just pure ‘garbage’ all in an effort to develop a taste palette for coffee. The process was simple:
- Someone poured three different types of coffee into three different cups.
- We had to let the coffee sit for a while. While the coffee was sitting, the coffee guru would let us know the temperature at which the coffee was brewed, how it was roasted, and where it came from.
- After we let the coffee sit. We were instructed to put some coffee in the spoon provided and slurp it into our mouths.
- The slurping was intentional because it somehow exposed all the ‘taste’ that the coffee had to offer.
- We were then instructed to swish it around in our mouths acquiring the full flavour of the coffee.
- While we were swishing the coffee around in our mouths, the coffee guru guy was leading us through the language used in the coffee world to describe what we were tasting.
- After swishing it around for a while, we would spit it out into another cup, writing down on the paper what we tasted. As silly as it sounds, it was like a relationship was forming between me and the coffee swishing around in my mouth. I was getting to know it. Understanding the nuances of what made it different from other coffee. Ultimately, I was deciding if I liked it or not.
- After drinking a little bit of water to get rid of the taste, we would start all over again with another type of coffee.
My caffeine buzz, and the grossness of my “spit cup” increased significantly during the evening. Yet, a midst the buzz and cup full of coffee and saliva, I found myself shocked at my seemingly new found superpower which enabled me the ability to describe what I was tasting. It opened up a whole new world of coffee flavour for me. You see, before this cupping, I used coffee purely as a desperate “keep awake” beverage. I never really knew the difference between good coffee and bad coffee. Nor did I care.
At the base of any mountainous venture wherein we decide that participating with God, that is, to embody the pursuit of shalom in each our own particular time and place requires us know where it is we actually find ourselves. We need to understand it. We need to know what makes it tick. We need to know it’s beauty. We need to know the defining ugliness, and places for redemption. There are nuances all over each our own localities which are definitive. A missional, Anabaptist spirituality cannot be separated from the specific people and the specific place.
The daring life of Jesus in 1st century Palestine thrusts upon us an example of locality. Eugene Peterson famously reminds us that in the message, “Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood.” Jesus was the incarnate, the Son of a shalom seeking God who walked in a particular time, and a particular place. We, Anabaptists as a people, Jesus centric, shalom seeking in character formed by a God of peace would be remiss if we did not follow the missional impulse of that God into the rhythms of life in our specific place.
There are many good lists, made by many people much smarter than I which are helpful in facilitating a learning, and the “get to know you” of a local context (here is one). But what I have found to be more important than the core practicalities is this; seek to understand the rhythm of life. It’s kinda like a good cup of coffee. A good cup of coffee has lots going for it. The right temperature in which it is brewed, the proper bean at the right season of the year, the ethical way in which it was produced and bought, all of which craft a rhythm full of different parts which come together as if ordained on the way to brewing an amazing cup. A cup of coffee which you get to know. But, just don’t spit it out. You only do that at coffee cuppings. And don’t ruin it with cream or sugar. Keep it black.
So, to understand the rhythm of a context means you don’t always create. Join. Be okay with being a guest (another post for later I think), learn from others about where you are all the while being grounded spiritually with a God whom you know gives a “darn” about the place in which you find yourself at that particular moment. You will begin to understand all the important parts. You will then find yourself navigating the collision between your local context and the vision God has for… your local context.
So remember. Anabaptist spirituality is like a good cup of coffee. It’s a wonder why we don’t serve it for communion. (*Drops mic, walks away).
How would you describe the rhythm of life in your local context? How do you like your coffee?
When I feed the poor they call me a saint, when I ask, ‘Why are they poor?’ they call me a communist. – Dom Helder Camara
It is true. In the midst of all our charity we sometimes forget to ask the question, ‘why?’ (for another post on this, click here)
Shalom activists pursue the ‘why?’ question relentlessly. Often times it is messy. Here is are some good words from Noel Moules that move us into the practicalities of being a shalom activist.
Radical political engagement involves devising plans and schemes that confront concentrations of power in societies that stifle spirituality and humanity; strategies, which are creatively imagined and fearlessly executed and beautiful in their outcome.
- Politics for the ‘Shalom Activist’ is spiritual work leading to practical outcomes.
- Politics is about structuring, enabling and empowering community.
- Politics must involve building cultures of shalom.
- Politics requires a ferocious love that endeavours to draw difference into dialogue.
This work is costly. The Quakers call it a ‘Testimony to the Truth’ which leads hem to ‘speak truth to power’. This creative confrontation has its background in the stories of Hebrew prophets who stood before kings and challenged them, exampling the principle: ‘The one who rebukes boldly makes shalom.’
Noel Moules, “Fingerprints of fire… Footsteps of Peace: A Spiritual Manifesto from a Jesus Perspective” page 54.
How can we be creatively practical in our pursuit of shalom?
In partnership with Forge Canada, Noel Moules will be doing 2 sessions at Emmanuel Mennonite Church here in Abbotsford on Monday June 10th. If you are in area be sure to check it out! Click here for more details.
At my Forge Canada gathering yesterday, the person leading our session mentioned that the work of Dallas Willard could very well become more prominent and important after his death than it ever was during his life. It speaks to the impact Dallas Willard has had on many and the timelessness of his work. Many of the people who are significantly influential in my life have been deeply formed by Dallas Willard. May he rest in peace.
Below are wonderful words on how spiritual formation is ‘profoundly’ social.
SPIRITUAL FORMATION, GOOD OR bad, is always profoundly social. You cannot keep it to yourself. Anyone who thinks of it as a merely private matter has misunderstood it. Anyone who says, “It’s just between me and God,” or “What I do is my own business,” has misunderstood God as well as “me.” Strictly speaking there is nothing “just between me and God.” For all that is between me and God affects who I am; and that, in turn, modifies my relationship to everyone around me. My relationship to others also modifies me and deeply affects my relationship to God. Hence those relationships must be transformed if I am to be transformed.
Therefore Jesus gave a sure mark of the outcome of spiritual formation under his guidance: we become people who love one another (John 13: 35). And he does not leave “love,” that “many splendored thing,” unspecified. Instead he gives “a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (verse 34, NRSV, emphasis added). The age old command to love is transformed, made a new command, by identification of the love in question with that of Jesus for us (see 1 John 2: 7-8).
Willard, Dallas (2011-12-21). Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ with Bonus Content (Designed for Influence) (pp. 182-183). Navpress. Kindle Edition.
How does your spirituality impact your relationships? In what ways do you see spirituality being social in your particular time and place?
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.” – Step 1 (Alcoholics Anonymous)
More commonly, many Christians whittle down the great Gospel to some moral issue over which they can feel totally triumphant and superior, and which usually asks nothing of them personally. The ego always insists on moral high ground or as Paul brilliantly puts it, “sin takes advantage of commandments to mislead me, and through obeying commandments kills me” (Romans 7:11,13). This is a really quite extraordinary piece of insight on Paul’s part, one which I would not believe myself were the disguise not so common (e.g., celibate priests focusing on birth control and abortion as the core of evil, heterosexuals seeing gay marriage as the ultimate threat to society, liberals invested in some current political correctness while living lives of rather total isolation from the suffering of the world, Bible thumpers ignoring most of the Bible when it asks them to change, a nation of immigrants being anti-immigrant, etc.). We see that the ego is still in charge, and it just wears different disguises on both the Left and the Right side of most groups and most issues.
Richard Rohr, “Breathing Underwater: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps.” page 4.
Surely it cannot be possible for the Gospel to be manipulated to be a clean cut, comfortable, and controllable morality?
Could it be, that we are all in some state of recovery? And that we need to claim or confess powerlessness…
If we are all in need of this kind of admission/confession, what does this say for relationships? It radically levels the playing field doesn’t it? Is this justice?
What would it look like for you to admit powerlessness? How would your spirituality change if you take the harsh perspective that you are in need of recovery? How would this define who and how you relate with others?
*This book has been recommended to me by a number of different people, and has been a real blessing for me. The questions I pose above, are the very same questions I posed to myself during my reading of the first chapter.