Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More ceramics work...

I spent another few hours in the studio tonight, working on coffee cups. Thanks to my lovely wife Alyssa for the great photos!



Christianity, abbreviated.

Just thought I'd share this irreverent little piece of humor that I found on my friend Allen's blog. I think it really speaks to the oversimplification of the fundamentalist Christian faith.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Music Sunday (belated edition!)

Sorry I wasn't able to post yesterday. Apart from having a metric crap-ton of homework and driving back and forth between Kansas City, I have been a little more than busy.

Also, Listener and The Homeless Gospel Choir made it to the BSC yesterday, and we had a lovely evening of music and good clean Christian fun (okay, well, maybe not so much. But they were awesome).

So tonight's post is for the three guys that stayed with us yesterday and today: Derek Zanetti of The Homeless Gospel Choir, and Christin Nelson and Dan Smith of Listener.

It may come as a surprise that The Homeless Gospel Choir is not really a choir. It's actually a one-man acoustic punk show, with an edge that is deeply convicting--perhaps even offensive.

"Sometimes I want to build a pipe bomb and blow up some Christian family bookstore; other times, I wish that I had half the courage to learn to love my enemies more."--The Homeless Gospel Choir, "An End to Everything"

If you walked away from this lyric only with the shock of hearing a man muse about blowing up a nice Christian store, which (aside from locally owned independent stores) are really only there to make money in the first place, you have probably missed the point: the struggle between hating our enemies and loving them. Still, Derek's lyrics beg a foreboding question in Christian art: Do we not sometimes need to feel offended?

Chris Nelson also played a short set last night with raw,
honest lyrics. In my conversations with Chris, I found him to be a beautifully humble, caring man, who understands what it means to find your own artistic voice. In one of his songs, he sang over and over something to the effect of "I don't care if it burns down, down to the ground." I'll let you determine what the "it" is.

And finally, good ol' Listener, bangin' on the washing machine. A bonus
to this performance was a projection of an old cartoon (one of those 99 cent DVDs you can get at Wal-Mart) over the entire stage, giving the whole performance a surreal vibe.

After the show, we spent hours together in communion; good beer, good laughs, and good food. This morning we woke up, we ate omelets and drank coffee together, I gave them a few tips about the local tobacconist, and they headed out of town.

The lesson to this story, kids, is that friendship and hospitality are perhaps the most important daily aspects of Christianity. As they left, hugging each of us, I felt like we had made a personal connection that was much more than a simple business transaction. Perhaps if more Christians began loving their neighbors for the sake of love instead of having an agenda of "making them Christian," the world might be truly transformed.



Friday, September 24, 2010

House Search!

So...instead of writing those papers that are due tomorrow, Alyssa and I have been scouring the web for cheap houses in the KC area in which we could begin building the Anavah House community.

I'm so excited! Some of the houses (intentionally fixer-uppers, fo sho) are less than $20,000!

I think I'm about to wet myself. We've found a couple nice ones we want to find more information about.
House 1:
House 2:

From there, it's only a matter of time before we move up here, get us some chickens, ducks, and bees, plant our own garden plot, and begin our work as a new monastic community!

Peace and grace,

"Abbot" Joshua

Military Suicide Rates Rising

Just found this article on Yahoo: Military Suicide Prevention Efforts Fail: Report.

There's something so sad about this. It's almost as if...God recognizes the failure of military action to stand up to his idea of a truly Christ-like society. There are so few (if any) circumstances in which military involvement benefits (or, at the very least, does not harm in some way) everyone involved.

We are children of God. You, me, and everyone in between. Military action is not the answer to our problems--it only begets more violence.

Pray for the victims of PTSD, as well as the families of those affected by the suicides of military personnel.

And while I'm thinking about it, please pray for the family of Teresa Lewis, the mentally disabled woman who was executed yesterday evening in Virginia, despite public outcry. May God grant her the mercy she was so blatantly denied by her brothers and sisters here in the USA, one of the few "developed" countries still clinging to a warped sense of justice that says that it is okay to kill people who kill people.

I am so saddened by everything going on around us. Sometimes I hate the world so much that I see so little hope in humanity.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

This is me, saying some things I believe.

So I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what I believe. Partly because seminary has prompted me to re-evaluate myself, and partly because I think I've taken several years' worth of personal evolution for granted, and I'm ready to lay out a couple things that I believe.

Warning--you will probably disagree with some things I say. That's alright. I don't judge you for disagreeing. You will also probably have some pretty good arguments against what I believe. That's awesome, but you probably won't change how I feel. Proceed with caution.

I have come to a few general understandings about the nature of Jesus; who he was and is, and what he set out to accomplish. This has also led me to a couple assertions about the way the modern (and, to an extent, postmodern) church operates.

1) I believe that Jesus's sole purpose was not to "die for our sins." We in the Church have taken this for granted over the years. Jesus of Nazareth, in his life and teachings, constantly reminds us (as a prophet) that all we have to do to be forgiven of sins is to repent, and ask God's forgiveness--it's in the prayer that he teaches his disciples to pray: forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And Jesus taught that the man who simply prayed, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner," was forgiven. God doesn't demand his son die in place of us. God isn't a blood-thirsty megalomaniac.

However, if this is the case, why did Jesus have to die? Jesus forgave sins, and likewise we are to forgive sins. We are to bear the burden of the sins of the world, just as Jesus did. This is what it means to pick up our cross and follow him. This is what it means when Jesus says that we must take up his yoke--to bear the sins and grievances and pain of the world on our shoulders, to be the presence of the risen Christ to everyone we meet.

2) Jesus's importance lies in his revolutionary message that preaches that the Kingdom is completely counter to any secular or logical idea of the way the world should operate. His death is an example of the Supreme Sacrifice of what it means to truly love someone enough to lay down your life for them. When the world says there is not enough, the Kingdom says there is plenty. When the world says to exact revenge, the Kingdom says to turn your cheek. When the world says to sue a person for all they're worth, the Kingdom says, no--you should give them even more.

3) The Gospel is good news. What is inherently good in the idea that you either have to "accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior" or face eternal torment in a fiery hell? Nothing.
Instead, the good news is that in Christ's resurrection (and yes, I do believe in an actual resurrection, in case you were wondering), Death has been defeated, and that we are free to live without fear of Death. We have been set free from the slave-chains of our own mortality. What would you do with your life if you weren't afraid to die? Jesus's Gospel is not necessarily that you must "turn or burn," as much as it is a gift--you have been saved, whether you accept the gift or not. You have the choice of accepting the gift with grace and unleashing the love of Christ on the world (real love, not the stuff they preach in churches that advocate loving someone simply because you want them to be a Christian).

4) Jesus was the son of God, but I don't think it was ever his intention to be worshiped as he is in many churches today. Jesus was God's son, but his purpose was to point people in the direction of the One Holy God, not to seek to be worshiped himself. Sometimes I think we forget that. To paraphrase Siddharta Gautama: A finger points to the moon. Now child, don't mistake the finger for the moon.

Anyway. That's a few things. I've got classes this weekend, so I'm going to be very busy. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Clay stamps!

I finished my two-sided plaster stamp I'll be using to mark my ceramics with. I rolled and cut some clay out and tested the plaster stamps, and they worked! All of my bowls, cups, and plates will have one of these two insignias:
The symbol on the left is called the Jerusalem Cross, or more commonly known as the Crusader's Cross. It's a symbol I found often associated with monasticism and medieval monasteries. In Conception Abbey, they were everywhere. So I bought a simple metal one threaded with some kind of string, and I wear it as a necklace. Unfortunately, I didn't find out until I returned home that the Jerusalem Cross was the "logo" on the banners under which 11th century European crusaders rode into the Middle-East and slaughtered millions of Muslims (yikes!).

"So...you bought a swastika," my friend Mark's son told me.

Yeah. I guess so.

I suppose one reason I'm drawn to it is that (aside from being just a really cool graphic) I have had a preoccupation for a while with redeeming things that are perceived negatively.
For example, the chi rho was once a symbol of muscular, imperial Christianity. Now, largely
forgotten by the Church, it has become an emblem of underground Christianity, where brothers and sisters recognize one another much in the same way early Christians used the ichthus.

Which is why I think I'd like to use the Jerusalem Cross as our monastery's logo.

Which is why I have made a plaster stamp with which to brand all of the ceramics made and sold by our community.

Get it?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Music

Ubi caritas et amor, deus ibi est.
Where there is charity and love, God is there.

I've been listening to funky stuff lately.

Case in point:

However, in my commute to Central Baptist Theological Seminary, I have found 12 hours of road time that give me lots and lots of musical enjoyment.

Case in point:

Peace be with you guys.


Friday, September 17, 2010


Here's me. I'm at Panera in Liberty, MO.
This is what I'm working on.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Art, New Books

This lovely hanging piece was created by my friend Jon Daniels, a brilliant artist whom I've known since junior high school. Jon is an interesting and multi-talented guy.
I'm fascinated by the movement of this piece. The dogwood branches at the top, flowing into an urban background (notice the church in the upper left corner). At the bottom, a congregation of sages gathered beneath a bloody-looking mass. Jon's artist statement about the piece mentioned his upbringing in a charismatic Pentecostal church, and then his journey to a more profound place of questioning the very nature of faith. Although I am unable to nail out a coherent interpretation of the work, I am deeply moved by it--and I think that's what makes it beautiful.

On the seminary front, I have been working on a project due this weekend. It's a 12-page paper along with research presentation on a synthesis of information I've gathered from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together and Henri Nouwen's The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry. In my research (I'm trying to compare and contrast the theories in the books and fit them somehow into a comprehensive theory of New Monasticism), I've come across this little gem, released this year by Fortress Press. It's Bonhoeffer and King: Their Legacies and Import for Christian Social Thought, a series of essays edited by Willis Jenkins and Jennifer M. McBride.

On top of all this awesomeness, Alyssa and I also found on our trip to Barnes and Noble (something we do very rarely--when it does happen, we rejoice!) a tiny manual called The Urban Homestead, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen.

This brilliant little handbook of self-sufficiency includes DIYs and how-tos for just about everything from gardening to keeping chickens to generating power from rainwater, all within the confines of your urban home. You can bet this will come in handy once we move to KC (please, Lord, let that day come soon). Alyssa and I are so excited to start our new lives in community. But in the meantime, we're just biding our time and collecting more and more information on communal, self-sustainable living.

Oh, and I also may be quitting my job at the Olive Garden. This has been a desire of mine for a long time--it is so difficult to be in a position in which I am a server, but not necessarily a servant. In any case, a local Wesleyan church in Scott City is offering to pay me to lead contemporary worship for them until I leave Cape in the spring. While the church is doctrinally much more conservative than I am, I was welcomed warmly last night when I visited the church to play a few songs for them--I think this could really work out.

Anyway. I am off to grab a bit of sleep before making the long drive to Kansas City tomorrow.



Sunday, September 12, 2010

Musical Sunday!

It's days like these that really make me excited to blog about the music I listen to. In the midst of being insanely busy (no, I mean it. REALLY BUSY), I picked up a few musical gems along the way this week.

After downloading Sufjan Stevens free single, "Too Much," from his upcoming album, The Age of Adz, and being thoroughly impressed with his new raw, grunge-electric sound, I went ahead and downloaded his latest EP, All Delighted People.
Without launching into a full-blown review, I will say that the orchestration of ADP is absolutely incredible--all the symphonic talent of The BQE, and all the lyrical genius of his older work, like Come on feel the Illinoise!, with a few homages to Paul Simon splattered throughout the EP. In short: download everything I have linked to. It is cheap (if not free), and you are certainly be missing out on the beautiful art this man has produced.

Also in the musical scene, you should check out Derek Webb's latest Democracy, Vol. 1 track. Democracy is a side-project Derek has been working on, releasing one track a month for an entire year. Each song is a cover voted on by his fan base (hence the title of the album). I'm posting his latest cover, "Eleanor Rigby," and hoping that he won't be too upset :) But please, in all seriousness, go purchase the album. It's only six bucks, and he sends out the tracks via email each month. It's a great deal. Here it is, folks. An exceptional Beatles cover:

Well, that's all for the popular music. Now time for the retro stuff.

Alyssa and I went to the Teen Challenge thrift store the other day, and, browsing through their record selection, I found a few gems:

Okay, so I know I'm a nerd for the Gregorian Chants. But I couldn't resist! It's so peaceful to listen to, and not the distracting kind of music that keeps you from doing homework.

I've never seen this movie, but it's based on a book written by the same guy who wrote The Last Temptation of Christ, so I was immediately intrigued.

Good background music for when we have company for dinner, or if we just need some peaceful, "bumming around the apartment" tunes.

Probably one of the greatest albums ever written. Just saying.

Happy listening!



PS--Speaking of music and monasticism: Before sitting down to write this post, I was reading about John Michael Talbot, an interesting Christian-musician-turned-Franciscan-monk whom I have admired for about a year now. I "friended" him on facebook, and he responded with a message that he had maxed out his friend limit. I messaged him back that I was grateful for his personal response, and I mentioned to him my "protestant new/old novitiate monastery" idea, and he responded with three words: "Come visit us," referring to his Third-Order Franciscan monastery in Arkansas.

Bizarre, eh?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Working with Ceramics

My wife went with me to the ceramics lab tonight for a few hours to spend time with me while I worked on my Ceramics 1 assignment: 10 bowls by Tuesday. She took a few pictures.

Now all we have to do is get a wheel and a kiln for the monastery. ;)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Revelation

So, you remember that hypothetical New-Monastic community I posted about a while back? It looks like it just may end up becoming a reality.

As I mentioned before, I spent last weekend praying and worshiping with the brothers and fathers at Conception Abbey. The class I attended was a crash course on the links between creativity and spirituality, led by Dr. Molly Marshall and Dr. Amy Hartsfield. During the first day and a half, we were encouraged to meditate on "what we wanted out of life," or "what our quest was." I sat in a room packed with seminary students, surrounded by people whose dream it was to become ordained pastors, to become youth counselors, to build a career in the Church.

But that's not me. It's just not.

For years I have been confused about my "vocation." All I know is that I just want the life that God wants for me. I want to live in a community. To make my own clothes and to grow my own food. To give comfort to the ailing world around me. But I also want to live a contemplative life. Away from the world that serves largely to tear down the faith of good people. I want to live a life that is 1-part Desert Fathers, 1-part Salvation Army.
I was in a room full of future teachers and preachers this weekend, listening to the professors try to teach us about goal-setting and becoming active members of the Church, and how to get what we "want" out of our Christian lives. Needless to say, I felt out of place.

In the class, that is. Not the monastery. I actually had several people mention that I seemed to fit right into the contemplative community of monks. That was my first clue.

About the second day, I felt the presence of God stronger than perhaps any time in my life. Amid the dissonance between desiring the contemplative life and living a life in mutual submission and love together with my wife, I was suddenly and forcefully presented with another way: I am going to found a monastery. I can be a leader without being a preacher or a teacher. My wife and I will live our lives together as monks, our doors open in invitation to follow us. There is no reason we cannot live contemplative lives without falling into the common American Christian traps of consumerism and apathy. We will simply have to blaze our own trail, forge our own way.
I am familiar with the New Monastic movement, and the 12 Marks of New Monasticism. But what I have in mind is, I feel, quite different. My vision is fuzzy, but looks something like this:

I want to move into an abandoned Church, preferably somewhere in Kansas City. A church sanctuary would provide the ideal setting for contemplative worship: No jumping up and down in religious ecstasy, no band, no children's sermon, no offering. Just a time of coming together in simple liturgical reading, singing the Psalter, praying, bowing and silence. We would pray together multiple times daily, rising early. And we would have a rule, similar to that of St. Benedict's.

We would live in the rest of the church, taking small cells (classrooms, guest housing, the parsonage, etc.) in which to live simple lives. We would be open to married couples as well as celibate singles as tenants, and will not turn away visitors, choosing instead to welcome every guest as though they were Christ.

I'm curious about funding, though. I know that eventually the goal would be to help support ourselves through the import, roasting, and selling of Haitian coffee, as well as possibly hand-thrown pottery sales. But this is dreaming far into the future. In a more immediate sense, how to pay for our contemplative lives is troubling--the Benedictines (lucky stiffs) have their tab picked up by Rome.

In the meantime, I'm looking for a few good men and women. People with talent who are called to monastic life. Good with kids? How about an after-school program. Are you an artist? We will need someone to join us in producing art that is evidence of God's manifestation of creativity within us. A good cook? This goes without saying. A carpenter? A scholar? A passionate heart? A wielding axe? Please, come with us.

I have chosen to lay down my life to become a leader by following Jesus. If you're interested, please: follow me.



Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Music

Hello, friends. I haven't had a chance to post this week because, for the most part, I have been in a monastery.

That's right. A monastery.

Conception Abbey in northwestern Missouri is a Benedictine community whose motto comes from an excerpt from the Rule of St. Benedict: Receive all visitors as though they are Christ. The gracious brothers and fathers at the monastery did just that. I'll post more on that soon.

In the spirit of contemplation, here is a Gregorian "Gloria Patri" chant. If you're wondering what the correlation between "Gregorian" and "Benedictine" is, you've come to the right place. St. Benedict lived long before St. Gregory (for whom the Abbot, or leader, of Conception Abbey is named--we celebrated the Feast of St. Gregory this weekend, as well). However, Gregory, who essentially invented the method for writing and reading music that we use to this day, was also a biographer of St. Benedict, and much of what we know of St. Benny comes from the writings of St. Greg. Anyway, enough with the monk trivia. Here's your first dose of music.

I'm sorry I do not have more music for you--I tried to limit my amount of contact with the outside world while I was in the Abbey. However, on our way home, my friend Mark and I did listen to some music by popular mystical bands that I thought was appropriate.

Here's a rant about Evangelical Christianity by mewithoutYou:

And a song derived from the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church by The Psalters. This is "Trisagion." Agios o Theos, Agios, ischyros. Agios athanatos, eleison imas.

Peace be with you,