Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Great Jesse Tree Adventure

So, Advent is probably my favorite  time of the year (aside from, maybe, Holy Week). I was raised in a household that has held the exact same Christmastime traditions for the last 22 years, so "ritual," I would say, has become really important to me.

As Advent approaches, I've been giving serious consideration to making a Jesse Tree, a small tree with hanging ornaments that commemorate some aspect of Jesus's history, from Creation all the way to the birth of the Messiah. Jesse Trees have a pretty diverse background, but--as far as I can tell--have been celebrated since the middle ages. 

This evening, Alyssa and I made a short trip to Hobby Lobby to buy the ornaments and the base for the tree. I want to make the actual tree out of limbs, to give it a more rugged, outdoorsy look. Tonight, we drilled the holes and stained the wood. 

I'll keep you updated as this project progresses. If all goes well (I'm sure you know how badly I procrastinate), I would like to post a short devotional each night we add an ornament to the tree, starting around the first Sunday of Advent. That way, you folks can celebrate right along with us!

I don't say this often enough, but I love you all.



Friday, October 29, 2010

So, this one time, my pieces took up half the kiln...

Yesterday, we unloaded the gas kiln at the ceramics studio. Since I missed the first round of glaze firing, all of my accumulated wares had to wait for the second round. Because of this, I had nearly 35 pieces: bowls, coffee mugs, and various plates.

Here's some of my finished work. Some of the pictures, when clicked, will produce a before/after shot. Enjoy:



Audio Books and All Hallows Eve (eve eve eve)

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted. I've been really friggin' busy, to say the least. I really can't wait for the semester to end--I have far better things to worry about than Human Biology, or "World Food and Society."

In other news, Alyssa and I recently purchased an audiobook copy of Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. We're planning on going vegetarian after the first of the year, and I really hope that this book will strengthen our resolve to do so. When I was very young, my mom's best friend Emily decided to become a vegan, giving up all animal products and bi-products. Even honey was out. She made this decision after becoming aware of the condition of factory farming and mass meat production in the U.S. In many cases, the treatment of the animals that eventually become our food has surpassed in hideousness the grisly depictions of most horror flicks. And it happens, day-in and day-out, on our watch.

Don't get me wrong, I like meat as much as the next person. But I'm hoping that Foer's book will serve to give us pause, and inspire us to make more conscientious decisions when purchasing our food; anthropocentrism has caused us as a species to disregard the well-being of the rest of God's creation, opting instead to focus on how to make the shekel great. This problem in itself expresses the need--all creation is groaning with labor pains--for not only social justice, but environmental justice, as well.

And that's all I have to say about THAT. *dusts hands off, steps down from soap box*

On a more jovial note, tonight was also the Baptist Student Center's third annual Halloween party.

I went as "The Son of Man," from Rene Magritte's painting of the same name.

Alyssa went as Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood.

We carved pumpkins. This one's mine:

And we polished off the evening with George Romero's 1968 zombie flick, Night of the Living Dead. By the way, this incredibly creepy film is in the public domain, and is available to watch on youtube:

Aaaand that's all for tonight. I'm dog-tired, and have lots and lots to do tomorrow.



Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Just so people know what we're about...

As a new monastic and a lover of almost all things grassroots, I typically shirk at the idea of a rigid "plan" of any sort. But I also see the benefit in providing some sort of concrete evidence of future goals. 

So, as part of my Basics of Church Business class I've been taking at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, I present to you Anavah House's vision and mission statements, as well as our core values and goals for the next five years or so. I'd love to hear your thoughts. By the way, we are also officially registered as a "forming community" with the directory of the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. I humbly ask that if you know of anyone in the KC area interested in new monastic intentional living, please let me know!


Vision Statement:
Anavah House exists to love and to serve Jesus Christ by loving and serving our neighbors in authentic Christian community.

Mission Statement:

Our mission is to love and serve Christ and our neighbors by living in community as set forth in Acts 2:44-47, by engaging our neighborhood through community development programs, by cultivating sustainable living as stewards of God’s creation through ecologically dependable methods, and by welcoming all to our community as we would welcome Christ.

Core Values:
  •  Loving Christ and our neighbor in the spirit of humility and gentleness.
  • Holding ourselves to a monastic rule and prayer schedule, as well as practicing the discipline of eating together as a Christian family.
  • Seeking social justice for the poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised within the neighborhood community surrounding Anavah House.
  • Generating supplemental income for the community through utilization of our God-given gifts of creative skills and craftsmanship.
  • Experimenting with ecological sustainability through methods that have been tested in other communities, practicing good stewardship of our bodies and of God’s good creation.


Phase One (6 months – 1 year)
  • Begin to raise awareness about the forthcoming community, scoping out potential co-founders who feel called to live out a new monastic lifestyle at Anavah House.
  • Obtain a piece of property capable of supporting 6-8 people (including my wife and I), as well as at least 1-2 rooms suitable for guests, and sufficient space for worship/prayer.  The location of Anavah House would most ideally be in a neighborhood of high risk/need in the Kansas City area.
  • Register as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to help our sponsors with funding.
  • Begin renovating the house to suit the needs of a new monastic community.
 Phase Two (1 – 3 years)
  • Acquire the knowledge and the volunteers to construct adequate accommodations for small livestock (chickens, ducks, and, with time, possibly even bees), as well as raised-bed vegetable gardens, a grey water waste recycling system, and a system for recycling rainwater for use on our crops.
  • Begin encouraging the creation of meaningful art within the community, including the installation of a small ceramics studio.
  •  Canvass Anavah House’s neighborhood in a non-confrontational way, increasing local awareness of our existence as a safe place to be in fellowship with the neighbors.
  • Initiate a partnership with various universities and nonprofit organizations (i.e. Roadtrip Project) to begin an internship program, offering short-term (3 days – 1 week) and long-term (1 – 2 months) internship opportunities to students.

 Phase Three (3 – 5 years)
  • Implement community development programs beneficial to the neighborhood—the appropriate programs will become apparent with increased understanding of the needs of the community.
  • Expand our relational base from the immediate community surrounding Anavah House to a greater area, encouraging local churches and other neighborhoods to get involved in community development programming.
  •  Devise a novice program for people entering the community in order to gradually acclimate them to the new monastic life.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Very Merry Un-Birthday to You!

I just wrapped up work on a radio story about Cape County's forming Tea Party movement.

This version (the unauthorized version) has a few things that out of the radio edit. Enjoy.

Jesus is Lord

I found this really cool video through my friend Matt. It's theologian Alan Hirsch speaking about the meaning of the phase "Jesus is Lord."

I was surprised, though, that Hirsch never brings up a very crucial point made by this phrase. In first-century Palestine, saying "Jesus is Lord" was tantamount to saying "Caesar is not," thereby denying the emperor his divinity and lordship. I find this especially moving in today's context, seeing America as Rome, and our man-made government as "Caesar." The big problem that so many churches in America face all too often today is that we want to recognize that we are members of both the Kingdom of God and the American Empire, when Jesus clearly calls us to be "in the world, but not of it," remaining citizens of God's kingdom while only living in this one. We are called to such greater things.



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Who's the Cowboy Now?

The other day, Alyssa and I watched a 1995 self-proclaimed "acid western" by Jim Jarmusch, featuring a young Johnny Depp. Also in the film: Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Crispin Glover, John Hurt, and Gary Farmer, a Native American actor who plays the role of Xebeche ("He who talks loud, says nothing"). Through most of the film, Xebeche goes by the name "Nobody," and serves as a spiritual guide to Johnny Depp's character, accountant William Blake, whom Nobody mistakes for the wandering spirit of the poet with the same name.

We were inspired to watch the movie after hearing The Illalogical Spoon's scathing ditty, "Who's the Cowboy Now?," a harsh criticism of American entitlement and greed. The ending of the song features a sound byte from the film:

Here's the clip from the movie:

For those interested, the soundtrack was performed by Neil Young, alone in a recording studio, improvising on the electric guitar as he watched the movie.

The film itself is a beautifully tragic and poetic look at the myth of redemptive violence, as well as the subjugation of Native Americans at the hands of Manifest Destiny. It's a wonderful movie, but exceedingly trippy. Watch it, but at your own discretion.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

aaaaand MORE ceramics...

After spending Sunday morning playing for Cornerstone Wesleyan in Scott City (my new job), I relaxed to about four or five cathartic hours in the ceramics studio. I'm in the middle of several projects right now:
This coffee cup says "Teacher" in Hebrew. It's a gift for a friend.

Last week, we were assigned to come up with some sort of large bowl with at least 3 pounds of clay. This wonky bowl is made from five pounds. I was going to scrap it when it first went off-kilter, but I've been learning that unless you absolutely can't stand the sight of something you've made, it might be best just to keep it and turn it into something unique.

These small coffee cups are pinkish in color because they have been bisque fired, which removes all of the water from the pieces. The bisque firing is the first firing, before the glazing and the second (final) firing.

The following pics are of coffee cups (and a bowl or two) that have been bisque fired, and I have begun experimenting with glazes. I really like drizzling and splattering, as opposed to straight dipping.

This is a communion plate. If you look really closely, you can see the Jerusalem Cross stamp I used to create a pattern around the edge. 

This is probably my favorite cup. It's one of those "fortunate mistakes." As I was obsessively trying to perfect this cup (which was originally a pretty good cup), I accidentally pushed too hard on the walls and threw the entire mug off balance. Rather than scrap it, I just kept it. I like the wonkiness. 

This is also a rescued piece. It was originally a honey-pot-looking coffee mug, but it fell off my ware board and smashed against the wheel--however, it made an almost perfect spout. So it's going to be a wonky cream holder.

This was my first "pinch pot," a bowl made by (you guessed it) pinching a piece of clay into a bowl. I thought putting lips and teeth on it would be fun. We'll see how it turns out...

Next week: Some pictures of how these pieces actually turn out (quite different from the way they're pictured above, I'm sure).

Thanks for reading!



Monday, October 11, 2010

Flying Geese

I think this is the first poem I've posted here. Unleash on it. Show it no mercy.

Flying Geese

The tag says
the name of the pattern is
Flying Geese
sewn by the hands of Indonesian women.

Sitting on the bed, the quilt stretches away
in a series of interlocking isosceles triangles
white toward me
black away
like flying geese
and I recoil cross-legged (Indian style?)
against the nonexistent headboard.

It's not that a quilt is a lousy metaphor
for human existence and diversity
(it is)
It's not that the triangles
are such solid representations
of some feared or beloved triune deity;
My anxiety does not rest here.
The geese, honking and flailing,
assault and fall back,
a guerilla phalanx of my own
fears and misunderstandings:
white toward,
black away,
flying geese.

The shove
not passive
but violent:
Black away,
Flying geese,
White toward,
geese in flight
and my retreat into
my sage walls.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Music Sunday

This week, my friend Matt introduced me to a guy named Noah Gundersen. Specifically, a song called "Jesus, Jesus" from an EP released late last year entitled Saints and Liars.

Caution: the following song contains graphic lyrics.

What do you think of the lyrics? What questions do you think are raised? I'd love to foster some kind of discussion.

On a more shallow note: is it okay to curse when opening your heart to Jesus? I've noticed this debate a lot lately, and usually when the topic does come up, Derek Webb's name gets mentioned.


1) Is it ever okay to question Jesus and his followers in art? Can anything positive come from this? I personally love Gundersen's song. What do you think of it?

2) Is it ever justifiable to curse when talking about Jesus? Even if it is the language written on your heart at the time?

Hit me up with your answers.



PS--Today is 10/10/10. I think I'm going to have a party tonight at 10:10.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Creativity and Spirituality (Part 2)

This is the second part of my essay on spirituality and creativity. Let me know your thoughts!

It is rare in our culture to see creativity integrated so well within the context of the Church. It is far more common to be met with an attitude that communicates to others that life is life and church is church, and never the twain shall meet. However, spiritual creativity is holistic—it affects not only the spirit, but the body, mind, and heart, as well. For instance, food shortages and nutrition have become global issues, as well as the protection of our struggling environment. In recent years, sustainable living has become a growing interest among those disenfranchised with the rising tide of the so-called “green revolution.” One solution advocated by—but not limited to—Christian grassroots organizations and intentional communities is experimentation with private and community gardening. Birthed out of a “fast food nation” in which the average American adult can simply run to the nearest Wal-Mart and purchase cheap frozen pizzas, community gardening has opened a new perspective on food, health, and the environment in both rural and urban areas. In a Christian context, many communities have discovered the creative and spiritual link between care for the environment and our bodies and the calling for faithful care of God’s creation.  Christian intentional communities have met a problem (the growing global food crisis, global warming) and produced a reasonable, small-scale solution from their human (and God-given) gifts of creative problem solving.
“What’s this?” I asked Jason as we toured the block, indicating a fuzzy, fluffy-looking plant sprouting from the Hyaets landscaping.
“That’s lamb’s ear,” Jason replied. It’s a handy household plant to have around; you can eat the leaves like spinach greens, but it’s also used medicinally, like aloe. Put a strip of lamb’s ear on a cut, and it heals almost twice as fast.” How fascinating! In what universe would this be considered common knowledge? Jason and the members of Hyaets are bringing in something new and useful through their creative spirituality, inspiring the community around them to exercise their creative gifts.
I say all this not to belabor the reader with my passion for community gardening or New Monastic intentional communities, but instead to illustrate the fact that when creativity is real and organic, it is inevitably a spiritual event. My time in the monastery and my experience with this course awoke something within me that was already there, but lying dormant—the very nature of creativity and education; discovering something you already knew about yourself, but drawing it out and looking at it with new eyes. The brothers and fathers at Conception Abbey may not be building clubhouses for neighborhood children (though, for all I know, they may very well be growing lamb’s ear), but their spiritual creativity manifests itself in different ways—namely, in the creative process of education.
In our exercises with one of my professors, we were tasked with discovering our “vocation,” or our “quest.” I was forced to think about what exactly brought me to seminary in the first place. Sitting in the classroom packed with fellow CREATE cohort members, I felt vastly out of place among brothers and sisters who seemed—by my perception—to be of the charismatic personalities which lead to pastorships and other leadership positions within the traditional infrastructure of the church. But this has never been my quest, or my calling. The more I meditated on this notion of quest, however, and the more I fell in love with the daily liturgical prayer and simple lives of the brothers and fathers around me at the abbey, the more I began to sense that God has something different, something new in store for me. A spiritual idea born of creativity.
I left the course with—I do not think I can overstate this—a completely altered view of what my life pursuit will be, and my conversations with Mark (who happens to be of a mindset very similar to mine) since then have only served to embolden me further. Each subsequent conversation has left me feeling much like Chief Dan George’s character in the film Little Big Man, who claims, “My heart soars like a hawk.” My role in life is not the role of pastor, or of youth pastor, or of church council member or finance chairman. After leaving the abbey, I discovered that my true vocation is to start a monastery of sorts. A New Monastic community in the Kansas City area called Anavah House, from the Hebrew word for humility, or discovering or knowing one’s place in the grand design of God’s creation. Once I rested in this notion of vocation, I gained a renewed fervor and quest, and all the pieces of my life now seem to be making more sense. I have fallen in love with the potter’s wheel through a class I’ve been taking at my university—this is subsequently a skill that can be put forth as a creative way of supporting the community once it establishes itself. I have spent years studying community development and gardening, as well as developing interpersonal skills that define me as an empathetic person, understanding of the needs of a group of people. And as long as I can remember, growing up in the United Methodist Church I have been fascinated by liturgical prayer, communal worship, and contemplation. Through this class, all of these pieces of me have come together at last to make a little clearer the integrative whole of my vocation and place in the world, and I am chomping at the bit to get started.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Broken Bottle Mosaics and Lamb’s Ear: Connecting Creativity and Spirituality (pt. 1)

The following is part of an essay I recently wrote about my some of my experience with New Monasticism, and how the NM movement  embodies the union between creativity and spirituality. Enjoy.

            I arrived at Conception Abbey with my friend Mark, along with something I can only assume was a mutual mixed feeling of uncertainty and eager expectation. Seminary is a new phenomenon to us both, and neither of us fit the mold of typical seminary students looking for M-Div degrees and pastoral roles within congregations. It was, for us, a chance to find our centers and renew our hearts and minds. But I left the abbey with much more than recharged batteries.

My initial understanding of creativity (a very basic understanding, to be sure) involved taking one idea, fusing it with another, and synthesizing the two to produce a third idea, completely new and independent of the first two. A caveman discovers that by hammering rocks together, sparks occur. By positioning the sparks over an area of flammable material, a fire can be kindled. And by building a fire, it becomes easier to cook and ingest meat, which in turn gives Caveman more energy to hunt more meat to cook over more fires. This understanding is pretty cut-and-dried. Not necessarily a bad definition, but still somewhat incomplete.
But I have found that creativity is more than just synapses firing and connecting one thing and another. In many ways, creativity is useless unless it leads to innovation, beauty, and growth. A person can have a good idea, but that idea is worthless without action, and that action—by what I’ve gathered through reading scripture, as well as Roberta Bondi’s To Love As God Loves—is useless without love as its primary motivation. Interestingly enough, it was less than two months prior to our time in the abbey that I spent a single day in fellowship with a new monastic intentional community in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was that day, after stepping off the bus in a remote, economically and socially disparaged part of the city, that I first began to draw the beautiful connections between spirituality and creativity. The Hyaets Community draws its name from the Hebrew word for the “tree of life” found in Genesis and Revelation—a symbol of initial and continuing creation. The project began a few years ago as an attempt to build a bridge between the contemplative lifestyle of the Desert Fathers and the compassionate active lifestyle of experiencing and meeting the needs of marginalized people suffering on the fringe of society—what better example of the creative spiritual process than this? 
Jason Williams, the leader of the community, led us on a tour of the small, three-house block, pointing out the art and construction along the way. Earlier this year, Hyaets became the recipient of a recent CBF grant that allowed them to build a small clubhouse where the neighborhood kids (many of them so-called latchkey kids) could hang out after school. But rather than simply throwing together a “shed” where the kids are “kept,” the community rallied a number of local churches for the project:  one church to build the clubhouse, one church to paint it, and still another to design an intricate mosaic (made from bits of broken glass and other trash) to decorate the façade of the building. In this case, the initial motivation of love (desiring to fill the needs of the neighborhood kids) led to a physical aesthetic (the building, the mosaic). This in part illustrates a very basic sense of the connection between spirituality and creativity. However, it may—and, I feel, should—be stretched further to include perhaps a more important non-physical aesthetic: the aesthetic of the impact on the community as a creative congregation. Conceivably, more beautiful than the physical mosaic is the transformation of the lives of the children impacted by the existence of the clubhouse as a safe place to gather. The clubhouse then fosters more creativity within the children, who in turn may in their maturity go out and begin the creative cycle over again. In a New Monastic setting, this creates the perfect balance of tension between the contemplative life and the active life.

Part 2 continues tomorrow.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


I shared this with my friends earlier, and got some decent conversation from it.

I am neither conservative nor liberal--in fact, while I may have what many call a more "progressive" understanding of scripture, I prefer to remain neutral when it comes to politics, unless of course the issue extends into the teachings of Jesus (taxes, for example: no matter how hard I work for it, the money isn't mine; it's Caesar's. Therefore, I should have no qualms giving it back to Caesar. Jesus calls us to greater things).

However, I was reflecting recently in particular on the American political philosophy of conservatism and how it fits into the teachings of Jesus. Not saying that the American political philosophy of liberalism is any better, but it occurred to me that the philosophy of conservatism is self-  and family-centered. It's all about my guns, and my rights, and my money, and what the government is doing to intrude into my life. Is this not a fair assessment?

There is an equally harsh judgment on American liberalism: for me, at least, liberalism is too wishy-washy and manipulative to accomplish any real good. We squabble over making the most amount of people happy, when in reality we lose sight of the goal that Christ has set before us.

I was discussing whether or not it is okay for Christians to join the military tonight with a (very conservative) friend of mine, and it struck me as odd how much he came back to argue about how the military has fought for "our" freedom as Americans. I feel that surely there must be something greater at work that binds us together not as nationalists, but as human beings all over the world.

The divine banner and the human banner do not go together, Tertullian writes, nor the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil.

Is this "standard of the devil" perhaps what we might consider partisan political activism?

Even more disturbing is that I have discovered that people are going to believe what they want to believe, and if this is indeed the case, no amount of intelligent, rational dialogue is going to make them understand. Do Christians ever have the right to call other Christians out? Or is this "you worship your way, I'll worship mine" mentality a uniquely American understanding? I say this because (my mom has pointed this out to me many times over my life) I can debate a topic until the cows come home. But I see that people tend to get more ferocious and less rational when they are backed into a dialogical corner, and I guess this makes me fear that almost all respectful debate is useless.

I'd like to know your thoughts.

Peace be with you,


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Like our facebook page!

I'm currently researching how to become a registered 501(c)(3) organization--it's complicated!

In any case, you should at the very least head on over to facebook and check out Anavah House's facebook page. "Like" us to stay caught up on the entire development process of our community. Hopefully, sometime in the near future you will be able to donate funds to Anavah House to help support our community and ministry!

Thank you for all your prayers, and if you have any comments or suggestions for the community (or if you would like to join us in our great adventure), please pass them along to me. My email address is, and you can contact my phone at (573)-576-0840. 

In the coming months, I will be sharing the vision piece by piece as it develops, and I am so excited to pass it along to you!