Monday, January 31, 2011

Thought for the Week: Becoming Fire

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, "Abba, as far as I can I say my little office. I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can. I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?" Then the old Abba Joseph stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, "If you so choose, you can become all flame."
I work in a pretty conservative church. Each Sunday, I show up, play some outdated worship music that is so theologically oversimplified that I have to grit my teeth to belch out the full song, and then listen to folks complain about how it's not as good as those old-timey hymns. They talk a lot about "winning  souls" for Jesus, and how people are transformed not by our doing, but by the blood of Christ alone.

I work in the kind of church that often talks about fire. 

If you don't evangelize people, truly turn them to Jesus, then you will be cast into a fiery hell which burns forever. Also, you are supposed to be on fire for God. Talk about mixing metaphors.

It seems like fire has been so overused as an image in Christian theology that it has become cliche, its meaning almost lost. We Christian folk have become quite fond of using the phrase "on fire for God" every time we see a passionate speaker, or someone with powerful ambition (this latter example is perhaps the most common--and most dangerous--use of the phrase). I was first introduced to the true power of the fire metaphor in mewithoutYou's brilliant elegy, "The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate," which was inspired by a Sufi bedtime story told to the band's lead singer when he was a child. 

Not long after that, I became engrossed in the teachings of the Desert Fathers, and soon stumbled upon this week's thought, courtesy of Abba Lot and Abba Joseph. You've read their mysterious anecdote. Now listen to the song below:

Fire is not a threat to be brandished for wrongdoing. Fire is not (or at least, should not be) a glossy label for someone driven by ego and desire for power.

We do not consume the fire. We allow the fire to consume us. To transform us into something mysterious and unknowable--broken of our own will, we become one with the fire. And that fire is God.

Why not be utterly changed into fire?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Hey, y'all! I'm posting today on behalf of my friend Derek, who plays in a one-man band called The Homeless Gospel Choir. He's trying to release a new album (on vinyl, as well as digital download) called You Work So Hard Just To Be Like Everyone Else.  I really like this guy and his message, and think that you, O gentle reader, might like him, as well.

Derek's cool, because he doesn't rely on record labels and managers to earn his money for him. He creates meaningful, beautiful, and sometimes offensive art, and produces it himself. But he needs help getting this new album out there. Specifically, he needs about $1,500 to produce the record and the merchandise for the record. So hop on over to his kickstart site and pledge a couple bucks--or 15 or 20.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Podcast

I used to produce a short, 30-minute podcast featuring some independent recording artists. It's been about 9 months since the last one was recorded. But I think that getting married, going to grad school, moving, and getting a new job have sort of taken precedence.

Anyway. After a long hiatus, I've finally managed to get my recording equipment back together, and I now present to you the new and improved Everyday Revolutionary podcast, featuring tunes from Listener, the Homeless Gospel Choir, and Arcade Fire. Enjoy!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Thought of the Week: Crime and Punishment

For our thought for the week, we're going back to the Apopthegmata Patrum!

It is a story reminiscent of a scene from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables; the convict Jean Valjean escapes with the Bishop's valuable silverware, only to be captured and returned to the Bishop by the police. "The Bishop gave me the silverware," Valjean lies. And then the Bishop does the most curious thing: he agrees. Emphatically. But it doesn't stop there--he eyes Valjean angrily, and asks,

"Why did you not also take the candlesticks, Valjean? I told you to take the candlesticks, as well."

He fetches the silver candlesticks, and forces the thief to take them, as well, thereby giving away the only remaining valuables the Bishop owns in this world.

Once, while Abba Macarius was in Egypt, he discovered a man who owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering the good Abba's goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and helped him to load the animal. The Abba saw the man off in great peace, saying, "We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. The Lord gave and the Lord took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
What does it mean to own something? I mean, to really, really have true possession of an item.

What do you make of the Abba's response to the sin of the thief? Putting this in a more contemporary context, was it wrong for Macarius to let the thief go? What about "personal responsibility"? Didn't Macarius have an obligation to report the rapscallion to the authorities? How might the philosophy behind this story be applied in a mundane, everyday setting?

Your thoughts, please.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thought for the Week

The thought for this week comes from what many have called "the black national anthem." It's actually a hymn, and it's one of my favorites; I grew up singing this song in high school when I attended a liturgical United Methodist congregation in Poplar Bluff.

In honor of Dr. King, whose words grace the banner of this blog, here is "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

Lift every voice and sing
'til earth and heaven ring,
ring with the harmonies of liberty!
Let our rejoicing rise
high as the listening skies,
let it resound loud as the rolling sea!
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on 'til victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died.
Yet with a steady beat,
have not our weary feet
come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.
Out of the gloomy past,
'til now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way,
Thou who has by Thy might
led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
may we forever stand
true to our God,
true to our native land.

Have a good week! I start work in the coffee shop for the first time on my own this week, so I'll keep you posted. Until next time,

keep fighting the good fight,


Saturday, January 15, 2011


Unfortunately, Alyssa and I get this a lot when we talk to people about Anavah House.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thought for the Day

For those of you that didn't know, I'm a big fan of the Desert Fathers, the ascetic Coptic Christian monks who practiced lives of spiritual discipline in the desert. Many of their sayings and doings are compiled into a single collection entitled Apopthegmata Patrum. Here's one of their stories.

Abba Doulas, the disciple of Abba Bessarion, said, "One day, when we were walking beside the sea, I was thirsty, and said to Abba Bessarion, 'Father, I am very thirsty.' He said a prayer and said to me, 'Drink some of the sea water.' The water proved sweet when I drank some! I even poured some into a leather bottle for fear of being thirsty later on. Seeing this, the old man asked me why I was taking some. 'Forgive me Father,' I said, 'It is for fear of being thirsty later on.' Then the old man said, 'God is here. God is everywhere.'"

I like it. What do you think it means?

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Cynical Faith

"What did you think?" I asked my mom after we finished watching The Last Temptation of Christ.

The Martin Scorcese adaptation of the brilliant Nikos Kazantzakis novel on the tension between the human and the divine has been my favorite movie for over a year now, and over Christmas break Alyssa and I purchased the film. It was shipped to my parents' house, and I was excited to pop it in and watch it with my family. Afterward, Mom and I sat out on their front porch discussing parts of the movie.

She took a long draw on her cigarette before answering, a semi-confused squint on her face.

"I dunno. I guess I just think that there are some things that have to remain holy. If not, what else have you got?"

She was referring to the conflict of tradition with the depiction of Jesus in the film--a very human Jesus, a Jesus neither born of a virgin, nor completely sure of his purpose on earth. There are times in the film where Jesus seems as surprised by his own miracles as those witnessing them.

I've talked with Mom about this before.

Some of my greatest spiritual struggles in the last few years have dealt not with stretching my beliefs to new limits, but actually setting the limits themselves. It didn't take long, after beginning to question certain aspects of my faith, for my initial skepticism to turn into full-blown cynicism. For instance, there is pretty solid scholarly evidence to suggest that Jesus was indeed not born of a virgin--that this was simply a misinterpretation by the gospel writers of an ancient prophecy. And the earliest gospel, Mark, contains no reference either to Jesus's birth nor his resurrection; the gospel literally ends with Jesus being placed in his tomb, his disciples crippled with fear.

Some things are not very essential to believe in order to be a Christian. Six-day creation? Nah. Adam and Eve? Probably not. The tribulation and/or rapture? Heck no. But if I draw reasonable lines against these ideas, where do I hit the limit of my unbelief? And when I get there, is it even okay for me to still call myself a Christian?

I want to believe in miracles, and I want to believe in a resurrected Jesus, and I want to believe that the poor will eventually be made rich, the rich made poor, the valleys raised, the mountains lowered. I want to believe in a year of Jubilee.

It's just been so damn difficult lately.

One of the great (if not a bit insane) minds of the last several thousand years was the philosopher Diogenes, who incidentally happened to be of the Greek philosophic school of Cynicism. Now--not trying to confuse you--the philosophical understanding of Cynicism is a bit different than the usual definition we're used to. I want to instead draw your attention to a story my grandfather once told me about old Diogenes.

A quiet hermit of a man in his old age, Diogenes took to the streets and hills with lantern lit in broad daylight. He would approach individuals and clusters of talkative travelers in silence with his candle, barely visible in the light of midday. "Diogenes, what are you doing?" they would ask. And old Diogenes would peer deeply into their faces, his nose almost touching theirs, and say "I'm looking for an honest man." His gaze would linger for another brief moment, and then he'd turn and slowly walk away, searching for someone else.

Diogenes the Cynic had little faith that he would ever meet a truly honest person.

Granted, he also lived in a large barrel, urinated on strangers, and often roamed the countryside stark naked. But that's beside the point.

The point is that to believe in Christ is to have hope that the honest man is still out there, and to believe that there still are things that are holy, and that--once in a while--it may even be okay to believe something that isn't factual. The point is that while a hermeneutic of suspicion may be healthy and encouraged occasionally, a hermeneutic of cynicism has the tendency to leave one jaded and certain about very little. May we all seek to dispel the darkness of cynicism, and embrace the mystery that is the risen Christ.



Friday, January 7, 2011

Anavah: The Whole Story

Broadway Books & Roasting Company
Until about six months ago, my dreams for years had been steeped in my inclination to join a new monastic intentional community. I had read the books by fresh, powerful authors that were staples for any young Christian radical: Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution for starters (although--I fully admit--I didn't read the entire book), followed by Jesus for President. Then I began making my way through works by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, most notably his collaborative book, School(s) for Conversion: Twelve Marks of a New Monasticism, eventually arriving at the works of the heavy hitters: Jacques Ellul, Stanley Hauerwas, Wendell Berry. My desire to live in genuine Christian community--no pretense, no secrecy, no clinging to exclusive ownership of things, but simply living out the lives Christ has called us to live--became a driving force in my life, influencing everything from my personal relationships to my grocery shopping.

However, when I started seminary in August, I wasn't ready for the challenge that was quickly placed before me. After my first class (which, coincidentally, was held in a real Benedictine monastery), I came to realize that God was not only calling me to live in an intentional community, but God was also calling me to help form and lead a community. It was then that the idea behind Anavah House was born.

Anavah, by definition, means humility. However, as is often the case with Hebrew words, anavah is packed with much more meaning that it initially lets on. According to Strong's concordance, the word appears numerous times in the Bible, typically with the connotation of gentleness or humility. However, there is also an instance in which it is translated as help.

According to Jewish tradition, anavah is the kind of humility that allows one to recognize their place in God's grand design of all Creation. It is commonly associated with one's ability to replace their pride with an openness to learn a little something from everyone--a person who practices anavah practices the art of humbling themselves into the realization that all people of all traditions, cultures, and social statuses have something to teach.

That's my dream for Anavah House--a place where people from all walks of life can feel welcome, and have their spirits affirmed as children of the Living God. A place where people can be helped, as well as help others together in mutual respect.

Bruce Gentry?
The original plan was for Alyssa and I to stay in Cape Girardeau through May while we searched for a run-down fixer-upper in some rough part of Kansas City. In the meantime, however, we kept getting these little hints. When I first mentioned the idea to our mentor, Bruce, he said, "Why don't you do something like that in Cape Girardeau?"

I immediately laughed this off. Not trying to sound prideful, but there are very few Christians in southeast Missouri who think the way Alyssa and I do. We just sort of assumed that we would have to seek out a more diverse, urban area in order to develop an idea like Anavah House.

But then, less than a week later, we were approached by a good friend of ours who owns a coffee house in the historic downtown district of Cape. Without divulging too much, and to make a long story short, suffice it to say that she was interested in selling us the business, and eventually the land on which the business sits.

But we weren't interested. It conflicted with our plans to move to Kansas City. It wasn't until we laughed it off for the third or fourth (fifth? sixth?) time that we began to take this seriously.

Now, after months of intense thought, prayer, and discussion, we feel that we are ready to begin sharing our experience. With the right effort, the right people, the right energies, and just a touch of passion, I believe that we can cultivate something beautiful in an often neglected part of the city I have lived in for the last five years.

Note: This is not one of my lattes.
My lattes don't look nearly this delicious.
We agreed to move into this new space--we currently live in a sort of attic apartment on the third floor of the building (you can see our living room windows in the photo above). We will be training to work in the coffee shop (on the main floor) for the next three months, before we eventually become managers. If all goes according to plan, we will be ready to purchase the business in payments starting in June. I've been making lattes and double-shot espressos like crazy.

But we need help getting to where we need to be. Right now, Alyssa and I are the only two people behind Anavah House. And I don't like that. As my friend Tyler and I discussed the other day over lunch, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said (paraphrasing) that when a community is not a living vision of a group of people and becomes instead the dream of just one or two people, that community ceases to be authentic and efficacious. We need more people who share our passion for community development and art, spirituality and coffee, the power of spiritual discipline and the value of integrity.

We also need about $30,000 by June in order to buy the business.

The property lies on Broadway, about a half-mile from the Mississippi River, and also just a few short blocks from South Cape, the southeast Missouri equivalent of a ghetto. Ideally, the business would stay exactly as is, with the upper two floors being reserved for new monastic living. The house is big enough to serve as a residence for at least six or eight people (including Alyssa and myself).

I'm not a fundraiser. I'm not a financier. I'm not a preacher, or even really a teacher. I'm just someone who has a passion for people. Alyssa and I are having a hard time getting people to join us in this great commitment, and that's understandable. Sure, lots of people have let us know what a great idea they think it is. But we are looking for a few good women and men to actually help us make Anavah House a reality. If you--or anyone you know--are interested in living in community for a time (it doesn't have to be permanent, by any means), please let me know. You can email us at If you're interested in further info, we can put you on our mailing list--simply leave your address in the message body, and we'll keep you updated as things progress.

We have a million ideas--way too many to post here in one sitting. Everything from handmade coffee bag crafts to afterschool ceramics workshops for kids to lobbying for a large community garden to be installed in the downtown area. If you'd like to talk more about it, I urge you to contact us. And if you don't feel like you can commit your life to something of that magnitude, you may even opt to simply chip in a few bucks to the fund. We're about to open a bank account for Anavah House, and we will soon be establishing ourselves as a nonprofit organization, pending support from a board of directors of the Anavah Foundation. If you're interested in helping in any way, shape, or form, please email the address above, or call me directly at 573-576-0840, or Alyssa at 573-576-1424.

We can do this. We can make this a reality, and together we can nurture something that has never been seen before in southeast Missouri.

Your humble everyday revolutionary,


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Veggie Recipe: Roasted Garlic Potato & Leek Patties with Feta

Hi there again!

Alyssa and I have tried going vegetarian before, but we hope that this time we are both committed enough to make it fairly permanent. I recently read Jonathan Safran Foer's excellent book, Eating Animals, and was deeply convicted by his account of the evils of the meat industry.

Growing up, a very close friend of my family's was (and still is) vegan. When she would visit, our family would go vegan for the duration of her stay, and it was through her that I learned to appreciate both the animal rights activists' point-of-view, as well as the excellent vegan cuisine which (in southeast Missouri) often went unnoticed or was consciously avoided. People often fear what they do not know. Too bad, too, because I've found a whole new world of amazing food thanks to my friend.

For Christmas, Alyssa and I got a few vegetarian cookbooks, and we're working our way through some of the recipes. Here for your tasting pleasure is a nice little dish that we made the other day. We've tweaked the recipe a little bit, so if you try it, don't get freaked out if it doesn't turn out like the pictures (plus, the food in the pictures hasn't been cooked yet).

Roasted Garlic Potato & Leek Patties with Feta

-1 whole garlic bulb
-2 Russet potatoes, cut into small chunks
-1 Leek, trimmed and finely chopped
-1 package crumbled feta cheese
-1-2 tsp. hot sauce
-sea salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Separate the cloves of garlic into a small roasting pan and roast for about 20 minutes or until soft.

Scoop garlic into a bowl and mash thoroughly.

Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling water for 15 minutes, or until soft.

Drain and mash, then mix in the roasted garlic.

Add the leek, feta cheese, hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste, and combine well.

Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Shape the potato mixture into 8 small round patties and place on a nonstick baking sheet--we used our fancy-schmancy Pampered Chef baking stones.

Bake for about 20 minutes. Alyssa and I found that the baked patties didn't quite set up right, so we suggest maybe lightly frying them, like you would any sort of potato latke or grit fritter. They taste really great with ketchup and some extra hot sauce.

Bon appetit!


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Virtual Walkthrough of Our Apartment

Alyssa and I have been gradually arranging our space at the new house/apartment. Here are some pics of the living area/kitchen, as well as the foyer.

 Kitteh napz!

This is our little floating island which separates our living room from the kitchen. Complete with mini veggie pizzas! 

Here's part of our foyer. On the left: a spiritual art piece by our friend Jon Daniels. On the right: our newly installed coat hanger. Also, St. Francis is in charge of our comings and goings from his perch above the light switch!

My grandmother made the doily that's hanging above our door. It was a wedding gift.

Two bookcases, and we STILL don't have enough room for all of our books.

That's all for now. I'll post some more pics of the new place as we get settled in and unpacked. Tomorrow: a new vegetarian recipe!



Monday, January 3, 2011

Christmas and yada yada yada...

I'm back! It's been a long couple weeks for Alyssa and me, but we survived the holiday season, and we're finally settling back down into our routine. Let me bring you up to speed in a really brief, poorly written summary of my life for the last half-a-month...

About three weeks ago, we started moving out of our home at the BSC and into our new residence at Broadway Books & Roasting Company. That's right, we moved into a coffee house. You never realize how much crap you own until you have to truck it all, bit by bit, a few blocks down the street and up three flights of stairs.

But we're excited for our new home, and we're beginning to make future plans for Anavah House to remain in Cape Girardeau.

We visited Alyssa's family in Wentzville over the Christmas holiday, returned to Cape for a night, and then spent a week with my family in Williamsville. My old friend Randy also came along.

I got a ton of books for Christmas, from both families. I'm especially excited about the graphic novel version of "Howl," by Allen Ginsberg, Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline (I want to use it as a study for the residents of Anavah House when we first get off the ground), John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus (my first Yoder book! I'm so excited!), and Jesus and the Disinherited, by Howard Thurman. It has been said that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., carried a copy of this last book on him at all times.

My brother-in-law and his wife also got me a quirky personal finance book that teaches better fiscal responsibility over six weeks. I thought it could come in handy with Anavah House--I think everyone that knows me can attest to the fact that I'm lousy with numbers. I am, after all, a creative writing major and seminary student.

I was sick for the majority of the break, but have been getting better since going to the doctor last week.

While in Williamville, we also picked up another cat (the brother of So-So, the cat we got over Thanksgiving break), which we named Yare (Yah-ree). He's named after the Hebrew word for "fearful," or "afraid." He hides all the time!

Now that we're back in Cape, we're going through training with BBRC in order to become baristas (and, eventually, managers). This morning, we learned how to "pull a shot," i.e. make a shot of espresso. That was cool. I'm looking forward to learning everything I can about this place while I'm here.

In the meantime, Alyssa and I have been tidying the nest, finding a place for everything. We've also gone vegetarian, so we'll hopefully be posting some delicious recipes we've been trying lately.

Over the next few days, I'll be revisiting each of these new developments and posting about them a little more in-depth, so check back here each night for more information!