The Work of Enough

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The work of the land. The work of community. The work of enough. Each are more than formational lessons for us in our journey. They are the interlaced circles of the Kingdom, Church, and Life. They are the root, the vine, and the fruit. They are the lens through which we are seeking to see everything. They are what it means to practice the Way of Jesus. And in our practice, to be patterned into the resurrected life of Jesus.

Everyone has been given a land…a place to caretake. Be it in the suburbs or the woods, be it acres or city blocks. Everyone has a land. The land defines who your neighbors are, the land requires your attention and your awareness to its well-being. For your own well-being is dependent on the well-being of the land on which you dwell.

Everyone needs the work of community…a people who are following Jesus together. A people who define the reality of our lives. A people who self-limit for the other. A people who encourage one another on to good works. A people who serve and love together.

And everyone needs the work of enough. Let me say clearly and up front that the work of enough can’t be simplified into merely owning less; it is about what owns us.

The work of enough has been the hardest work we have tackled. I can’t say we have mastered it…but we are apprenticing enough’ers.

What is the work of enough? It’s a little hard to define. For “enough” is a mysterious thing. It’s not something you can hold, create, or something you can see…but it is something you must search for, and it is something you can find.

The work of enough is to recognize the gift of your one life. As a Chaplain, I have sat in front of many people and listened to their dying regrets. Not one time have I ever heard someone say they tried to ruin their life. Not one time have I ever heard someone tell me they wanted to be unhappy. But I have heard the same stories and themes over and over. I would summarize those stories like this: If I could live again…I would pay more attention to what I was given rather than what I wanted.

The work of enough is to recognize everything in life is derived. Everything is gift. The Bible starts with this lens…everything that exists derives from a Creator. The Genesis story is not trying to argue a scientific fact of beginnings, but providing a lens to begin life with…to see life and everything in it as a gift. Unfortunately, as told in the Genesis story, humanity struggles to embrace the humble work of enough. We too often eat the bitter fruit of wanting to trade places with God. We try to return the good gift of earth in exchange for something more.

To avoid the worn path leading out of the garden, we must refocus ourselves on the work of enough.

The work of enough reveals that we are dependent. We are not self-made. We are dependent upon God and one another. No one exists independently. We are all connected. The work of enough is to embrace our dependence. To live in a spirit of trust in God and the other. To live with an awareness that my choices in life can dictate the conditions of another life. The work of enough frees us from the independent pursuit of status, positions, and possessions. The work of enough keeps us from the traps of labels, judgement, and fear.

The work of enough requires us to confront our active idolatry. Richard Foster says, “Idolatry is, of course, the attempt to erect an allegiance higher than God.” There is no shortage of idolatry at work in our lives. Idolatrous monuments litter our cultural landscape – and if we struggle to name them…it’s likely because we are captive to them. The work of enough is the discipline of identifying and confronting our active idolatry.

What does the work of enough produce? The work of enough forms a contented life. The work of enough makes room for joy. Again it is Richard Foster who says “Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience.” Engaging in the work of enough disciplines the spirit of dissatisfaction. The work of enough puts to work the lazy imaginations of anxiousness. The work of enough creates grounded and grateful people. The work of enough forms a person who knows they are not what they own and are fully aware of what owns them.

It seems Wendell Berry is right, again, when he writes, “And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.”

What we need is here. And that is the work of enough.

The Work of Community

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On our land is a house. It was already an old house before it was moved on skids from down the road to its current location in 1959.

The house wore its character of 100+ years well. There was a kind of beauty in the decay. An artistic expression of age. Even the siding was gracefully falling off and the broken window panes glimmered in the sun. It was weathered, broken, and had become unsustainable for the second time; but yet it was hard to start the process of restoration. It seemed sacrilegious to ruin its picturesque image, but yet we knew somewhere under the decay was the healthy framework of a home.

It required careful and selective demo…ridding itself of the former to make way for the new. Finally, after months of help from family and friends, it again became what it always was meant to be…a home. There is still much to complete, but we moved our family in as soon as there was a stove for heat and a toilet to flush.

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The house has become a narrative for us. For we are also in the process of rebuilding our understanding of church. It’s painful work at times. There is much to love about the old institution. There are important memories and a history worth telling. But like our old house, church has become ornamental – over-grown in budgets, buildings, and opinions. It is evidenced by the crowds who faithfully visit but the church remains a background prop for their lives. Few are actually willing to move in…they pass by only seeing an abandoned structure, ambivalent to the stories of those who called it home. And there are others who disdain its landscape presence, demanding it be torn down and forgotten. It seems we have arrived at a crucial moment…to begin the process of reformation.

I’m not interested in tearing down the church, for I need a spiritual home. I am interested in rebuilding a home from the ground up on the foundational message of Jesus. Not merely a message about Jesus…but upon the wisdom and way that Jesus taught. And there is a radical difference.

The way of Jesus begins in community. Jesus built the foundation of the Church with the simple invitation of “Follow me.” It makes sense, I reckon, to those who understand God as Triune. A God who exists as relationship…surely would begin with relationship. It seems then the thing we call Church is simply this: people in community with Jesus.

I love Wendell Berry’s definition of community.  “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” -Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House, Pg 71.

That’s some serious work. And it’s that work of community over the past two years that has rebuilt our church home. We gather every week with a handful of families. There is no regular time or place, no specific agenda, just the discipline to meet for a few hours and share our lives. We have gathered in barns, parks, and homes. There is no one person in charge. There is usually shared food and shared stories from the week. At some point there is an invitation for everyone to gather around the table. We read from the Gospel (currently Mark) listening for the words that speak in the moment, and we share joys/concerns/needs. Sometimes there’s an response – an offering of help or resources. Always there is encouragement. This is the work of community. This is church.

IMG-0548 (2)It’s taken me quite awhile to call it such. I would talk of our gathering as something in process or something with potential…but I am learning to identify it for what it is. It is Church. Some have hinted from a distance that it is not. Not official enough. Not organized enough. Others share of their own hope for such a community but cannot bear to begin the reformation process.They remain paralyzed in memory, unable to respond to the twitches of discernment flashing in their own imagination. There are still others who cannot imagine a way around the bi-weekly reward of leaving the house exactly where it is. And yes, I have experienced all of those thoughts too.

I have no answers or advice. Certainly no model or articulate argument. But I sense the house is worth saving. There is framework for a home under the decay. And for us, the arduous work of community has created a new home in the church.

The work of the land. 

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“Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch. And to come to that understanding it is necessary, even now, to leave the regions of our conquest – the cleared fields, the towns and cities, the highways – and re-enter the woods. For only there can a man encounter the silence and the darkness of his own absence. Only in this silence and darkness can he recover the sense of the world’s longevity, of its ability to thrive without him, of his inferiority to it and his dependence on it. Perhaps then, having heard that silence and seen that darkness, he will grow humble before the place and begin to take it in – to learn from it what it is. As its sounds come into his hearing, and its lights and colors come into his vision, and its odors come into his nostrils, then he may come into its presence as he never has before, and he will arrive in his place and will want to remain. His life will grow out of the ground like the other lives of the place, and take its place among them. He will be with them – neither ignorant of them, nor indifferent to them, nor against them – and so at last he will grow to be native-born. That is, he must reenter the silence and the darkness, and be born again.” – Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace. pg. 27, “A Native Hill”


Nine months ago we purchased 50 acres of land. Once wild forest turned farmland, the land is now mostly an overgrown mélange of moss, pine trees, and blueberries. Scattered throughout the land are the left behind reminders of the former residents. There are neatly piled rows of field stones made by farmers seeking to plant and harvest crops, and there are piles of scrap metal and trash left by the most recent resident. It has a history of both nurturing and abusing, of care and neglect.

We thought we were buying a place to call home and a place to try our hand at farming, but we have discovered that rather than owning a place…we are learning our place in the world. Like the character-shaping lessons of waiting and longing for a home…so are the lessons of being employed by the land. I like writing those words; because the one thing we have learned is the importance of remembering it is not us who employs the land. We are seeking to recognize there is a larger work that is already underway and join it rather than forcing our own way upon it.

Unfortunately it is the latter that is seemingly most common in life. We have forgotten our place in the world, neglecting our primary calling of caretakers. Some live in a posture of scarcity and consume at unsustainable and abusive rates. Some live with a crazed view, driven by poor theology, that our presence in the world is only temporary and thus justifying our left behind piles of scrap. 

It seems Berry is right that most live at odds with the land. Most tumble along ambivalent to the very land that sustains them.  We need to live with a new awareness. 

Living within the awareness that we are employees of the land is what allows us to become farmers. It would be impossible to call ourselves such without the land. The land itself allows it. And it is the land that shows us our place.

The land requires new practices. No longer do we look at our calendar and determine our days, the work of the land now determines our calendar. The chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, and soon-to-be crops require a routine. Our schedules are determined by the land. The land requires aligning our lives to its seasons and ways. 

The land reveals our ignorance. When we pride ourselves as owners…the land chuckles at our naivety. One day we too will be gone and our home will rot back into the soil from which it came. Our finite presence on this land will soon only be a memory; and the memory of the land extends long before and after our own. Our lives are but the time it takes a pine cone to fall to the ground compared to the length of time it takes the topsoil to form. When we plant a seed in the ground, our effort is limited to the planting and the nurturing. We cannot hurry productively. We cannot cause any plant to grow. We participate, we cultivate, we hope…but we are dependent on a land that operates on its own accord.

The land provides limits. Only certain types of crops will grow here. There is a limit to the size of a herd that can be hosted here. These limits can be abused and the land will bear the weight of it, but only for a time. It is only with respect of its limits can the land grow past its current condition. Only with faithful care-taking can the not-yet become the now. The soil can be amended, but not replaced. The overgrowth can be tamed, but never ceased. The land is what the land is. And it comes with limits. 

It seems the land will have more to say as we continue to listen, but this is a start. These 50 acres have been a gift as we learn to love the daily routine of the chores, embrace the truth of our novice-ness, and live within limits. 

Homed and Employed.

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A year ago I reflected upon our life-transition in a post titled, Homeless and Unemployed. In the spirit of Epiphany, it seems this is a good time to share a few revelations we have experienced over the past year.

ash-family15Some background: Two years ago we moved our family of five out of the suburbs. We had no specific plan. Only hopes and a vision of owning land that would perhaps teach us something new about life.

We had become disillusioned with the duplicity readily recognized in our life and others. We desired to find something more rooted and grounded, something more simple and real – and we were drawn toward the agrarian life. Both Ashley and I grew up around farming…and we knew its inherent earthiness could serve as a re-formation school for our lives. We had no idea how to make it happen…but with a unanimous vote from our three children…we pushed all in. We resigned our jobs, gave away most of our belongings, sold our house, and moved to the Adirondack mountains of New York.

We lived in the garage of Ashley’s parents…it was both a life-changing gift and a humbling process. Such a mix of emotions with every turn into the driveway. We were incredibly thankful to have a place to live while we searched for jobs and learned the area – but with every passing month we were increasingly aghast with the feelings of failure. What we thought was a few week arrangement turned into an eighteen-month move-in.

But then it happened. I don’t have the space here to write out the full story. Parts of the story are nearly unbelievable. Things fell into place as they say. Finding meaning in our move began to be easier. And then, with unforeseen Provision, we purchased a 50-acre farm in need of restoration. It was as if the agony we endured in making the decision to resign, the angst of wandering, the anxiety of shame…they were merely illusional shadows on the path of faithfulness.

It’s tempting to think that’s when our journey finally began, but I’m certain it was the eighteen months of sitting on the shelf that actually preserved us. It was in those waiting days that we had to face the continued duplicity of our own lives. We discovered it wasn’t merely an issue of shifting our context, but an issue of sifting our character. Not an issue of mere affluence, but an issue of what/who would be our influence. Not merely an issue of ending want, but an issue of beginning abundance.

We no longer had a title or position to hide behind, we had no paycheck to numb our pain, we had nothing to give or to invite others to join, and we were left with only the growing awareness of ourselves. It was in those moments we identified how we did not want to live. It was those months that revealed the implicit intentions of the dominate narratives that had dictated so much of our lives. We had to do more than identify the mindless consumption and want that controlled hours of each day and the scripts of anxiety and shame convincing us of our worthlessness…we had to resist them, relinquish them, and to replace them with new scripts.

In a recent conversation, Walter Brueggemann reminded me that “we are all in the process of changing narratives. That is the work we are tasked to do.”

For the past year we have lived into a different story that I will attempt to share here over the next week. It’s these new narratives that encourage us to continue forward. Like migrating animals who instinctively return to the same home each year, we are becoming homed to these new scripts. We are awakening from our slumber and learning to lean into the new thing God is doing. We are being homed to the boundary-less Kingdom. Homed downward to the everyday details of the good life around us. Homed to the image of God in the face of others. Homed to celebrating love as the existence of God.

And being homed in such a way provides a new kind of employment.

It’s that new work that I will share about over the next few days. The work of the land, the work of community, and the work of enough.

3 Men, 3 Days, and 90 Miles in a Canoe

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We were novices in the paddling world; dangerously inexperienced. Our two short practices in the month before the race both ended in disaster. One with a capsized canoe and one with a “we’re lost” call to the forest rangers.

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On the first morning of the race, as the other boats eagerly bobbed near the starting line, we steadied ourselves at the edge of the dock. Perhaps it was fear of the unknown obstacles ahead; the mystery beyond the mist of the morning. Or maybe it was a lack of trust for the others in the boat.

We had started as a team of four, but those two practice experiences led one to jump ship. The empty seat could have been the final motivation to withdraw from the race, but instead, it became our rally cry: “There’s no quit left in this boat.” For although we lacked experience and although we did not yet know what the journey would require of us…we were curious enough to try.

Each man in the boat has a unique story. Each walked their own path to this point. I arrived in the stern of boat by way of my role as an addiction counselor. My task was to keep the boat pointed in the right direction, to avoid obstacles, and encourage forward movement. Two seats ahead of me, in the second seat, was our power. The speed of our boat rested in the hands of a disabled determined veteran with fused wrists. At the bow of the boat sat yet another veteran, accustomed to merely hiding in the crowd, now given the mission to lead our pace. In the third seat, the empty seat, should have been an additional power paddler. But instead we filled the seat with the names of the “missing” in our life. Remembrance is its own strength.

The gun sounded and carefully we pushed off the dock. 8 hours the first day, 6 the second, and 4 hours on the final day. Each day we were faster. 90 miles in 18 hours. Three inexperienced paddlers finished a race they shouldn’t have entered.

We certainly weren’t the fastest. Our routes weren’t always straight. But there was something unique about our crew. We knew our weaknesses and we admitted them. We learned our strengths and we used them. We recognized when the other wanted to quit and we encouraged them.

I suppose it was more than a canoe race for us. It was a three-day submersion into the surrendered life. In addiction counseling and in AA/NA there’s a lot of talk about admitting powerlessness. Some struggle to find that place of surrender. Some jump ship at the moment it’s required. But the surrender to powerlessness is required for any real life-journey to begin.

Perhaps our powerlessness moment happens when we finally admit our own success is dependent upon the success of the other. Living with an awareness of the other helps us see that everyone is paddling through the same currents. For me, the past couple of years have required a surrender of an identity I once held too close. For the two men I sat behind for 90 miles, they too are in process of letting go of their false-self. Their warrior narrative is fading. Their addict label is beginning to peel.

As we crossed the finish line the final lesson became obvious: our highest joys come in moments of shared experience. Our lives are best lived in recognition that we are all in the same boat.

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A prophetic cry.

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Two years ago this month I walked into Conception Abbey to begin a week-long prayer retreat. It was the end of our summer sabbatical and I was wrestling with the dread of unresolved decisions. We sensed what we were being called toward, but we lacked the courage to act. And it was in that week that I dreamed. Sabbatical dreams. Over the past two years I have written out that sabbatical journey. Here is a tiny glimpse into how the week began.

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Conception Abbey

I shivered. The cold air of the basilica was at first a reprieve from the August heat, but now my body was shaking with the shock of the temperature change.

Slowly I continued down the center aisle. The brick floor, grouted with sand, launched a crunching sound with each step in the cavernous space. I wanted to be unnoticed, but every step forward announced my presence.

I had arrived early for evening vespers. Perhaps because I was looking for something. Or bored. Certainly I was alone; both at this moment and in my anxious mind. I continued forward to the fourth row, close enough to be seen as sincere, but not so near that I would be uncomfortable.

As I sat down, a familiar cracking and creaking of the wooden pew echoed through the space. It was a sound embedded in my memory. That sound of the cracking pew and my imagination took me back thirty-eight years. I was once again sitting on the wooden pew of my childhood church. A small chapel on the South Dakota prairie where my parents faithfully attended for many years.

Three times a week we religiously drove the thirty miles. It was a simple place, a gathering of family and a few others who lived scattered across the prairie on small farms. I’m sure there was preaching. But I don’t remember it. The liturgy stuck in my memory was the weekly testimony of those gathered. Sincerity wasn’t lacking, but joy was hard to find. A fear of the world was woven into most of the stories shared. Prayers were offered from our knees, consisting of loud and fervent petitions for rescue us from the evil world. Stories of signs indicating the end of the world were told with conviction. It was readily assumed we were living in the very last of days. According to Uncle Harry, the perfect red heifer was already in route to Israel. Any prayers for peace or to hope for war to cease, was in some ironic way, thought to be joining the feared anti-christ.

In my young mind, my own future…if there was to be one…was already determined to be miserable and meaningless. If I was hearing correctly, my only hope was to be redeemed by suffering. Persecution was my predetermined future. I began to prepare.

If this was my only memory of church, I’m certain I would have either simply chosen to laugh off the absurdity of religion and prophesy a future of my own, or perhaps I would have sought to spend my life prepping for the mythical end-times in some remote prairie abyss.

But it was the witness and action of my parents that shaped a different way forward. Occasionally in those testimony services there was a tearful moment of honesty. Specifically, a confession of yearning from the voice of my mother. She would stand and begin with words of gratitude, thanking the Lord for the blessings of life. As she spoke, her voice would slowly increase in pitch until it reached the sound of desperation. Tears mixed with words of gratitude. A hodgepodge of sorrow, joy, pain, and hope.

As I sat waiting for the vespers to begin on that August evening, the creaking pew and my Mother’s cry filled my mind. Maybe it was what I was looking for; that innate desperation to confront the anxiousness. I too was searching for something deeper, something beyond the religious routine. And in that moment I knew that if I listened, my mother’s prophetic cry would begin to lead me home.

 

 

Because God is, I am.

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For the past six months I have served as a counselor in an addiction treatment facility for men. While many people stigmatically look upon these men with pity…I am learning it is not these in recovery in need of pity. They know their struggle. Most readily admit their weaknesses. They are self-aware. They live everyday confessing their need of strength and grace…while knowing full well those gifts must come from outside of themselves. Though they are given the label of “addicted,” in truth, they are often more free than most.

Being daily submerged in such a confessing community exposes the “outside” lives as the ones in need of freedom. The truly enslaved are those fooled into thinking they are free.

Richard Rohr says, “There are two ways to be a prophet. One is to tell the enslaved that they can be free. It is the difficult path of Moses. The second is to tell those who think they are free that they are in fact enslaved. This is the even more difficult path of Jesus.”

Only when confronted by our own enslavement does our real journey begin. The Christian journey of finding our True Selves (our identity in Christ) requires honest awareness of how ingrained we are in the pattern of self.  Without ongoing confession of these patterns, we are fooled into self-holy thinking that creates a comfortable rhythm of non-growth.

What happens when we are made aware of our enslavement? It’s then the work begins. We must begin the painful process of “dying to self” (Rom. 6-8), “putting off the old” (Eph. 4), “leaving the former” (Is. 43), and “decreasing” (John 3:30).

I am daily reminded of this spiritual formation work as we continue rebuilding our old house. Every swing of the hammer has served as a spiritual metaphor for me. The house, like our lives, must be stripped down to the skeleton core. All of the wall coverings have been removed to expose the true structural integrity and the foundation examined and reinforced.

These hidden pieces, the foundation, studs, etc., are what sustains the house. The house cannot last without its core essentials. So it is with us. Our identity must be securely rooted in the image of God…the aesthetics matter but only in relation to the well-being of the structural core.

So today, I post these journal words as a reminder of who I am in Christ.

Resting on the foundation and formed by the image of God; I am loved and enough.

So are you.