Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Farewell to Arms

Posted by Jack

As many of you are aware, a Michigan based "Christian militia" group has been in the news after alleged terrorist plots have been uncovered. The story can be accessed here among other places.

The group calls itself Hutaree, which means "Christian Warrior" in an invented language. Their website, Hutaree.com, can tell you more about them than I could in this space.

With rumors of assassination plots flying around, everyone is doing a stellar job of distancing themselves from Hutaree. Even the Michigan Militia put up a statement denouncing any sort of violent action against elected officials and law-enforcement personnel.

It is not just my intention to distance myself from the recent actions of Hutaree; it is my intention to condemn the group itself.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Most Christians do a good job of condemning things. Condemn this, curse that, send so and so into the deepest pit of hell. I try to steer clear of such language whenever possible. But in this case, it cannot be helped.

I am assuming that most who read this will have no problem distancing themselves from Hutaree. It is easy to dismiss them as kooks, or fringe radicals, or paranoid forest-dwelling subversives. Feel free to join the crowd, jump on the bandwagon, and throw them under the bus (how is that for a mega-analogy?).

The problem I have is this: I see frightening similarities between the beliefs of this group, and the beliefs of a large segment of the mainstream Evangelical culture.

Here we have a group claiming to further the Kingdom of God. They claim that they are “preparing for the end times” and “keeping the testimony of Jesus Christ alive.” Their doctrinal statement claims that they are “defending the Word.” And, they are doing this with instruments of death and destruction. I’ve heard similar language from pulpits.

Drive into the parking lot of any Baptist church and you will find no shortage of nationalistic bumper stickers touting "One Nation Under God." It is not difficult to find a believer who considers Biblical principles and Constitutional principles to be interchangeable. I have no shortage of friends who sleep with a Bible on the nightstand and a gun under the pillow.

And as I have witnessed from local manifestations of the Tea Party movement, it is not difficult to find someone who believes that it is their Christian duty to fight for any given political agenda, or that God endorses their political party platform. Even more disturbing, many of these people carry weapons and express willingness to “defend” their rights or “fight” for their cause.

Throughout history, Christians have been supportive of various wars and military initiatives. Many American Christians have even claimed that such military operations can be supported from the Scriptures. It is one thing to support a war or a cause; it is another thing entirely to claim that your “side” is the one which aligns with God’s Way. (The players in the political system learned how to manipulate believers long ago, hijacking Scriptural principles and utilizing distorted caricatures of them to promote their own ideology.)

Growing up in AWANA, the American flag was displayed over top of the Christian flag, and we pledged allegiance to the stars and stripes before the Christian flag or Bible. The AWANA Clubs pledge always came last in the ceremony, but with all this allegiance-pledging going around, I lost track of my loyalties before I even removed my hand from my heart. (I don’t advocate pledging allegiance to any of these things, but that was the way things were done.)

I think of these things, and then I think of a group like Hutaree. Are the Evangelicals I've described really all that different from the ragtag militia of the Midwest? Of course, most small group Bible studies would not plot to attack and kill police officers, but in terms of theology, are the two really that distinct?

Both groups seem convinced that America is the Christian nation that must be defended. Both groups seem to have no aversion to violence, so long as it is “justified.” Both groups utilize sections the Bible to support these notions.

I do not wish to speak at length here, but I do wish to express my desire to see God’s church freed from the idolatry of nationalism and militarism. I denounce Hutaree and groups like them. In this public forum, I wish to refuse conformity to the patterns of this world and reaffirm my commitment to the Kingdom of God.

I am no Bible scholar, but when Jesus said to love your enemies, He probably meant you should not kill them (Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 6:27-28).

When the Scriptures tell us to bless those who persecute us, it probably does not mean we should take them out before they get us (Romans 12:14-21).

“People should be preemptively loved, not preemptively bombed” (Mark 12:28-31).

When the Bible warns us not to repay evil with evil, it probably does not mean, “Reload!” (1 Peter 3:9).

When Jesus said to pray for our enemies, He probably did not mean that we should mutter a little prayer for them as we peer at them through a sniper scope (Luke 6:27-28).

“Live by the sword, die by the sword” is a statement of cause and effect, not a command (Matthew 26:52).

The meek shall inherit the earth; the strong shall not invade it (Matthew 5:5).

To live is Christ, to die is gain; not, “Die hard with a vengeance” (Phil. 1:21).

Welcome the stranger into your home; do not try to “fight him over there, so you don’t have to fight him over here” (Matthew 25:35ff).

“Overcome evil with good,” does not mean, “Overpower evil with force” (Romans 12:21).

One cannot submit to governing authorities while seeking to overthrow them (Romans 13).

The world will know us by our love, not by our firepower (John 13:35).

We must embrace the cross, not the cross-hairs (Luke 9:22-26).

Justice and mercy, not shock and awe (Micah 6:8).

Blessed are the peacemakers, not blessed are the bomb-makers (Matthew 5:9).

We are instructed to feed our enemy when he is hungry and to give him something to drink when he thirsts (Romans 12:14-21). Somehow, “From the kindness of my heart,” has become, “From my cold, dead hands.”

Some within the Body of Christ are fighting over their right to carry guns around wherever they go; I want to beat the damn things into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4).

At this time, when many in the world are focused on the ugly manifestations of sin brought to light by this militia group, I am calling on believers to take a stand in a different way. May we be wise as serpents, yet gentle as doves. May we all denounce the myth of redemptive violence and embrace the way of the cross.

I can add nothing to what some believers have already said*:

Deliver us, O God
Guide our feet into the way of peace
Hear our prayer.
Grant us peace.

Deliver us
From the arrogance of power
From the myth of redemptive violence
From the tyranny of greed
From the cancer of hatred
From the seduction of wealth
From the addiction of control
From the idolatry of nationalism
From the paralysis of cynicism
From the violence of apathy
From the ghettos of poverty
From the ghettos of wealth
From a lack of imagination

Deliver us, O God
Guide our feet into the way of peace
We will not conform to the patterns of this world
Let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds
With the help of God’s grace
Let us resist evil wherever we find it

We pledge allegiance
to a peace that is not like Rome’s
to the Gospel of enemy love
to the Kingdom of the poor and broken
to a King that loves his enemies so much he died for them
to the least of these, with whom Christ dwells
to the transnational Church that transcends the artificial borders of nations
to the refugee of Nazareth
to the homeless rabbi who had no place to lay his head
to the cross rather than the sword
to the banner of love above any flag
to the one who rules with a towel rather than an iron fist
to the one who rides a donkey rather than a war-horse
to the revolution that sets both oppressed and oppressors free
to the Way that leads to life
to the Slaughtered Lamb

And together we proclaim his praises, from the margins of the empire to the centers of wealth and power, "Long live the slaughtered Lamb."

* This is an adaptation of one portion of a litany which can be accessed here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Musings on Resurrection

Posted by Jack

In preparation for Resurrection Sunday, I now repost an article written for Consp!re magazine, this time last year.

We Too Can Live

“Quincy says people can’t change.”

The 14-year-old boy was looking at me from the passenger seat of my car.

“Oh? Did he say that?” I asked.

Deon proceeded with a fascinating story about an altercation in the classroom, an intervening teacher, and Quincy’s response.

“Cuss out the teacher? What for?” I ventured.

“She do be getting on our nerves sometimes. Quincy wanted me to cuss her out, but I told him I’m not bad anymore. If it was the same ‘me’ from last year, I would have.”

“But it’s not the same ‘you’ as last year?” I asked knowingly.


I don’t think he noticed, but I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of our ride.

When I met him, Deon had been on probation for two years. Not only had the court ordered him to pay restitution for his crimes, they had ordered him to meet regularly with an adult mentor. I volunteered for the job and we began to meet regularly to hang out, talk about life issues, and work on homework. We also went on field trips together. (One night, he assumed we were going out to dinner, but I took him to prison and had him temporarily locked up among the violent offenders. He wasn’t very happy with me.)

I won’t go into details about what Deon was being charged with; that’s kind of between us. Suffice it to say, he was in some serious trouble. In fact, his probation officer told us with near certainty that he’d be locked up for a while. You see, kids on probation are periodically called into court. The probation officer keeps a watchful eye over the child’s behavior at school and home and reports to the judge. The court then decides whether further action (such as incarceration) is required.

When the day arrived, I escorted Deon to the courthouse, picking up his grandmother on the way. His single working mother, who toils continually to support her family, was unavailable to attend.

“Are you nervous?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he answered quietly. It was the first time I’d ever heard fear in his voice.

After waiting several hours (and hearing the screams and sobs of the boy before us as he was taken into custody), we were called into the courtroom. Deon stood alone in the center of the room as his charges were read. Having nothing to say in his own defense, he stared at the floor. The judge turned to his grandmother and asked if she had anything to say on behalf of her grandson. She admitted that she had no defense to offer. As his heart sank, so did mine. I began bracing myself for the conversation I would have with his mother, telling her I had left the court room without her son.

And then came something rather unexpected. Deon’s grandmother pointed at me and said I knew him very well. Perhaps, she suggested, I might have something to contribute. I was on my feet in an instant. I startled rattling off everything that had happened in the past few months, how we had worked to improve his grades, how school behavior had started to improve, and how we were talking through a lot of issues together. When I was finished with my well-intentioned tirade, the judge and probation officer responded with silence and quizzical looks. Finally (once they realized that I was his mentor and not a psychopath), the judge decided to give us a chance to prove ourselves. She temporarily suspended all rulings with the understanding that we would return to court in one month for another evaluation.

“Don’t play with me,” said the skeptical probation officer, “Show me you’re serious, or I’ll have no choice but to lock you up.”

Thirty days dashed by and we found ourselves in the court room for the second time. This time, I sat at the defense table with Deon and presented documentation that demonstrated improvements in school attendance, grades, and behavior. The judge and the officers in the room conferred quietly. Rulings were suspended again and the probation officer ushered us into his office.

“Before today’s hearing, I wasn’t going to tell you about this. The juvenile court is hosting a bowling party next week for kids who are modeling good behavior. Deon, I would like for you to come.”

I actually started checking the room for a hidden camera thinking perhaps that we were the victims of some tasteless reality television show. At his last court appearance, they had every intention of putting this kid behind bars; one month later, he was going bowling with his probation officer! From the accused party to the life of the party, this kid was getting some serious mileage. (I admit that I got some strange looks when I started giggling.)

The PO gave us sixty days to demonstrate continued improvement. At that point, the court would reevaluate his case and determine the next step. We were elated as we left the court house, but also apprehensive of the daunting challenge that leered at us from the horizon.

Those sixty days were not easy. It seems almost simplistic to describe the journey as sparingly as I have so far. There were accidents and relapses and bouts of fatigue. We stumbled into cleverly made traps, braved unforeseen dangers, and tiptoed past the enemy’s landmines. Crucibles exist to burn away impurities, and while it was intense and often painful, our sixty day crucible offered the hope of coming out better on the other side.

When his day finally arrived, Deon walked into the courtroom and spoke for the first time on his own behalf. I sat beside him in silence, trying very hard not to explode into tiny shards of joy and pride.

When the proceedings had finished, the judge turned to the probation officer and asked, “What is your recommendation?”

The officer closed the file on the table in front of him and, in a shocking and unexpected move, he declared, “At this point, I recommend that Deon’s probation be terminated.”

“It is so ordered.”

There was smiling and laughter. The bailiff was shaking our hands and patting us on the back. Deon proudly announced to his grinning probation officer that he hoped never to see him again. Even for the court, it was a rare breath of clean air, a new beginning, a fresh start. The debts were erased, the chains were all gone, and Deon had been raised again to new life.

You know, I was always told that the Resurrection served the chief purpose of proving that Jesus was telling the truth. It was as if the empty tomb had been stipulated as Exhibit A in some cosmic trial, or as undeniable proof that Jesus had succeeded in His mission. As a child, I would picture the Roman soldiers shaking their heads in surprise as Jesus leapt from behind the stone shouting, “See! Told you I’d come back!”

“Okay, ye of little faith. Pay up,” the disciples would say, poking Thomas in the ribs as they collected on their bet.

Or maybe the Resurrection was just a platform for God to show off His super powers. Maybe Jesus was simply flexing His divine muscles in order to astonish humans into following Him.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the garden tomb, direct your attention to the center ring. Watch as the angel whips away the blanket. Poof! He’s gone! But wait! Look, there, in the mezzanine!”

Suddenly, Jesus appears in a tuxedo and declares, “Now, for my next trick…”

Does the Resurrection prove that Jesus was speaking the truth? Yes, it does. Is the Resurrection a manifestation of God’s awesome power? Yes, it is. But when we reduce the Resurrection to mere evidence and sheer spectacle, I think we miss something.

The hope of the Resurrection does not rest in the promise of eventual escape to heaven. The Resurrection shows us that Jesus has broken into this world, crippling the powers of darkness and making it possible for us to live, yes live, as unshackled citizens of His Kingdom. Jesus doesn’t merely make bad people good. He doesn’t merely make sick people well. He raises the dead to life. He is outrageous and inventive, subversive and ingenious, wild and creative. He liberates us from the powers of darkness and calls us into marvelous light. He raids our hospitals, turning bedpans into flowerpots and syringes into knitting needles. He converts our wheelchairs into go-carts and our sick-beds into trampolines. He trades our handcuffs for bracelets and paints frescoes on our bodies with prison tattoos. He teaches us to shake off our chains and use them as jump ropes. He springs kids out of jail and sends them partying with their probation officers. The Resurrection reminds us it is here, it has started, it is always but coming. Our groaning creation can begin to laugh again. Jesus lives, and so can we, and it begins right now.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interview with Mulberry House

The following is an interview conducted by Lyndsey Gvora, for Cedars, the student newspaper of Cedarville University.

By Lyndsey Gvora

When Cedars spoke to Jack Legg in September of 2008 about planting an intentional living community in Springfield, his plans were little more than a well thought-out vision. A year and a half later, the vision has become incarnate.

This past December marked the one-year anniversary of Legg’s time in the house. Since moving in, Legg has been joined by fellow CU graduates Voltz and Tim Miller.

Situated on the south end of the city, the Mulberry House is a community of Christ-followers who have committed to a lifestyle of simplicity, service, outreach, and fellowship. In keeping with other communities surfacing in the new monastic vein (spearheaded by Shane Claiborne’s Simple Way), the goal of the community is to build relationships – both inside the house and in the city at large in order to shine light in a city overrun with poverty and crime.

Whatever you do, don’t call their undertaking a “ministry.”

“I feel like that would be a misrepresentation of what’s going on here. We’re a house,” said Tim Voltz.

“It’s more of a focused, faithful effort [to live like Christ],” said Legg.

Legg, Miller, and Voltz agreed to talk with Cedars more about the ideas that have driven their lifestyle, and the experience of building community in one of Ohio’s neglected neighborhoods.

CEDARS: If you’re being good neighbors to people, you could do that anywhere. Why here? And what is different about what you do here that can’t be done by a Christian anywhere?

JL: Well, there’s not. There’s not something we’re doing here that can’t be done somewhere else. But, at the same time, there’s something to be said about the idea of relocation – relocating to the places that have been forgotten or abandoned by society at large.

TV: In this past decade, Clark County’s had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. People board up houses in this neighborhood and move out, constantly. Everyone’s leaving. So the mentality of people in this neighborhood, then, is that this is not a place worth being. This idea that we try to get people out of their situations and into a “better place,” or that suburbia is a better place for [Christians] than the urban center, is not an appropriate model, I think, if we’re followers of Jesus. We want to change that mindset. Mulberry Street and its surrounding neighborhood is a place where Jesus dwells, and where people should want to live in community.

JL: And along with that, [there is] the idea of bringing life to dead communities, bringing hope to communities that are marked by despair, bringing light into dark places – all these radical notions that sound almost Scriptural. In terms of what we’re actually doing, in being committed to moving in together, sharing our resources, walking through our faith with each other and with neighbors – you can do that anywhere. Anybody could do that. But there’s also an aspect of our personal discipleship, where we have found that relocating to such a skeleton of a place is essential.

TV: To be honest, the three of us are much more comfortable here than we would be doing this in a suburban location.

CEDARS: Do you feel that it’s difficult ministering to a multicultural neighborhood, being white people?

TV: Our neighborhood’s more multicultural than anywhere we grew up, but it’s not a place where we, as white guys, stick out. Reasons we do stick out are: all three of us have full time jobs, which is a rarity. Over 1/3 of the people in this neighborhood are unemployed. Most people have children in this neighborhood. All three of us have vehicles. So there are things that definitely make us stick out, but it’s not necessarily the color of our skin.

JL: Where it gets hard is, we are people who come from the majority culture, where we are typically in charge of everything and we are expected to have all the answers. When you step into a context where you don’t so much anymore -- where the problems are at such a deep level of brokenness that the only real solution is Jesus – it creates an interesting atmosphere. For example, when someone is knocking on your door who’s addicted to meth, and you can see that he’s slowly dismantling his life, and that he’s on his way to death, there’s only so much you can do about it. I say that in response to your multicultural question because there’s a very real culture of poverty, just like there’s a culture of middle class or of upper class. There are certain barriers and walls that are already up that we have to break down, which is challenging.

TV: Because if we were to, say, come in once a week to run a soup kitchen or a clothing closet, we could then retreat from that to our own homes and escape from that reality. Here, you never really escape it because the doorbell still rings at 2 A.M. after you’ve shut your day down, and the guy’s still outside running around, clearly out of his mind, on drugs, outside of your house. Your house can be broken into, your car’s broken into, your CD player is stolen – there’s always a constant reminder of where you are. You don’t retreat out of it. And so you have to be intentional about daily being a disciple of Jesus in the context of this neighborhood.

JL: It’s not so much about doing these big grandiose miracles as it is about being committed to the idea that faithfully living out the ideas of Scripture and seeking ways on a moment-by-moment basis to do so is actually subversive and crazy enough to radically alter the world that we’re living in right now.

CEDARS: Can you give an example of one of these moment-by-moment ways of living intentionally?

TV: For the majority of the summer and most of the fall, we had a meth addict in the neighborhood who got to know us really well, and at any given time during the 24-hour period that you call a day, he felt free to ring the doorbell [asking to] use the phone, or get a glass of water. And so every time you open that door to talk to him, it is a very taxing experience, because you’re trying to sift through, “How do I love him, without simply giving him the ability to continue in his addictions?” And you can choose to ignore it and not answer the door, pretend like you’re not at home. Or you can be rude with him or tell him straight up, “I don’t want to talk to you right now.” But every day you have to make a choice, a conscious decision that you’re going to be Jesus today to your neighbors, whatever that takes.

CEDARS: How would you go about sharing the Gospel with a guy like him?

TV: Well, you’re talking about a guy who’s heard the Gospel probably since he was a little kid. We’ve discussed faith openly with him, but as far as “looking for decisions,” it’s not really something that you do because this neighborhood has been so saturated with the Gospel message (although, maybe not Gospel living). Everyone knows how to say what you want them to say in order to get whatever it is that you’re giving.

TM: Tribes in Africa learned quickly that when Christian missionaries came in, they would all say, “Hey! We love Jesus!” and then [the missionaries] would hand them a Bible, and then they would leave. So that’s what got them to leave, and then [the tribe] would go right back to what they were doing before. Not to say that you can’t [pass out Bibles] here, but we don’t want to come and be like, “Here’s a Bible. You need to get saved right now!” [Because] they’ll be like “Yeah, yeah! Amen!” and then you’ll leave, and they’ll go right back to what they were doing before. We want to live relationally and live the Gospel – because they’ve heard it preached.

TV: This house has existed for about a year now, I mean, as far as the people who inhabit it anyway. So we’re not in a hurry to run in and fix all the brokenness. The idea of three young white guys with college degrees running into a neighborhood and telling everyone about all their brokenness and how they’re going to fix it has proven time and time again to be a flawed approach to discipleship and to following Jesus. We’re here first and foremost as learners – to know our community, to learn about our community – before we ever try and do anything to save our community.

JL: The idea is to take ourselves out of the traditional mold of ministry, which is, “I am the minister who comes into a neighborhood and serves at a particular time in a particular way.” When you’re involved in a program, there are these nice, neat little dividing lines. I am the Food Pantry Guy, and so my relationship to you is the guy who brings food. Because of the program we’ve set in place and the boundaries that we have, I give you food and you take food and that will be our relationship. Now, when you take the program away, and there are no real boundaries, it becomes a little bit messier, because now we’re not people who are serving in the context of “program.” We’re people who are serving in the context of “neighbor.” This is the notion that Jesus calls us to a way of life as opposed to certain segments of our week in which we take part in activities [like feeding the poor].

TV: The food pantries have been very good to this neighborhood. But food pantries put a band-aid over issues that need to be corrected at a much deeper level. Passing out food in this neighborhood is never going to fix the brokenness of this neighborhood. Only Jesus can do that. But Jesus moves through relationships, not through religious exercises.

JL: [It’s] a commitment to inhabiting Gospel as opposed to just preaching the Gospel. [A commitment to] being the ones who live the transformed lifestyle, who have a commitment to social justice, to loving our neighbor, to hospitality, to peacemaking – to the things Jesus designed his Kingdom to follow.

CEDARS: What do you find most difficult about community living?

TM: We are all very similar. We’re all young, white guys with degrees from the same college. But we all have our own quirks, and I think I’ve found that the people that tend to move in the direction we’re going tend to be very weird people. We’re all very, very weird people, and we all have our own quirks. We all have different ideas – so there’s kind of a strain. While we’re great with activism [in the neighborhood], in the house we need to learn to be more of servants and be more humble – I think we can all have egos.

TV: As much as we talk about humility, we’ve all come in very idealistically. And when your common bond for moving in – not that it’s the only thing we have in common – but your common bond for moving in is the idealism behind it, you overlook the personality differences. And so sometimes, I’m sure we do things that irk one another, but it’s like, “Well, we’re in community, so I’m just going to overlook it, I’m not going to mention it, and it’s going to be fine” – but then on the inside, it’s just grating on you. One of the hard things for us is communicating those things openly, because we feel like it is so small or so petty, we shouldn’t be talking about it. We should be talking about grander things, or bigger things—

JL: More spiritual things.

TV: Like the neighborhood.

JL: Not, “Who ate this one Pop-Tart and left the other in the package?”


JL: What it comes down to is this: when you’re living by yourself, you’re always first. Things are always done the way you’d like them to be done, and you don’t have to have any accountability to anybody else. It’s never messy; it’s nice and neat. But when you’re together with other folks claiming to live out your faith, it’s a lot more in-your-face when you’re not doing so hot. When you’re failing to live up to that ideal that you’re claiming, it becomes easier to pinpoint.

CEDARS: How is God blessing your efforts to follow him and live like him?

JL: Well, for me, he’s stretching me in interesting ways, which I think is in itself a blessing because that’s when growth happens – when you are confronted with things that are so drastically different from everything else. I know we’re not blessed in the sense that people are throwing money at us.

TV: We’ve had a few visitors.

JL: That’s a good blessing. We’ve been able to collaborate and interact via the “interwebs” with other communities from around the nation. We have a blog, and our house is listed within a nation-wide network of people who are living out intentional communities, so as a result of that, people find us and come visit us. Some guy from Knoxville, TN was in town and he stopped to have dinner with us because he wanted to do something similar in Knoxville.

TV: He challenged us and he encouraged us, and it was good to have someone outside of the immediate network come in and share with us, to see a bigger picture of how God’s at work around the country and around the world.

JL: To see that the Body of Christ is bigger than our own particular congregation, and that there’s an actual trans-national body of believers is very cool.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

East and West

Posted by Jack

(This post is intended to look forward, anticipating an exciting new initiative here at the Mulberry House. To review where we have been thus far, feel free to look back at our “Annual Report” and this toast to year one.)

Many things have been stirring in our hearts and minds here at the Mulberry House. Although we are small in number, this unlikely insurgence of ours is rooted in the reality of the coming of our King Jesus. Among our plots and schemes has emerged a unique opportunity to impact this community in a very real way.

Our vision is not only to secure a living space for the people living within our house, but to transform our neighborhood into a vibrant community where men, women, and children from every type of background can come together and manifest the reality of God’s coming Kingdom.

To such an end, we announce a new initiative in two phases. We share this with you so you many pray for us, and determine what role you may play in this outrageous plan.

Phase One: West

Directly to the west of our house is a large, empty lot. Through some persistent inquiry and research, we have discovered that this land will go up for tax auction this coming June. The current owner is delinquent on his taxes and the land can be acquired through payment of the back taxes and court costs.

This is an opportunity that, in our minds, cannot be passed up.

Our goal is to acquire this land and transform it into a lush community garden. Imagine, in a community that has long since been forgotten by the rest of the Empire, a group of brave men and women banding together to breathe new life into a shattered space. Taking an empty, blighted piece of land and redeeming the space so it may be shared by all is a tangible manifestation of the Gospel of new life we proclaim.

This land is broken into four parcels, and with the taxes and costs on each of these, we project the cost of all the land to be somewhere around $6000. The dollar amount sounds daunting to a small group of guys, but with God all things are possible.

There is much that could be said about our plans for this land, and there is much that must be said. In the coming weeks, we will provide more insight. For now though, we simply want to give you a skeleton outline of the big picture. We also want to invite you to join the effort.

Phase 2: East

Directly to the east of our property stands a vacant house. The house is in extreme disrepair. With most of the windows shattered and various holes in exterior walls, the house is currently home to various creatures, great and small.

It has always been our vision to acquire this house, fix it up, and use the space to create affordable housing for members of our community.

Tim knows the current owner, and we have spoken to him on a few occasions. He is willing to sell the property to us; the problem lies in landing on a price. We toured the home and discussed the possibility of acquiring it. The current owner has asked us for more than the property is worth, and we counter-offered with a price that he did not find agreeable.

At present, we are at a stalemate, but we remain optimistic that an agreement will be reached. We intend to purchase this property. Unlike the vacant lot next door, we have no exact time-table in mind.

Once we acquire the house, we would have a lot of work to do, but two things must be remembered. First, as believers we are called to breathe new life into old and broken things. Redeeming a dying house and using it for the furtherance of the Kingdom is a no-brainer. Second, we know that we will not have to do it alone. The Body of Christ is suited for such a task, and we are certain that many of you will play some role in the completion of this rehab project.

When this vision comes to pass, we will have acquired a significant section of the city block on which we are situated: a large vacant lot on our west, and a tired and forgotten building on our east. While we are never quick to increase our “possessions,” we look forward to employing the economics of jubilee and we resolve that far more will be given to our neighborhood in this transaction than taken away.

Please help! We need your prayers in this matter. You will be hearing more about this in the coming weeks. If you would like to be a part of establishing this Kingdom outpost here in the inner-city of Springfield, OH, then by all means, contact us and let us know.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Annual Report

Having successfully navigated our first year in the Mulberry House, I thought this would be a good time to look back on our activities. There are many things I could talk about, but for the sake of expediency, I will break this post into 4 categories. I will briefly discuss developments in the area of maintenance and upgrades, creativity, our interactions with the neighborhood, and “public relations.” If all this text is too daunting, feel free to jump to the nutshell version below.

This is as close as you’ll ever get to an Annual Report… so enjoy!

First, note that we have progressed from an abstract idea to a concrete house with three committed individuals.

Maintenance and Upgrades:
Here are all the things we have done to the house/grounds in our first year.
We ran some new gas line down in the basement to accommodate our gas dryer (which was formerly on a different level than the washing machine). We also did some electrical work, updating a bit of wiring and putting in some new outlets. We painted our dining room, put up some new blinds, and hung some pictures. We insulated the attic, taking significant steps toward energy efficiency. We removed our flimsy front door and installed a stronger, more energy-efficient exterior door. We also boast a new storm door at the back entrance. We tore up all the old and decrepit landscaping in our front and side yards, planting grass and giving way for a pretty lawn. We removed a pond from the back yard and cleared large amounts of rubble from the area. We replaced some older light fixtures with more efficient models. We replaced a rusted out sink in the downstairs bathroom with a new sink, vanity, and medicine chest. We did some work on our upstairs plumbing when we had a clogged drain pipe. We have done extensive work on our furnaces, rebuilding one of them piece by piece and resulting in a bizarre Franken-furnace. We built a new tool shed in the back yard after a rogue windstorm crushed our first shed.

The beautiful thing about community is that it fosters creativity. When you are working together to build something new, all sorts of imaginative innovation can occur. We have found ourselves excelling in a variety of creative areas. We designed and built a huge dining room table, painted an original design on the top of it, and stained it. We acquired a sewing machine and successfully made a few pairs of pants. I was able to sew two quilts, two purses, and two wallets for loved ones this past Christmas. We had a pretty successful garden this year, yielding a decent harvest of various useful vegetables. With the goal in mind of raising chickens, we designed and built our own chicken coop in the backyard; we have one chicken and expect about three more in the near future. Each of us has continued to develop our own creative energies, whether it be writing, writing/recording music, or something else.

Our Neighborhood love affair:
We have made great strides in the local bar scene. We have become regulars in one bar in particular. We are known among the other locals and we get hugs from some of our friends at each visit. Two homeless men have stayed on our premises: one in the living room and one in a tent in the yard. Tim Miller and I have joined a local church plant in our neighborhood while Tim Voltz continues to be a voice for this neighborhood at a church on the north side of town. Periodically throughout the year, I have visited inmates at the Clark County Jail, and I have continued my mentoring work among troubled teens. All three of us attended our first neighborhood association meeting, and while we are unsure of what developments if any will come from this, we enjoyed hearing the voices of our community.

Public Relations:
Of course, the name of this category is tongue and cheek. This refers to ways in which we have been able to pitch the vision to others. I have had numerous opportunities to speak and preach in a handful of churches, in Springfield and the Columbus area. Similarly, I spoke at one youth rally and one fund-raiser for ministries to the homeless. We have been interviewed for several articles and informal documentaries. Our letter to the editor appeared in the local newspaper denouncing the anti-begging ordinance. We have hosted various student groups here at the house from Cedarville University and Wittenberg University. We have also served as “guest speakers” at meetings for a few student orgs at Cedarville. Numerous visitors have joined us at the house, some staying overnight, others just for dinner. We have been able to network with Consp!re magazine to an extent, writing for the publication and being a part of their online community.

There, in a whirlwind, is a taste of some of the things that have been happening here.


I want to quickly make an observation about these things. You may notice that many of these accomplishments, activities, and events have been focused on us. I do not mean this in a totally negative sense, but it is noteworthy that our first year was marked primarily by work within our own walls.

I personally feel that, while there are certainly opportunities for huge growth and improvement, we are taking slow, measured steps in the right direction. I am pleased with the community and I look forward to our continued collaboration.

In our first year, we have kept our focus primarily WITHIN the house. By this, I mean we spent the majority of our energy on “housekeeping” matters. Making a garden for our own use, doing maintenance on our own home, hosting visitors to pitch our own vision… these things are all important. We have gotten to know each other, unleashed various aspects of our previously untapped creativity, and done some work on our habitat.

Now, as we continue to mature, it is time for us to focus more outside our own walls.

As I think forward to the coming years, my heart’s desire is to see a community of men and women with a relentless, subversive passion for the aggressive expansion of the kingdom of God and the restoration and renewal of His Creation. Concurrently, it is my prayer that our community will be known by our love and that, in our meekness, we will be strong.

We have built a house and inhabited it; now let us spend our time outside, inviting others to come in.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Letter to Non-Believers

Posted by Jack

This letter was written by some trouble-maker named Shane Claiborne. I meant to post it here back in November, but I guess I forgot! This letter appeared in Esquire magazine and can also be accessed here.

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn's Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn't quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don't know Jesus.

Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, "God is not a monster." Maybe next time I will.

The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.

At one point Gandhi was asked if he was a Christian, and he said, essentially, "I sure love Jesus, but the Christians seem so unlike their Christ." A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. So what we have here is a bit of an image crisis, and much of that reputation is well deserved. That's the ugly stuff. And that's why I begin by saying that I'm sorry.

Now for the good news.

I want to invite you to consider that maybe the televangelists and street preachers are wrong — and that God really is love. Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals and conservatives, it's that you can have great answers and still be mean... and that just as important as being right is being nice.)

The Bible that I read says that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it... it was because "God so loved the world." That is the God I know, and I long for others to know. I did not choose to devote my life to Jesus because I was scared to death of hell or because I wanted crowns in heaven... but because he is good. For those of you who are on a sincere spiritual journey, I hope that you do not reject Christ because of Christians. We have always been a messed-up bunch, and somehow God has survived the embarrassing things we do in His name. At the core of our "Gospel" is the message that Jesus came "not [for] the healthy... but the sick." And if you choose Jesus, may it not be simply because of a fear of hell or hope for mansions in heaven.

Don't get me wrong, I still believe in the afterlife, but too often all the church has done is promise the world that there is life after death and use it as a ticket to ignore the hells around us. I am convinced that the Christian Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God's Kingdom down. It was Jesus who taught us to pray that God's will be done "on earth as it is in heaven." On earth.

One of Jesus' most scandalous stories is the story of the Good Samaritan. As sentimental as we may have made it, the original story was about a man who gets beat up and left on the side of the road. A priest passes by. A Levite, the quintessential religious guy, also passes by on the other side (perhaps late for a meeting at church). And then comes the Samaritan... you can almost imagine a snicker in the Jewish crowd. Jews did not talk to Samaritans, or even walk through Samaria. But the Samaritan stops and takes care of the guy in the ditch and is lifted up as the hero of the story. I'm sure some of the listeners were ticked. According to the religious elite, Samaritans did not keep the right rules, and they did not have sound doctrine... but Jesus shows that true faith has to work itself out in a way that is Good News to the most bruised and broken person lying in the ditch.

It is so simple, but the pious forget this lesson constantly. God may indeed be evident in a priest, but God is just as likely to be at work through a Samaritan or a prostitute. In fact the Scripture is brimful of God using folks like a lying prostitute named Rahab, an adulterous king named David... at one point God even speaks to a guy named Balaam through his donkey. Some say God spoke to Balaam through his ass and has been speaking through asses ever since. So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use, we should think again.

After all, Jesus says to the religious elite who looked down on everybody else: "The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom ahead of you." And we wonder what got him killed?

I have a friend in the UK who talks about "dirty theology" — that we have a God who is always using dirt to bring life and healing and redemption, a God who shows up in the most unlikely and scandalous ways. After all, the whole story begins with God reaching down from heaven, picking up some dirt, and breathing life into it. At one point, Jesus takes some mud, spits in it, and wipes it on a blind man's eyes to heal him. (The priests and producers of anointing oil were not happy that day.)

In fact, the entire story of Jesus is about a God who did not just want to stay "out there" but who moves into the neighborhood, a neighborhood where folks said, "Nothing good could come." It is this Jesus who was accused of being a glutton and drunkard and rabble-rouser for hanging out with all of society's rejects, and who died on the imperial cross of Rome reserved for bandits and failed messiahs. This is why the triumph over the cross was a triumph over everything ugly we do to ourselves and to others. It is the final promise that love wins.

It is this Jesus who was born in a stank manger in the middle of a genocide. That is the God that we are just as likely to find in the streets as in the sanctuary, who can redeem revolutionaries and tax collectors, the oppressed and the oppressors... a God who is saving some of us from the ghettos of poverty, and some of us from the ghettos of wealth.

In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, "I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you." If those of us who believe in God do not believe God's grace is big enough to save the whole world... well, we should at least pray that it is.

Your brother,