Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Boy From Neptune

Posted by Jack

There is a boy in my class, and his favorite planet is Neptune. I am not sure why Neptune is his favorite, and at the tender age of 4, I am not sure why he even knows that Neptune exists.

Let's call him Dee.

Dee is a funny kid. One day in class, out of the clear blue sky, in the midst of a planet-unrelated activity, he looked at me and announced with confidence,"Neptune is my favorite planet."

Amused, I asked him why he had an affinity for such a distant place. He shrugged and said, "Just because." Thinking perhaps he was simply repeating something he'd heard, I was stunned when he cracked open a book about the solar system and pointed directly at Neptune.

"There is Neptune," he said, "My favorite planet."

At a later date, he took a wooden puzzle which features all the planets of our solar system (minus Pluto, that cosmic impostor!) and, without hesitation, picked up Neptune and identified it as his own.

Dee is delightfully peculiar, though completely healthy in terms of health and development.

There is something antiquated about his mannerisms, as if he were raised a few generations past. "Excuse me, excuse me," he beckons as he tugs gently at my arm. Unabashedly joyful, Dee is quick to laugh and quick to hug. His unquenchable curiosity leads him to ask questions at an astounding pace, often faster than I can answer him.

He is energetic and playful. He is fast enough to swipe my glasses from my face without warning, and compassionate enough to return them unharmed. He cries mournfully when he has disappointed a trusted adult, and often, all he wants to do is sit on your lap and read. His perpetual wonderment is contagious, and I find myself working doubly hard to make sure I do nothing in word or deed to deflate his enthusiasm for learning.

Perhaps Dee is from Neptune. He has never made such a claim, and I have no evidence to prove he is an alien. But I sometimes wonder if it is possible for such a bright, cheerful, and promising young man to originate on our Earth. Considering our broken surroundings, it often seems that something so beautiful could only have fallen from the heavens.

He spoke to me about Neptune in hushed tones of excitement. It is blue there, he said, and he wishes we could go there together. Neptune is far away, but Dee is unfazed. The goal is not imposing, but welcoming and challenging.

Inviting. Promising. Within reach.

One can only wonder how long such fascination can last. The reality is, Dee lives in a low-income neighborhood. He is part of a family that cannot afford to place him in a quality preschool program. His options are limited to public ones. Sadly, I have watched, as children grow older and experience frustration, the sense of wonder turn to a sense of resignation.

Cold. Distant. Remote. With educational opportunities as scarce as they are, the odds of Dee succeeding with his peers in school are as slim as his reaching the planet Neptune.

Let's go back a few years.

The Early Learning Initiative (ELI) funded preschool education for over 13,000 disadvantaged children in the State of Ohio. In 2009, severe budget cuts were implemented as part of Gov. Strickland's line item veto. ELI went on the chopping block. Full day preschool was completely slashed from the State budget; half-day preschool funding was reduced by one third. You can read about how devastating the cuts were by clicking

At the time, I was teaching preschool at a private learning center on the North Side of Springfield. We had 2 basic groups of kids: the private pay kids, who were there because their families could afford to enroll them, and the “ELI kids,” or disadvantaged children who were there under the provisions of the Early Learning Initiative (other forms of assistance were represented as well, I speak in general).

There was, of course, some warning. The State sent ELI parents a letter informing them of the coming storm and encouraging them to apply for subsidies. These children were well-established in my center, having been in my classroom as long as I had been. They were actively participating and learning alongside more well-to-do families, when word came down to parents that the education of their children was no longer covered.

Aside from waiting for the deadline to come, there was no transition. The date came, and my ELI kids were gone.

The situation is no less dire today.

Cuts have been so severe that Ohio earned the designation of the worst in the nation in the area of early childhood education.

Governor Kasich has made clear his intent to continue slashing the budget, with as much as an additional $100 million in early childhood education cuts on the way. One leader said, "We are 8 billion in the hole. We are keeping our fingers crossed but we know early childhood will take a hit.”

Many of my children reach kindergarten, and they are already behind. Can you imagine? Day one of your education and you are already behind?

I understand we are in a budget crisis. I understand that sometimes there must be cuts. Am I saying that those in power should be faulted for making adjustments?

Of course not.

But I am saying that balancing the budget at the expense of our children, or on the backs of teachers, fire fighters, and police officers, while providing tax cuts to the wealthy... well that is a clear case of misplaced priorities.

In the midst of such uncertainty and turmoil, where can low-income families go to equip their children with a quality education? Well, I have high hopes that they will find their way to my classroom.

I am now teaching preschool at Inside Out, here in my neighborhood in Springfield. In alignment with the standards set forth by the State of Ohio, we have been working very hard on our preschool program. My goals are two-fold:

1) To stay true to the organization's mission of providing Christ-centered child care for local families and,

2) To make sure that every child who passes through my class leaves us ready for kindergarten.

It will take a lot of work (advocacy, lobbying, voting, informing) to correct the inequalities that are present in our system. As we seek to build strong futures for ALL our children, the odds are often stacked against us.

But, perhaps Dee is right. Maybe Neptune isn't so far away.

Despite tough times and numerous cuts, we are here for you, working hard to provide a preschool alternative for families in our neighborhood. Spread the word.

We are now enrolling. Contact Inside Out at 937-525-7880.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Third Mark

The 12 marks of New Monasticism are simply 12 principles that have resurfaced in Christian communities throughout church history.

In the coming weeks, I plan to highlight each of these 12 marks, briefly explain them, and explore their significance in relation to the Mulberry House.

1) Relocation to the abandoned places of the Empire.

2) Sharing Economic Resources with Fellow Community Members and the Needy Among Us.

3) Hospitality to the stranger.

On the corner of Main and Wittenberg, within a few blocks of the house, we’ve seen him. He is an older man with a beard who lives in the doorway of an abandoned building. All his worldly possessions lay beside him in a cardboard box and, for whatever reason, he has no place to lay his head.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mulberry Updates

Posted by Tim

This picture was drawn by a new friend. He is currently awaiting trial in the Clark County Jail.

Greetings from Mulberry Street! We apologize for the long delay between posts. It is embarrassing how often I think to provide an update and then fail to do so. So much has happened since our last "news" post that I'm not really sure where to start. But here we go:

--Our roommate Mikal and his lovely wife, Leah, were married on August 12th. We had a beautiful time at the wedding, but we miss Mikal's daily presence in the house. It has been a transition for us from having him down the hall to now being down the road. But Mikal and Leah continue to be wonderful friends and valuable community members, and we are looking forward to continual Kingdom work along side them. Consequently, there are now just three of us living in the house. Jack, Carlos, and I continue to pray together for direction as to what Jesus would have us do on Mulberry Street, within our doors and without them.

--Our gardening season has drawn to a close. We had a remarkable harvest that we didn't always do the best at utilizing. I will say we were far better about it this year than in the two prior. I know we were much better at sharing our produce this time around. We had several discussions about how we might share with our neighbors without seeming like we were providing charity. One day as I was in the backyard feeding our chickens, a woman walked by and asked me, "Is that your garden over there?" I smiled and replied yes. "The corn was delicious!" Apparently, we had been feeding quite a few neighbors without even knowing it. I guess sometimes God doesn't feel inclined to let us in on his plans.

--The Springfield News-Sun published a feature about the house a couple weeks ago. You can read the article here. Brandon Smith, the reporter who wrote the piece, is a new friend of ours who wanted to share our story. Not knowing exactly what type of reaction might come from the community, we were a bit nervous about its publishing. So far, it seems my fears were misplaced. We have made new friends already who have dropped by to pray for us, eat dinner with us, and even write us from their jail cells. We received an extremely touching letter in the mail from one, asking for prayer and support as he awaits his trial later this month. He included a beautiful drawing (above) for us. Please pray for us as we seek to build on these new relationships.

--On a logistical note, Jack has begun taking a pottery class in Yellow Springs which meets on Tuesday evenings. As a result, we are temporarily moving our community dinners to Monday. Again, we would love to have you over for dinner some time in the near future. Our Bible Study continues to meet at the house on Thursday nights around 8:30. Feel free to drop in if you have a chance. I think that is all for now.

Grace and Peace from Mulberry Street.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Second Mark

The 12 marks of New Monasticism are simply 12 principles that have resurfaced in Christian communities throughout church history.

In the coming weeks, I plan to highlight each of these 12 marks, briefly explain them, and explore their significance in relation to the Mulberry House.

1) Relocation to the abandoned places of the Empire.

2) Sharing Economic Resources with Fellow Community Members and the Needy Among Us.

"When we truly discover love, capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary."


God blesses us, we bless others. This is basic Christianity, Discipleship 101. In fact, it is one of the first things we teach our children as they begin interacting with others (Hey, you! Stop hoarding all the Legos).

When I spoke at a church recently, I told stories about the months I'd spent living in Springfield, long before we had acquired the Mulberry house. I told the church about this bizarre way of living I had experienced, a way that went against everything my suburban value system had taught me. There in the 'hood, we had shared.

For example, we had a community lawnmower. The entire block had chipped in to pay for one mower. It was kept in a central location and whenever someone needed to mow their lawn, they could make use of the mower. The same was true for doing laundry. I lived in a duplex where my neighbor had a key to my place. He'd let himself in to do laundry, cook, or make use of appliance he did not have in his house.

The idea of giving someone else full access to "my" stuff makes many others shudder, but to be honest, I found this style of living quite natural and even refreshing. (This idea of "mine" is prevalent in many suburban communities. If your child finds a tricycle on the sidewalk in the inner-city, it may be perfectly acceptable for them to ride it for the afternoon before returning it to its place for communal use. This same action in the suburbs might get you accusations of theft.)

Well, many of us are trying to rediscover the idea of sharing our possessions with others. There is a lot to be said on this topic, and I would love to tell all kinds of stories, but very briefly, here's what we're driving at:

a) Beyond Brokerage- In the book put out by Rutba House, Shane Claiborne wrote the chapter devoted to the second mark. Shane's a neat guy with some helpful ideas and he suggests that many churches have become brokers of resources. He points out that many churches love the idea of helping the poor. A survey showed that 80% of Christians agreed that helping the poor is important, yet only 1% of those polled reported actually spending time among poor people. Sadly, churches become places where poor people come to get stuff and rich people come to drop stuff off.

Rather than simply becoming an agency, or a storehouse of food, clothing, and other resources to be distributed, we want to form relationships with the needy around us. Not only will we be able to bless them in their time of need, but we can be blessed by them as we spend time with them, learn from them, and receive the gifts they have to offer us.

b) Theology of Enough- If you have 2 coats, 1 of them belongs to the poor.

When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, God fed them by dropping bread from the sky. He told them, "Take only enough for yourselves for one day. I will provide for you." Rather than stockpiling and hoarding resources, we want to seek simplicity, taking enough to meet our needs but not being excessive.

"Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?'" (Proverbs 30:8-9).

c) Redistribution- Yes, we want to spread the wealth.

In the chapter, Shane notes that redistribution of wealth is not a prescription for society meaning that it should be mandated; it is a description of society when people discover what it means to love. Look at Acts 4:32: when the followers of Jesus were unified in love, they held everything in common so that there were no needy persons among them.

When 80% of the world's resources are controlled by 20% of the world's population, we must ask whether we find ourselves situated among the privileged few.

d) Biblical economics- "Sell everything you have and give it to the poor."

"If anyone has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need, and he does not care for them, how can he say the love of the Father is in Him?"

"There shall be no needy persons among you."

Jesus never excluded rich people, but He did let them know that following Him meant trading decadence and wealth for hospitality, generosity, and service. We'd like to rediscover this notion.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The First Mark

Posted by Jack

The 12 marks of New Monasticism are simply 12 principles that have resurfaced in Christian communities throughout church history.

In the coming weeks, I plan to highlight each of these 12 marks, briefly explain them, and explore their significance in relation to the Mulberry House.

1) Relocation to the abandoned places of the Empire.

(I am indebted to Sister Margaret McKenna, who wrote a thought-provoking essay about the first mark in the book edited by Rutba House. Be sure to read her work for more on this topic.)

John Perkins, prolific leader and urban minister developed a model that became the foundation of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). He suggested that our urban centers are in need of three R's: Reconciliation (both between God and man and between man and man), Redistribution of resources, and Relocation to disenfranchised communities.

Throughout church history, relocation to deserted places has been a key component of the narrative. Moses, Elijah, Jesus, John the Baptist, Anthony, Syncletica, Pachomius, Barsanuph, Isaac the Syrian, Benedict and Basil, and many other saints and sinners... all of these people retreated to deserted places at some point during their walk (I had to look up some of those unfamiliar names myself!).

A desert is characterized as being an empty, barren, and abandoned place. In many ways, the community surrounding Mulberry House is a desert. As Sister McKenna wrote, "An abandoned place is one that has no attraction for the 'world of what's happening now,' and therefore is left alone by the political, economic, and social powers that be. Deserts and wastelands are abandoned places. So are inner cities, some of the loneliest places on earth."

Sometimes we have visitors here at the house. Sometimes those visitors ask us about our neighborhood. The term "ghost town" often comes to mind when I discuss the economic climate of our community. Springfield was once a thriving giant of industry, with various automobile factories, publishing companies, and manufacturers of farm equipment. Now, we only see the skeletal remains, fossils and empty shells of the industries that once were.

The same can be said about the church community. Make no mistake, we have many healthy, active, and missional churches in our neighborhood. I am consistently surprised and humbled by great men and women of faith who continue to maintain outposts of God's Kingdom here in the thick of things. But for every active church in our neighborhood, there are several empty ones. Like exhibits in the local historical society, abandoned church buildings dot the landscape, reminding us of congregations that came to the city to serve only to retreat in later years. Likewise, many of our neighbors, natives of Springfield born and raised, bear scars and mournful memories of ministers who used to serve here, but left.

What is so alluring about abandoned and deserted places? In our quest to follow King Jesus, what draws us to the outskirts of civilization?

Well, a few things really...

a) There is a sense in which relocation to the deserts eliminates a lot of the interference that hinders our relationship with God. We do not withdraw from the world in an ascetic sense, as if we are pulling away from objects or people to attain righteousness and keep from being unclean. No, it is nothing like that. But we do seek to strip away the unnecessary frills of our lives, pull off the bells and whistles and revel in glorious simplicity.

Someone has said, "You never know God is all you need until God is all you have." I think there is some truth to that. Relocating to the abandoned places of society often opens our eyes to the presence of God in our lives amidst the desolation. "To be mindful of God is to be mindful of self," St. Augustine once remarked.

b) Relocating to the abandoned places is an exercise of saying both no and yes. Our choice of lifestyle says no to the majority culture. There is a degree of decadence and wastefulness in our society. Their is an overwhelming compulsion to consume and consume and consume. This relocation helps us in our quest to subvert these tendencies. We actively reject the notion of "upward mobility," and have come to this neighborhood by our own choosing, not because we are stuck here until something better comes along.

Relocation also says yes to an alternative lifestyle. In our quest to follow Jesus, we find that intentionally seeking places that are weak or ignored or forgotten manifests our commitment and our personal desire for tangible expression of our faith.

c) Also, broken places are full of broken people, so we believe Jesus would go there. If the rest of the world has abandoned these places, we want to fill the gaps. God's Kingdom will sprout up anywhere and everywhere. And let's not forget that God has a knack for launching amazing things out of unlikely places. God can never be forced into the margins, but He does often choose to work from there.

Relocation to our neighborhood is not our own personal rescue mission in which we go to "that poor, poor neighborhood" with the intention of bringing hope and salvation through our presence.

It is not an adventure, or stunt, as missionaries to "boldly go where no man has gone before." It is not about convicting "lazy" churches or impressing well-to-do suburbanites with our bravery and stamina.

It is not about gathering exciting stories about drugs and sex and guns and gangs, so we may tell them to people who shake their heads and say, "Oh, I could never do that!"

Relocation to our neighborhood is, however, purposeful. We are mindful of the brokenness and emptiness and forgottenness of this place... but we are also mindful of God's presence here, and His plans for goodness and prosperity in this barren place.

Monday, September 5, 2011

12 Marks of a New Monasticism

In this book, Rutba House (in Durham, NC) and friends have outlined 12 marks, or characteristics, that help to define New Monasticism. These 12 marks are broad characteristics that tend to surface in projects like Mulberry House. I find them to be helpful for many reasons.

In the coming weeks, I plan to highlight each of these 12 marks, briefly explain them, and explore their significance in relation to the Mulberry House (longtime readers will remember when I attempted this once before, only to leave it unfinished. Better late than never!).

The 12 Marks are:
1) Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

3) Hospitality to the stranger

4) Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities
combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

5) Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.

6) Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the
community along the lines of the old novitiate.

7) Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

8) Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

9) Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.

10) Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.

11) Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

12) Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.