Greg Moore – Spiritual Community at the Rate of Friendship

Join us for a conversation with Greg Moore, Executive Director of New Faith Communities for the North Carolina Annual Conference, as he shares about cultivating spiritual community at the rate of friendship. Hear him share about his experience as a church planter, about the challenges of planting “oak tree churches”, the oft-confused difference between consumption and communion, and the challenge of being a spiritual pioneer.  

You can become on our patron and unlock exclusive content by backing us at www.patreon.com/reports.

You can hear conversations with other spiritual pioneers by subscribing to us with Itunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Make sure to visit Facebook  and our website for all your updates, including new episodes, news from our guests, and writing from Ben.

Reports from the Spiritual Frontier is sponsored by patrons like you, by Path1 the church planting agency of the United Methodist Church, by the Oregon-Idaho Conference, by Bayit: Your Jewish Home, and by the Upper New York Annual Conference.

Shawn Moore – Following Jesus In A Multicultural Community

Join us for a conversation with Shawn Moore of The Beloved United Methodist Church in Saint Paul, MN; as he shares about the journey of transforming his young, non-denominational church into an age-diverse, United Methodist community; about the centrality of daily obedience for spiritual growth; and how true multicultural community is more than a diversity fair.

You can become on our patron and unlock exclusive content by backing us atwww.patreon.com/reports.

You can hear conversations with other spiritual pioneers by subscribing to us with Itunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Make sure to visit Facebook  and our website for all your updates, including new episodes, news from our guests, and writing from Ben.

Reports from the Spiritual Frontier is sponsored by patrons like you, by Path1, the church planting agency of the United Methodist Church, by the Oregon-Idaho Conference, by Bayit: Your Jewish Home, and by the Upper New York Annual Conference.

Gavin Rogers B-Side: God in the Caravan, Among the Poor, Among the Rich

Join us for a conversation with Reports’ host Ben Yosua-Davis, as he is joined by Gavin Rogers of Travis Park United Methodist Church, as he talks about encountering God on a migrant caravan. Hear him share about how he learned about the importance of authenticity, how migrants and those who are homeless showed him radical hospitality, the challenges of living a fully integrated public and private life, and the story of Willy, his homeless friend who also became his roommate.

You can become on our patron and unlock exclusive content by backing us at www.patreon.com/reports.

You can hear conversations with other spiritual pioneers by subscribing to us with Itunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Make sure to visit Facebook  and our website for all your updates, including new episodes, news from our guests, and writing from Ben.

Reports from the Spiritual Frontier is sponsored by patrons like you, by Path1 the church planting agency of the United Methodist Church, by the Oregon-Idaho Conference, by Bayit: Your Jewish Home, and by the Upper New York Annual Conference.

Gavin Rogers – Meeting God On A Migrant Caravan

Join us for a conversation with Reports’ host Ben Yosua-Davis, as he is joined by Gavin Rogers of Travis Park United Methodist Church, as he talks about encountering God on a migrant caravan. Hear him share about how he learned about the importance of authenticity, how migrants and those who are homeless showed him radical hospitality, the challenges of living a fully integrated public and private life, and the story of Willy, his homeless friend who also became his roommate.

You can become on our patron and unlock exclusive content by backing us at www.patreon.com/reports.

You can hear conversations with other spiritual pioneers by subscribing to us with Itunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Make sure to visit Facebook  and our website for all your updates, including new episodes, news from our guests, and writing from Ben.

Reports from the Spiritual Frontier is sponsored by patrons like you, by Path1 the church planting agency of the United Methodist Church, by the Oregon-Idaho Conference, by Bayit: Your Jewish Home, and by the Upper New York Annual Conference.

The Spiritual Life Is Lonely

“A Foggy Passage” Simon Kingsworth

The farther you progress in the spiritual life, the lonelier it gets.

The topics that used to consume you may now only arouse faint interest. (How many books did I read about “the future of the church” in my late twenties and early thirties? Hundreds. How many have I read since we moved to the island three years ago? None.)

The dichotomies that used to agonize you now all seem like artificial constructions that obscure a deeper Truth. (Is this an outward work? An inward work? Is this love of God or love of neighbor? How do you balance work with rest? Anger with forgiveness?)

The conversations that used to energize you all deflate like sad little balloons, without enough hot air to keep them afloat anymore. (In my case, denominational politics, theological esoterica, and the over-earnest discussion of “what does it mean to be the church?”)

Instead, you find that your gaze turns inwards: to the places of deepest unspoken hurt, to the deeper comprehension of self, to the wrenching, painful work of giving up all those external attachments that you thought were You.

In the process, you also discover loneliness.

I’ve discovered that there are precious few people who are able to have those conversations about matters like this, much less engage in this work with the necessary degree of maniacal consistency.

After all, it is a journey that their friends will not encourage them to take, because it can strip them of the unspoken tribal prejudices and previously energizing interests upon which friendships are based.

After all, it is a journey which our society, built upon superficial urgency and the frantic pursuit of novelty, is designed to prevent. (Don’t believe me? How many times did you check your smartphone today? And how many of times did you check it because you grew uncomfortable, bored, upset, or disturbed with something which you would prefer be left unnamed?)

After all, it is a journey which their churches, which institutionally depend on busy people highly invested in externals, simply do not have the capacity to imagine.

And the journey is hard, because the road is terrifying. From the comfortable ruts of life, you emerge into a dangerous, dark wilderness of spirit, filled with monsters of your own making. The road ahead seems like no more than a vague trail (pray to God for something as clear as a vague trail!) with the road behind always clear as day, beckoning for you to come back to safer ground.

My experience? Most people, if they don’t have journey companions, will take a few steps on that terrifying trail, and then retreat back to the comfortable territory of their familiar existence, filled with friends and jobs, religious observances and books, momentary bursts of passion brought on by the novelty of a new spiritual idea, and the steady, familiar rhythm of prejudices and interests that were formed in childhood.

The problem is that God (and by God I most specifically the Love that birthed the universe, that birthed each of us, and that lies at the truest center of our being,) can only be encountered fully in that dark wilderness of spirit.

Ideally, our spiritual communities exist so that people can find companions and guides for exactly this journey; but maintaining that communal ethos requires spiritual vigilance and produces very few institutional returns. This is why the communities that call themselves churches have turned instead to peddling a hyper-commodified mass market version of themselves, so that people may learn to possess God rather than learning to let God possess them. (This may be true for other religious and a-religious traditions, but I’ll let them speak for themselves on this count.)

I’m thankful that I’ve found a community, albeit a temporary one, that has helped me take my first full steps into the wilderness of my own soul. I also hear an echo of loneliness, sometimes even terror, knowing that soon that community will come to an end, and it is not a given that I will find other people to journey with me.

I don’t have any reassurances for me, but I do have advice for you if who have heard God’s call to walk a deeper path, even if that call is heard only in whispers.

First, step out the door on that new road, even if all you have is a backpack full of questions.

Second, find some people. Be wary of the good church people. Look for the pones hovering around the edges (or the comfortably self-differentiated ones in the middle.) Look for the ones who talk more about God and about people and less about “church”. Look for the ones who have a smiling, self-deprecatory honesty. Look for the ones who seem like actual humans, not religious facsimiles of themselves.

Finally, ask them to join you on the journey. Some will look at you oddly. Some will say “no”; or say “yes” but actually mean “no” when they realize what is involved. But remember, God is gracious, and if God is pulling you into the wilderness, then God will send you a couple of people who might dare to say “yes” along with you: people who will pick you up when you stumble, or get lost, and point you back into the darkness and say “keep going”.

Because, in the end, this is really the only journey ultimately worth taking.

It is just as the great Quaker mystic, Thomas Kelly, says,

Out in front of us is the drama of [people] and of nations, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But within the silences of the souls of [people] an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others. And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history.

It is the drama of the Hound of Heaven baying relentlessly upon the track of [humans]. Is the drama of the lost sheep wandering in the wilderness, restless and lonely, feebly searching, while over the hill comes the wiser Shepherd. For His is a shepherd’s heart, and He is restless until He holds His sheep in His arms. it is the drama of the Eternal Father drawing the prodigal home unto Himself, where there is bread enough and to spare…And always its chief is – the Eternal God of Love.

Thomas Kelly. A Testament of Devotion. 1941.

Patreon Campaign Launched

Hi Friends –

I’m working right now to make the season four of my podcast a reality; and I’d like your help. Help get our 2019 season of the podcast off the ground, and to thank you for your support, I’ll shout your name on an episode, you can get exclusive access to rough-cut episodes before they come out, be part of an annual Reports-insider group chat where you can ask me questions, or even get a one hour Skype conversation with me.

We will be running this campaign for only *two* weeks, so if you’re interested in hearing more from us next year, now is the time to step up. Pledges start at only $1/month and you can find us at the link below!

The Story of Almost Every Abuse Victim I Know Is Christine Blasey Ford

Note: This is pretty raw, so if you’re on the other side of this from me, know that I still love you, and I want to have a cup of coffee to talk to you about this.
 
What has happened to Christine Blasey Ford this week almost exactly describes the experience of many people I know who have been sexually assaulted.
 
Here’s how the story goes, time and time again:
 
A woman (yes, it’s primarily women) decides to report being sexually assaulted, often at a steep personal cost. They often report years after the fact, sometimes after a galvanizing event, sometimes after they realize how much that event has shaped their lives and that they need to name their story in order to heal from it.
 
When confronted, their assailant angrily denies her experience with emotional sincerity, in a way that gaslights the woman so convincingly that bystanders are distracted from all the factual fuzziness at the edges of his heartfelt narrative. (e.g. “I was a choir boy in school!” “Boofing just meant farting!” “The Devils’ Triangle was a drinking game!” “This is just a plot from my enemies to destroy me!”)
 
The authority figures: be it parents, pastors, teachers, police officers, etc .often whom have other stakes in the process besides finding out the truth, dismiss her story, cast doubts on her courage, intelligence, or motives, and minimize the culpability of the offender (e.g. “How could she remember what happened when she was a teenager?” “Why did she wait so long to report?” “Who hasn’t done something stupid when they’re seventeen?”.)
 
The woman, having been re-traumatized through sharing her story, and now socially ostracized, learns to keep her mouth shut. (e.g. #whyIdidntreport)
 
And so the cycle continues.
 
I’ve worked with people who have spent their lives dealing with sexual abuse from their youth. I have friends who have struggled to define themselves by something other than those awful, obscene events that no one wants to acknowledge. And let me tell you: EVERY time you quarterback the hearings on Thursday like they were another political sporting event, EVERY time you say, “Don’t we all wish that we weren’t defined by the mistakes of our past?”, EVERY time you say, “Wow, her timing was just a LITTLE convenient?”, you’re telling every abused woman in your life (and I guarantee, you all know far more than you think) that their story and experience are not safe with you.
 
This is not about politics, my friends, this is about simple human decency.
 
I understand that some of you may not be convinced, and if that’s the case, that’s fine, but please, in this moment, stop talking and starting listening to people who have been through exactly what Dr. Ford has experienced; you may have no idea how much your words are harming people right now.
 

Why I’m No Longer Watching Football

For the first time in my life, I won’t be watching the NFL at all this fall.

I need to name this publicly and explain why. (For my own sake, really.)

(And, for the record, this is my story and my decision. Your story and your decision don’t have to be the same as mine, and that’s completely fine.)

(Also for the record, I had plans to write a four thousand word essay on the NFL and the concepts of attachment and detachment, entitled “Goodbye, Tom Brady”, complete with several winsome stories and a Denise Levertov quote at the end. After six months of procrastinating, you got this instead. (I’m sorry. Or you’re welcome.))

The NFL has been the most important sport in my life. I remember running upstairs at 1:30 in the morning in January 2002 to wake up my dad and let him know that “Oh my God! The Patriots have the ball and they’re about to kick in the snow!” Football was the Sunday afternoon fixture in my household on weekends home from college; it was how my now-wife wormed her way into the family by doing ice cream runs at half time; it was the only time I woke my dad (and the household up) at 1:30 in the morning (2012 – the Tuck Game); it was the first time I had dreams when a team lost the Super Bowl (2007), where I screamed like a maniac (2015) when no-name Malcolm Butler intercepted the potential game-winning touchdown pass in the end-zone. It was the place, where, even in the hard years of college, the soul-crushing final years in professional ministry, I could make the world stop: where I could pour myself into something that had no stake on what was going on in the rest of my very demanding life. The fact that I was following the best dynasty, the best player, and the best coach that I will likely ever follow in my lifetime made it even sweeter.

However, my experience of the sport became much more complicated over the last few years. There were the pictures of Greg Hardy’s girlfriend and Adrian Peterson’s child, both of whom were beaten, and whose abusers were allowed to keep their jobs in the NFL. There was the news that football causes permanent brain damage and that the NFL destroyed people’s careers to cover it up. There were Colin Kaepernick (and now Eric Reid), shamelessly blackballed from their jobs because they chose to protest police violence. There was Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans, using racist dog whistles to refer to his players and the NFL ownership groups, who more visibly than any other support, lined up behind Donald Trump’s presidency (including the most prominent figures on the Patriots, from quarterback, to coach, to owner.)

I began to wonder: given that all our entertainment is problematic, at what point does it become too problematic for me to ethically enjoy?

I remember talking with some of you about this last fall on Facebook. All us football fans on my status were pretty damn resistant to suggestions that maybe we should stop watching.

And, I have to say: people who don’t follow sports don’t realize what what it means to ask someone to give up a game like this. You’re giving up a weekly moment of emotionally-necessary catharsis at the end of weeks where you have to absorb so much open-ended pain, you give up your status in a tribe that allows you to strike up a conversation with party-goers, gas station attendants, and people on the street. You give up a hobby that you can care about passionately, while also knowing that it doesn’t REALLY matter, a beautiful gift in a historical moment where it feels like everything has high stakes.

That Facebook conversation sat with me like a stone throughout the fall (as I didn’t watch football) and the playoffs (as I did.)

I kept thinking about how not one of my football loving friends (including myself) could come up with a good defense for why watching the NFL was okay, besides “But I like it!” or “All sports are bad so we should just watch them all!”. I kept thinking about how every person on my status who said, “Not watching football won’t make a difference” was a white male (and how the person who said “your choice does make a difference” was neither.)

I began to wonder if rather than asking, “Will me personally not watching football make a difference?” that I should ask “What does it say about me that I still enjoy watching?”

That question really disturbed me.

How can I say that follow the Sermon on the Mount and then watch a sport that condones family abuse, deifies the military, silences and dehumanizes black men, and actively supports a leader who has actively sought the harm of the people who God loves?

How can I say I’m trying to be a good white ally when my friends who are people of color say, “You really shouldn’t watch this” and I say, “I’m going to watch because I like it, and my view really doesn’t count anyway.”

In the end, it was my constant wrestling with those questions every time I turned on the TV on Sunday afternoon (or didn’t but wished that I could), that began to make me wonder whether it was time to say goodbye to this sport I loved. And, it was the last six months: the most dramatic period of emotional and spiritual healing in my life that convinced me that I didn’t need football anymore to be a functioning human being.

What will I do now? I’ll watch basketball. I’ll play with my son. I’ll have to take some deep breaths when I feel like my Sunday afternoons are not quite right anymore. I’ll agonize about whether I was right to do this or whether this is just the excessive angst of yet another white progressive.

But all that being said, for now, I’ve put my Tom Brady jersey away and I’ll wait to come back until people like Shaun King and Leroy Barber tell me it’s okay to do so.

As I said, this is just my story. It doesn’t have to be yours. It took me a lot of years to get here, and even as late as last fall, I was just not able to make the leap, despite my deepest convictions. I don’t expect that football has the same place for you that it did for me or that you will share my burning need to change viewing habits. But – I hope that some of my questions might trouble you as much as they troubled me; and whatever you do, you will take some time to wrestle with them, even as you sit down for that ever-so-meaningful Sunday afternoon ritual.