Tag Archives: Mid-life Crisis

December 29th, 2010

On Monday December 27th, Alan and Sarah Berry met with 16 of us from Washington State who have an interest in the NC.


We had a great time sharing stories and chicken curry. (Thanks, Erin)

Sarah shared portions of the information which comprise a “Community Weekend” with us, Alan played guitar and lead us in the Mid Day and Morning Offices, and Diane Sekuloff crossed the border and joined us from Canada, sharing her stories and guitar-work as well.

Sarah was eager for us to understand not just the information, but the CONTEXT…namely that this information is normally shared in the context of the daily rhythm at Nether Springs.

It was interesting: I felt the Berry’s longing to transport us all to Northumbria. I could hear it in Sarah’s voice. It was implicit in Alan’s storytelling and conversation…”If only you could BE there with us…THEN you would understand..” was the message. The “place” matters.

I get that.

I have been a friend of the NC for 2 years, but ironically for one who is called “friend”, I have had only minimal contact with the people of the NC before Monday and I have had NO exposure to “place”. Yet I continue to resonate with the ethos and vision of the NC. My time with Diane, Alan and Sarah only magnify that resonance…yet we were in a corporate meeting room, thousands of miles from Acton House!

How can “place” matter so much, and yet not matter at all?

Being a 4th generation Pacific North westerner, I think I understand it. This is a big place with an enormous presence of mountain, sea and wildness. I have hiked much of it, and have felt it’s touch. It gets inside you. It changes you. Drink it’s water, breathe it’s air, learn the stories of its people and you begin to carry it.  You then pass those gifts on to your children and the longer they live in a place, the more they become a part of it.

At certain key intersections where we, the Image Bearers of God, connect deeply with the rest of the creation, it’s like we can soak up a place in a very short time; it downloads into us in a matter of months, weeks of even days. Certain kinds of spiritual people call these “thin places”.

Now imagine a group of people who intentionally live in a thin place, who pursue the “Knowledge of the Holy” and who are carried along by the power of the Holy Spirit. A community will become charged like a battery. Now imagine visitors stepping into that charged environment for a time. When they leave, they will carry the charge with them.

We did not get to smell the sea being carried by Northumbrian winds, nor hear Morning Office sung with a Geordie accent…but Sarah, Alan and Diane carried the NC to us none the less.

God has been speaking to me of things Monastic for some time. Glimpses and whispers of what he would build, but direct views have been nonexistent. In all truth, the clear, resounding CALL I had hoped would come on Monday did not. Certainly I have a better understanding of the NC, a greater love for what it stands for, and an increased affection for the people I spent the day with. That alone is gift enough.

But I also have a burning in my heart…a desire…an impulse….a pull and I feel as if I am left with a handful of puzzle pieces, a few of which fit into a partial picture, and a few do not. It feels useless. A waste. What does a man do with a handful of puzzle pieces that don’t make a picture?

He waits.

Many thanks to the Berrys and Diane.

July 6th, 2010

I will forgo the categories I’ve used during this last week, and try to focus on summary thoughts.

1) Duality

As a theme, this surprised me, because it’s so broad. It narrows down to a few categories (see below) but still I’m surprised. Maybe because it seems like this big philosophical / conceptual thing that has little direct bearing on me personally…like “trickle-down economics” or “health care reform”. But nonetheless, here it is.

Experience and thoughts and prayer and conversation kept presenting themselves in dual form. There was this sense that I was encountering a pendulum swing in all these contexts. On the Northumbria Community bulletin board there were two threads in which it seemed people were either advocating for a highly conservative, doctrinal emphasis on faith, and another group “arguing” the doctrines really don’t matter, it’s all about heart and/or experience. I felt like I was the only one (likely not TRUE but it felt like it) who was suggesting that the truth lies in the middle…isn’t it likely that BOTH doctrine AND experience count? National politics seem more partisan than ever, but there is no real policy difference amongst the combatants…just polarity.

There’s another way to view this duality and that would be a cyclical view; a breathing in and breathing out. With the exception of that which is undeniably “evil”, these things are amoral…it’s not like excellence is BAD and authenticity is GOOD. These things fall inside the moral ball park, so it can’t be about simply learning to ELIMINATE one extreme or the other. Jesus modeled a kind of cycle (esp. shown in Mark) between Community and Solitude, Activity and Rest. A breathing in and out, and embrace of “seasons”. Maybe patient endurance means recognizing that while in the midst of Winter, Spring is coming.

So…duality seems everywhere and it has expressed itself specifically in these categories:

a)         Freedom from approval / judgementalism. While I have felt an un-expected (but welcome) release from the un-healthy need for approval, the equal and opposite reaction to that seems to be an increased intolerance and judgementalism. Exactly the topic God confronted me with on the VERY FIRST NIGHT of this sabbatical (while on my hike). It would seem He knew what was coming. Duality is revealed in the “natural” tendency to replace neediness with indifference or even contempt. Something must take up the space where neediness USED to be, and what seems to flow in if left alone is indifference. If a human being holds their breath and then submerges under water, their lungs will eventually rebel and suck in whatever is around them…in this case water. The lungs are indifferent; “nature abhors a vacuum”. So it seems (naturally speaking) that  indifference is the water in which this drowning man finds himself, therefore SUPERnatural intervention is required to save me.

How could a cyclical view be applied here? I don’t really see how it could. I can’t imagine a “season” of soaking up praise from men, and then countering it with a “season” of rejecting them, isolating and judging. It seems to me that this particular duality is one that needs to be corrected, equilibrium must be established.

b)         MBE / Monk. This one is relatively new. How does one maintain a contemplative lifestyle, live simply, move slowly and deliberately focus on the Kingdom of God within, AND drive hard to cast vision, recruit help, make plans, lead, drive GO!, especially for the purpose of making money? I know there must be people who do this well, but I’m not sure I’m one of them. Cycling back and forth between these two doesn’t seem very practical. On Mondays I’m quiet, reflective and mystical, on Tuesdays I put on my suit and I’m running 100 miles an hour after the next “deal”? Doesn’t seem doable: too fragmented.

c)         Excellence / authenticity. As I read this one, I’m wondering if it is a false duality. Perhaps the church, the Kingdom has bought into a worldly definition of excellence, thereby by creating a false dichotomy with authenticity. What if excellence when measured by Kingdom standards focuses more on internals, more on presence, more on efficiency, more on community…?

We have often said that “excellence is doing the best you can with what you have…” I’m wondering if that is an incomplete definition. Perhaps it needs to include something about persistence and faith. I think of two kinds of English gardens. One is the highly formal, symmetrical, well planned, executed and meticulously maintained. The other is the “country” garden which is not always symmetrical, is little more wild, spontaneous, but it has taken YEARS of persistent faith in natural process to get it looking wonderful. Both gardens are excellent, but they must be measured against their own standards., and for the country garden, taking time to let it “BECOME” is key to it’s excellence.

I’m also thinking of the contrast between a Starbuck’s and someplace like Zippy’s Java Lounge in Everett. An excellent Starbuck’s can be erected on a previously vacant lot in 48 hours and operational in another 36, turning out quality coffee and atmosphere based on a well developed strategy and detailed formula. Someplace like Zippy’s takes YEARS of personal experience, effort and subtle additions, changes and TIME to become excellent.

d)         Passion / peace. This similar to the excellence tension, but more personal perhaps. I can’t figure out how to approach the mystical part of life with the open eyes and wonder while trying to drive an organization and lead with squinty-eyed shrewdness. It seems the two things just don’t blend. Francis of Assisi got this to some extent. But he considered it a LOSS when he had to turn the Friars Minor into an organization rather than a simple affiliation. It seems to just break one way or the other. It took about 6 weeks, but I got to a place where I really like the open eyed wonder pace of things! I do miss trying to build something though. It’s going to be different I think now…but I’m not sure how.

2) Holding Puzzle pieces loosely.

I have already written extensively about this. It’s not a dichotomy…it’s a septchotomy. Actually I could really combine a couple of them for the sake of conversation:

Celtic style + Contemplative + Intentional Community + Simplicity = New Monasticism.

MBE + Social Action = AC3 Community Center

My Dad’s House

…THERE. That’s three. So the question will remain: How does a New Monastic and AC3 Community Center fit? Maybe they don’t. My dad’s house still stands alone.

Three mysteries are better than seven to someone like me.

3) Patient Endurance. Enough said.

4) The Romans 5:3 Formula. I hope that I will someday learn how character produces hope. I will travel whichever road the Lord sets my feet upon to find it. And so…The stone for my final week will be called Pilgrim.