All Life Begins in the Shadows

It’s an odd juxtaposition that happens when the secular and the sacred collide in these early Advent days. So many of us (at least, in America) are rushing to get that tree put up, the most ancient pre-Christian solstice symbol, and haul out the red and green decorations.

Meanwhile, the church is singing a bluer song and calling everything to hush for a bit, like you would when a baby is sleeping nearby.

Both responses to this time of year in this hemisphere is appropriate, of course. The ancient Celts would spend this time cozying up their indoor spaces, knowing they’ll be in the shadow of the fireplace for many hours in the coming months. They’d tie greenery to their door as an air freshener, and they’d make warm clothes, tell stories, and play indoor games. In this way, they’re not unlike all of us in our rush to decorate for the Christmas season.

But they’d do this other thing, too: they’d slow down. Their work would stop for a while, except for those necessary things needed to survive the winter. They’d rest longer, going to bed no long after night fell and waking late with the lazy solstice sun. They’d light candles in the morning and the evening, their new sun stolen from their fireplace outfitted with a huge log that, God willing, would last a good while.

They’d cozy and they’d slow.

The secular world is begging you to cozy at this moment. The sacred world is calling you to slow.

And, honestly, I’m not sure there’s such a thing as “secular” or “sacred.” Holiness pulsates through everything if our heartbeat is in rhythm with the Divine. So perhaps it shouldn’t be so much the “secular is calling you to cozy,” and the “sacred is calling you to slow,” but rather that the tensions pulling and pushing us in this world are felt forcefully in this moment, which is not a surprise.

We’re in a moment of change, evidenced by those last leaves falling to the ground.

Here’s a deep truth that all of these pushes and pulls point to: life begins in the shadows.

I don’t use “darkness” on purpose, by the way. As prophet and poet Nayyirah Waheed wrote in her collection _Nejma_,

“there is dark
and
there is anti light
these are not the same things”

Language has evolved to the point where we can be careful and choosy with our words (as imperfect as it might be).

Shadows, like that in the Valley of Death that the Psalmist sings of, is a more appropriate description, I think. We’re not talking about a color, we’re talking about an absence of illumination.

All life starts with an absence of illumination.

The Big Bang began with a deep vacuum bereft of light.

The womb which was our first home pulsated with life, but no light.

The seed trying to do what it is meant to do in this moment is buried under the weight of too much earth, and yet it lives.

Life begins in the shadows.

This is why the readings in the church here at the beginning of Advent aren’t of Mary or Joseph or a baby in a manger, but ones of foreboding and nighttime (Luke 21:25-36 kicks off this Advent cycle, and it’s a doozy!).

The church knows, as does the Earth, as has humanity from ancient days, that life begins in the shadows, so if we’re going to talk about redemption and salvation and resurrection and new life, we have to start here.

There is an 8th Century hymn that often kicks off Advent in many spaces, “Creator of the stars of night.” The Latin version of this text is most beautiful, “Conditor alme siderum…” the chorister sings in simple chant tone.

Sidus, where we get siderum can mean just “stars,” and certainly it does mean that. But in this usage it also means all the cosmic bodies: planets, meteors, stars, galaxies.

The church sings to the creator who filled up the vacuum of space and, like the Luke text, invites us to gaze up at the shadows of space in awe and wonder. In the night times of life we ponder such mysteries. Who hasn’t stayed awake in bed with their mind racing?

The shadows are meant for such pondering, for from such ponderings comes imagination and new life and all sorts of things never before seen, as frightening as those moments can be sometimes.

And, as it is, we’re again plunged into such a night time of life in this Advent season.

Change happens in the shadows. Newness starts in the shadows.

Life starts in the shadows.

So Advent must start in the shadows.

So, Beloved, cozy up and slow a bit. Ponder the mysteries with the ancients.

New life is starting.

Launch and an Invitation: Anam Cara Community is Rethinking Thanksgiving

Many have been asking about Anam Cara Community, a new digital-first church plant that’s being organized.


We’re doing it in stages, like all good things should be done. Scaffolding is important.
Today though, on the cusp of Thanksgiving, we’re launching our first invitation.


You can sign up to get regular information regarding Anam Cara and what we’ll be about, and we invite you to join us in rethinking Thanksgiving this holiday, and donating to a First Nations mission here in the mountains of North Carolina.


Get rid of the Americana kitsch around this holiday, and practice thanks giving by supporting this ministry that feeds over 700 families a month on their home land in Cherokee.

Click below. You’re welcome to be a part of it all.


Guiding Principle: Anam Cara will Name Things

In the second creation story from the book of Genesis (yes, there are two…at least two), the Divine brings creatures to the Adam (dust-ling) to see what they would name them (Genesis 2:19). In this creation story it is arguably the first instance of human agency that the Divine invites the human into without any stipulations. Whatever the human names the thing, that is its name. It’s a wonderful instance of human-Divine cooperation in the ordering of the world.

Names are important, Beloved.

They help us understand ourselves. They help others understand us. Names connect us to our past, and are offered on those we love and cherish as a blessing for the future. In these ways names are beautiful, wonderful, and helpful.

Names are important, Beloved…because they matter.

And because they matter, we must also recognize that they can be damaging.

Names that stigmatize drive wedges between humans.

Names that belittle cast people, places, and things in a light that can steal their dignity and cloud their inherent goodness.

Names wrongly applied, like the insistence of some to identify our siblings in the trans community by anything other than their preferred pronouns or chosen first names, harm others with intention.

In these ways names are weapons of cruelty.

Names matter, Beloved.

In thinking about our Guiding Principles, the curation team at Anam Cara believes we must be a community that names things. Taking our cues from that second creation story, we trust that the Divine intends us to be cooperators and even co-conspirators (in the most positive way) in naming what we see around us.

Acts of racism must be named as racist (looking at you school boards banning books that talk about race).

Acts of homophobia must be named as harmful (again, looking at you school boards who ban books talking about sexuality).

Acts of indignity, injustice, and ones that rob others of their imago Dei must be named with honesty and unflinching courage.

And, while we’re naming things, we’ll intentionally be keen to remind others (and ourselves) that they are loved in their imperfection, are beautiful with scars, have the right to be called what they want to be called, and don’t deserve many of the labels the world puts on them.

And the world is excellent at misnaming things.

Imagine if a neighborhood didn’t have to be labeled “up and coming” to be attractive to investors.

Imagine if a child didn’t have to be “free lunch” labeled at school, because everyone got free lunch (this works, by the way, to cut stigma…it’s working in Raleigh right now!).

Imagine if no one ever worried about Critical Race Theory being taught in schools because it’s understood that teaching about racism isn’t demeaning, but rather not teaching about it, is.

In fact: it is literally critical.

Imagine if kids didn’t grow up thinking sex is a bad word, but rather a powerful one. Imagine if adults didn’t have to live thinking that putting a check next to the “married” box made you whole, or that mental health was a scarlet letter, or that popular media didn’t run the table on what counts as beautiful, successful, or powerful.

Jesus was big on naming things: the religious elites were called hypocrites, the last were called first (and the first, last), the outcast was called favored, the child was called a spiritual sage…Jesus named things all the time!

It’s almost like Jesus knew that names were important.

Names are important, Beloved…and we intend to honor that truth.

Guiding Principle: Anam Cara Community Will Attend to the Rhythm of Life

We’re beginning to discern our Guiding Principles for Anam Cara.

It will take some time.

Along with our Core Values, which we’ll elaborate on as well, the Guiding Principles are a field map to help us navigate work, ministry, and life together. Every community has them, whether they’re explicit or not, but we think it’s best to be explicit to help prevent us from getting lost.

Another way to think about it: the Core Values are what you hold dear. Your Core Practices are how you live out those values. Your Guiding Principles are the things that help you do both of those things well, like a map that steers you in the right direction so that you stay on course.

One of the Guiding Principles that Anam Cara discerned at our curator team meeting last week was that we would, like the ancient Celtic Christians who provided us with our name, pay attention to the rhythms of life when deciding what to do next.

Basically: we’re going to take Ecclesiastes 3:10 seriously and try to use it as a lens for our work and projects. We’ll constantly be asking ourselves, “What time is it?”

Is it a time to launch a new thing, or does this feel forced? Is it the time do record that offering, or is it out of synch with where we are?

When the pandemic hit many people prepped for summer planning and programming as if nothing much was changing. Some even sent out stewardship letters for the Spring that didn’t even note the health, financial, and emotional crisis we were all going through!

That’s an instance of paying attention to a different way of being in the world out of synch with the rhythm of life. Take a nod from our ancient siblings, we’re going to apply the wisdom of looking at the proverbial-and actual-leaves of the trees, the smell of the air, the feel of the river, to see where the Divine mind is pointing humanity.

Jesus spoke about this sort of thing all the time, by the way (Luke 12:56, for instance). I’m pretty sure his agrarian metaphors and parables were not just because he lived in an agrarian society, but also because he knew that, as part of creation, humans needed to listen to such teachers.

The idea isn’t that God is hiding revelation in the leaves of grass (though Whitman might like the idea), but rather that as creating creators humans must attend to the rhythms of creation. When we don’t, we kind of get out of whack.

And yes, that sort of rhythm changes depending on where you are in the world! Spring is in the air for our siblings in the lower hemisphere while, just this morning, my boys were celebrating that it finally felt like Autumn here.

The idea isn’t that it will be the same for everyone, but rather that it must be attended to depending on your context.

Context matters. We’re trusting that’s true, and so we’re trying to pay attention to it.

All of this is why, though we had some wonderful ideas for a podcast and an initial video and call to action at our last meeting, we discerned it wasn’t the time. The time is coming…we think we have a sense of when it will be, but the start date isn’t dependent on economic realities, convenience, or any of those other time-tables we’ve all forced upon our calendar.

No.

The start date is more aligned with the Liturgical calendar, with the movement of the earth, with the rhythm of our bodies.

In this way we think we’ll be able to keep our core values central, live and breathe our core practices, and be authentic to what we’re being called to form here.

More soon, but before you go let me ask you: are you in rhythm these days? If so, what keeps you there?

And if not, what would it look like to be more attuned to the heartbeat of the Divine in the world?

Anam Cara: a 50/50 Community

We’re just in the dawning stages of this digital-first community of folx who are exploring life, spirituality, and the ways of Jesus together, but as we’re sifting away at the sands to uncover what we’re being called toward, there are a few things already being discerned.

Every community needs to decide what they’re going to be “about” (in the prepositional sense that your High School English teacher hammered home). What a community is “about” is what they’re gathered around. And not a defensive gathering, mind you, but rather as you might gather around a table to feast and gain strength from what you find there.

We’ve identified some core values already, and more are being sifted out, but we’re also identifying some core practices that we think will shape us, and shape others.

One of those core practices that we will be adopting is that we’ll be what we’re calling a “50/50 Community.” The morning of the Autumnal Equinox feels like an appropriate moment to do some reflecting on this core practice…

To us this means that, whatever monetary gifts we receive in support of this digital-first work will be split 50/50 between supporting the work, and blessing something else in the world. For instance, we might decide in Pride month to support The Trevor Project, or in a moment of crisis, like this exodus from Afghanistan, we might decide to support Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. Deciding on which organizations to support will be both a leadership and community conversation, but there will certainly be filtering discernment questions, like:

-Is the organization inclusive and non-discriminatory?

-Does the organization trust the best available science in its work?

-Does the organization further beauty and hope in the world?

We know that we are in an extreme place of privilege to be able to do this kind of support-splitting, and we need to own that up front. Anam Cara is organized and led by folx who have other jobs that help pay most of our personal debts, and we’re designing this ministry (at least, at the moment) to be a bi-vocational calling. Most faith communities can’t be 50/50 communities in terms of support because, well, let’s be real honest here: I think most professional church workers are seriously underpaid already. Health insurance, a livable wage, decent retirement benefits, not to mention property expenses for brick-and-mortar churches…it adds up.

As well it should, Beloved.

And even with all those expenses, most faith communities give a significant portion of their offerings away every year. It truly is amazing when you see the kinds of generosity that happen there.

But because our community is a bit different, we’re blessed to be able to be a bit different.

Anam Cara is going to be about being a 50/50 Community, and from this orientation we’ll gain strength, offer hope, and be great stewards of generosity in the world.

Stay tuned for more…

Something New is Forming: Anam Cara Community

Anam Cara.

It’s a Celtic phrase that refers to this ancient idea of a “soul friend,” someone who knows your insides even better than your outsides.

I love it. The phrase itself might be Gaelic, but it’s found in all cultures across time and history. It’s an idea of deep knowing and deep understanding.

As this pandemic has forced us all into a new reality which, inherently, means that we can’t “go back” to the old way we were prior to March 2020, some new sparks have flown and new seeds have been sewn, encouraging us all to discover what community might mean, now.

The Lutheran Church I’m a pastor in (ELCA) is exploring some new ways of doing the spiritual life. I was approached in early 2021 with an idea: what would a “digital-first” community look like that explored spirituality, worshiped primarily through a digital interface, and grew community without geographical restrictions?

I told them I had no idea what that would look like, but that we do see glimpses of it all over the place now.

After six months of study, exploration, meditation, and a good bit of hesitation, the green light has been given to formally explore this kind of community. A shout-out to my partner in this exploratory time: Matt Hansen, a seminarian who comes from the digital marketing world, was imaginative, integral, and will continue to play a part in this work.

We don’t know a lot about what it will look like, act like, or turn out to be in its final form, but my co-curator Jason Chesnut (you may know him from the Ankos Films and the Slate Project) and I know this much:

-it will be both theologically and socially progressive

-it will have an eye toward the medium we’re working with (aka: we’re not just video taping a church service)

-it will be diverse in every way it can be

-it will be exploratory in nature, but grounded in the best parts of our tradition

-it will be a place where Anam Cara, soul friendship, is cultivated because physical proximity will not always be possible.

We’re calling it Anam Cara Community, and it’s just now being formed and birthed. There will be many touchstones: web presence, video, short podcast (cause there are too many long ones out there), blogging (most likely here), social media, scripture studies, worship gatherings, perhaps even an in-person retreat when it’s safe. Our goal is to create opportunities and resources not only for folx curious about spirituality, but also for pastors who need ideas and inspiration. In this way, this community will be unique, formed by both professional church people, non-church people, and people who fall somewhere in-between.

But it will take time, patience, and discernment for it all to come together. New things take time. You’re invited to be a part of the walk an the Way.

All of the above touchstones will begin trickling out, with more fully-formed offerings coming in early 2022. Our goal is to have our initial digital-first worship gathering at the start of Lent of that year.

I’m reminded, Beloved, that the Apostle Paul and much of the early church were in community together largely through letters and shared stories. That was the “digital-first” medium of their day.

Which makes me think this is not only possible, but probably needed for this next phase of our communal life.

More soon. #anamcara