Posts Tagged ‘New Monasticism’

In a society inflated on independence and engorged on ego, we do not look kindly on regulations or discipline. Little thought is given to what can be learned and discerned through mutual submission and thus we all suffer. This is America. This is me.

Our overemphasis on individuality is clearly seen in our culture’s meager attempts at group meetings and decision making, whether in school settings, work conference rooms, book clubs or church bible studies. We sit down in a room full of others to discuss a particular topic or to make an important decision. But despite good intentions, folks often leave feeling disenchanted or apathetic, rather than productive or encouraged due to overly loquacious leaders, filter-less and frequently repetitive comments from a few and the silence of a fearful or disinterested majority. Ever been here?

I confess I have camped in all three spots, ineffective group facilitator, discussion dominating personality and hidden among the mass of the disenfranchised or unengaged; I am not above the fray. But as I prepare to teach a class along the lines of “Re-Visioning the Church” this Fall, here are some thoughts on how we can perhaps improve on ineffective interactions and shift the paradigm from individual to communal contribution.

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Seasoned improvisational comedians are a joy to watch because aside from wielding uncannily quick wit, they demonstrate superb collaboration. Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock fame, was recently interviewed about her new memoir, Bossypants, and was asked what she learned during her time with the Chicago based improvisational comedy group Second City and at ImprovOlympic, a comedy theater and improv school a block from Wrigley Field.

Communal Discernment advice can be gleaned from theologians (St. Ignatius) and comedians (Tina Fey) alike

Her response was intriguing and insightful. She noted that when she would teach improv to new students, she would begin by asking “When do you enter a scene?”

“Well, when you have an idea,” the rookies would say.

“No,” she would reply. “When do you enter a scene?”

“When you think of something funny to say.”

“No,” would come the rebuke. “ The answer to ‘When do you enter a scene?’ is, ‘When someone needs you’. You are only to enter when someone needs you.”

Fey stated, “It’s this great mindset of contributing, but as a group.”

Contributing as a group requires that people enter the conversation when they are needed. Brilliant. But how do I know when I am needed? Surely, the arrogant or overconfident are likely to believe they are needed frequently and the quiet or those with low self-esteem will underestimate the value of their contributions and err on not speaking enough.

Enter the Conversation Covenant, to which I was first introduced in November 2009 during a New Monastic School for Conversion weekend in North Philadelphia. The folks at the Simple Way and Camden Houses did not shy away from asking us to enter this covenant of respect as a matter of first importance, believing that in order for conversations to be most fruitful and transformative, all persons must consciously make room for the Holy Spirit to move among the community.

Rather than attempt to reinvent the wheel, here are the guidelines of the Conversation Covenant, slightly modified, as written up recently by the New Monastic folks for use in their fourth P.A.P.A. Festival held just a couple weeks ago outside of Philly:

Conversation Covenant

1.          All persons must agree to the covenant of respect.

2.          We commit to respecting each person in the group, especially when we have different viewpoints. We will listen to what the Spirit is offering us through each other. When we are challenged by another’s perspective, let us lift up our confusion or concern to God, that we may achieve greater understanding.

3.          Let us speak the truth in our own heart. Let us not argue with each other. During appropriate times, may we engage in a mutual search for deeper understanding of the complex and multi-faceted faces of God.

4.          Let us make sure that each person is heard, that there is a balance of sharing among all participants. During discussions, let us not speak twice until every other person has had the chance to share.

5.          Let us allow a brief period of silence after someone has spoken before the next person speaks, that we may drink in the meaning of what each has offered.

6.          Step Up / Step Down: If you are a person who tends to share readily, it is your responsibility to be mindful and make room for others to speak. If you are a person who tends to be quieter, it is your responsibility to take opportunities to make your voice heard.

7.          Priority of voice: People of color and women will be given first priority in speaking or sharing.

8.          Let us allow someone to pass if they do not wish to share. After everyone has shared, let us make room for those who have passed to add their thoughts.

9.          Let us remember with gratitude that the Spirit of God is in each person in our circles.

The Step Up / Step Down guideline, number six above, is a beautiful expression of the interdependent nature of Shalom and challenged me throughout that first weekend as it continues to today. I frequently struggle to limit myself to only one comment in group settings until everyone has had a chance to share, but when I make the effort to try to step down, I listen to others’ contributions more attentively and value their comments to a greater extent. Even comments I disagree with allow opportunities for me to “make my enemy my teacher.” Limiting what I share also hopefully allows my own contribution to be more efficient and effective while forcing me to acknowledge that if God wishes to speak, He can do so through any and all of us, reminiscent of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

St. Ignatius, a 16th century Spanish theologian and founder of the Jesuits, believed communal discernment of God’s will could be assisted by asking a series of three questions. Following his lead, should you find yourself in a group setting with something to say, first ask yourself, “Does this need to be said?” If yes, the follow up question should be “Does this need to be said now?” If again in the affirmative, the final question is “Does this need to be said by me?” or as Tod Vogt of Mission Alive rephrases it, “Am I the one to say it?”

The discernment process outlined by Ignatius limits my own will and intervention in a conversation and fosters trust as individuals are brought to recognition that if God has something to say or to reveal, it will be said or revealed through someone in the discussion. We need everyone’s voice, not just the usual suspects. When a group is willing to step up and step down in this manner, relying on the Spirit to speak, we can feel confident that God’s voice can be heard and that His direction can be made clear.

In November 2009, I was blessed with an opportunity to participate in a weekend-long “School for Conversion” hosted by the New Monastic communities in Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ. I had learned about the communities through reading Shane Claiborne’s “Irresistible Revolution” in 2006 and desired an opportunity to interact with and learn from the folks there from that point on. My hope was made tangible for three days last November, when I saw to a great extent what it looks like to actually live out the Good News of Christ. The entire weekend was, and continues to be, formative for us as we develop our orthodoxy and orthopraxis for church planting. But, especially moving was the capstone of the weekend; attending Mass at the Sacred Heart Parish in Camden on November 22, 2009, which marked the last Sunday in the church calendar.

Never having been to a Catholic Mass, aside from weddings and wakes, I was struck by this church’s passion for shining the light of Christ in the darkest parts of their city and their eagerness to do so as a part of their Sunday Mass. As the following Sunday would mark the beginning of Advent (the Christian season of expectation and anticipation in preparation for the coming of Christ) and a new year for the church, Sacred Heart chooses to use the final Sunday of the liturgical year to remember all of those who have been murdered in the city of Camden over the previous year. During the service, I learned 37 people had been murdered in Camden from November 23, 2008 through November 22, 2009.

Sacred Heart’s pastor of over thirty years, Father Michael Doyle, read the name of each one of the victims aloud, followed by their age and cause of death. Each name called was met by a family member of the deceased, with their loved one’s name around their neck and a candle in hand. As the family member walked forward, the Easter Candle lit their own and they remained standing at the front of the church. For victims without family present, a surrogate family member was appointed by the church and they too would walk forward, light the candle of remembrance and stand up front. The majority of the relatives who had lost someone to a violent death were not members of the church, but were present this Sunday because of the church’s invitation to remember and honor their brothers and sisters.

I vividly recall how badly my heart wanted to shut down and stop empathizing with the families as the pain felt too great. I could only listen to three or four names called consecutively before beginning to weep. I would then block out the next few names out of necessity, before forcing my spirit open to become present again in the shared suffering. Particularly grievous were the names of the teenagers killed by gun violence and the names of the women and one elderly man whose lives were prematurely ended by violent beatings. The sight of those 37 people with lit candles silently and visually embodying the dead is an image seared in my mind.

I decided then I would pray for the city of Camden faithfully over the next year and specifically that the number of murders would be less in 2010. I prayed every day upon returning home. For about a week and a half. Then the Holidays preoccupied my time and my petitions to God became increasingly more sporadic until my Camden experience grew further away and my passionate prayers flickered out.

Clara primes a pump on the Delaware with Philadelphia in view across the river

Over this past summer, I began praying again as I relayed my experience at Sacred Heart last Fall to a brother in Christ and we spoke about the possibility of meeting up in Camden in November 2010 to expose our own families to the spiritual and physical realities of the city hoping to again light the fire. Jaime was on board as she had sacrificed to allow me to go to Camden last year and had not had a chance to experience the beauty of God’s work in Camden. We decided we would bring the kids, despite the anticipated eight hour round trip drive. I contacted the incredible family I stayed with in 2009, who live across from Sacred Heart in Camden, and they confirmed that the church would again be facilitating their annual candle lighting ceremony on November 21, 2010.

We got up at 5:30 am on the morning of the 21st, packed the kids in the car and made good time on our morning commute, arriving in Camden in just over three hours as traffic was nearly non-existent on this Sunday before Thanksgiving. Since we arrived ahead of schedule, we stopped at a little park on the Delaware River with a view of the Philadelphia skyline and let the kids get some energy out before church. Both kids had a great time running up and down the fishing pier where a water pump was discovered and utilized to bring up mucky river water endangering all church outfits.

We checked in with our friends Timothy and Cheryl and their 17 month old daughter, the inspiring Mennonite family who were my gracious hosts last Fall, and then we embarked on a walk around the block before church. We stopped by the Poet’s Walk on Jasper Street where a small brick alleyway has been laid bearing the names of beloved authors and poets. In the center of the small courtyard stands an elevated millstone containing an actual brick from James Joyce’s home in Ireland. The piece is a part of the James Joyce Seats of Learning project which plans to place 63 small monuments incorporating a brick from Joyce’s home in public locations all over the world. I was particularly endeared to a small rock on the millstone on which “Shalom” was inscribed, proclaiming for all the neighborhood God’s conciliatory work of recovery and restoration occurring in Camden. Though the American Empire has largely abandoned Camden, God’s presence is felt here in the community gardens and outdoor frescoes created by His church and intentional communities of His people. A people committed to being active in God’s present Kingdom, the light meeting the dark.

Shepard makes his own rock contribution to the James Joyce Seat of Learning in Camden.

We then headed over to Sacred Heart to the alarm of at least one parishioner who saw Jaime, 31 weeks pregnant at the time, and feared we had mistakenly come to visit a week early as the first Sunday of Advent is reserved for the blessing of expectant mothers. Quite a different experience and service from the heartbreaking goodbyes to the deceased we were about to experience. We assured the young usher that we knew what we were in for and found seats as well as some familiar faces from last year’s service.

Father Doyle opened the Mass by noting that this past liturgical year saw 38 murders in Camden, an increase of one over last year, as two more victims were tragically murdered in just the previous week. Father Doyle expounded upon the injustice in Camden, reporting that in 2010 thus far, London, a city of 7.7. million, has recorded 11 murders, while Camden, population 79,000 has a death toll of 34. The vast majority of Camden murders are a result of gun violence as the tough New Jersey firearms laws are superseded by the ease in which handguns can be purchased in bulk in Philadelphia and trafficked into Camden just across the river.

An annual study released by the CQ Press perennially lists Camden among the most dangerous cities in the United States, topping the list in 2003, 2004 and 2008. The 2010 list, released on the day of our visit, cited Camden as the second most dangerous city in the US over the past year based on FBI crime statistics tracking the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents (St. Louis, Detroit, Flint and Oakland round out the top five, while New Haven and Hartford checked in at numbers 18 and 19 respectively). While Camden’s violent crime rates actually decreased slightly in most categories over the past year, little comfort can be taken as the city is currently considering laying off half of its 375 police officers in the coming year due to economic difficulties.

Father Doyle again read the names, ages and causes of death of the murder victims. Rather than attempting to further explain, I decided to provide the list of people violently killed and challenge you not to skip over it, but to read each name. Can you imagine 38 people being murdered in the city where you live this year? Neither can I.

1. Rashon Graham, 33, 12-8-09, Shot to death
2. Marcus Corbett, 33, 12-13-09, Shot to death
3. Rashan Brown, 24, 12-14-09, Shot to death
4. Brian Gaither, 12-30-09, Shot to death
5. Nakeith Selby, 31, 1-1-10, Shot to death
6. Lemuel Robinson, 22, 1-14-10, Shot to death
7. Jamal Burgess, 33, 1-20-10, Shot to death
8. Maurice Crowley, 35, 1-26-10, Shot to death
9. Kathyleen Trimble, 35, 2-9-10, Strangled to death
10. Muriah Huff, 18, 2-25-10, Beaten/Strangled to death
11. Michael Hawkins, 23, 2-25-10, Beaten/Shot to death
12. Anthony Ross, 16, 3-7-10, Shot to death
13. Jamil Burks, 23, 4-25-10, Shot to death
14. Simere Peoples, 20, 4-27-10, Shot to death
15. Brandon Robinson, 22, 5-1-10, Shot to death
16. Eric Laws, 31, 5-30-10, Shot to death
17. Eric Cabrera, 18, 5-31-10, Shot to death
18. Avner Daniels, 32, 6-5-10, Shot to death
19. Geovany Vasquez, 32, 6-11-10, Shot to death
20. Dajuan Calloway, 26, 6-16-10, Shot to death
21. Seneca Brown, 31, 6-27-10, Shot to death
22. Kevin Archie, 50, 6-30-10, Shot to death
23. Lawanda Strickland, 31, 7-10-10, Strangled to death
24. Kory Johnson, 18, 8-1-10, Shot to death
25. Daryn Kelly, 26, 8-3-10, Shot to death
26. Joshua Mendoza, 33, 8-9-10, Shot to death
27. Usama Eason, 25, 8-9-10, Shot to death
28. Julius Davis, 47, 8-20-10, Shot to death
29. Bryasia Pitts, 16, 9-10-10, Shot to death
30. Earl Clary, 29, 9-27-10, Shot to death
31. Tyree Thomas, 24, 10-1-10, Shot to death
32. Bernadette Teamoh, 29, 10-1-10, Stabbed to death
33. Marcell Young, 25, 10-26-10, Shot to death
34. Antonio Harvey, 23, 10-30-10, Shot to death
35. Tyree Strickland, 20, 10-31-10, Shot to death
36. Lou Lytle, 36, 11-2-10, Stabbed to death
37. David Bolding, 57, 11-15-10, Shot to death
38. Julio Arroyo Jr., 24, 11-19-10, Shot to death

The average age of the victims was 28. Five of those killed this past year were teenagers. Four out of the six people not killed by handguns, were female and died from severe beatings, strangulation and stabbings. I couldn’t help but think of a recent training I completed at work on domestic human trafficking and how girls coerced into prostitution have an average life expectancy of just seven years from the time they begin working.

I did not become as emotional this time around, in part because I was attempting to watch Clara and Shepard throughout the Mass, both of whom did well but became antsy toward the end of the service. Upon thinking of the blessings of my wife and kids and the positive changes we have experienced over the past year, including the expectation of our third child in January 2011, I was re-energized in my goal to pray for Camden and for God’s healing of the city and ask for your prayers as well.

The Fishers were not the only ones to experience blessings of change over the past year, as one couple from the Camden community welcomed their first child in the Spring and a couple from the Simple Way community in Philadelphia recently announced their engagement. It was a breath of fresh air to interact with the brothers and sisters in the communities and to experience their passion for God as well as their practical advice for ministering in an inner-city environment. In was encouraging to hear that despite the many difficulties that continue to face these families, that their young children have been an asset to their ministry, opening new avenues to other young parents and children in the neighborhood.

But questions still remain and the work ahead has no end in sight. Camden was once a booming industrial town during World War II, but white flight and the loss of jobs handed down environmental disasters in superfund toxic waste sites, polluted air and contaminated water. The physical state of Camden is illustrated well by the following statement from a seventh grade Camden student immediately following 9/11, “I’m not afraid because if the terrorists fly over Camden, they’ll think they have done it already.” Can these young New Monastic families continue to raise their kids in such an environment? In a community with rampant handgun violence? Would I be willing to do the same if called by God to do so? These families do not claim to have all the answers, but do believe Camden is the type of place Jesus would hang out and so they stay, they work, they pray, they serve. And it’s a beautiful thing, this living the gospel out in all of its tension. They consistently claim Christ as Lord in their actions, not just their words and I find I cannot learn enough from them. Road trip anyone?

While listening to Morning Edition on NPR on Monday morning, I heard the following during a segment on technology:

Mr. Smith: Seniors, for instance, are the fastest growing group in terms of their use of social networking sites. And we also found, in this study, that six in 10 seniors own a cell phone.

Steve Inskeep: Okay, the study says that the typical American under the age of 45 owns four gadgets – things like smart phones, mp3 players, and e-book readers like the iPad or the Kindle. Smith says these new media gadgets are continuing to change the way Americans live.

Mr. Smith: You’ve got a few minutes free, you can text your friends, you can call someone, you can play a game on your cell phone, you can listen to music on your iPod. So, you know, the times where you were just, you know, sitting at a table, you know, kind of doing nothing or just contemplating the world, I think are becoming fewer and further between as more of these technologies permeate our daily lives.

Renee Montagne: No more contemplating.

Ms. Montagne continued to speak after stating “No more contemplating,” but I found the statement so shocking, I didn’t really hear the rest of the segment. In part, the shock was caused by the recent time spent dwelling on contemplation as a necessary component of spirituality while Jaime at I were at Mission Alive’s Theology Lab in Dallas last week.

As a Christian living in a western culture, there is quite a lot to learn from Jesus’ commitment to a contemplative life. Scripture appears to indicate that Jesus’ time spent alone in prayer was not only a large component of His life, but that it was necessary to His success and enabled His incredible service and attentiveness to God’s will. I think many of us admire Jesus’ commitment to contemplation in the Gospels, but rarely give thought to the work and discipline such a life requires. We especially seem to give little regard to the connection that Jesus’ prayer life appears to have with fasting and meditative breathing. But in the land of the obese and gadget-obsessed, we have no discipline or time for such a lifestyle. And then we wonder why we are so unhappy.

It doesn’t figure to get better any time soon. I saw a 12 year old almost crash his bike the other day while trying to ride and talk on a cell phone. No joke. Soon there will arise a generation in our country who will never have known a world without the internet, Google, instant answers and social networking. As NPR noted, now even our seniors are getting in on the loss of contemplative time. While I do not believe technology to be intrinsically good or bad, it appears that in the face of increasing technology we may be facing a continuing loss of our humanity.

Tod Vogt of Mission Alive shared this excerpt of a T.S. Eliot work with us during the Theology Lab that I believe illustrates the point:

“The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All of our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us closer to death,
But nearness to death, no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”

Eliot wrote this in 1934. Imagine what he might have written after witnessing the 21st century.

As Tod pointed out, contemplation is not everything. For without action “(contemplation) can degenerate into mere escapism,” but without contemplation action is reduced to a “frenetic attempt to impose one’s will on others or the world.” I believe there is a strong case to be made that our cultural pendulum is approaching its extreme in favor of action and that this mode of operating is unsustainable.

As entropy in our relationships and social structures progresses through continuing technological innovation, I pray God will use His church to show us back toward a contemplative life and ultimately toward Himself. For as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of the New Monastic movement writes, “Contemplation is not about a “quiet time” when we can feel safe with God. In contemplation we learn to trust God precisely because we need him.”

Wilson-Hartgrove in his chapter of Schools for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism goes on to say, “Contemplation is the flame through which our own souls find liberation.” In the face of our greatest trials and doubts, Jonathan notes that it is the through a life of contemplation that “we can trust God. We can believe that the darkest darkness may indeed be a light so bright that it is blinding our weak eyes. We can believe that beyond death there is resurrection.” Amen.

No more contemplating? No thank you. Let’s turn off our gadgets for a while and practice being silent so God can speak into our lives. Let’s give Him an opportunity to rescue us from ourselves.

There has been a fair amount of infighting among church-goers Catholic and Protestant over the years, resulting from differing views on scripture and authority. But it never ceases to amaze that doctrinal differences dissipate when Christ’s teachings are applied in the form of a sacrificial life. Case in point, I have met many Christians with critical feelings toward the Catholic church, but I’ve never heard any of them say a bad word about Mother Teresa. Her life of complete sacrificial service has transcended dogma because in her life we were all able to witness the person of Jesus.

Last month, I was fortunate to be able to stop by an exhibit at the Knights of Columbus museum in New Haven honoring the life of Mother Teresa. I accidentally worked through the exhibition in reverse and ended my journey discovering the origin of Mother Teresa, born Gonxha Agnes Bojadijevic in 1910 in Albania.

Writing of her missionary beginnings, she wrote, “I was only 12 years old then. It was then that I first knew I had a vocation to the poor.” In 1928, at the age of 18, Gonxha committed to becoming a nun and wrote in her application letter to the convent, “I don’t have any special conditions, I only want to be in the missions, and for everything else I surrender myself completely to the good, God’s disposal.” The story I read of Mother Teresa’s departure from her hometown of Skopje at the age of 18 reported that the entire town gathered to see her off at the train station. There was no information provided as to whether this occurred due to a common custom of the Albanian people or if in just 18 years, Gonxha had somehow managed to touch the entire village. I like to imagine both being true.

Gonxha was renamed after St. Therese of Lisieux and would go on to touch many more as her love became world renowned. In September of 1946, at the age of 36, Mother Teresa felt God calling her to deeper commitment to serve the poor, specifically to leave her convent with the Loreto order and to live among and serve the poor. This resulted in her founding the Missionaries of Charity, which existed to care for, in her own words, “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” Mother Teresa described the poor as “not only hungry for bread, but immensely hungry for love.”

I was honored to have a chance to read some of Mother Teresa’s writings displayed in the museum and found myself in awe of her genuine voice and selflessness that was reflected in her attitude toward suffering and displayed in her commitment to living a life of poverty. Once such excerpt that caught my attention read, “I wish to live in this world which is so far from God, which has turned so much from the light of Jesus, to help (the poor) – to take upon me something of their suffering… for only by being one with them, we can redeem them, that is bringing God into their lives and bringing them to God.”

This reminded me of Jesus’ comments to Peter in Matthew 16:18 when He said, “Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” The way the term “gates” is used here seems to indicate that these “gates of Hades” are keeping something or someone trapped inside and that Jesus expects that the church will be attacking (with love) these gates, not the other way around, in a rescue mission to bring good news/gospel to the afflicted/poor, bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to prisoners/oppressed (Isaiah 61:1/Luke 4:18). I would argue this seems to be Mother Teresa’s understanding, that the Light will not only not be overcome by the Dark, but that it is expected that the Light will meet the Dark in its own house and that this is the essence of the Jesus Way. Perhaps this is illustrated best by her own writings, such as her statement that “I have come to love the darkness – for I believe now that it is a part, a very, very, small part of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth.”

Much was made after Mother Teresa’s death of her own claims that she did not often feel the presence of God in her later years, but I found this excerpt of a letter she wrote to Jesus fascinating:
“- My pain of my separation from You brings others to You and in their love and company – You find joy and pleasure. Why Jesus, I am willing with all my heart to suffer – not only now – but for all eternity – if this was possible. Your happiness is all that I want – for the rest – please do not take the trouble – even if you see me faint with pain – all this is my will – I want to satiate Your thirst with every single drop of my blood that you can find in me – Don’t allow me to do You wrong in anyway. Take from me the power of hurting You. Heart and soul I will work for the sisters – because they are Yours. Each and every one are Yours. I beg of You only one thing – please do not take the trouble to return soon. I am ready to wait for You for all eternity.”

The letter was signed “Your Little One.”

How many Christians have you met whose prayer is for Jesus to NOT return soon because they are so committed to doing the work of the Lord? Or who would offer to suffer for “all eternity” if it was possible as an offering to God? Christianity was truly an all or nothing proposition for Mother Teresa.

In a letter dated April 1, 1988, she wrote “You are welcome to share and give until it hurts – and this really (is) love in action.” Speaking further to this concept, in a 1992 speech given in New York City, she expounded, “Jesus said very clearly, ‘Be ye holy as my Father in heaven is holy.’ And holiness is not the luxury of a few, it is a simple duty for you and for me.” In case you were wondering where to begin in a pursuit of holiness, Mother Teresa said, “We give our hands to serve, and our hearts to love. And that is the beginning of holiness.” And while she mentioned her hands, that wasn’t all she offered in her service.

In November 2009, I had the opportunity to participate in a New Monasticism “School for Conversion” facilitated by the Simple Way and Camden House communities in Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ. During the weekend, I had the opportunity to listen to and talk with Shane Claiborne. The entire weekend was mind-blowing, and one small part of that experience was hearing Shane speak about the time he spent volunteering with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Shane reported that each morning began in prayer and that it was during one of these prayer services he noticed Mother Teresa’s rather severely deformed feet.

Afraid to ask, Shane didn’t get the full story until one of the sisters asked him if he had noticed Mother Teresa’s feet. The sister explained that donations of shoes periodically arrived in Calcutta for the Missionaries of Charity and that when a shipment of donations would arrive, Mother Teresa would sort through the shoes in search of the pair in the worst condition. Mother Teresa would then claim that pair as her own out of her desire to make sure that no one else would have to suffer by wearing them, and that consistently practicing this had disfigured her feet. Just Mother Teresa again providing a tangible example of what it means for the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

What if we were to take Jesus seriously? What if we were to follow Mother Teresa’s example of following in the footsteps of Jesus? I imagine much of the petty arguments and doctrinal differences, whether between individuals, or between Catholics and Protestants, would seem insignificant if we actually committed ourselves to living out the gospel. I want to witness Christ, to have a vocation to the poor, but I hesitate to pray for Him to fully live in me the way He did in Mother Teresa. Lord I believe, help my unbelief.