There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability;
there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community. - M. Scott Peck

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sfumato Reflections - Thoughts from the smoke

I was tired last night and not looking forward to the trek out to Fallston and back for our small group meeting. On top of that, we had another technology challenged group last night - couldn't get the DVD to work. (I'm sure it was a good one, Tom - sorry we missed it.) The group spent the time talking about what we each got out of the Sfumato series. Here's what some of us had to say:
- the series pushed me for an increased effort to deny feelings less, especially as a guy, and honestly confront what those emotions mean and the effect they have in my life
- a greater realization of how the negative emotions seem to dominate our life and how the path to living more with the healthy, positive emotions is a deeper trust in God and living His word more fully each day
- how completely intertwined emotional and spiritual health are and how difficult it is to have one without the other
- a hesitancy to embrace the message of sfumato at the beginning was completely turned around by the idea of brokenness that opened up the idea of emotional and spiritual health in a new way
- how our culture, which encourages us to live by our emotions and seek emotional gratification above everything, creates a hazy, smoky view of life that often obscures the path God wants us to follow
There was much more and it was all good stuff. As always, I was glad I went.
On another note, we had a new member, who was invited by one of our guys, join us last night. We asked him why he wanted to be part of a small group. The first thing he said was that you can't attend Nativity very long without understanding from Fr. White's messages and being around Nativity that to be fully part of Nativity you have to participate in ministry and small groups. Clearly the importance of small groups is being communicated - even if people like me don't believe it's being done enough. It really was a moment of affirmation that we're on the right track and God is working.

Be Blessed,

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spiritually Healthy

I was struck last night at group how my spiritual growth has accelerated since I've been in group. And I don't think that it is a coincidence that our group is where I have done some of my best work on my emotional health. Admitting my brokenness, dealing with my guilt, becoming more authentic with others and honest with myself, appreciating more fully my brothers' emotional and spiritual needs - all that an more have been part of my group experience. And I am closer to Jesus because of it. What a powerful linkage - spiritual growth and emotional growth. One fuels the other and closeness to God grows. Powerful stuff. We need to keep figuring out how to share the power of authentic small group experience with more and more people. Be blessed on the quest.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


One of the things that has always struck me about my small group is the fact that it is the truest expression of church that I have.  The historic Church, the universal church, and our local church are all important, but - at least for me - our weekly gathering of men where we can be honest about our failures and struggles is my most important haven, after that church that is my own family and home.  It's where I get fueled up, and re-directed to go out into the world to try to pour myself out for (and into) other people who often don't reciprocate.  These brothers would take a bullet for me, and I for them.

The historic church has rich resources to ground us, and corporate worship is certainly centering and uplifting (if you have been around Nativity, you know if is frequently coupled with a challenging message that tend to make one's palms sweat just a bit), but my true shelter and encouragement is our group.  I love these guys.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Circles not Rows

I'm not much of a blogger - either reading or contributing. Must be a generational thing - is there a mandatory age of retirement from blogging and all social media use?
While not a big blogger, I have become a big believer in small groups at Nativity. Andy Stanley talks about God really showing up in circles (small group meetings) and not in rows (weekend Church attendance). Nativity is certainly about the weekend and without that laser focus by staff and ministers, many of us would have wandered to some other community. The weekend experience is a huge key to starting the road to discipleship. The challenge to our Nativity community is moving people from their often anonymous rows to authentic circles.
I'm reading Warren's Purpose Driven Life again. I was struck by his chapter on Cultivating Community (19) and thinking about small groups. Some of his thoughts:
  • Community requires commitment
  • It takes both God's power and our effort to produce a loving Christian community
  • Cultivating community takes honesty.
  • Real fellowship, whether in a marriage, a friendship, or your church, depends on frankness.
  • Frankness is not rudeness.
  • Cultivating community takes humility - self-importance, smugness, and stubborn pride destroy fellowship faster than anything else.
  • Pride blocks God's grace in our lives.
  • You can develop humility by: admitting your weaknesses, being patient with others' weaknesses, by being open to correction, and by pointing the spotlight on others.
  • Cultivating community takes courtesy.
  • Cultivating community takes confidentiality - gossip kills community.
  • Cultivating community takes frequency - community is not built on convenience, but on conviction and an investment of time.
  • Nine characteristics of biblical fellowship: authenticity, mutuality, sympathy, mercy, honesty, humility, courtesy, confidentiality, and frequency.

We have talked about most of this with maybe different language. I am blessed to have a band of brothers where I find the environment Warren describes and where our members continues to work on creating that environment. How do we create these environments for more of our parish community so that there really is a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ? A great challenge for Nativity. I'm happy to be on that quest.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Beware Lurking Potholes

I commute to work by bicycle two or three days a week year-round. Riding a bike for me is like therapy. It slows me down and helps me deal with the hectic pace of life. Last week on the trip home, I hit a "hidden" pothole covered with water -- scraped up my face and neck, and broke my hand in three places. The ironic thing is that just a few days prior, two good friends of mine warned me about the dangers of riding while there was still so much snow and so many potholes cropping up. I took an arrogant approach: "I ride year round! A little snow won't slow me down!"

The evening I fell several folks slowed down to gawk at the scene, but I was helped by two people: a woman I never met (named Leigh) stopped to drive me to the St. Joe's ER, and one of the men in my small group (Bill) happened to be working in that ER the same night. She dropped me off, and he took care of me. In fact, he made sure that I got home along with my glasses which I lost in the fall, my prescriptions which I forgot at the hospital, and my bike which was left at the side of the road. This took him separate trips, and probably several hours of driving.

It was humbling to see how Leigh and Bill were ready to help (above and beyond) without hesitation, but I am learning that accepting help really is just as important as being willing to help. Accepting the help of good advice would have saved me some anguish. We need each other. Not just in crisis, but all the time.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Paradigm Shift

First Blog ever -

this week in my small group... we watched Wk 2 instead of Wk 3 - oops. It turned out that the message on Filling Our Cups was pretty relevant anyway. My group is made up of moms with kids of all ages. About half of the women work outside the home and half stay home with our respective rowdy, character-building bunch.

All of us pour out energy, focus, creativity into the lives of those around us.
All of us struggle to refill our own cups.
We do the small things that sort of fill us up a bit: little past times, coffee, exercise and other quick energy boosts.
Most of us have a patchy habit of turning to God for that life-giving water.

Anyway, one woman said that the message she heard completely echoed what she had been struggling with - that she has limits and needs to ackowledge them because that's part of being a human. She was so grateful for the affirmation of "a major, needed shift in thinking."

Thanks God, for this small group of women, for Your Word and Spirit to guide us and for relevant, applicable, understandable messages.

The Curse of Knowledge

Recently, I read a great book called "Made to Stick." It is about communication and getting our message across. Yesterday I had lunch with our pastor Michael White and a member of the parish. I asked Bill if he was in a small group and he said not in a non defensive way, maybe with even a tinge of guilt, "No, but I know I should be in one because I hear about it every weak." I was shocked by that because I feel we don't talk enough about small groups. My realization yesterday was that we have not yet painted a concrete enough picture of what a small group is and why it matters, the

I know what a small group is, the members of our staff know what a small group is, the members of our leadership team know what a small group is, our group leaders know what a small group is but the people in the congregation don't have a concrete feel for it or know why it matters. We have succumb a bit to the curse of knowledge, that because we know what we are talking about when we say "small group" we assume everyone else does as well.

If we want to make small groups more accessible, we are going to have to overcome the curse of knowledge and develop a concrete feel for small groups and a simple compelling argument to join them.

Listening or Fixing?

American men are inclined toward two personality traits.  Among other things, we like to be independent, and we like to fix problems.  Both of these are helpful at the right times and have their place, but in a small group it can present challenges: we often don't share our difficulties with each other (independence), and we don't listen well; we can be focused more on action/response instead of just taking time to hear and be with someone else.

I was encouraged last night in our men's small group.  We seem to have arrived at a place where most are willing to talk about our own pain and difficulties, and everyone else (usuaully) refrains from offering "solutions" unless that's what's obviously being requested.  Let me confirm for you -- this is not easy to come by in a men's group, and I feel very fortunate.

I work with someone who seems to manage this very well, and his approach seems relevant outside the workplace.  When someone comes to him with a problem, he has been known to ask, "Am I listening, or fixing?"  Brilliant.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Begin at the Beginning

The small groups leadership team agreed that we would give it a stab, so here's our blog attempt.

In the spirit of a true blog [read: borrowed content], here's an article published at CT's Out of Ur blog submitted by John Ortberg regarding spiritual maturity:  Avatar and Becoming Mature in Christ - What a not-so-Christian movie says about the goal of the Christian life.