The Ethos of Community

Renewal takes a tribe, or in modern day terms, a community. Now this is another a loaded word! The first question that comes to mind when I hear the word community is, “What in the world do you mean when you say ‘community’?” Everyone has a different idea of what it is, and for every idea of what community is, there are hundreds of different ways that each idea could be lived out.

So I am not going to give my opinion of what community is supposed to look like; that task is impossible because of all the various contexts and cultures that exist. What I hope to do though, is to paint a mental ethos of community and lay a foundation of some of the earmarks of healthy communities.

Jean Vanier, a Catholic philosopher turned theologian, in 1964 founded a community called L’Arche in France. L’Arche communities are intentional places of living where those with intellectual disabilities are able to have a safe place to live and share life with others who have intellectual disabilities as well as those who do not.

A core ethos of L’Arche communities is for each community to display the “reality that persons with intellectual disabilities possess inherent qualities of welcome, wonderment, spirituality, and friendship.” They desire to explicitly display “the dignity of every human being by building inclusive communities of faith and friendship where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.” (see http://www.larcheusa.org/)

So as to not reinvent the wheel, I want to use the inherent qualities of L’Arche values as a means to lay a foundation or a framework for healthy communities, which I believe is a vital element of church renewal.

Welcome: an instance or manner of greeting someone with pleasure and approval.

Greeting someone with love and warmth is an acquired gift, especially when we’re greeting someone who is radically different than we are, and possibly offensive in the way they live. Community takes a welcoming spirit, or maybe as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, a spirit of hospitality. I was a Young Life leader for over a decade, and I have been associated with Young Life at an intimate level since 1994.

Young Life leaders (at least in my area in Phoenix) are some of the best “welcomers” I know. The spirit that Young Life exudes to kids in jr. and sr. high is one that is opposite of our everyday culture. Mainstream culture (Christian and non-Christian) typically says, “You can belong to our group once you behave a certain way and believe what we believe.” Young Life flips that cultural script and says, “You belong with us regardless of your behavior and beliefs.” This is risky business, but I believe it’s the right kind of business to be about.

For community to work and be healthy, it must start with a welcoming spirit that says, “You belong here, even though there are big differences between us.” Belonging precedes behavior and belief. This world view is at the heart of community.

Wonderment: a state of awed admiration or respect.

In the Christian, Judaic, and Sufi Islam world views, all humans have inherent value and worth because of the belief that we are all created in God’s image, which was later coined in it’s Latin form as the “Imago Dei.” If this doctrine were to be properly understood and fully believed, self-righteousness, biases, judgements, and racism would eventually fade away, and we will begin celebrating the beauty of our differences, rather than fighting about them.

Being thrilled about the gifts we bring to one another and respecting and valuing the differences of ourselves and other people is an essential element of healthy community. It is easy for us to be in a state of judgement and criticalness of each other, but to begin to be awed and amazed at the uniqueness and diversity of humanity is a part of every thriving community.

Wonderment ought to follow welcoming, yet this is a virtue that is mostly only attained after the church is caught up into the heavenly dimensions of the eucharistic life, which is the regaining of the mystery and the divine nature of the Lord’s table, and learning to see all of life as a liturgy of worship to God.

Spirituality: matters concerning the human soul (heart, mind).

To respect and admire someone and not care about the deeper parts of their heart and mind (the soul), are to not fully love and respect someone. As much as we can talk about being a community of welcoming and wonderment, we must not neglect being a community who cares for souls. With that said, welcoming people and finding wonder in our diversity is not an invitation to turn a blind eye to unhealthy living and destructive behavior. Much abuse is birthed inside the middle of tight knit communities, as the desire of a euphoric community becomes more important than individual human dignity.

In caring for the spirituality of a person and a community, we will be able to explore the deep parts of our hearts and minds and be changed in the midst of a welcoming community of wonder. It is in this context where behaviors are not coerced to get in proper formation, but challenged to promote peace and welfare for the individual and the whole. Caring for someone’s healing (body and soul) begins to be a natural corrective part of healthy communities, which will be able to offer space to those who need it. This type of community will respect boundaries, honors bodies and souls, and have self-respect and sincerity towards others.

Healthy communities labor towards minds being renewed, which leads to destructive habits and thoughts being challenged in love, and proper accountability that seeks the welfare of individual bodies and souls, as well as the corporate body. This might be the hardest value to embody in community, but we must labor towards this end, as spiritual realities always affect material realities.

As one is continually drawn into the presence of God on earth, it is clear to see that there is a spirit at work in this world other than the Spirit of God. It is a dark spirit that seeks to destroy body and soul (individually and communally). It hates diversity and destroys all creativity in community. It is a perverted spirit that seeks to twist and distort love, and it only has the the power to usurp, not to build up. This must be recognized in the spirit realm and addressed in community as the spirituality of individuals and the community is shaped.

Friendship: a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people.

There are many forms of friendship that we could talk about, but at the most basic level, I take friendship to be a place where relationships are rooted, meaning, they do not run away after conflict and disappointments ensue. In our culture, where cars can take us far away from our neighborhoods and friendships, we have lost the sense of being rooted, and “sticking it out” with friends when trials come has not been a popular communal value among many believers.

In the local church context, it is easy with the advent of cars to find a new church community when friends and leaders stop giving us what we want, or stop serving our needs, seen only through the lens of what’s best for me. Friendship inside neighborhoods and communities seem to be difficult as well, since walking to stores and appointments isn’t part of our everyday culture. We get into our hollow metal shells and drive past neighbors daily, and most of our friends live a cars drive away.

A lack of rootedness in a particular place has made many friendships a shallow, social media type friendship that can cut you off if you offend, rather than a friendship that stays when things blow up. Friendship in healthy communities ought to include affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, selflessness, mutual submission, compassion, confrontation, and the ability to royally “blow it” without losing the friendship. Friendships give, receive, and protect.

A lack of friendship may just kill community. When we love the idea of community more than we love people and desire true friendship, community will not thrive. Many seek community because of the good feeling they have in the beginning and the comforts than can be experienced. But for those who love the idea of community more than people, they will quickly run from community when the aura or people within the community stop offering what was desired. Love people more than your idea of community.

I believe church renewal depends on healthy expressions of communities in particular places and neighborhoods. I believe church renewal is dependent on new forms of community rising up being called “the church”. I believe church renewal will birth many forms of organic communities that embody the L’Arche values of community, that break bread together, regularly meet and gather and care for each other’s bodies and souls, and are a place of intimacy within the eucharistic life.

This is how fabrics of care can be created inside blighted hoods or disconnected suburbs, as neighbors form communities to band together to care for one another and for the needs of the under-served. Renewal happens holistically and organically, and until people know that there is a community to belong to, programs and organizations will not be able to have a sustainable impact.

I believe many Christ followers today are experiencing a “disorienting” call to step out of their current church expression and into something much more authentic and mysterious. And within this disorienting call, many of us struggle because we know of no other way to “do” or “be” church besides the modern, institutional approach. In addition, new believers are not embracing the formal way of “doing” church because in many ways it conflicts with their values, and they too are being called into something much more authentic and mysterious. I believe that new expressions of these types of ancient communities will lead the way in church renewal in the 21st century, as families, homes, businesses, and cities of those desiring to regain the life of the kingdom are transformed, and organic expressions of church communities become more of a norm.

I’m thankful for communities such as L’Arche, and leaders such as Jean Vanier, who have humbly and lovingly stepped out of the norm and allowed new forms of community to critique our old forms, and energize us to regain a new/old and prophetic way to live together.

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The Evolution of Kineo

Kineo. This was the name of a church plant that I pastored for 5 years. It’s a name loaded with meaning to me personally. It’s bigger than just what Kineo Church meant to me though. It’s a Greek word that literally means “to move” or “to put in to motion”. I have a good friend who mentioned this quote below years ago and it ‘moved’ me:

“If you claim to stand in a rushing river, yet you are not moved, then you are not standing in a rushing river.” Unknown

This impacted me greatly, as I was someone who claimed great things about God, who He is, and what it meant to be a worshiper of God, yet I was unmoved and uninspired most of the time in life. The word Kineo came to mind when I looked up what the phrase “to move” meant in Greek literature. This first ‘moved’ me years ago, and continues to move and shape me to this day. So I wanted to share with you the evolution of what this word has become to me.

Kineo. It is not really an entity, although I often dream about a non-profit called Kineo. But even if it never becomes an entity, it will always be an idea, an ethos or lens with which to view life. Kineo, “to be moved”, is not concerned with the type of movement that explains the “How do you become successful” questions, nor is it the kind of movement that answers the “What do you do” type of questions. No, the movement of Kineo to me is an ethos (look up what ‘ethos’ means in a dictionary if you have to… there’s no shame in that… I had to do that when I first came across the word). Kineo is an ethos which is radically committed to answering the “Who are you” and the “Why do you do what you do” type of questions in life. If the “Who” and the “Why” are covered, you can handle any “What” and “How” in life. This is a new/old way to be human; it’s an habitual spirit of a community of justice and love, displayed in what it desires and how it behaves.

Kineo is a call to move.

To listen.

To see.

To stand.

To hold.

To fight.

For the vulnerable.

For the marginalized.

For the broken.

For the grieving.

For the lonely.

Kineo is a corrective voice to the dominant culture, to help open eyes and ears to voices and stories that have been lost in the wreckage of Western development. It’s a corrective voice for entrepreneurs of the future to consider a new way of business and profit, of shared values and community engagement that gives birth to new types of partnerships. It’s a corrective call to break the silence of the powerless, and to pave new ways of success and healing from trauma. It’s a corrective voice to the old forms of the gathered church to consider alternative communities: slow, organic churches, neighborhood parishes, shared living communities, communities that rediscover the power of proper lament, rest, and the sacramental life, but not dismissing the old forms either. It’s a corrective voice to the consumer model of living that has left sabbath on the dusty shelf of life.

It is within this idea, this ethos, that Kineo was birthed. It’s been my desire for this ethos to penetrate hearts and minds, to begin to take shape in neighborhoods and businesses, families and faith communities, cities and states. It’s a movement with no real form, and is already happening regardless of myself or this blog post. It’s an underground erosion of the soul that moves people to begin alternative ways of doing life, caring for the marginalized, regaining hope, experiencing beauty, resting and playing, and boldly loving which brings about change.

Will you be a part of the movement? It requires great costs. It demands you drop the act and begin to be honest with who you are. It’s terribly scary and will wreck your status quo agenda in life. But it’s essential for those who are longing for more. It’s your choice. This is your world. You’re shaping what it’s like every day you’re alive. Join the invisible movement today! Tell me about your “Kineo” story. I would love to hear.

Kineo Urban Renewal Update

By Amy Skeens (my wife!):

The moving, the growing, the changing is all set in motion. This month, the month of May, is our last in the Alhambra Neighborhood. What a sweet place for 5 1/2 years it has been.  So much has been birthed, reshaped, purged, put to death, and brought back to life here. Amazing experiences… amazing people. Our faith will never be the same!

This is a picture of the last of our harvest here on this ground (lettuces, tomatoes, arugula, jalepenos)

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Animals are being moved to temporary places (thanks to the Davis’, Annette Schuster, Gail/Med Skeens) and the last litter of bunnies are being sold as we speak. Sarah Ramsey has so faithfully come over a couple mornings a week to feed, clean, and care for the animals. Sarah, we love you and we have enjoyed seeing your passion and the giving of your gifts!

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We are enjoying the last of our parties and memory making here.

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We have prayed for a place to take the farm/garden and God has provided. We are breaking down everything and moving the fencing, chicken coop, etc this month. We are excited to say that we are able to reuse almost all of the material we have here, along with Jeff finding a lot of pallets to creatively use for more fencing.

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We are headed to downtown Phoenix, to live on property owned by Aim Right Ministries. Our kids go to school just a few streets away from the new home, at ASU Prep, which we are really excited about.

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The home was built in 1926 and is on a large property with lots of space. Aimright Ministries is happy for a family to move in and feels the garden and animals will bring life to the land. Our “job” is just that… to work as a family and take care of the land.

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We love the neighborhood and its cultural diversity and history. Here is a local diner just blocks away, tucked within the historical homes. We are excited to walk to it and meet our neighbors.

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Some colorful artwork, telling many stories of the past

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We will move in at the end of the summer, late July. This spring, we have worked to prepare the place. Jeff, in the backyard, using his gifts of drawing up plans and measurements

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This month of May is a big month of building. Let us know if you want to get your hands dirty:)

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Changes! Change can be exciting and also involves loss… and loss is sad. We are sad for our time in Alhambra to be over. We will miss things about this area of town and miss the people.

So we live in the present. Remembering what is behind and looking forward to what is to come. It has been amazing to keep learning how to follow Jesus. He does know and does lead.

We think of many of you… knowing you are walking much out as well in your lives and neighborhoods. We love watching and taking part in what God is doing in this world and in this city. At this point, this is one of our hopes… given by the Hope Giver.

During the summer, while we are in between homes, we will be leaving on a sabbatical, to travel around the country in an RV as a family. We will be on a hunt for hope. We will be connecting with family and friends, new and old, while also taking much time just for our own unit of 6 people to enjoy the great outdoors together and rest. We hope to gain more healing and refreshed vision and clarity about life in the valley of Phoenix. What is God up to on a greater scale? We will get to see people and communities outside of ours here in Phoenix.

Prayers appreciated. 6 of us in an RV for 8 weeks… it is sure to be an enlightening experience- ha!!!
I’m sure there will be certain hours when the hope looks foggy because of cramped space and the limitations of crabby human hearts, but I am sure there will be many mores hours of colorful, life-changing signs of HOPE.

Love to you all,
Jeff and Amy Skeens

Nonnie and Poppy!

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Nonnie and Poppy are my parents. This is what our kids call my mom and dad. Nonnie is the Italian (my mom’s 100% Italian!) term from Grandma and Poppy just feels right to say after “Nonnie”, even though it’s not Italian. Nonnie and Poppy have been with us since the beginning of our church plant at Kineo. Honestly, Kineo wouldn’t have happened without them being there. They have been the most amazingly faithful and supportive members of our body, through the crap and the roses! I wanted to give them a shout out today and let them know that I am thankful for them. Words can’t express how they’ve blessed me, my wife, and our kids. Since we started Kineo, we had our fourth child, I started seminary full-time, worked side jobs to pay the bills, and navigated the complexities of family life. My parents have been gamers this whole time, sticking it out with us, blessing us, watching kids, changing diapers (well, at lest Nonnie changed em’), tithing way more than they could afford, and being a display of love, joy, and sacrifice to the church family at Kineo.

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Thanks for all you’ve done mom and dad. I love you!

Eucharistía

Helen Guelker preparing for communion.

This is Helen. I am thankful for her. Almost five years ago, shortly after we first planted Kineo Church, her and Gordon (her late husband and my friend) came to Kineo and were content with overly loud music and no one within 20 years of their age to hang out with. They said they wanted to come to Kineo because it was closer to their house than their other church, and they didn’t have to walk up any stairs here. I believed them, but now as I have time to reflect about the five years God gave us at Kineo and the memories of Gordon and Helen, I don’t think that’s why they came. They came to serve. They came to help. They came to offer. Week after week, month after month, the notes, the letters, the meaningful and intentional gifts (one of them was a Messianic prayer shawl!) that were meant to encourage my heart, but not just mine; many others received from her in the same way. I was their pastor; they blessed me more than I blessed them. It wasn’t a coincidence when Gordon passed away over 2 years ago, that Helen was the one giving thanks for all that God had blessed her with, and for the years her and Gordie shared on this earth.

Eucharistía is the Greek word for thanksgiving, and it’s also the term that was given to the early church for the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper. After Gordie passed away, Helen began to prepare the communion elements every Sunday, and often this job is overlooked and not much meaning goes into it. Not for Helen. This was her small offering, but I shouldn’t call it small. The one preparing for the “thanksgiving meal” of the church was the most “thankful one” of our church body. That’s not a coincidence. There’s a depth of meaning and imagery to that, so much so, that to try to explain it would be to take away from the display of the story: the “thankful one” preparing the “thanksgiving meal” with Jesus.

Helen, thanks for all your years of eucharistía. I am more thankful because of your sacrificial living! What or who do you need to give thanks for today. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to offer eucharistía.