Yesu

Hello friends,

Well, it was 29 months ago that we decided to act on the vision we were seeing.

An intentional Christian community of Tanzanian and American young adults

Working with the people of Tanzania to develop servant leaders, for the benefit of the people of Tanzania

Making disciples who make disciples who make disciples

I say “we”, but back when we decided to act on it, there were only three of us who were seeing the vision. As we brought the vision to you though, you listened, you asked thoughtful questions, you suggested modifications here and there, and then chose to believe as well. You offered your support- financial, advice, training, an opportunity to live in community, and a listening ear when things were hard. We came together. And just over three weeks ago, I walked back down the rocky path to my friend Mwita’s house. His children saw the mzungu from afar and sprinted up the road to meet me, then recoiled and tried to hide their shy smiles once they made it to me. It was precious. Mwita and I shared a hearty embrace and then he broke into a prayer of gratitude.

It has brought me deep joy to see everyone again after 29 months apart. One unexpected meeting came yesterday as I was hurrying along the side of the road, preoccupied. A moto-taxi driver tried to flag me down, and I assumed he was asking if I needed a ride. I declined and walked on, then heard “DAVI!” I turned around and saw one of the young men who I had been working with in 2017 and 2018, one of the young men who had been living on the streets, who we had been teaching to make bricks. He had new, clean clothes and was clean shaven and showered. We smiled at each other and I held his hand for a while, before he invited me to the house he is renting. I’m going today.

Making tea
Making chapati

Mwita’s youngest, Eliya, was born just a few months before I left in 2018
Mwita’s cat has kittens

Getting back to the vision…

When it comes to making disciples who are true servant leaders, Tanzanian young adults and American young adults have so much to learn from each other. But we won’t learn as much if we are looking at each other per se. Rather, we’ll learn more if we are looking to the great servant leader, hoping to become a little more like him. As we look to him in community, we will really begin to learn from each other.

But this presents a problem. It’s an unfortunate leftover from the colonial days that many Tanzanians have an inferiority complex, thinking that folks in the West are better than them. And most Tanzanians firmly believe that Jesus was white.

Well, obviously we don’t want to be strengthening the inferiority complex by telling Tanzanian young adults that they should try to be like a white person.

Of course, we’ll explain that Jesus was Arabic, not European, and go over this again and again as we soak ourselves in the four gospels, but pictures can be stronger than what we learn verbally. It seems like every other house I visit in Tanzania has a picture of a white Jesus on the wall.

So I was pretty thankful when I saw this picture floating around on facebook:

Turns out it was the work of James C. Lewis, and it wasn’t at all hard to get a print of it. Just last week, our friend Marwa Kituo made a beautiful wooden frame for it, and it will hang in our common room in a few weeks. Hoping that as we look to Jesus and seek to become like him, it will be clear that this has nothing to do with being white or Western, but rather, has to do with

sacrifice

no one who can’t be made new

(even me)

the least of these

not counting rank as something to be grasped

community rather than lone rangers

healing

new life

life to the full

bringing the outsider inside

tearing the veil

good news for all people

We’ve incorporated your thoughts at every stage of the development of this community, and I would love to hear them again.

Thank you, friends.

QuadW Missional Skunkworks: Tarime, Tanzania

Well, a lot has happened recently, and so many of you have helped to make it happen.

I have a return date and a plane ticket.

Thank you Tony and Jennifer Barnes, and Bill and Ramona Holley, for your generosity which made this possible. Thank you also to Conrad Barnes. We miss you. May you rest in peace.

We have a house, Nyumba Wesley, where we will live in intentional Christian community for six months.

Thank you to Mwita Baita, Cynthia Ombuo, Cyndi and Charles Strasburg, and Grace Methodist Church Dallas, for finding this house and helping with the payment to hold the house for us.

Who will be living here?

We have 4 potential Tanzanian members of the community:

Dinna Sylvester, from Gamasara, Tanzania

Dinna’s father died when she was 14 and her mother left at the same time. Life was very hard living in a mud hut with her grandmother, who often could not afford the basics. Then one day she was introduced to Gamasara Methodist Church, and from Gamasara Methodist, she was introduced to Wesley College, where she received her diploma in theology on Nov. 7th.

Dinna says “It used to be that I did not know God, I did not know that God cared about me or my family, I did not know that God wanted to use me in his work. But God has made so much of my life. He has taken me to Wesley College so I could study theology and has shown me that he wants to use me and make something of my life. Now I just want to tell everyone I meet about this, if anyone will listen I just start talking about it.”

Gilbert Bagaya, from Karagwe, Tanzania

On Nov. 7th, Gilbert graduated from Wesley College with his diploma in theology. In his words, “When I was 16… no, wait, 15, my parents decided I should start supporting myself so I left home. This was a hard time, so I started to get involved in church. I enjoyed music so I started helping with leading worship. It was through leading worship that I really started to know God and God’s love for me. And through this, I started to hear God calling me to share him with more and more people.”

Raphael Musa from Nyagisia, Tanzania

On Nov. 7th, Raphael graduated from Wesley College with his diploma in theology. In his words, “My father had 3 wives. This made home somehow difficult, there could be a lot of quarreling. But I remember that life got better when I started going to Gamasara Methodist Church. Then I started to know God and started helping other children who were in the hard life like I had been in. Now I just want to do this more and more.”

Veronica Marwa, from Gamasara, Tanzania

On Nov. 7th, Veronica Marwa graduated from Wesley College with her diploma in theology. She says,
“Over the last three years, I have learned so much about who God is and God’s love for everyone. Most surprising was that God loves women just as much as men and wants to use them to bring everyone the good news. After these last three years, I now have such a heart to share this same news with other women, whether young or old, that God cares about them, loves them, and wants to empower them.”

Thank you to Noel Chomola, Eric Soard, Damson Maganga, Bonface Wanyama, and many others who helped to connect us with these recent graduates.

And a big thank-you to Wesley College in Mwanza, Tanzania for connecting us with their recent graduates, and for all they are doing on the ground to make this community possible. Learn more about Wesley College here: https://www.wesleycollegetzfoundation.com/

… And three overseas members who will be living in the community:

Brina Simmons, from Madison, Alabama

It’s been great getting to know Brina. Who knew you could enjoy an interview so much? She has a powerful story of how she has come so much closer to God through some painful challenges and suffering, and in 2019 she was surprised to find just how much she loved children when she gave a summer to serve children at a QuadW mission site in Anniston, Alabama. This new passion is driving her to become a neonatal nurse, and she wants to give a few months to serve in Tanzania to learn more about what it looks like to serve children as a part of God’s mission.

Megan Swanson, from Huntsville, Alabama

Megan had the opportunity to work in Tanzania with a team from the Auburn Wesley Foundation in 2017. That was a truly life-defining experience for her and since then, she has completed her undergrad degree in Natural Resources Management and her graduate degree in Conservation Leadership, during which she and several colleagues lived in Rwanda for four months to research women’s access to water.

While Megan is currently enjoying her work in fundraising for nonprofits, she is so excited to have the chance to go back to Tanzania and to continue to learn, grow, and share with this intentional living community and the people of Tanzania.

Davis Rhodes

Photo by Evey McKellar

Not sure who this guy is, but as the community leader, he is hoping to empower this community to know God’s love through sharing their very different stories with each other, and to empower them to pass this same love on to their neighbors.

Thank you to Rev. Dan Kim, Global Community Methodist Church of Columbus, Ohio, Deborah Shim, Linda MacCarthy, Helen Park, Roland MacCarthy, Kadijah, Paola Orduna, Joshua Shepherd, and others who helped so much with discernment and interviews.

What’s Next?

I will be in Tanzania during January and February, working with Mwita Baita (Assistant Site Director) to get things set up, and then on March 14th, everyone will move in and we will begin to meet our neighbors. For the next six months, we will pray together, learn from each other, do service work for the nearby Methodist churches, share the good news of God’s love with our physically immediate neighbors, and train them to do the same.

When Willie Tichenor passed away from osteosarcoma at 19 years old, his family and friends founded the QuadW Foundation. Four “W”s: What Would Willie Want? (Meet Willie here: http://www.quadw.org/meet-willie)

One of the things they knew Willie would want would be for other young adults to have transformative mission experiences, like the mission experience that transformed Willie’s life.

Thanks to Willie, these young adults will have that kind of transformative mission experience in 2021 at QuadW’s first international site, QuadW Missional Skunkworks: Tarime, Tanzania. (https://quadwmi.org/tarime)

Kwa Kuamsha Moyo Wangu

Hello friends,

Many of you received my prayer postcards this last week. If you didn’t receive one, but would like one, please let me know. I would love to send one to you.

Here is a map of every church and every city where someone is praying for our intentional Christian community.

As you can see, so many of us, all over, are praying together. And wouldn’t it be great to add even more?

Sometimes people ask me what prayer means. If we are already doing something that God endorses, then why ask God for help? Why ask God to do what God already wants to do?

And if God doesn’t endorse it, then why are we doing it? Surely we aren’t trying to change God’s mind?

It’s the same question that Polly puts to Fledge in The Magician’s Nephew,

“But we can’t eat grass,” said Digory.

“H’m, h’m,” said Fledge, speaking with his mouth full. “Well—h’m—don’t know quite what you’ll do then. Very good grass too.”

Polly and Digory stared at one another in dismay.

“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.

“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.

“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.

“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”

St. Teresa of Avila gives us an equally helpful perspective,

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

As I understand it, God wants to do this work with us. God wants to do this work through us.

And in working through us, God has chosen not to bypass the desires of our hearts. God wants us to love this world and to remake it, and to do that because we want to.

And often we don’t want to. Not that we dis-want to, so to speak, but the fire in our hearts is often cold, burning low. What is God’s way of awakening that desire in us?

So what does prayer mean? Well, I don’t know yet, but I can share the way that I look at it and experience it.

I talk to God and I start by saying something like, “God, I want the people of Tanzania to be more in love with you”, and we go from there.

And maybe God intervenes directly to make that happen. And maybe new, creative thoughts occur to me in this meditative conversation. And maybe God tells me new ideas or directions to take–even directions that don’t make sense at the time. But most likely of all, in the honesty, as I start by saying what I feel like I am supposed to say

and then realize the futility of saying to God what I am supposed to say

And then start to talk about what I actually want

And as we sort through the ugly stuff and the flame of desire that I have for people to be more alive and happy and able to love

our conversation fans the flames in my heart–the prayer fans my desire to see a new world. The rest of the day is different for me. God and I are together in this work, and I care more.

The title means “to awaken my heart”. This is just the way that I look at it–I don’t mean to say that it is the way to look at it. If it confuses or offends, send a note, or make a note, and I would love to talk about it when we see each other again.

Nenda Pamoja

When I first visited Tanzania in 2015–before I knew that I would ever live there–I remember being impressed with one man who acted like a father to the homeless youth who we were visiting with.

When I came to live in Tanzania, though, I was even more impressed. I learned that the dominant narrative around homeless youth is that they are bad children… “watoto wabaya”, as so many people would tell me. Rebellious and ungrateful, they had run to the streets and become thieves. Therefore, even churches refuse to help them. Why help the watoto wabaya? They just need to change their ways and return home. Churches don’t even want to be associated with them, for fear of tarnishing their image.

My mind went back to the man–named Mwita Baita–who acted like a father to the homeless youth, and I wondered why he was different. As I began to work with him more, I cynically started looking for financial incentives. As I looked more and more, and got to know him better, I slowly realized that he helped the homeless youth even when it was against his financial interests to do so.

Mwita with a young man who he helped to return home

I remember him telling me his worries about paying for his home expenses, and how he needed to be spending more time making money. A few days later, I learned that he had spent half of the day helping a homeless young man who had developed a terrible skin disease. “Can you afford to be spending your time on that?” was my immediate reaction. I wish I hadn’t thought that way, and I was in awe of him, wanting to learn from him.

And Mwita felt safe, and I was lonely in Tanzania. So I asked if I could move in with him and his family. He warmly agreed, and the following eleven months were something of a school in learning to be a more humble person.

Mwita and his son Nyamhanga welcoming Bishop Graves to their house
Visiting Mwita’s extended family
Mwita playfully teaching his daughter about phones
Most of Mwita’s family, together with my high school history teacher, Rev. Ron McCants
Mwita hanging out with the homeless youth

Okay, now come with me to David Goolsby’s office (director of the Auburn Wesley Foundation), talking about this idea of an intentional Christian community in Tarime, Tanzania.

“A cross-cultural intentional community?” David asked.

“Yes.”

“In Tanzania? Am I hearing you right?”

“For sure.”

“Davis, you’re gonna need a Tanzanian co-leader. I wouldn’t advise trying to do this on your own.”

“You need local representation”, he said. “And how does Jesus always send them out? Does he ever send them out alone?”

I remember doing an internal eye-roll and thinking, “David… yeah that would be great, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. We won’t find someone like that in Tanzania.” 

I didn’t tell him how unlikely I thought this was. We moved onto other things, and we finished the meeting with his usual playful phrase, “Alright ‘Merican. Get-outta-ma-office.”

Then, in February of this year, I was talking with a friend about how leading this community seemed like more than I could really handle. 

“I’ve learned a lot about intentional community from living at the Bonhoeffer House. But now, I don’t know if I can lead one. It seems to require some strengths that I don’t have.”

“I’m not sure anyone has all the strengths needed to lead an intentional community”, she replied. “What would it look like to find a partner, someone who is good with the things that you aren’t as good with?”

I went back to the eye-roll, but then stopped. Maybe… instead of dismissing… I can look for ways that this could work.

Most Tarime leaders are married with children, I thought. They can’t live in the community.

Sure. But couldn’t someone nearby still help me with leading the community? Especially if they were hired full-time?

Hmm. Maybe. They would need to be trustworthy. Let’s see, who do I trust in Tarime…

Oh wait. What about Mwita? He’s available these days, right? We’ve worked together, lived together, we complement each other well… wow, yeah, that would be perfect…

As things continued to fall in place for our 2021 launch, I finally brought the idea to Mwita. What about being the co-leader of this intentional community? I wasn’t sure if he would understand the idea, intentional Christian community being such a foreign concept in Tanzania, but he did. He surprised me with how excited he was.

The title means “Go Together”, meant as the end of the famous African proverb,

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

The Guilt Trap from the Other Side

Hello friends.

Several recent posts have been about a guilt trap that I have often found myself in during the last few years of living with folks who are on the margins of survival.

Well, one of those friends saw these posts and replied. My dear friend Glenna Gillilan commented to let me know that she understands my need to say no sometimes. Since she’s a writer herself, I invited her to write a guest blog and explain a bit more about what this is like for her. To be in need… even homeless at times… and to still have to respect a friend’s boundaries. Here she is:

Glenna

And here is what she has to say:

On July 14th I read and commented on Davis’s post “Freedom From the Guilt Trap”.

I met Davis a couple of years ago when he was visiting the Bonhoeffer House, and again last year in Asheville, NC, during the Missional Wisdom Foundation’s National Gathering. We’ve become good friends since he came to live at Bonhoeffer a year ago, so I was more than happy to accept when he asked me to write my perspective on setting, and just as importantly, respecting boundaries.

I’ve had my own experiences with the “guilt trap”. It can be hard to set boundaries and say no to people, especially people who you want to like you. You think, “If I say no to this person, maybe they won’t want to be my friend.” So even if I don’t want to (or can’t, for whatever reason) do what they ask, I still find myself saying yes — and becoming resentful because of it. (An emotion Davis admitted that he also feels.) But what I need to remember — and I’m still learning this — is that anyone who won’t respect my “no” (and thus will disrespect me) is probably someone I don’t want as a friend anyway.

I have also been on the other side of that equation — I was the one who disrespected boundaries, disrespected a friend’s “no” — and was told that I wasn’t being a good friend. Not that I wasn’t a good person, just that I wasn’t being a good friend in that moment. So I had to learn to respect the other person’s right to say no, even when I felt my request was for something I really wanted or needed and therefore justified.

Over the years I’ve had to learn that everyone has the right to say “no”, and that their “no” needs to be respected. As I mentioned in my comment on Davis’s post, saying “no” can be a form of self-love and self-care — and it can also be a way of showing love to the other person, by not giving them what they think they want or need in that moment.

Also, it’s okay to say maybe. If you need a little time to consider a request, you can absolutely take it without giving a hard “yes” or “no”. But there is nothing wrong or selfish… no reason to feel guilty… about needing to put your own needs ahead of another person’s sometimes.

Thank you for sharing, Glenna.

Mungu Aliyetutafuta, Utusikie Maombi Letu

Hello friends,

I wish there was more to update y’all on. We are steadily moving forward on our goal of launching the community on February 1st of 2021, but for the past few weeks, the work has been hard to write much of an update on…

  • Sent in most of what is required for my work permit
  • Studied some about how the church helps people to grow, and how it grows itself… a branch of theology called missional ecclesiology
  • Communicated with the QuadW Foundation about what our site in Tarime will look like and how they would like to partner with us
  • Finalized our budget
  • Spent a lot of time helping the East African refugee families through my part-time job here

20200518_174732
Nkongoro Rubeni and Nibitanga Dorothee, from Burundi

20200518_174625
Me and Nkongoro Rubeni

  • Spent a lot of time with my dear homeless friend Kevin Prouix, here at the Bonhoeffer House

Kevin - Edited
He is one good-looking man

One more interesting step is that I have finalized the plans for our initial devotional rhythms.

I say “initial” because I will invite the other five member of the community to modify them, and I don’t expect them to last more than three weeks. On the other hand, our opening devotional rhythms will be crucial for setting the tone for our devotional life. They keep telling me a first impression is a lasting impression.

So what are devotional rhythms that help Tanzanian young adults and American young adults to be intimate with God? What would help each culture to learn from the other culture’s way of connecting with God?

These aren’t easy questions, but I feel good about what we’ve put together:

Morning

  1. Sifa (One song)
    • Sifa is a type of African worship where dancing is just as important as the singing. Short lines are repeated, so as to make the songs easy to remember- therefore no need for books, so we can focus on the dancing. (To see our refugee choir in Dallas do a few sifa tunes click here: Sifa)

2. Each person says a short prayer for the person to their left

3. End with the Swahili closing song “Tembea na Yesu”. This catchy Swahili song just means “walk with Jesus”, and will transition us to think about walking with Jesus as we go about the rest of our day.

Evening

  1. Center with the 3-step Welcoming Meditation
    • Breathe. Feel what you are feeling as a sensation in your own body
    • After a couple minutes, welcome that sensation. If the sensation is anger, for example… “Welcome, anger. Welcome, anger. Welcome, anger…”
    • Think of your emotions as important, essential parts of you, all seated around a table. Address the emotion that is screaming for you attention, “I value you anger, and I invite you to take your place at the table.” Or more simply, “I have heard you, anger, and now I let you go.”
    • (for more info click here: Welcoming Prayer Thomas Keating)

2. Go around the circle. Each person answers the question, “What is on your mind today?” We connect with God through connecting with each other.

3. All pray aloud, simultaneously.

 

Will this help the Tanzanian young adults to grow closer to God? What about the Americans? Will it help them to learn from each other? Will it set the tone for us to share ideas to improve on this and develop our own devotional life in the weeks to come?

It’s my best shot, and I know it doesn’t have to be perfect… at the end of the day, the more important fact is that God wants to connect with us. The title means “God who pursues us, hear our prayer.”

Wisdom from a Friend

Hello friends,
Before I shared about the guilt trap a few weeks back, I sent what I had written to the members of the Bonhoeffer House. My dear friend Evey shared her view on it, and how she had learned to break this cycle. She focused on ways that we are confused about what a “kind and generous person” really is, and I wanted y’all to hear, in her own voice, what this was like for her.
Evey McKellar, ladies and gentlemen:
Simply naming it “guilt” doesn’t dissect it enough.
Sometimes it can be false guilt or shame that we don’t need to carry.
Sometimes the guilt is a wise teacher helping us stretch ourselves.
In the case of the stories we tell ourselves, we can tell ourselves we are kind and generous people, and then have a story attached to what that means. In your case, and in mine, we often determine if we are being kind and generous on the grounds of whether someone else is happy.  You and I have learned to understand that this can more often than not be codependent rather than healthy, and I no longer want to define “kind and generous” by the whimsical happiness of others. I want to pursue health and live into virtues that I know are more trustworthy and more deeply rooted.
Furthermore, the programming of “codependency” has infected theology and practice of ministry. I can hear the narrative: “I’m not being a good minister unless I’m spent and weary and small and resent myself.” I don’t think this is who Jesus asks us to be, flogging ourselves for the sake of being sacrificed for others. It leaves us miserable, it abuses our God-created selves, and it certainly dis-empowers the person asking for connection with us who is devouring us, perhaps by no intention of their own.
But we humans will often push until a boundary is found, instead of protecting it as we pursue. We are often looking for someone else to inform us on what the boundaries are. “How far can I go?” is a normal question, and not necessarily a malicious one. A child seeks to learn this from parents. It doesn’t mean someone is being cruel or conniving. Rather, thirst will naturally seek to be quenched. And if the well doesn’t run dry, why would we look anywhere else?
We can dis-empower people from learning their own inner well resources… or from learning to drink from many sources, so as to not dry any one source.
Much of what we discerned together as a community was not only learning that we each had different boundaries. It was also a collective discernment towards health:
What boundaries were actually healthy?
For an individual?
As well as for a community learning to give and take?
Remember that time that someone came in who used foul language, offensive jokes and offensive speech? When Kevin protected the community and called him on it, the man angrily pushed back about his freedoms. I replied that in community, part of the work of learning to live together was recognizing that we would land in different spots (some more offended by his language than others), but that we compromised for the sake of finding a space where ALL felt safe, loved, and whole.
It takes constant negotiation. It will continue to evolve. We will “find it” in one circumstance and then keep needing to “find it” in the next. But it’s meant to be improvisation, because to “find it” and be done would mean we’d stop showing up to learn about each other, and ourselves. We’d stop doing the work.
So when we encounter guilt, it’s important to sit with the question:
Does this guilt speak a narrative that is moving towards health?
Or is this a narrative that needs to be released, because it doesn’t move towards values like health, mutuality, and sustainability?
Do we give this person money?
Or not, because it would drain the whole communal fund?
Do we let these folks sleep on our porch?
Where do our personal discomforts and safety and need for ‘not being on’ come in and
where do we need to reclaim some space?
It would be easier if it was either/or. But it’s nuanced, complex, and there are often shades to the various questions that are brought up.
We co-create new models each time, and each change in the system will have ripple effects that will need to be addressed and may cause some re-adjustment. Some days will have more capacity than others.
It’s the nuance of that guilt
that it isn’t always the wise guilt that invites us to grow,
but sometimes that growth means reminding ourselves that our boundary is okay,
and that for our health and the health of the asker,
we need to strengthen our ‘no’ so they can learn more of their wholeness
and we can learn more of ours.
– Evey McKellar
Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Sauti ya Mungu

Over these last few months, I’ve talked with many of you about what it means to hear from God. I have learned quite a bit from y’all, and after a while I summarized some of the wisdom in one place where I could refer to it easily. This morning, I thought it would be good to offer it back to y’all.

Where has God been in teaching me all of this? I honestly don’t know… but that’s something that I am learning… I am learning to become more comfortable with not knowing where God is at work, and simply trusting that God is at work. For now, I’ll just repeat a few lines from Mere Christianity. Not because I am sure that they are completely right either, but maybe they help us to see the truth a bit more clearly:

“You may say `I’ve never had the sense of being helped by an invisible Christ, but I often have been helped by other human beings.’ That is rather like the woman in the first war who said that if there were a bread shortage it would not bother her house because they always ate toast. If there is no bread there will be no toast. If there were no help from Christ, there would be no help from other human beings.” – C.S. Lewis

(Or again, the same point from a very young Jaden Smith https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMw3Mo6aLxI )

  • God is the one speaking. You do not make it happen. You have to remember to let it come entirely from God’s side… you have to let go of your desire to control it, to make it happen, to make God speak to you. – Aubrie Custred
  • Remember, first, that God has told you who you are. You are dearly beloved, God’s precious child. Don’t forget that. At first glance, it seems irrelevant to the question of what to do, but you will be surprised by how much clarity about what to do can come from simply knowing who you are. – Dad
  • Do not sit there patiently waiting for God to speak. Do something called active listening, where you take a few steps down some paths that God might be leading you down. – David Goolsby
  • Concerning each possible path, pray this prayer each day, “Lord, if this way is the way that is best, let it grow. If not, let it fall away.” – David Goolsby
  • When God seems to be leading you down a certain path, pray this prayer, “God, if you are creating this opportunity for me to love my neighbor as myself, I thank you so much. But God, if there is anything about the path that I am walking that makes you hesitate to lead me farther down this path, I want to become aware of it and let those things go.” – this came out of a spiritual direction conversation with Matt Johnson
  • Where can I serve that others cannot and does that match my gifts and call? In the end you should be called by the needs of others and match them to your gifts. You will find multiple places where this is the case and at the end of the day just take some time and space to pray and meditate with your distilled questions in front of you. – Eric Soard
  • Think of God like a little cat. Every day, it comes to your door, and meows, and wants to come in. You can choose to let her in or not, just as you can choose to listen to God’s voice or not. The cat isn’t overbearing or demanding… it just wants to be with you. It wants this badly enough that it will keep coming over and over again, even if you keep slamming the door over and over again. – Emily Clark shared this with me; she said she got it from Anne Lamott
  • Ask yourself what God might be saying, and comb back over it, asking yourself where you have added your own assumptions to the bare bones of what God is saying. Remove the assumptions, and then simply look at the actual things that God might be saying. – Don Woolley
  • When I ask, “What is God saying?”, I get everything imaginable. When God has spoken to me, it has been calm and direct, and I have no doubt that it is the voice of God. It comes when God speaks, not when I ask for it. It surprises me.
  • We get this idea that God’s voice is so easy to miss, we act like God is trying to be elusive… we forget that God really, really wants us to hear.
  • God may sometimes call us to things that are very hard for us. Generally speaking, though, God’s calling is in line with our desires, making use of our desires, not contrary to our desires. God may call us to something that we don’t like the idea of, attempting to draw out a desire that we already have but may be ignoring, suppressing, or didn’t realize how it could be used. – these past three came from Justin Hancock

The title means “The voice of God”. I really appreciate y’all helping me to wrestle with this.

Freedom from the Guilt Trap

In a previous post, I shared about something that I learned here at the Bonhoeffer House. I call it “The Guilt Trap”:

  1. I think of myself as a basically kind and generous person. My standards here are unrealistic and confused, but I’m not aware of this at the time.
  2. A friend asks something of me. I decide that they are asking too much. I say no, and I call this “setting a boundary”.
  3. Soon after, I decide that the boundary I set was not a boundary that a basically kind and generous person would set. So I feel guilty. Now the important thing at this step is that I feel guilty. The guilt may be unfounded, or it may be founded, but regardless, it weighs on me. And before I have gotten to the bottom of this…
  4. I receive another request that appears to be too much. Mentally, I return to the boundary that I had set, but then I remember that I felt guilty about that boundary.
  5. EITHER I give in to this request (due to the guilt about last time)
  6. OR I stick to my boundary and say no again, which increases the guilt, since I am still not okay with the boundary I set.

The trap feeds itself, and the loop must be broken. It isn’t the sort of thing that you just get used to after awhile and then it’s fine.

This week, I want to share one way that I found to break the loop. It isn’t the only way; I would love to hear ways that y’all have managed to break this loop.

At step 3, I am of the opinion that I did something that a basically kind and generous person would not do. My standards may be too high, but I am not realizing this at the time, so the guilt is heavy.

On its own, this wouldn’t trap me. But when I am encountering suffering and requests so fast, I receive another request before I am able to process the guilt from the previous one.

I’m already feeling guilty, so maybe I give in when I shouldn’t. Well, that just leads to more requests, and who can blame them?

Or maybe I stick to what I said previously, and I say no.

Well, I already felt bad about that. So now I feel bad again. Guilt is piled on top of the already heavy guilt.

It’s the speed of the requests that is doing the damage. The process of fossilization is a good metaphor.

Bones are made of the wrong kind of stuff to last for millions of years. We only get fossils when the bones are buried deeply, extremely quickly, in the right kind of soil where rock can slowly replace the bone. This may happen in a flood or a mud slide. The fact that they are buried so quickly is what makes the bones able to turn into fossils… and in the same way, it’s the fast requests, over and over again, before I have time to process what is false guilt and what is justified guilt, that cause initially painful guilt to get buried and harden into bitterness.

fossils

In fact, “fossilized guilt” isn’t a bad description of the deep bitterness that results from this trap.

And so one place to break the loop is at the point where I am feeling guilty about saying no, but before the next request can come in.

I need to ask myself, “Okay, is this guilt justified? Did I actually do something wrong?” And I need to find an answer to that question that convinces me.

If the guilt is just false guilt, I need to know exactly why I think it is false.

And if the guilt is justified, I need to repent and decide on a fairer boundary

… and all of this needs to be done before the next request can come in.

It can be tiresome to keep stopping what I am doing and working through this process, but if I am going to continually encounter this level of suffering and not develop a bitter heart, it’s worth it.

The Guilt Trap

At the Bonhoeffer House, one of the things that we did was to create community with our neighbors. Rather than selectively hanging out with only other college graduates who were similar in age, interests, and socioeconomic status, we tried to get to know everyone who would come to our place. We invited everyone we saw to our big family-style dinner on Wednesday nights. Since we saw those who lived nearby more often, we invited them more often. And in Old East Dallas, a 15-minute walk from downtown, many of these folks happened to be homeless.

How do we be genuine friends to folks who have so many needs? It was the same question that I had tried to answer, through my actions, in Tanzania. This time, we were a community, together, trying to answer this question through our actions. As we attempted this over and over, we saw a vicious thought pattern that made this particularly hard for us:

  1. I think of myself as a basically kind and generous person. My standards here are unrealistic and confused, but I’m not aware of this at the time.
  2. A friend asks something of me. I decide that they are asking too much. I say no, and I call this “setting a boundary”.
  3. Soon after, I decide that the boundary I set was not a boundary that a basically kind and generous person would set. So I feel guilty. Now the important thing at this step is that I feel guilty. The guilt may be unfounded, or it may be founded, but regardless, it weighs on me. And before I have gotten to the bottom of this…
  4. I receive another request that appears to be too much. Mentally, I return to the boundary that I had set, but then I remember that I felt guilty about that boundary.
  5. EITHER I give in to this request (due to the guilt about last time)
  6. OR I stick to my boundary and say no again, which increases the guilt, since I am still not okay with the boundary I set.

And of course, giving in leads to more requests (who can blame them?)… and increasing guilt leads to burnout and bitterness towards my friends.

Things get worse when members of the community disagree about whether certain boundaries are kind and generous… we add to each other’s guilt. Looking back, I hate that I did this to my dear friends.

Of course, the cycle can be broken and the damage healed, and some of this did happen in our house. But it must be addressed; this isn’t the sort of thing that is arbitrarily fixed by time and “getting used to it”.

I know I am not the only one who has felt this, and it doesn’t only result from trying to be a friend to folks who are homeless; this kind of thing can pop up with co-workers, spouses, family members, etc. I would love to hear y’all’s perspective on it.

Bonhoeffer porch
At the Bonhoeffer House, our beautiful front porch is one of the most common causes of this boundary confusion. It’s an ambiguous space, neither in nor out, and a great place for shade, getting out of the rain, and sleeping.