Cool resources for people who have been turned off by Christianity

I meet so many people who grew up in Christian homes and who left their faith. In fact, I was one of those people. I left the United Methodist Church where my parents faithfully attended for my entire life when I was 16 because I thought that most of the folks, if not all, were hypocrites. I had other reasons as well, and that is another blog post.  Oh, and we did not attend the same church all those years. But since my dad was in the Navy, we lived in numerous places. But we always found a United Methodist Church to attend.

My first refreshing glimpse into a new way of looking at the Gospels came when I was traveling for a year at age nineteen. Even though I didn’t believe in God, he told me to travel, and there I was in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I had been on the road for 9 months, and I still had not found what I was looking for–peace, joy, fulfillment.  In fact, I felt almost suicidal.  When I found the movie Godspell showing, I decided to go in order to try to escape my pain. I found myself uplifted, and went back 6 more times until I felt strong enough to keep going.

For the next 30 years I believe that I really wanted to follow Jesus, but I could not find many Christians who I respected accept for my friend Linda Williams who attended the Church of the Brethren.  But I found the people at the church to be rather distant and cold, and so once again I was stymied.  A lone loving Christian who’s church was not inviting to me was just not enough to inspire me to surrender my life to Christ.

Then at age 48, twelve years ago, I found a little church in the country where it seemed like people really were following Jesus. I was inspired to do more research about the historical Jesus. Josh McDowell’s book More than a Carpenter and C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity really inspired me. I have since read many books and have studied extensively Christian apologetics which gives my intellect the food it needs so that I know I am not blindly believing.  The most recent book I read, Cold Case Christianity, is one of the best studies in why we can believe that Jesus is real and that he is who he said he is…God.

Just over a year ago I came across the teachings and writings of Greg Boyd who is passionate about non-violence and helping people see God through the lense of Jesus. I like his teachings on the okay-ness of doubting, and apologetics.  This series of very short videos was the clearest and shortest teaching I have come across that can inspire a person to understand why we can trust the New Testament to be historically accurate.

I actually found Greg Boyd because initially I had found Bruxy Cavey who shares most of the values of his friend, Greg Boyd.  Bruxy is funny, smart and just comes from the heart in sharing how important it is to be in small house churches so that people can be real with each other and share the life of following Jesus together.  The church he pastors, The Meeting House, is made up of small house churches and if I was ever going to start a church–I would use this model.

I wrote a series of blogs including this one.  I sent  him links to my blogs, and I received a message on my voice mail from Bruxy and his whole family. Bruxy told me that my encouragement was like spiritual multivitamins and a few other kind words. Then in the back ground I heard his wife and daughters say, “We love you.”  He is the real deal:) I bought his book, The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus just before I left on my community tour.  I loved what I read…but then I met a guy who was really sincerely searching for truth, and I gave it to him.  But I think this book is well worth reading by any one concerned about modern day Christian spirituality.

When I was researching Christian intentional communities to visit last summer, I learned that at Reba Place Fellowship in Chicago many members use something called the Immanuel Approach.  Living in community brings up a lot of issues that need healing because life is intense when you are interacting closely with other people who often are very different. Yet we are called to love each other, and learning to love usually means removing the blocks to love–like buttons that we have formed by childhood wounds.  I immediately did a very deep study of Immanuel Approach and was inspired and empowered by the testimonies and free teachings that promised to help me connect with Jesus in a way that was real and that could heal my past.

I was so blessed to be able to meet Karl Lehman and his wife Charlotte when I visited Reba Place Fellowship during my month long community tour.  I also amazingly had lunch with both of them along with Jessie Handy, the person who taught the inspiring classes that I watched on Vimeo. What are the chances of that happening?!  I know you can’t get to know people just in one hour meeting, but there was something so life-giving in the way that the four of us shared that made me really trust these people.  I have since found that the Immanuel Approach has helped me immensely and continue to stay in contact with these friends who pour their life into helping others with this wonderful method of connecting with Jesus.

I believe it was Jessie who encouraged me to look into the Life Model which was a way of looking at life in a way that helps people to thrive. Developed by Jim Wilder, this model has inspired many very talented people to renew their faith in Jesus.  People who were pretty burned out with religion found a practical way to live out the teachings of Jesus and then share with others.  I discovered that Jim mentored Karl Lehman as the Immanuel Approach was being developed.  I decided to contact Jim since on the website it encouraged people to contact him if they shared his vision, which I did. You can download a pdf if you scroll down to the right bottom corner on this website www.lifemodel.org

Jim responded immediately to my enthusiastic response to the vision.  We had a pretty intense dialogue for a brief period and I got to know him better.  This is rare–to be able to communicate with a leader who has so many responsibilities, and once again I felt I was meeting someone who walked his talk.  I asked him about the best resources I should buy, and he recommended the hot of the press book, Joy Starts Here  I got the book, participated in the forum for a while, and really loved what I read.  It was all about very logical things that help our brains and hearts and relationships to grow.  Things I had studied about in secular areas for most of my life were being confirmed all in one place.

I met a number of people who practice the Immanuel Approach, and the amazing things is that they all seem so peaceful, loving, and open-hearted. No, not perfect…but I liked them!

I need to digress and say that after of few years of following Jesus in the little church that I was part of, some things happened that were very hurtful and which inspired me to start doubting my faith. That is when I dove deep into reading everything I could by free-thinkers, atheists, Christians who didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, and others.  I concluded that they all had some kind of agenda and they didn’t seem very logical or grounded in facts.  Then I poured myself into Christian apologetics which was helpful–but did not establish a relationship with Jesus that I yearned for.

I came across the book The Shack at a time when I was feeling depressed, empty, and desperate for some reassurance that Jesus was the real deal.  That story is pretty amazing. I was so inspired and uplifted by the book that at one point I started a whole blog about my “Shack” journey.   Wow! I just skimmed that blog and I felt inspired remembering more details about how I came to find the book and other ways it impacted my life. Something about it helped me to realize that God loves me especially–and he loves everyone especially. This was key in my journey to have a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Another book that impacted my life early on was The irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.  Hey, I got to meet him on my community tour–now that was wonderful. I have a video of an interview I did with him–some day I am going to learn how to upload it to Youtube!  I loved his teaching about how we need to really reach out and be the hands and feet of Jesus, and his example of living in the poorest neighborhood in Philadelphia with some friends where they have made a tremendous difference.  Once again I got to meet a Christian who was walking his talk. First I met him through his book, and then about a decade later–in person!

My friend Alexander also got to meet Shane Claiborne when Alexander did an internship in the area. He highly recommends another book by Shane called Jesus for President. I can’t wait to read it, Alexander:)

Okay, I really need to wrap this up! I have been writing for a few hours and the time is standing still as I recall these wonderful memories.  I hope this has helped you, reader, to be open to some new ways of looking at being a follower of Jesus.  But I am not done yet!

Another author who inspired me was Rob Bell, author of Velvet Elvis.  Reading this at a time when I was wavering in my faith helped me to be more open to other interpretations of the Bible.  Later, though, when I heard that Rob Bell was teaching things that were similar to non-Christian teachers, I remember being afraid to learn from him any more because I was insecure in my faith.  I was in a period where I wanted to please my fellow brothers and sister in Christ and didn’t want to make waves.

About 18 months ago, I skimmed through his book, Love Wins: A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.  The controversy about this book was outrageous.  People were so hateful if they disagreed…but comforted and happy if they were open to what Rob had to say.  I couldn’t make up my mind about what I thought at that time.  Since then, everything I have come across reinforces what Rob is saying–that there is no place where God is eternally responsible for torturing people simply because they don’t believe a certain way.  Heresy, many would say.  But according to Rob’s very scholarly take on the Bible, and what I understand, this is truth.

I loved this interview with Rob and two guys with wonderful English accents. One of them definitely did not agree with Rob, but the conversation was entirely civil and loving.  I just can’t see a loving God needing to set up a system of punishment that he would have to oversee since he is the Creator of the Universe. He is too smart for that:)

I just came across this website which is one of the most inspiring I have come across yet.  David and Jan have similar stories as those who come across Jim Wilder’s Life Model.  They were burned out and wondering where they were going on this Christian path.  Meeting Jim and his friends really helped them to re-form their understanding of their walk with Jesus. In the past four days I have felt compelled to keep going back to this website called Kingdom Formation to get refreshed and inspired on my walk with Jesus.

I love all these resources because I can go back and visit them regularly.  If I want some spiritual inspiration and I want to get the dishes done, I almost always will turn to Greg Boyd or Bruxy Cavey’s well organized and very current sermons to get motivated.  Fortunately my daughter, Mahriyanna and our whole community likes these guys so that works out.  Here is something I came across a few days ago which really inspired me–about how nine spiritual temperaments have been discovered which can help you realize how you best connect with God.  I hope to get this book , What’s Your God Language.

Hey, while searching for the link for this book, I came across this interesting book called Teaming Church: Ministry in an age of Collaboration.  Now I am all about thatl kind of stuff. This is how I find all these cool resources.  There really is a movement of people who are passionate about following Jesus who have great things to share.  I love it!

I hope you will check out these resources and if you are inspired and energized, or just glad you have found a kindred spirit–I hope you will comment on this post.  I am passionate about sharing these resources because I would have liked to have read something like this when I was having doubts (for the second time in my life) about my walk with Jesus.

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great resources for intentional community and alternative life styles

I have a friend who is going to be writing an article about intentional community and alternative life styles and I wanted to give her some resources to help her out.  So I thought I would write them in a blog post.  So here are my favorite resources

Federation of Intentional Communities has been around for decades and is the go-to place for all things community.  Their website and directory is phenomenal.  http://www.ic.org

I love the new trend in simple living.  Of course I like my blog, www.simplifiedliving.info where I give tips on organizing and simplifying your life. Lately I’ve been doing a bit of research on the trend where people call themselves “minimalists”.  I am writing more and more articles specifically on how to have a mindset so that it is easier to be organized because you are living more simply.  My facebook page is pretty cool also. http://www.facebook.com/simplifiedlivingnow

Fayetteville has been a place where I have been able to live a consistently alternative life style.  Robert and I moved here 16 years ago in a Bluebird bus and were welcomed at what was called the Josh Brown Farm, now home of Ozarks Alternatives, a real farm.  I was there for about 12 years, right up until the time that Josh Brown and his family moved to Costa Rica, turning the 27 acre with about 30 homes on it over to some managers who have continued to do a good job.  Affordable housing was the name of the game.  I lived all over the farm, living in a tent, a tiny trailer, a motor home, what would be called a “micro-house” and a one bedroom house.  I paid from $20 a month to $200, some of which I traded.  This was a fantastic place for my children to grow up–Mahriyanna was 1 1/2 when we arrived, and having a safe place for kids to run around in a great neighborhood–well that would take a book itself to write about.

East Wind Community http://ozarkalternatives.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/fall-csa-2/ is a place that I lived for about six months.  The tragic ending of my provisional membership is a long story–but I learned so much there in the short time I lived there with my son Christopher who was five at the time.  This community is close enough to visit. You need to know someone there, or connect in a way that they feel safe having you in their home in order to visit.  I went there with my kids about four or five years ago just to touch base again. We went home with a lot of very cheap peanut butter because you can buy seconds there at their nut butter factory!

I think that trading for rent is a very wonderful way to go. When I left the Josh Brown farm, I was able to work things out with an employer who I cleaned and organized for. She had an apartment behind her house that she normally rented out, but she had experienced disappointment with many renters who trashed the place. So we had a great agreement where I worked 6 hours a week and paid the utilities. I was especially happy to work in her garden and yard and see the place transform–I got to enjoy the fruits of my labor too!

Finding someone to owner finance your home really makes a difference.  There are few people who will do that, but we have found two different people who did this for us.  We built up sweat equity for our down payment for our land in the country near Kingston and then made cash payments after that.  Our home in Fayetteville, the first dome that was built here, was also owner financed by someone who did not want to sell the place to someone who would tear it down and build a conventional house. We cherish our unique home and have become good friends with the owner, who is the boyfriend of the person who I used to trade for my rent.  Building trust by following through on what you say you will do in a world where so many people fail to do that can offer many opportunities.

The trend towards urban homesteads is really getting big. When I first heard about this, I was stoked.  I remember the book 5 acres and independence.  Now people are saying they can be self sufficient with a city lot. I’ve been reading about these folks for years http://urbanhomestead.org/  I am glad to revisit their site and get some ideas.

We aspire to have an urban homestead here.  We have a wood stove, chickens, lots of building supplies that we are collecting, dreams to have aquaponics systems and grow all kinds of food inside and out.  We are going to work on a system based on this really simple approach http://www.aces.edu/dept/fisheries/education/documents/barrel-ponics.pdf

My goal is to eventually live on our land at Living Springs www.christiancommunities.com  This is a great place to live because our neighbors are more intentional than most places. People who have bought land that is part of about 600 acres that was bought by Bob and Joan Rutz want to be more cooperative. Most are Christians, but sharing this value of following Jesus is not mandatory.  In fact, before we bought our land, we had not surrendered our lives to Christ, and still we were welcomed into the intentional neighborhood. One of the great things about Living Springs is the community building where there are showers, washing machine, electricity and a place to have gatherings which people who live on the land can utilize. There is also a wonderful lake, and over the years a great volleyball court has been created. This is the power of intentional neighborhood.

My dream is to have a school where people learn everything they need to know to live a healthy life, including diet, simple living, wilderness survival skills, spiritual healing, how to have a vibrant, real relationship with Jesus, communication, conflict resolution, parenting, and how to start a community.  My big dream is that there will be all kinds of great things happening at Living Springs and the entire 600 acres will be filled with ministries and smaller communities that will be a rich culture and life for all.

This past summer I went on a tour of Christian Intentional Communities.  The early Christians, for the first 300 years, lived in intentional neighborhoods and communities.  They had to live in close contact with each other for two reasons:  In order to follow Jesus teachings–and they passionately wanted to follow Jesus teachings, community was necessary.  No one forced them to live this way. It was a choice.

The second reason is because they were so intensely persecuted.  They needed each other just like the people who live in countries where Christians are persecuted even to this day.  The trend for Christians to live in intentional community is intensifying as Jesus followers are realizing that so many aspects of the faith they grew up with are not meaningful and relevant. Living together, simplifying their lives so they can share and identify with those who are needy, serving and sharing spiritual practices together, and even growing food and creating businesses so they can help each other and their neighborhoods is important to the folks I visited.  I was so inspired by my month long trip where I stayed a week at each community: Koinonia Farms, Reba Place Fellowship, Plow Creek Community, and The Simple Way.

I think that visiting communities is one of the most important things that an aspiring communitarian can do. If you go to places like the Ozark Area Community Congress, a yearly gathering of folks who are interested in alternative life styles, you are sure to meet someone from some community that you might like to visit. That is how I got to visit East Wind–because a person from East Wind attended my workshop on conflict resolution and he thought I might be a good addition to the community.

There is a trend toward the idea of community of communities. When a community is smaller, things are more intimate and more values are easily shared.  Then when communities can connect with other communities, there is a richness and cooperation and shared resources even like cooperative health insurance.  Here is a link to this concept https://www.facebook.com/communityofcommunities

Well, since I have been researching and experiencing intentional communities and alternative life styles for the past 40 years, I could go on for a long time!  Things like in the past experimenting with poly-fidelity–which is group marriage–that is definitely alternative! Even though I know that monogamy is the way I want to go if I ever get married again, having that experience definitely contributed to a lot of growth.  Home schooling, having home births eating healthy, being vegetarian, not giving our children vaccinations, using natural methods for healing, concern for the environment, wanting to grow our own food, attachment parenting, never depending on the government for any kind of aid or income, and living a super simple life where I have not had a regular 9-5 job with benefits in my life–all that is pretty alternative.  I feel very encouraged that all these trends are becoming popular. At last I am not an outcast.

I have come to the conclusion that living a simple life and focusing on what is most important to me-my relationships with my family and community–is the best alternative lifestyle I can ever life. We all share a passion for following Jesus and living a life that serves and exemplifies his teachings–and that is so wonderful.  We want to invite more people into our circle — but we are still not able to do that for various reasons. But we have a very rich life right here, right now!

How Immanuel Approach helped victims of sex-trafficking

I have been given permission by Karl Lehman, www.immanuelapproach.com to share his emails about inspiring stories about this wonderful, simple, healing method that helps people (even non-Christians) connect with Jesus. I especially liked this because of the fact that this helped victims of sex trafficking heal.I also hope this will inspire other community members to try out this approach.  Here it is:
Just wanted to send a quick note with a few more stories from the India trip.
As most readers probably remember from previous notes, most of the stories we have shared have been from e-mails Mark sent from India or stories we heard from Mark after he returned. And as most readers probably also realized, most of Mark’s stories were big picture, overview stories, since Mark was always floating from one group to the next in order to provide supervision for the whole team, and so was only able to observe small pieces of many different individual sessions. However, last week two of the women from the trip were at one of our training groups, and so I finally got to hear more details, especially regarding Immanuel sessions with the girls at the safe house.
In case you haven’t seen previous notes about the India trip, these are girls between the ages of 11 and 24 who were rescued by the anti human trafficking team. Some of them were sold into the human trafficking system as early as 5 years of age, and a common story was that the young girl would initially be trained and used as a beggar, and then sold to men for sex when she was older (but not much older). The women on the ministry team spent a morning with the girls, just loving on them in practical ways (like painting their nails, singing with them, and giving them lots of hugs), and then in the afternoon the women on the team facilitated Immanuel approach exercises in small groups.
The exercises started with positive memories and appreciation, and then the girls were invited to simply invite Jesus to be with them and ask Jesus to help them perceive his presence. There were a number of Hindu and Muslim girls in the group, but they also wanted to participate and were willing to try this simple prayer and invitation. Note that the girls were not told that they had to be Christians in order to participate and they were not told what to expect. The ministry team women simply explained the exercise and then invited the girls to participate if they wished to do so.
And even though the ministry team was familiar with the Immanuel approach, and had seen many of the people they prayed with connect with Jesus, they were still amazed by the results. Out of about 20 recipients (15 safe house girls and then some of the staff), all but two had profound, beautiful experiences with Jesus. One of the most interesting parts of the experience was that many of the girls (including the Hindus and Muslims) started to describe vivid mental imagery of a man in a white robe who was gentle and kind. And even though they had spent most of their lives being abused by men who used them as beggars and then forced them into prostitution, they immediately felt safe with this “man in a white robe.” With tears streaming down their faces, they described being held, comforted, and encouraged. They reported that this man in the white robe held them in his lap, hugged them, stroked their faces, told them he loved them, told them that they were good and beautiful, and that he had good plans for their lives. And again, amazingly, they all felt safe as he held them, and felt that his gentle touch as he stroked their faces was safe and good and life-giving. Furthermore, all of these girls (including the Hindus and Muslims) somehow came to realize that this man in the white robes was Jesus.
Interestingly, Jesus did not take the girls to traumatic memories. He just spent the whole time holding them, loving them, comforting them, and encouraging them. At first this puzzled Mark and I and the ministry team, since we knew that all of these girls desperately need healing for their many traumatic experiences, and we assumed that Jesus would start right out with emotional healing work. But then we realized that Jesus actually knew what he was doing. Those who know about working with trauma know that the first thing you do is to establish a safe place of connection and trust, which then serves as the context and foundation for the healing work. Sometimes this can be established very quickly, especially when the recipient already knows Jesus and already has a relationship with the facilitator. But as we thought about the sessions at the safe house we realized that these girls would understandably need some extra time, just being in a safe place and building trust with this “man in a white robe.” I expect that Jesus will lead them to do healing work when the time is right, but I’m glad that he had better clinical judgment than the rest of us, so that he knew to start with an entire session of just loving on these girls.
I hope this encourages you as it has encouraged me. 
 
Blessings, 
 
Dr. Lehman/Karl