Sunday, 20 September 2020

Practicing the way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love by Mark Scanderette - A Sort of Review...




Earlier this year, I read Mark Scandrette's book, 'Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love,' within minutes  of reading its opening paragraphs, I began texting a couple of friends to say: " Listen to the way in which this new book that I am reading begins,". I then went on to quote: 

"A number of years ago I invited a group of friends into an audacious experiment in which each of us would sell or give away half of our possessions and donate the profits to global poverty relief. We were inspired by what Jesus taught about true security and abundance, deciding that an experiment would eb a tangible way to explore the implications for our everyday lives."



I think my excitement with this opening to a book came from the fact that these are the sorts of questions and experiments that I long to engage in. The opening was also the opposite to the conversations that so often are considered important within our churches. Conversations that lead to risk-averse decisions and churches that look more like businesses that a group of people following in the footsteps of a homeless, itinerant rabbi who asked us to love God with all our heart and our neighbours as ourselves. The first paragraph of this book, to me, just cut through the rubbish. It was an invitation to love recklessly and intentionally. Something that I am not sure I have heard preached often. But before you think think that I am going to go on a 'rant' or even a 'lament' for the ways in which we live as Christians and the Church, I'm not! One of the things that this book does beautifully is to inspire you to think creatively about cultivating new paths and practices, rather than focusing on all that has been wrong and that isn't great. In his conclusion, Mark writes of how, "I'm convinced that modest, incremental changes to "normal" Christianity or "Church as usual" will not get us where we need to go. As leaders, dreamers, visionaries, we need to lead not just by what we say, but by how we subversively live out the alternatives. Many in our generation have been free to critique what is, but few of us have had the courage to enact the changes we can imagine. Some of us need to step out and humbly risk more radical steps of obedience. As Wendell Berry memorably said, "If change is to come...it will have to come from the margins...it was the desert not the temple, that gave us the prophets.""


This is a book about the margins.

A book about radical obedience,

risk,

transformation,

possibilities

and new worlds. 


A question that I have lived with for quite a while now is: what would it REALLY look like if we truly lived the words that Jesus said? I guess the fact that I am asking this question highlights my belief that there is a gap between the words that we read and teach and the lives that we live. For instance, what would it look like to live a life practically that believed that the poor are blessed and that theirs is the kingdom of heaven? How would our lives be different if we lived and breathed the words that the kingdom of God is here? 'Moving our faith,' as Nancy Ortberg wrote in endorsement of this book, 'from a thought to a lifestyle.'?

Through his book, and also from the years of actively living out the words of Jesus, Mark talks of how our methods of spiritual formation (the ways in which we hope to become closer to God and more like Jesus) have been too individualistic, information driven and disconnected from the details of everyday life. He writes of how for years he (and the friends he went on this journey with) had spent time in places with good teaching and with small groups where you could share and be honest and yet none of these things led to the transformation that a life following Jesus promised to bring. These methods of spiritual formation just didn't work. In fact they left them feeling completely frustrated. He wrote how Dallas Willard once told him: "...that to experience the kingdom of God, a group of people should get together and simply try to do the things that Jesus instructed his disciples to do. We don't enter the kingdom of God by merely thinking about it or listening to one another talk about it. We have to experiment together with how to apply the teachings of Jesus to the details of our lives."

Taking these words to heart and using the idea found in the Japanese word 'dojo', which means 'place of the way', and is used to describe a school or practice space for martial arts or meditation, Mark writes of how he and his friends formed a 'Jesus dojo' , a place where they (or anyone interested in joining them) could work out the vision and teachings of Jesus in real life. 

'You can't learn karate just by watching, and we can't learn to follow Jesus without practicing to do what he did and taught...So a Jesus dojo is a space where a group of people wrestle with how to apply the teachings of Jesus to everyday life through shared actions and practices.'

It was whilst I was reading this book, that I had the privilege of being invited to actually take part in a group with Mark Scandrette that considered in thought and practice what it would look like if we lived the words of the Beatitudes. Each week we thought about a particular question and intentionally did something practical that was keeping with the Beatitude we were focusing on that week. We formed a Jesus dojo. We were in groups with people from all over the world, which was great, but I could also see just how much more powerful it would be to form these groups with people you live alongside and together work out how to live the words of Jesus in your town or city. (Which was the intention of the group anyway - to encourage us to practice this way of life within our own settings.) Reading this book and hearing more from Mark literally left me with a sense of excitement as to the transformation possible if groups of us could form these Jesus dojo spaces and work out the words and teachings of Jesus in our every day lives. Maybe experiment with loving as passionately and recklessly as Mark and his friends, who gave away half of all that they owned in order to support those in poverty and declare an intentionality to live more simply and contentedly with what they had?! 

With all my heart I recommend this book. It will lead you through the journey Mark and his family went on and it will offer practical ideas and issue a beautifully curated invitation to begin to live and love the Jesus way. It comes with a warning and a promise though:

'Where will practicing the way of Jesus take us? To the place where it has always taken disciples since the beginning, toward the fault of love in our time: to suffering, persecution, misunderstanding and death. This is where his footsteps lead, and to peace and hope beyond the struggles of this age. The greater question is not whether we are willing to suffer, but will we risk being fully alive?'

Will we risk being fully alive? I have a copy of 'Practicing the Way of Jesus' to give away. If you would like it, please leave a comment below with your thoughts about what it would look like to truly live the words that Jesus spoke and taught. (Feel free to direct message me too, if you want to write more privately!) I will randomly choose a name in a few days time to send the book to. If you would simply like to buy your own copy, you can get it here

 

(I am most ashamed that this blog has been so severely neglected! Its neglect coincides with my beginning and leading a charity! For other blogs that I have been writing please visit www.soulfoodedinburgh.org or here)




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Saturday, 24 November 2018

Beautiful Inspiration




At the end of the summer I visited the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. Having been a fan of all things William Morris since I was a teenager; loving his philosophy that beauty was a human basic need, it was really special to visit the home where he spent his teenage years. The gallery is lovely. William Morris quotes are hung liberally and throughout there is a beautiful retelling of the story of his life.

Something that I had not known about Morris was that he was a regular public speaker.

When he was nearly 50, Morris, by then a successful businessman, took an extraordinary step: he became a Socialist.  In fact, Morris was one of Britain’s first socialists. For the rest of his life he campaigned to end the class system and bring about social equality. Angered by poor housing, terrible working conditions and environmental pollution, he hoped he would live to see a revolution. Such was his passion for social equality that he spent lots of his week travelling the length and breadth of the country speaking in town centres, market squares and meeting places about the inequalities and injustices of society.

Morris was terrified of public speaking. I don’t think that it was something he ever quite got used to doing or felt comfortable with. But a passion burned within him to address social inequality. And therefore, week after week he stood up in front of crowds of people and shared his convictions and heart. With his words, he hoped to bring change to the world.

One thing that I feel very privileged to witness at the speaker training workshops that I host, is the stories and passions that people hold. It is moving to hear tell of the sparks that ignited compassion, conviction and change within each delegate. Over the day we spend time looking at the stories that each of us carry that have inspired us to spend lives living for things that we hope will change worlds. From businesses that encourage community and connection to charities that challenge injustice, or simply words that changed our perspectives or have opened our eyes to beauty.

Earlier this month I hosted my last workshop of the year and was honoured to hear fabulous, heartfelt, moving stories from each participant. Two of those stories were from incredible women who I don’t think will mind my including them in this blog post!

Katrina Mather was inspired to begin The Body Toolkit, which hosts award winning health retreats in Scotland, due to health challenges that she had dealt with as a teenager and young adult. Katrina’s retreats have been described as ‘life – changing’. Knowing Katrina, the gentle, approachable , warm and intelligent passion that she carries in regard to health and well-being will be intrinsic to the success of her beautiful retreats.

At the same workshop, Zoe Anderson shared of how her family’s open house and extendable dinner table had shaped her profoundly and had been part of the inspiration that led her to work for International Justice Ministry – an incredible organisation that works to free people trapped by slavery worldwide. It was clear from the way in which Zoe spoke that she too, like her family, was a real gatherer of people through the kindness of her demeanour, heart and words.

Every participant carried a story that inspired and moved us all. The day was very special and reminded me of the power that a story holds. The ability to share - vulnerably -something of whom we are with each other makes connections that are deeply memorable, encouraging, inspirational and motivational. This ability is intrinsic to public speaking.

If you, like William Morris are somewhat terrified by the thought of public speaking or maybe you are just finding yourself in the position to need to do it for your work and are not quite sure how, then  I have two workshops that I will be hosting in January and February 2019 in Edinburgh.  The first, on January 16th and the second is on February 2nd. The days will run from 10:00am – 4:30pm and will be hosted in my home. The workshop will focus on the content of a talk. We will look at what it is to speak so that people will listen and we'll learn how to create a story- based narrative that will inspire and connect. Please get in touch if you would like to receive more information about the day. The cost will be £130, which will include all refreshments and resources.

I leave you with feedback that I received from Zoe and Katrina. I thank them both for taking the time to write! I thank them also, along with Michelle, Michael and Lauren, for inspiring me and making me want to be a better person. Something that every public speaker should do.

"I loved Saturday – thank you so much for a really special and helpful day. I left the workshop feeling completely empowered that I had a story, that it was worth sharing and that it would enrich any call to action I ever made. Having such a safe and encouraging space to explore the science of storytelling, how humans hear and therefore how we should speak, and to encounter other passionate individuals was invaluable. It was as if we were gathered around a fire – I left intrigued by the stories of others on the course; convinced by their ‘why’s’ and ready to hear their ‘what’s’. Practically, the take-away cue cards were a wonderful resource, I have already used them twice in three days! Thank you!” – Zoe Anderson (IJM)

“What a wonderful day we had on Saturday, both of us thoroughly enjoyed learning from you. The beautiful ambience and space you created, the inspiring company and serious food for thought (along with delicious real food). We had a really wonderful and thought-provoking time. Thank you so much.” – Katrina Mather (The Body Toolkit)



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Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Speaker Training Workshop, Saturday 15th September 2018, Edinburgh





Even though I have been speaking in public for many years now – representing charities or speaking at conferences or in churches – I still do occasionally get nervous if I am asked to speak in an environment that is somewhat out of my comfort zone! This happened a few weeks ago when I was asked by friends to speak at their wedding. I have never given a wedding talk before and although I felt really honoured to be asked to play such a special part in the wedding day, I was a little nervous as to whether what I would present would be what they had hoped for. 

My brief for the talk was a little challenging  in that I was given the fabulous text from John 10:10 - about life being lived to the full - to speak on and just 7 minutes in which to share my thoughts on the subject! I wasn’t sure that I could do justice to such a text in 25 minutes – let alone 7 – and so I needed to hone my thoughts and consider the key thing that I wanted to say? This took some consideration. Consideration is good...

Did you know that the shorter the talk or presentation that you have been asked to give – often the more amount of time is needed for its creation? Woodrow Wilson (28th President of the USA) once said:

“If I am to speak for 10 minutes, I need a week for preparation; if 15 minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

For any talk that you are asked to give you should be prepared to give the time to construct it carefully and thoughtfully. For any presentation, it is imperative that you begin with the end in mind; what key message do you want your listeners to take away? 

I knew that my friends were passionate about hospitality and community. I felt that these themes were also key to the passage and so using them and the word “Gather’, (that I had asked a friend to design into a picture as a wedding present that could hang alongside the newly - wed's dining table), I constructed my talk, about living life to the full, around these ideas. It is impossible, in any length of presentation to explore every angle of a subject, therefore it is always key that you decide clearly what you will include and what you will leave out.

A talk needs to take your listeners on a journey. From the moment that you begin to speak it is as if you take them by the hand and lead them from one place onto another. The more thought you give to that journey and the more carefully you create your talk, the easier it will be for them to follow were you lead.

If you have ever wanted some public speaking training and would like to know how to prepare a talk – long or short – I am hosting a one day speaker training workshop on Saturday 15th September (10:30am – 4:30pm) in Edinburgh.

Throughout the day I will take you on a journey.

 Initially, you will be introduced to some of the key features needed for a presentation that will inspire your listeners to hear what you have to say. We will then open up the fact that authenticity and vulnerability are the key traits of an effective communicator and we will look at what it means in practice to present yourself effectively and honestly in order to engage your audience.  We will spend some time focusing on the personal stories we carry that will be important to hold in focus when we present a talk to others.

We will learn that the word ‘Why’ is actually the starting place when we want to motivate others support and engagement. A good communicator never manipulates, focusing on ‘Why’ helps us to inspire.

The use of story will be a dominant theme throughout the day. We will discover that story is the medium that our brains respond to; we will learn how to tell a good story.

Finally, we will learn how to create a story - based talk, a presentation that will keep an audience engaged from beginning to end.

The workshop will be held in my home. I have found this works really well in providing a relaxed and warm environment. Lunch, homemade cake and good coffee will be provided! You will also receive ‘Cue Cards’ to take away that will aid you when writing your own presentations. The cost of this one- day course is £125. On the day there will be the opportunity to book a further session where you can present a talk of your own and put into practice all that you have learnt and where I can also help you to hone your presentation.  For more information or to book a place please e-mail jenny@jennifercornfield.com

And to Ruth Donaldson – Cameron and Mark Cameron – HUGE congratulations on your marriage! Thank you for asking me to be part of your beautiful day, it was fabulous and so are you!







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