Category: life together

the Family of God

Some of the greatest families that I know love taking care of other people.  The Cobbs, the Davidsons, the Orozcos…I can’t begin to count the number of times I have been invited into the lives of these families.  Or the number of wonderful things that I have shared at their tables.  Things like corn bread casseroles, dinner rolls, sweet potato pies, sweet tea or hot coffee, and conversations.  And I’d rather not try to count the number of pounds that I have gained in the process.

But for these families, taking care of others is never at the expense of the love that they have for each other. The love that they have for those outside of their family is an outpouring of the love that they share, and the expression of that outward love strengthens their love for each other.  Of course, they’re not perfect…all families have difficult times.  But the healthier families that I know seem to understand that if they aren’t doing the good, hard work of loving each other, they won’t be very effective at loving those outside of their home.

I do know families who try to love others while neglecting each other.  Sadly, most of the families that I know of that fit that description are those of professional church ministers (see footnote).

This is a trap that we easily fall into as a community.  We want so badly to do something amazing for God.  We want to be impressive.  I can’t tell you how many times we have stressed ourselves out trying to figure out what we are supposed to do, what we should focus on, what our mission should be.  Sometimes we are so idealistic that we can drive ourselves to cynicism…towards ourselves.

As a side note, there is a great deal of irony in being both idealistic and cynical.

But the reality is that we will never be able to live into the mission of God until we are able to live as the people of God.  Building each other up, carrying each others burdens, being devoted to one another in sisterly/brotherly love, or however you want to say it.  Jesus said it this way: by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

This is the evangelism strategy that I couldn’t learn from a sermon.  This is the soteriological truth that I couldn’t learn in a seminar or Bible class.  But without realizing it, I did learn it from a few great families.  That is one of my favorite things about the Kingdom of God.  It has a way of showing up where we aren’t looking for it.  Even while I was sitting in a pew trying to hide from the Kingdom of God, it found me.  And it was because of families like the Cobbs, the Davidsons, and the Orozcos…because of the way their love reached out beyond the borders of their family, drawing others into the joy of the Family of God.

May we be a people who are drawn deeper and deeper into the love of God.  May we know that even as we experience the pain of separation from God, from each other, from the Earth, even from ourselves, that we are all made in the image of God and therefore have within us the beautiful spark that mends.  And may we be a people who sees the reality within reality that we are the Family of God.

(Footnote:  I am not trying to assign blame, just expressing a pattern that I have seen.  I’m also not saying this is every minister I know.  What I am saying is that churches often have unrealistic expectations for their staff, even if they don’t intend to.  And church staff often have even more unrealistic expectations for themselves, which can be a reflection of their church’s expectations, their upbringings, and even fear of their own inadequacies…something that was likely the case for myself as a minister.  I am also becoming more concerned about the expectations we have of our nation’s teachers, but that’s another post entirely.)


As a member of this community of people, yet as a person living outside of the neighborhood, I have struggled some with how I fit into the dreams of the community at large. I suspect these feelings are natural, and have been affirmed in my place as a member and in my feelings over the last few months. for me, the hardest part is the disconnect between what I feel called to be doing (loving neighbors in the College Heights community at large) and where my life is now (living in a small but comfortable apartment right next to campus, spending most of my time in/around school, preparing to graduate in May).

With all that said, John, Rosten, and I have started on a new project that has already reenergized me and given me a focus on something I think could greatly benefit both the St. Ann Community and the College Heights neighborhood.

It’s called aquaponics.

The basic premise of aquaponics is combining aquaculture and hydroponics. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of those before, I’ll walk you through it.

What an aquaponics system could look like.

At its simplest, the fish (typically Tilapia) swim around in the water, producing waste. This waste gets pumped up into the grow beds, which are filled with rocks or other material for the plants to sit in. The plants’ roots filter the water, using the nutrients from the fish waste to grow much faster than plants left in regular soil. The now-filtered water is sent back into the fish tank, clean and ready for the fish to use again. All in all, this process grows plants and fish quickly and without harsh chemicals and pollutants. The result is yummy vegetables and fresh fish.

Our plan as of now is to research aquaponics and build a trial system, with the hopes of maybe expanding, and later being able to teach those around us how to grow healthy food right in their backyard. It should also prove an interesting conversation point to get us talking with the neighbors. And in my mind, it’s hard to beat a good old community fish fry to get to know folks.

[Edit: Drew didn’t give this post a title, so I (Rosten) decided to add one.  It’s from a line in a song by State Radio, “Dr. Ron the Actor.” John introduced us all to this awesome band, and they’re one of my personal favorites.  Check them out!]

St. Ann Community Retreat

From Friday night until Sunday afternoon, we will be going to Buffalo Gap for a community retreat!  We will be talking about our life together thus far and who we are moving forward.  Please pray for us as we have this time of discernment, growth, and sabbath.

community updates…

So a few things have changed since the first time we told you about ourselves on this blog.  For the life of me, I can’t decide how to order the telling of those changes, and will therefore order them using the first method that I remember learning in grade school…alphabetically.  (Interestingly enough, after I decided to order them alphabetically, I realized that this actually places them in chronological order as well.  Looking back, that probably would have been the more logical choice in the first place.)

First of all, Drew Bowen took some time out of his busy schedule of scholastics and racial reconciliation to marry the love of his life…the talented, energetic, hilarious and beautiful Amanda “Panda” (Shoemaker) Bowen.  Amanda grew up in Dubai, where her parents still work as teachers.  Amanda works at Lee Elementary in Abilene, where she spends most of her time loving on special education children grades 1-4.  The two of them first met at Texas A&M University, and eventually Drew was able to win her heart through his rugged good looks, excellent leadership qualities, and embodiment of the word “persistent.”  Amanda and Drew currently live near campus, next door to our good friends Laura and Adam Hollifield.

Benjamin Covington, a long-time friend of our community, joined us this Summer as we moved to College Heights.  Ben is a Master of Divinity student at ACU, with emphasis in Missions and “being a Jew like Jesus.”  He loves baking, sewing, giving massages (not joking), and reading ancient near-eastern texts.  He has been living in our living room for the past three months, but will soon move into Laura’s old bedroom, while Laura will be moving into the Kirby’s old bedroom, which leads us to our next bit of news…

Deborah and Joshua Kirby have moved into a new house two doors down, greatly expanding the square footage that we are able to cover in our partying and merriment.  It is a lovely, large home with plenty of room for Ann and Julian (our cats) to run around and plenty of space for guests and visitors.  Like several houses in our neighborhood, their house had previously been condemned, but has been reclaimed over the past several months.  We are very excited for them to have more space to hold all of the babies that they will undoubtedly begin producing very soon…pictures to come.

Keith Owens has finished his time in graduate school, and has recently been hired by ACU!  He will be working with technology services, a field in which he has great passion, skill, and experience.  In fact, the computer that I am currently typing at would not currently be usable were it not for his services.  Mad props, brother.  Mad props.

Those are the main updates for individuals.  Of course, life is always happening with everyone in the community.  John and Shannon are still John and Shannon, bouncing around making the world a brighter place.  I’ll get to see them in about 30 minutes at Hope Church of Christ, where The Light Parade will be playing tonight.  Laura is still wonderful, but that comes as no great surprise to anyone that knows her.  She’s in the kitchen cleaning something, as is often her way.  I can hear music being played from a car parked a couple of houses down, and I wonder if our elderly neighbor is considering telling them to turn it down (Harley, if you read this, I’m talking about someone else).  We met a young man across the street the other day, and he now likes to come by and tell us about his theories on politics and music…to give you a general idea of the nature of these theories, he’s positive that Obama is the anti-Christ.

And I can’t imagine my life without any of these people.  Come by and see us sometime.


“What does it mean for me to be hospitable to my roommates?  I must assume the best in their intentions.  I must ask myself, ‘where is the image of Christ in the things that rub me the wrong way?’  I must encourage the image of Christ in others, and seek to understand (rather than only seeking to be understood).  I must pray that they are honest with me, even while I offer complete, loving honesty to them.  I must confess my sins if I am to expect the same from them.”

I wrote that about a month ago in my journal.  It was a Sunday morning, I was with the Buffalo Gap Church of Christ, and I was writing instead of listening to the sermon.  Not because the sermon wasn’t good, mind you…if you ever get the chance to hear Stephen Johnson preach, take it.  I was writing because I was angry about something that had happened in the house on Saturday, which incidentally was my birthday, and a perceived wrong always seems to hit me a little worse if it is on my birthday.  Instead of dealing with the frustration in my heart, I sat on it and didn’t say anything.  During the sermon, Stephen said something that reminded me of an entry in my journal from a few weeks before.  While I was searching for that entry, I noticed some notes that I had written about hospitality as a communal virtue.  I talked about how I want us to be a “house of peace,” a community that is “gentle, nurturing, and honest with those we welcome,” always “prepared to share and give even when it hurts.”

The amount of information that I retained from my undergraduate studies in Psychology is fairly unimpressive.  One thing that I do remember, however, is that we very often attribute our positive actions to internal qualities (i.e. “I saved that little old lady because I am a good person”), while we attribute our negative actions to external factors (basically, that the situation that we found ourselves in demanded us to act in the way that we did, like when I was in kindergarten and I got in trouble for not following directions and blamed it on the kid next to me).  On the flip side, we often attribute the negative actions of others to internal qualities (“they killed that cockroach because they are a bad person”), and we attribute their positive actions to external factors (“he only saved that little old lady because he was trying to impress that pretty girl…”).  Basically, we have this great little psychological game that we use to train ourselves to think that we are more rational, moral, thoughtful, and righteous than the other people around us.  You might be a better person than me and have no idea what I am talking about, and if you are, I apologize for assuming that you are like me.  For all of us humans, let’s continue.

As I read those words about hospitality in my journal, I realized how inhospitable I was being towards my roommates.  I would much rather play the little psychological game and assume the best of intentions in my actions, while keeping a tally of the little things that my roommates do that irk me.  Reminders of why I am more rational, moral, thoughtful…and righteous.  Of course, the irony is that this behavior is so obviously irrational, immoral, and unthoughtful.  And as for righteous: “why do you look for the speck of sawdust in your roommates’ eyes, all the while ignoring the plank that is in your own?”  (Yes, that is a paraphrase.)

Hospitality is a funny thing, because we can hardly begin practicing hospitality to a stranger if we do not practice it towards those that we are closest to.  Our homes will never be houses of peace if we get hurt and then just sit on our negative feelings and never say anything about it.  We can only welcome others with gentleness and honesty if we are first gentle and honest with ourselves and our roommates (or families).  And how can I ever expect to truly share with others if I retreat into a cocoon of self-pity any time I experience hurt?

May we be a people who look for truth and good in a moment, rather than focusing on what is false and painful.  May we be a people who love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  And may we be a people who search for the image of Christ in everyone that we encounter, because that is where hospitality begins.

(This is posted under “life together,” and so I thought it would be fitting to end with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together: “As only Christ can speak to me in such a way that I may be saved, so others, too, can be saved only by Christ himself.”)

Thanks for a great day!

We want to thank all of you for your part in the day of prayer and celebration! Whether you came out and prayed for an hour or two (or 8, as a couple of our friends did), brought out food, came out for the 11 PM celebration and story-time, prayed from afar, or even if you have no idea who we are and were confused as to why you were even invited, we praise God for you and celebrate the unique ways that God has led you to this point in your life.

Pay attention to the ways that God is moving around you, and join in. Meet someone who is different from you. Talk to someone who is a stranger (or someone who is strange to you), and listen to their stories. Search for the image of Christ in everyone around you.

Again, we as a community are blessed by all of you. Thank you for being a part of our life. We pray that we can all share in the family of God together, in this life or in the life to come.

The St. Ann Community

Janet Mendenhall, chef of all that is wonderful.

Interestingly, this is completely candid for Lily.

Our buddy Michael (Fish) is happy to be cold!

We are in conversation with a lot of people at any given time, and we were recently asked some questions by a church that we are friends with.  First, they wanted to know what we mean when we say that we are an “intentional community.”  Second, they wanted to know some statistics and general information about Abilene…essentially asking, “Why Abilene?”  These are questions we have heard more than once, so here is how we responded to our friend/church:

Hey (name removed), sorry that I haven’t talked with you in a couple of weeks, the semester got busy!  Half of our community either has mono or some kind of stomach bug right now.  Community is a huge blessing, but it certainly has it’s unique difficulties; if one of us is sick, everyone is sick.

This brings me to your request for a definition of the term “intentional community.”  In non-religious terms, Wikipedia gives a fairly good definition, in that we are “a planned residential community designed to have a much higher degree of teamwork than other communities” (the article also emphasizes that members of these communities usually share beliefs, common practices, and resources, which are all important factors).  If I were to alter that definition, I would say that we are most certainly not a secular community; while we hopefully have a higher degree of teamwork than we would if we were separate, that is not our primary focus.  As a community, our primary focus is God.  We desire to seek God, to follow God, to learn what God is doing in our world and specifically in Abilene, TX.  If there is any teamwork present, it is through the grace and providence of God, and through the power of the Holy Spirit drawing and binding us together.  Our focus is to become more formed into the image of Christ, and to search for and nurture the image of Christ in others.  If that formation helps us grow synergistically as a team (and we think that it will and already has), then we are blessed.

In practical terms, we are a community in that all seven of us live together, pray together, eat together, work together, and go to meetings together.  While we do have our own personal possessions, I feel confident saying that none of us would hold back giving anything for the need of anyone else in the community (and honestly, that tends to be the way that we deal with people who are not direct members of the community as well).  We are intentional in that we are constantly working to draw ourselves together and towards Christ, and that we know to whom God is calling us.  It might help to compare us to a standard group of roommates.  While standard roommates often do some of these things together, it is also possible to live with someone and yet never actually be a part of their life.  Most roommates choose where they will live based on how close to campus they will be, or how cheap the rent is.  We are intent on being students of each other and advocates for each other, and we believe that this is forming us into a greater ministry team than we could otherwise be.  We are intent on following God wherever that call might take us.  Or, to speak of how we relate to each other, we are becoming a family, or at least we are learning together what it means for us to be a family.  Moreover, we hope to learn what it means to be family with our neighbors in the College Heights neighborhood.

I have never been very good at giving concise, specific answers, so if that was not helpful, please let me know and I will either try again, or ask someone else in the community to take a swing at it.

You also asked for some statistics, so I will tell you what I have found.  Abilene has approximately 120,000 residents.  In 2006 there were 37 churches of Christ in Abilene and in the towns around the city, and approximately 11,170 adherents total in those congregations.  While those numbers do not speak of the churches in town that are representative of other denominations, I can tell you that the Church in general is underrepresented in the College Heights neighborhoods of Abilene.  What little presence the Church has in those neighborhoods is segregated, both racially and socio-economically.  I do not know the statistics to tell you the deep need of Abilene, or the ways that parts of Abilene have been scarred towards the Church.  So here is a story.

Our friend Steve’s son was driving slowly through the College Heights neighborhood one day, dreaming about possibilities, but also mourning the destruction of urban sprawl.  While he was driving, a woman waved at him, motioning him to talk to her.  She asked him, “are you a cop?”  He said no.  “Are you looking for drugs?”  Again, no.  She wiggled her eyebrows and suggestively asked, “are you looking for company?”  Again…no.  Finally, realization and cynicism dawned on her, and she stated:

“Oh.  You’re here to help us.”

College Heights needs people who are dedicated to seeing them not as a ministry, or as people who need outreach or a handout, but as people who were made in the image of God.  We need the people of College Heights because, as Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke, “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  That is why we are intentionally in community with each other, so that as we move into the neighborhood and eventually into the hospital, we aren’t just a ministry.  We are a family…a small part of the family of God, hoping to draw more people into the story of who God is and what God is doing in Abilene, TX.

poultry rebels strike!

Just for the fun of it. Because, seriously, who can really resist? I promise we really are more articulate than you might suspect from watching this. Many thanks to our friend Donald Philip Simpson for his masterful editing skills.  🙂

(Unfortunately, due to music copyright issues, you’ll have to click through to youtube. It’s well worth the click. Trust us.)