If it hasn’t become clear already, language is an incredibly important part of the process of figuring out what the Blackburn House is. Who it’s for; what it does; where it finds it’s source and being, etc. Now I’ll be the first to admit that this probably has something to do with the fact that my childhood dream, before I got this sudden and rather life-altering call to ministry, was to be an English Professor. In some ways my call into ministry may have been a gift from God to academia. I could have, quite possibly, been a very mean professor (some of my best-loved stuffed animals failed my rigorous final exams when I played “English Professor” growing up). But language is an undeniably important part of discerning the currents that underlie our work.
We figured this out last week in discussing our “venture projects.” Part of our grant is to execute these so -called “venture projects.” Now the word “venture” immediately overwhelms me. Business stuff like venture projects, sustainability, etc, are not a part of my wheelhouse. They’re outside my knowledge base entirely. Give me words, I’ll craft you something, give me business ideas, I’ll glaze over until you’re done talking about business ideas.
But there was a bigger problem with the language of “venture project” than just my own inadequacy. We realized that the flow of these “venture ideas” was towards our house. The idea was, ‘how can we get money into the house, how can we support ourselves? How can we become self-sufficient?’ The current began “out there” and ended with us. We were the telos of this idea of “venture projects.” This realization made us take a step back and say, is this really what we want to do with our resources?
When I first took the job as Program Director of the house I greedily consumed every book, article, even tweet about intentional community. I also annoyingly pestered every person I knew who had some knowledge base about intentional community. After many of them graciously agreed to meet with me, I heard the same thing over and over and over again: Pray together, eat together and have a mission outside yourself.
Well, we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve finally figured out how to pray together and eat together (it only took us four months), but we’re still in the process of figuring out our “mission together” piece. Occasionally slow on the up-take, I was thinking of these things separately. In my office I would say, alright, the next couple of pieces to the Blackburn House are our “mission outside ourselves” and our “venture projects.” It wasn’t until this past week when one of the members of the house committee said, “maybe we shouldn’t be focusing on how to get money into the house, and focus more on how we can better use the resources we have.”
Oh, right. This whole “venture project” thing, this whole, how do we make what we’re doing mean something, can’t have us as the end goal. It can’t be a current toward us. It has to be a current out. This idea of our “mission,” that must be our venture project. Being reminded of the ways our language directs our flow, we decided to call this project our “mission” instead. As a group we came to the conclusion that Jesus would probably never say to us, “Why didn’t you make more money?” But could probably say to us, “Why did your garden lie fallow? Why did your produce go bad? Why didn’t you use the ample space you had to invite people in, to feed people, to be with people, to do all those things I straight up told you to do?”
With that simple word change we changed the way the currents of our imagined work moved and changed completely our attitudes toward it. We are encouraged and excited, with tons a paths open to us as we begin the difficult task of doing God’s work in Todd; of being God’s hands and feet, and of figuring out just how to orient the current that flows out of us, the hunger that envelopes this house and this congregation, to do what is good and right and joyful, to give thanks to God.