Organic Spiritual Fruit

I’m calling this post Organic Spiritual Fruit to explore the possibility of “pesticides,” in the form of manipulation, contaminating our spiritual mandate to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. 

What is fruit? Scientifically, it’s the final product from a season of growth, tilling, watering, weeding, etc… As a spiritual term, it’s a word often used to describe if someone is doing their job and bringing others into “salvation.” There have been debates through the centuries on how one produces fruit and quite honestly, we’ve found it to be quite a tiring conversation. Specially because, in the gardening process, we are often in the position of being tillers, which happens well before any fruit will come. And so, we’ve come to recognize that how God uses one, isn’t necessarily how he’ll use another. In the ancient text it says that God is the one who puts the body together and we find this an encouraging and trustworthy saying.

vine-iconIn the ancient text, a disciple named John, records Jesus painting a picture of the relational aspect of having faith in the God of all gods. He says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” 

He is showing us that we, as the branches, are involved in the process only so far as allowing the Father to graft us in. As a branch, connected to the vine, it’s expected that fruit will be produced, it’s part of the reality of being connected. However, as we read on it’s clear that the point is not about our ability to produce fruit but about being connected, relying on Jesus (the vine) to produce fruit in and through us.

He continues, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” Then he goes on to give the ultimate purpose of being grafted in. He says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.Emphasis on loving each other. 

As itinerants, meaning kinfolk who come alongside others to offer wisdom, counsel and encouragement, we often have problem solving type conversations with our hosts and one of the ideas that comes up is the idea of producing “fruit.” What I mean by that is, we often meet Christian leaders who really struggle in their “ministries” if others don’t respond the way they think they should regarding their mission/message. They are frustrated because they thought their church or community would be bigger or have a different demographic. They talk about revival and express a deep desire to reap from the harvest (meaning make new converts) and are often left in a quandary when the folks who actually end up walking through their doors are already believers, just disenfranchised or disillusioned. We hear them say things like, “I want to produce fruit. I want to see fruit.” They might add that they are living obediently to God’s call and feel they are doing what God asked but are consistently questioning God’s timing, as well as, their own abilities and wondering why they aren’t we seeing fruit? It seems that maybe their understanding of fruit is somewhat twisted. As we’ve thought about it, scoured the ancient texts and prayed for understanding, this is what we’ve found thus far. 

In Acts, during the ascension of Christ, Jesus affirms his disciples by telling them to go into all the world and share the story. And, they do. The message of God’s covenant to all of humanity through Christ crucified spreads like wildfire and the world is invited to be grafted into the vine as well. It’s a beautiful start to an awesome story. However, somewhere along the way this fantastically personal story of God reaching down and touching humanity was replaced by formulas, debates, wars and institutions. Add to that a taste of a Holy Spirit initiative to bring revival, and you have humans twisting up the idea that somehow the branch can produce it’s own fruit, which is an especially attractive idea for those who would benefit from such a wave of conversion financially.

So in the name of producing fruit (i.e..make conversions), we see ancient followers of Christ fighting over who gets the credit and a rebuke from one of their apostles stating that he planted, another watered, but God gave the increase. Yes, we just can’t help ourselves and the church is lining up behind favorite teachers and boasting in them in such a way that quarrels and divisions are happening. We pick our leader and then we follow their formula, whether that’s debating and rebuking, making stands politically and socially, shouting on street corners hell and damnation, knocking on doors or in modern times, setting up healing tents at festivals, or taking on an agenda based missional relationships approach; whereby “conversion” is still the measure of fruit. We know, we’ve sat with fellow believers who think they have the corner on the market, we’ve been to the meetings where the question was asked and a tally was taken regarding how many people we shared the Gospel with (i.e., the four spiritual laws) with over the past week or month. Those who had high numbers were well congratulated. Those who didn’t were told that they wern’t fruitful and given more tools, tracks, other tactics or teachings on how to share “the Gospel,” etc…

On a personal note, both of my grandfathers had radical conversion testimonies. Through out their lives, they both shared the redemption story of the Gospel of Jesus and how that changed their lives with whomever would listen, whether on street corners, under a big tent, in a meeting, prison, really anywhere they could. They were both “evangelists” and they introduced many into a relationship with Jesus. I’m sure it would have been said that my grandfathers produced much fruit. And, maybe they did. 

However, when I look beyond my grandfathers ministries, what I see is their daily need to tell their story, to bear witness to the way the living God reached down and redeemed their lives with unconditional love. In retelling their story over and over, they stayed connected to the vine. I reckon it was the same for the disciples and all of those who met Jesus along the way. How could they not tell of His unfailing love and faithfulness. How could they not tell about his amazing healings, teachings, and practical ways that he sat with those who most would not consider. How could they not tell of his upside down idea of the Kingdom of God. Even some who were specifically told by Jesus not to tell of their interaction with him, couldn’t help themselves. They were compelled because they were grafted into the vine. They were compelled without an agenda for conversion but because it was the natural response to being healed or restored and brought into the fold. 

As we listen to Jesus telling the story of the vine and branches, there is a profound message woven in between this idea of producing fruit. Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  Jesus says, loving him and keeping his command to love each other is a sign of friendship and friendship is very fruitful because he says it leads to joy! We see that participation in Christ’s life is the source of all good, all fruit, and that abiding in Him is the means of participation in His life. Obviously, what is meant is not our continuance in the attitude of love to Him, but rather our continuance in the sweet and sacred atmosphere of His love to us. He further assures us that, by keeping His commandments, we shall continue in that sweet home and safe stronghold of His love. (MacLaren’s Expositions) Of course the keeping of the commandments is something more than mere outward conformity by action. It is the inward harmony of will, and the humbling of our whole being. 

We have radical testimonies just like our forefathers, and like our forefathers, we find life in sharing our story with whomever will listen. We believe that God is an amazing creator, composer, promise-keeper, restorer. He is faithful, truthful, loving and just. He is everywhere all of the time, he knows everything and he is Holy. And, we believe that when God says that he is the one who puts the body together, that he is the one who puts the body together. We believe Jesus is the living God and when he tells the story of the vine and the branches, we respond in humility in our understanding of what it means to produce fruit. We have surrendered our self-sustainable version of producing fruit, our need to manipulate the seed, thus allowing God to make us apart of the greater whole. And so, it is by the grace given us that we say or do anything. It’s important that we who long to see fruit, do not misinterpret ourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to us. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

I know this idea of questioning and redefining what it means to produce fruit, flies in the face of traditional missions or church organizational ideology. For many, this idea of releasing the need to quantify our fruit production is a difficult one because there is actually something deeper hinging on that quantifiable fruit. It is money and we know, it always looks good if you can show financial supporter results. It validates to them that we’re a good investment. But listen to me, the Apostle Paul knew this too and he warns us through out his letters to not switch this up to make it about ourselves or our funding. And if we’re really being honest about it, that is a hard one to let go. But after five years of nomadic life, hearing the stories of those we’ve met around the world, we can testify that the Father really is an amazing gardener, Jesus really is the vine and releasing this manipulative, twisted version of what it means to produce fruit, to somehow prove to everyone that we are worthy, has not only allowed us to see God do amazing things for us, but also in and through us.   

We have come to understand that there is a bigger picture here. We continue to tell the story of God and the story of us, but not with an agenda for quantifiable fruit so that we can feel validated or so we can keep our funding going. We share this amazing story of God and story of us because we are compelled by Gods trustworthiness and because telling this story breaths life into our very beings. It is a direct response to the friendship Jesus calls us into and we are compelled to love. Any fruit that comes is directly because of the one who created us. 

Of course, we’re always learning and growing. We’re open to hearing other thoughts and perspectives on this issue. But for those we’ve met along the way, be encouraged by us tillers; God is faithful even when it feels like the land is parched and infertile. God is an amazing gardener and the harvest is His to reap.

So, for our kinfolk in ministry as a vocation, who have been struggling with this idea we leave you with a few questions and encourage you engage honestly in this conversation. Do you find your desire to produce fruit has been laced with manipulation? Do you resonate with the need to showcase results so as to prove your worth to the rest of the body? Are you selling your witness short based on your self-interest for profit or status? Are you caught up in church quarrels and feuds, offering your allegiance to your favorite teacher rather than to the living God? Are you twisting up the Gospel message so it fits in your nice little box? Are you willing to take the risk of trusting Jesus is who he says he is? 

We encourage you to take a good look in the mirror and evaluate the hold that this twisted ideal of producing fruit might have over you. Are you willing to explore what it means to function in “friendship with Christ” when the Christian culture around you says if you want to do this job, this is how you do it, this is how you prove your worth? Are you ready to swim upstream? 

Summer Camp

Camp TekakwithaCamp Tekakwitha

Bus ConversionEvery summer, for the past few years, we’ve volunteered for one week at Camp Tek in Shawano, WI.  Our friend and fellow bandmate, Eric Blumreich is the director at the camp. We met Eric and his family while our kids attended St. Matthews Catholic School in Green Bay, WI. We became fast friends with our love of music, laughter and over all good vibes. Eric recorded bass on our 2011 album Ashes to Beauty and over the years we have camped together, celebrated the 4th of July, and enjoyed countless meals together. So, volunteering for a week, was really sweetened as the idea of spending a week with the Blumreich clan was always a welcomed experience.

Last summer, during our week at camp we felt an inkling that next summer we’d like to explore what it would look like for us to volunteer all nine weeks. The conversations about that possibility were lively and exciting as the idea tapped into everyone’s desires to be in one spot for a longer stay. A desire for a place that would allow time to try our hands at new things including craftsmanship, mentoring, and of course, time to rest before our next tour.

As the year progressed, we solidified our plans and after a four-month tour in Australia and a trek across the US we began moving in the general directions of Wisconsin. We purposely booked only 6 premier shows for the summer so that we could really focus on our time at the camp. However, as we came closer to our visit, we were a little apprehensive about our plan to volunteer all summer, giving up our main source of income. We were anxious and we wondered how our daily needs would be cared for. And then, a few months before we arrived, Eric offered me a part-time position as a cook in the kitchen, which was our first sign that God was working things out.  We also had a few unexpected gifts via our Modern Day Missions fund and of course, the six shows offered enough to get us through. One day at a time, just what we need, when we need it. That has been a consistent theme for almost three years. Not sure why we seem to always forget but as we approach other unknown season, we will hopefully look back and remember and in doing so be an encouragement to others.

Camp TekakwithaOne young counselor asked me what I personally learned by being at Camp all summer. I had to think about it for a minute, the leading of song, connecting with staff, campers and overall support was familiar but being on staff part-time in the kitchen was a curious experience for me. I haven’t been in a roll where what I had to say or how I felt wasn’t necessarily an important part of conversation, rather my role was as a cook, preparing food, cleaning, organizing, and making sure things ran smoothly in the kitchen so that the campers had a good time at camp. Although my bosses were quality, it was a humbling experience the first few weeks, re-learning what finding harmony in an environment even when things were out of my control meant. I learned that harmony is squelched when we aren’t willing to see the impact we have on others. And, that harmony only comes when we lay down our pride and lift others up. It would be easy to spout off ideals and beliefs about building community and reconciliation as we travel and be disconnected from the realities of the daily grind. But, being at camp in that kitchen brought me down to earth and thrust me into a situation that I probably wouldn’t have chosen had I known the lackluster of it all. It’s through these uncomfortable experiences that our true colors come out and we find out if we practice what we preach. For me, this nine weeks was a blessing. It was filled with moments of deep observation, quietness and most of all the people who worked alongside me will forever be precious in my mind.

As for an overall picture, what did nine weeks at Camp Tek look like for the rest of team Holland? It looked like our teenagers engaging on a daily basis with peers, working out attitudes, faith and beliefs. Camp provided Graciana with her first consistent paycheck, as she worked full-time in the kitchen as an aid.  It was a summer of making camp friends, managing time and responsibilities, learning lessons about money and time management, and finishing up her finals towards high school graduation. For Banjo, it was pure bliss. He was engaged daily with the campers, whether he was an official camper or not, he was fully into every week, playing hard and making friends.

Camp TekakwithaCraig volunteered all of his time and talents at Camp and used his hands and creative building skills to enhance the grounds. He remodeled and organized the maintenance workshop, building storage sheds, walking paths, and team building games on the grounds. He was often seen rolling around on the lawn mower and eventually became Lawn Mower Man. One a side note, he used this summer to grow out his hair, needless to say not much sprouted and thus ensued the mourning process of an age gone by. Although, he did really try to rock that side hair. Who knows, maybe he’ll keep it and start a new wave of fashion.

Summer Camp was nine weeks of beautiful weather, getting to some of our unfinished projects, re-evaluating our families vision and desires, connecting with young people, mentoring and building up the body through worship, it was a time of reflection on all that has transpired over the past year. It was beautiful sunsets on Loon lake, camp fires, silly camp songs, swimming, Ga-ga Ball, cooking for hundreds of kids, participating as a team in the kitchen and sharing quality time with the Blumreich’s and the Saladars. It looked exactly how it was meant to look. Summer of 2014 we be one we all will remember.

The Realities of Downward Mobility

IMG_1977Downward mobility is one of the phrases used to describe the backlash to the consumerist “American Dream.” Websters says it’s moving to a lower social class; losing wealth and status.

And yet, there are many educated and socially conscious people who are making a choice to live outside of the cookie cutter box and in doing so are apart of the downward mobility movement. These are people who value quality over quantity, and community over individuality and those values drive most decisions.  Ideally it’s co-op housing, pooling resources, urban gardens and community driven.  It is youthful ambition and for many the decision is spiritually minded. For most, it is a naive assumption that they can “choose’ to live below their means without the stigma of ‘being poor.” It’s about having fortitude and being resourceful not poor. But, at some point or another the ideal becomes a reality, in more ways than they expected and poverty knocks at their door.

When we look back at our decision to downsize and become mobile it was very idealistic, romantic and for the first time in our married life we felt alive. Two years into this journey, we still feel alive and we know we are on the right path however, there are times when we question. The questions come during those moments when we feel like our choice is no longer a choice. One such moment came while at a grocery store recently. I had exactly $75 in my pocket and nothing more to spend. On a side note, in the past, we lived with credit debt and when I’d go shopping for groceries or anything within reason, I’d pull out my credit/debit card without blinking an eye. I wouldn’t pay much attention to prices or how much I was adding to my cart. Whether it was on my list or not, if I wanted it, I got it. Fast forward to cash in my pocket.

My daughter came with me and I had a list of about seven items to purchase. Once we entered the store, all sorts of other items ended up in my cart. We were shopping and totally engrossed in our conversation. When we got to the check out and the man rang up $189.00, I automatically began to pull out my pocket-book only to realize I had just the $75.00 in my pocket. I began to panic, the line was building up behind me and I had to decide what to do. I apologized to the teller and asked him if he’d put my order aside so I could run back to our bus and get my checkbook. He shrugged his shoulders with disappointment and set the cart off to the side. As we walked to the door, I felt so embarrassed. I’ve forgotten my purse in the past but always knew I’d be back with my credit card in hand. This time was different, I had no more money to come back with and I was contemplating walking out to never look back.

But, I needed the seven items on my list and I knew it was prideful to waste the gas to go to another store. And so, we stopped in the lobby of the store, composed ourselves, went back into the store, found our cart and began to pick through the items. We found the seven most important, figured that there might be a few extra’s we could add to the order and went back to the teller. By this point, the fella didn’t seemed pleased to have to go back through the order and delete most of the items. His manager was called over to help with the process and all eyes were upon us. As we rifled through the items watching the counter ring up closer and closer to our $75 dollar budget I had an overwhelming feeling of empathy for those who live like this on a daily basis. I know it was just a taste and that there are many who go without daily but it was a humbling moment. One that continues to go with me every time I go to the grocery store. I have gotten stronger and brighter when I reach the check out knowing that most likely I’ll have to put the top shelf back and that’s OK.

I am thankful for this process of understanding and the discipline that comes when we enter into the mystery. I am thankful that I can give a voice to the vulnerable feelings that one feels when there seems no recourse. I am thankful for those who come along side of us and share the burden. And, I am thankful for faith,  grace and mercy.

Refocus

20130930-160911.jpgAbout every three months or so we have a “dream talk”, a sort of come to the table talk as a family. Our hope is to refocus, hear each other’s longings, dreams, desires and frustrations, placing them on the table and offering them up to the author of our journey.  We want to be obedient, we want to be good parents, we want to be good stewards of our finances and we want to succeed. However, this isn’t always an easy task as we each often come with different agenda’s.

Our latest table talk exposed a few twisted ideals. We found that we’ve worked so hard this summer, playing shows, releasing our third album, and toiling in the music business that we’ve drifted towards self-sufficiency rather than interdependence without even noticing. We also found that our dream talks were becoming angsty with both of our children making demands about their expectations and us feeling guilty for not meeting them as parents. Needless to say, it has been an emotionally exhausting couple of months. And, although we have seen some beautiful parts of the country, explored rock caves, beaches, forests and rivers, we have forgotten our first love. We have learned that humility is not something we have until humbling ourselves is something we do. We have been isolated much of this time and we are longing for community and purpose beyond just playing music and exploring nature. (Although, we do love both!) Ultimately, this past table talk revealed that we needed to go back to the beginning, to remember where we came from, why we made the life choice we did to swim upstream, and who the author was. We needed to lay down our pride and revisit our vision statement:

“We are The Hollands! We are a Mother, Father, Sister and Brother. Bound by blood and vision to travel about this earth, spreading a message of reconciliation through LOVE. We make our way sharing the gifts and talents given us; Music, Craftsmanship, Mentorship and Instruction, Merrymaking and Community building. Our desire is to connect with those we find along the way and encourage community and growth in relationship.”

With this new focus we are anxious to enter into our next chapter of service and although we don’t know exactly how we will be used we know that we will be used well.

As we make our way down the coast of California we will be connecting with our friends at New Hope Community in Oakland again. They have just experienced the tragic loss of their youth pastor, Jose. He was helping to push a car that was broken down to the side of the road when a drunk driver hit him. He was rushed to the hospital but did not make it. We are prayerful as we make our way to them and however we serve, our hope is to bring a tenderness and strength to our time with them.

The second week of October we will be serving alongside a new community in Monterey, CA. We connected with Brian Bajari through a mutual group on Facebook called The Parish Collective. (on a side note, we also met New Hope through this group.)  We are looking to meeting Brian and his community Gathering By the Bay, learning about their work with the homeless and helping any way we can. We are also keen to learn to surf and Brian has offered to introduce us to that world.

By mid-Oct we will be in San Diego with our hosts, the Penley family. We met them when we visited with our friends and their family in Colorado Springs, CO. They gave us an open invitation. My grandfather was stationed in San Diego and I have always had a fondness for the city. This will be our first time there and we are excited to neighbor with the Penley’s.

The end of October takes us to Arizona, where we will park for seven weeks and work alongside our Kineo Community in Central Phoenix. This will be our second long-term stop since we launched in 2011. Our longest was our first stop in Sister, OR where we stayed for twelve weeks, serving at Vast Church and building our bus.

We are so grateful for our Kineo community’s commitment to us and to all of those around the country who have encouraged us on our way. We are thankful for God’s amazing grace and patience. Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desires of our hearts.

Secrets that the Mountains Holds

It’s one thing to see a documentary or read an article about an injustice and all together another to meet someone who is or has gone through the fire. To hear their story of oppression, discrimination, banishment, and persecution, to share in the burden. It stirs such primal emotion.

20121201-104932.jpgPulling into Salt Lake City the beauty of the mountains deceive us. There is a eery tone, a subtle offense in the air. Secrets. The clouds hang low, as if the mountains are whispering those secrets of abuse and corruption to the heavens. We have learned much from our visit to this area. Much about a people who traveled west, following a charismatic leader and all that can happen when one man has to much power. There is a distorted law that formed and twisted thinking that justifies secrets that rape the soul and kill. We live in a time where most religion is viewed as culturally sacred. Meaning, the religion itself might be totally wack, but because it’s gone on for a long period of time it’s now a culture and that culture should be preserved, respected and tolerated. And yet, as we meet folks who have experienced betrayal and persecution by their so called “family” of religious organization there is a feeling that rises up. A primal feeling… Trying to put my finger on it. Oh, yes… RAGE!

Paul says it this way, in Galatians, that by embracing a variant message the people loose freedom. Cursed, he says, be anyone who turns the message of Christ on it’s head, even an angel from heaven.

Freedom is a delicate and subtle gift, easily perverts and often squandered. And, how quickly we can move from freedom to the “law.” We rise up and fight for freedom. Freedom comes but along with it a sense of control, a taste of power which often finds the rebel as the oppressor.

Here is the test. Freedom is the gage. If freedom is squelched, we respond with opposition. When freedom is restored we hold on loosely, gently and with humility.