Thursday, April 25, 2013

Of Tank Girls and Bucket Lists...

Some people know that i'm sort of a big fan of our country's armed forces.  What follows, then should not be much of a shock except that believe it or not, this journey really revolves around my daughter, Peri, and not me so much.  Starting late last year, i dropped friends in the office of Senator Joe Donnelly the following e-mail:

"This past year, my family has had to stand tough through some pretty difficult times as my wife has battled cancer, fought through chemotherapy, a resulting systemic infection, ICU hospitalizations, multiple surgeries and near death experiences, learning to walk again and a host of other battles.  It's been a great year in many ways, actually, but it's had more than its normal share of ugly too.  In the process, my wife has had an unbelievably undaunted attitude throughout it all, and has been an example for both my children and our little community of friends and family of her faith and ferocity in taking each challenge head on.  Because of my martial mindset and proclivities, i have probably uttered the phrase, "my wife is a tank!" a few thousand times to illustrate her relentless resilience and indefatigable spirit in the midst of all she has had to undergo.  I have illustrated for my daughter how despite her mom's slight size (my wife is 5' and 95 lbs), her spirit is just like our famed M1A1 Abrams battle tanks in battle.  You can hit them hard but they keep rolling, keep "bringing the thunder", and keep protecting the people inside them against everything that the enemy can throw at them.  Peri is similar to me in that she likes the rough and tumble, so often my military analogies are ones that she likes or prefers as she envisions her world.

I think i just didn't realize how much these images have impacted her until recently.  While i was in India two weeks ago, my friend Raj asked me about the movie "The Bucket List" and what it was about and what a "Bucket List" is.  I explained the concept and we had a lot of fun talking about what was on our respective Bucket Lists.  When i told Peri about that conversation, i asked her what, at 9 years of age, was Number 1 on her Bucket List, and she responded without a moment's hesitation, "I'd like to ride in a tank, dad."  A little surprised, i asked her for clarification.  "You know… like… a real battle tank.  One that our armed forces use.  I'd like to ride in one."  A little shocked that such would be #1 on an 9 year old girl's Bucket list, I cocked an eyebrow and said, "Is that because i've described your mom this year so much as a 'tank'?"  She smiled and nodded. It made me smile in return.  

Symbols are a big deal in our house.  We derive strength from them in whom we are trying to be and what we are trying to do to make sense of our world, our faith and how we follow Jesus to try to bring the Kingdom of God from "Up There to Down Here" in practical ways as we feed the Hungry, champion the Oppressed, give Voice to those who have none and care for the Marginalized.  As my children grow older, my wife and I do all that we can to try to grow, nurture and nourish those symbols, particularly as our kids begin to come up with their own.  

So i wondered if it is even possible, or what might need to be done to see if i couldn't get Peri an opportunity to ride in an M1 Abrams tank somewhere?  I have no idea if that's even legal, or if the US Army would permit a 9 year old girl to even sit inside one, but thought you might be able to direct me to the right people to at least ask as a starting point."  

Tomorrow, that vision will be realized as my family travels to Camp Atterbury in the southern part of the state, where Peri will have the chance to ride in an M1A Abrams battle tank that is being decommissioned from active service and place on display at the Camp's military honor museum.  She'll be able to sit in it as it makes its journey across the base with a US Army escort inside with her, explaining how it actually works.  Afterward, there will be a short service for the tank where its life and battle record will be reiterated, and then Peri will have a chance to take a guided tour of the Camp's museum to see the other exhibits on display.  We are so unbelievably grateful for the Donnelly's, our friends in their office and the US Army and Army National Guard for helping to make this dream happen, and will be excited to provide commentary and pictures on Facebook during the day!  We even sprung for full military BDU "fatigues" for Peri to wear tomorrow (pictured here).  We think she will look quite the part as well as have a great day!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"Do" vs. "Jutsu": A Martial Musing on Following Jesus

"Do" vs. "Jutsu"
There is difference in Japanese martial arts between what are called "Do" arts and "Jutsu" arts.  Do arts literally mean "Way of", where Jutsu arts more mean "Technique of".  This may sound subtle, but the difference is quite pronounced.  A Do art (JuDo, Karate-Do, AikiDo, KenDo, Tae Kwon-Do — though the latter is Korean) focuses not only the application of a system of thought in a martial setting, but the reason for it in the first place. A Do art focuses on developing a worldview and a "way of thinking" about everything in one's life rather than purely from a combat point of view.  A Jutsu art (Jujutsu, Aikijutsu, Kenjutsu), by contrast, focuses purely on combat application in given set of scenarios.  It doesn't care as much about the "why" as the "how", and stresses action more than thought or reason.  You might say that  Jutsu would be embodied in the phrase "flap your arms really hard", while Do would be embodied in the phrase "think like a bird".  

A Lesson from Aiki-Do
A few years back, i met a young woman in Chicago who was helping my wife and i build my daughter's "Samurai Day" (i.e. 7th Birthday Rite of Passage).  She is a sweet girl and was at the time recently divorced.  She said that she started studying Aikido as a stress reliever as she and her ex-husband fought and neared the end of their relationship, but was shocked at the implications of the Aikido techniques not only martial combat, but to basic conflict resolution as well.  She said that by the time she and her husband were finally divorced, she felt less anger than he did, less hurt than he did, and experienced a significantly higher degree of peace when they argued.  Why?  Because Aikido teaches "the circle" as the foundation to all of its techniques.  Aikido is about energy redirection rather than absorption.  It is about taking energy from your opponent and moving it in circles so that it spins around you and back to themselves without impacting you in the process.  She said that she found herself naturally simply doing the same thing when she and her husband would argue.  She wouldn't fight back, seek to harm him, etc. and she wouldn't "absorb" his insults either.  Aikido gave her more than just pure techniques for defending against an armed attacker; it gave her a way of thinking that taught her that energy "has to go somewhere" and that you "don't have to absorb it to use it".  She merely learned to redirect his energy until it wore him out and he left in a huff, all the while leaving her little the worse for wear.  She actually told me that had she started studying Aikido earlier in her marriage, she probably could have saved it.

"The Way" As I See It…
Most Christians that i know treat their faith as a "Jutsu" art.  It is a series of learned techniques that focus on pragmatic values, but are not necessarily an encompassing worldview.  We have labored to reduce our faith to a series of techniques to apply in a series of scenarios, but often fail to understand (or care about) the undercurrent of belief and theology that prompted such techniques to begin with, and thus end up with a radically truncated view of its full body.  Our people may know that if they have trouble with their marriage, they know how to pray or seek godly counsel (jutsu).  If they are struggling with disappointment or doubt, they know what Scriptures to read (jutsu).  If they want or need something, they know which systems to engage, which Christian books to read and perhaps even which Scriptures to quote (jutsu).  But it is not their way of life.  They can live any way that they like, actually, and only employ such "jutsu" techniques when they need to or are confronted with life's difficulties.  

But that's not how "The Way" is meant to be lived.  Like other Do arts, the life we live in Christ is meant to be an "all encompassing worldview".  It is meant to change not only "what" we think and think about, but the very fulcrum of "how" we think, how we evaluate what's going on around us, and how we respond to it.  Rather than looking merely for a few techniques to employ when we're having  a down day, a fight with our spouse or kids, or just need some encouragement that we're doing what God wants us to do, following Jesus is meant to be the lens through which we view all of Reality around us.  It is a Way (do), not a Technique (jutsu).  If we truly believe that everyone is precious to God and that He is worthy of their praise as a precious son or daughter in the approaching Kingdom of God, then The Way that we respond to them should follow accordingly. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Good Metric for "When To Exit"...

These are some of our friends in the small village of Kalavai where our GCC India Teams have been working for the past 4 years.  In that time, we have grown close to so many of the families, and as we near our "Exit" point from the village in July of this year, i am sometimes asked the question by friends and other church leaders, "How do you know when it's time to begin leaving?"

This is a great question, and it follows on the heels of one of the chapters that Rob Wegner and i talk about in Missional Moves when we speak about the "Monster of Dependency" (see Chapter 9, "From Relief to Development") and why so many partnerships between churches, organizations and indigenous people end in cycles of endless toxic charity that harm both the recipient and the giver long term.  As a result, what is really being asked often is not only "when to leave" a given community to allow the indigenous church to take the reigns and move fully forward, but also how to know when a given community is ready for that step before leaving them too early or staying too long.  Honestly, we have struggled with knowing this ourselves, so have begun to gather data to share with others.  As best I can tell, the following are hopefully some metrics to keep in mind for this process:

* Expectations on the Front End - We began our work in the village stating at the outset that we would be a temporary asset working in conjunction with the local church already in the village.  We have continued to reinforce that throughout our time there, and have also continually pointed to the local church planter as the "glue" that holds everything together.  I have even heard people in the village reiterate the concept back to me in saying, "We believe that you are our family.  You are our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.  We love you as you have loved us.  But we will be grateful when you are able to leave and go help other villages as well."

* Three Strata of Development - We learned from our friends at World Relief to categorize "needs" in a context into the following three strata:
1) What can people do for themselves?
2) What is the government's responsibility to do?
3) What can the people not do for themselves and the government will not do for them?

We have focused 100% of our efforts only in category 3) so as to ensure that our friends in the village are doing category 1) alongside us, and that the government is being held accountable to deliver 2).  This helps prevent the idea that "GCC is doing everything for us!"

* Consistent Survey and Analysis - We do a lot of on-ground survey and evaluation.  At least four times in the past four years, we have sent teams in with very specific mission objectives to gather data as a component of their time in-country.  Over the time, such has given us a usually reasonably clear picture of what is going on and what dynamics are in play in the village, and what needs to be addressed in subsequent teams.

* Objective Outside Evaluation - We have been blessed to consistently have both on-ground field staff with Life Mission International and also other "outside" observers (i.e. Social Workers, Professors, other Pastors, etc) who have consistently visited the village and been liberal with their evaluation and suggestions.  This has been critical as it has prevented us from receiving a purely one-dimensional view of change and transformation which we might have acquired if the people in the village or the local pastor were our only sources of information.

I don't mean to make it seem that the above process has been easy for us or our friends in India throughout this process, but it has given me some hope that we are on the right track.  When our final survey team returned just a couple of weeks ago from a week of living in "deep cover" (more on that in the next post), they were able to tell us the following story of one of our friends living in Kalavai.

"When we asked Lakshmi what the village was planning on doing for the next 4 years now that GCC teams were going to be formally exiting in July, she stated that, 'GCC and our friends with Life Mission International knew what we needed the lasts 4 years.  We will know what is needed for the next 4 years."  That, to me, is music to my ears, and helps me believe that we are on the right track for our strategic exit from Kalavai.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Of Matrix Movies, Missional Moves and Munchies...

If you've seen The Matrix trilogy, you will no doubt recall the creepy looking Sentinels that plague the groups of human freedom fighters throughout the series.  They are the sort of "bug + octopus" looking robots sent to destroy human ships, fortifications and centers of activity, and, to quote the film, they are "... exceedingly good at it."

Armed with multiple mechanical arms, thermal lasers, exceptional speed and strength and intelligence, a single Sentinel can make short work of just about any enemy. But that’s not the real reason that they’re scary. They’re scary because it’s never “just one Sentinel”. They hunt in groups, forming swarms and billowing clouds of metal and energy that coalesce into singular forces operating in unison that are simply more than even the best of the human resistance can really expect to defeat. In the third film of the series (Matrix Revolutions), more than a quarter-million of these mechanical beasts launch an all-out assault on Zion, the last human city, and even while remembering that the film is largely just actors and cgi images, the Sentinels are a thing of awe-inspiring panic as they overrun the rag-tag human resistance forces who are absolutely ill-equipped to deal with that kind of massively coordinated collective assault. 

Ironically, this same idea is the kind of thing we’re trying to cultivate here at GCC over the next couple of years as we look to combine both Centralized and Decentralized expressions of our life together into impact within our community and around the world. Except… you know… as advancers of the Kingdom of God and purveyors of Light and Hope (and not the final guarantors of Mankind’s destruction like the Sentinels). We are seeking to be individual lives and families that are formidable forces for the Kingdom of God in our homes, our schools and neighborhoods, our workplaces and our recreational activities. On our own, we are infiltrating every domain of society in order to shine the Light and Hope of a Savior who believes that Darkness and Evil have no place in His Kingdom. But we are also seeking to join ourselves together into a mass of like-minded individuals who function as Missional Communities, Essential Churches, Ongoing Ministry Teams, Short-term projects, Access Events and even all of the church together (and other churches around us) as a whole in some instances.  As such, we will be content with nothing short of every soul living On Mission and together forming a Force to be reckoned with in our community and our world.

On April 11th, Rob Wegner and i will have the privilege of addressing area pastors and business friends personally through the Aspen Group for a lunch where we'll get to talk about the kinds of things mentioned above. If you're interested in attending, you can sign up here to grab a spot. You'll get a copy of Missional Moves in the process, and some tasty food as well!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Flying Iron Hand" with My Son Elijah...

During the Vietnam War, US combat pilots became familiar with a coined term called "flying Iron Hand".  This originally stemmed from a series of US operations designed to suppress enemy SAM (surface-to-air missile) sites, but "stuck" beyond to mean the process of identifying, suppressing and destroying enemy anti-aircraft sites in advance of larger attacking forces.

Usually, as I understand it, Iron Hand missions are flown in pairs or small groups, with one aircraft basically serving as bait for enemy SAM sites while the other aircraft sneaks in and takes them out before they can fire their missiles at the aircraft doing the baiting.  It's a risky and dangerous proposition, but in a world of smart and guided missile threats, pilots have become extremely efficient at the process, often sending an experienced pilot to flush out the SAMs while a less experienced pilot does the actual hunting and smashing.

As my son Elijah just turned 13 this year, I couldn't help beginning to see in my own mind an entire jungle of things that could "shoot him down" in various situations (social and otherwise) in our increasingly complex world.  Most of these things pale in comparison to the "big targets" of teaching core values like Faith and Compassion, but are still things that could knock his plane out of the sky if he didn't see them coming, whether in simple day to day operations or in social settings as he grows older, dates girls and interacts with others.  As a result, I took Elijah to breakfast and told him that I'd like to be his Wingman one weekend a month or so to embark on an ongoing mission to knock out some of these potential "threats" before they happen.  I explained to him the concept of "Flying Iron Hand", and told him that I would be the more experienced pilot who flies out ahead to highlight the targets so that he can fly in behind and take them out with greater safety.  I told him that I had developed a basic list of things to make sure we covered, but that the list could grow and change as he grew and changed to make sure that we stay relevant and adaptable to what he feels are the greatest needs.  More than anything, I guess, it's just a chance for the two of us to both spend time with each other, but also intentionally make sure that certain manly qualities are passed from father to son.  Here are some starters for what we're going to cover in the next few months:

  • Wear a suit
  • Iron a dress shirt
  • Tie a tie
  • "Spit polish" shoes
  • Cook 2-3 decent meals or dishes
  • De-escalate a threat
  • Shoot a handgun
  • Basic self-defense
  • Pursue and treat a woman
  • Pick out flowers
  • Basic etiquette in a non-etiquette world
  • Behave at a formal restaurant
  • Basic First-Aid
  • Formally address a write a letter
  • Speak in public
  • Drive a car
  • Drive a car in an emergency
  • Jump a car battery
  • Change a tire

Do you have a list of possible targets?  Have you flown similar kinds of Iron Hand missions either with your dad or your son?  I'd love to hear about them!  Drop me a line either in the comments here on this post or via e-mail at


Friday, November 9, 2012

"I Love It When A Plan Comes Together!"

I grew up watching The A-Team like many people from my generation.  Now, as an adult, i watch re-runs and think, "why did i like this show?", but at the time, like many eager kids, i would huddle around the television each week just to watch Murdock go crazy, BA be tricked into being drugged so that he could fly on an airplane, and watch the rogue band of former Covert-Operators join together to piece together junk-yard scraps into some amazing war-machine to help out a poor or oppressed family and ultimately triumph over tyranny.  But best of all, i loved Hannibal, the team's leader (played by George Peppard).  I loved the fact that virtually every episode would end with him taking a long draft of his stogie, smiling grittily and saying as he puffed smoke, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

Recently, on one of our GCC India Teams, one of our team members passed by a little group of village children gathering impromptu before school to hold hands, close their eyes and speak softly for a few minutes before heading into their day.  When the team member asked one of the village elders what the kids were doing, the village elder explained, "They do that every day.  They gather to pray on their own before heading to school.  They pray for their families, for their teachers, for their classmates and for the specific things going on in their lives.  They pray in the name of this Jesus that you have been speaking about."  I asked Raj to send me a picture of this little gathering and you will see it here.  You'll notice little Rajasuri (that i mentioned in a previous post) standing second from the left on the far side of the circle too.

From my perspective, this is a snapshot of what it means when all these things that we talk about in terms of "church based community development" come together.  Ask any of these children why their lives are different now than they were four to five years ago and they will point to the People of God in their midst.  They will point to Jeyan and Jency (the local Indian church pastors), to adults in the community who have come to Jesus and are working more often, have been liberated from slavery, and are seeking to be better parents and spouses.  They will point to a clean water well, a community vegetable garden, to whole and strong homes now constructed over their heads, to a community center in their midst and to regular visits from Indian mentors through Life Mission International and new friends from the far away land of Granger in the United States.  This little band here marks what it looks like when a plan comes together.  And, like Hannibal from The A-Team, "I LOVE it when a plan comes together!"

Friday, November 2, 2012

Of HALO 4, History and Newfound Battlecries!

My family plays video games.  We use our XBox Kinect for fun exercise during the long Winter months here in Northern Indiana, and after the kids have gone to bed, my wife and i stay up some nights and save the planet from various impending threats (see?  you can sleep easy knowing that Jack and Sami Magruder are hotly engaging alien invaders and robot apocalypses while you rest!).  If you've been aware of video games in the last decade or so, you probably haven't been able to miss the HALO franchise.  It's an exceptionally well-done series of video games aimed around an intergalactic war between humans and an advanced alien army called "the Covenant" who are bound to wipe out humanity.  That may not sound too unique, but the franchise always delivers with stellar gameplay and a fun story-line.

In a couple of days, the newest game in the series (Halo 4) will hit shelves.  However, for the past five weeks before, we have joined many people in tuning in to a live-action web series that builds to the game's release called Forward Unto Dawn.   Featuring both some Hollywood favorites as well as new faces, FUD seeks to provide some back story for the Halo universe and gives you first glimpses into First Contact between Humans and hostile Covenant Forces.  It's a very well-done series (though starting in about Episode 4, it's intensity and violence pick up substantially), and we have been pleasantly surprised by the acting, writing and effort.

Through watching the series, I stumbled across something that has given me considerable pleasure.  While the short films center on a small squad of military cadets at a futuristic training academy called the Corbulo Academy of Military Science (CAMS), they are told often of whom the academy is so named:  General Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo.  Corbulo was a Roman general and governor in about 60 AD who, upon being commanded by Nero to take his own life, did so by falling on his sword and shouting the word, "Axios!".  In FUD, this is used as a model for absolute obedience to orders, honor and sacrifice.  The cadets are told that "Axios!" means "I am worthy!" (of honor as a function of my unquestioning obedience and commitment to cause), and they shout it somewhat akin to "Aye, aye!" or "Yes, sir!" when given orders.

I did a little digging on the phrase "Axios!", however, because i thought it was a cool idea and i wanted to know if the origin was really historical or merely fictional, and what i found in the process was that the historical Church actually has considerable track record with this phrase.  In the Greek, "Axios" primarily means "worthy", but in the Eastern Orthodox and a few other Christian traditions, it is shouted, responded or chanted to mean that "[He is] Worthy!", specifically in reference to Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  In fact, during ordination services for priests, deacons and bishops, "Axios!" is often shouted or reiterated to indicate that while we may be servants and our lives may be sacrificed, they are done so in service to One who is truly worth of such.

In Revelation 5, we also see a picture around the throne of God as all of creation shouts this to Jesus, who is called the Lamb of God:

"Worthy (literally "Axios") is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" (Rev 5:12)

It's interesting to me that even in English, our word "Worship" comes from this concept.  "Worship" is literally "Worth-ship", and i learned at Moody to memorize the definition of such as "to ascribe to something that which it alone is supremely worthy to receive".  Indeed, He is Worthy of all that i have to offer:  my life, my time, my effort, my sacrifice, my finances, my talents, my family and my relationships.  I'll smile with a new sense of historical fullness and spiritual significance when i watch a few scared human cadets scurry to grab their Battle Rifles to fend off Covenant forces by screaming "Axios!" in the process.  We are not "worthy".  He is.  Axios!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Keeping the Change..."

The concept of "Change" is something that i hear a lot about in my job.  People look at what it costs to actually do Community Development, Church Planting, long-term relationship building and progressive impact in a given community and they ask questions like, "How do you know it even works?" and "How can you really measure the impact or change that you think you're having when you do those things?"  I totally understand the drivers behind those questions, but i also have the privilege of seeing more of the answers to those questions than many people do, and i wanted to give you a quick glimpse into one of them.

This is my friend Rajasuri.  She's not sure how old she is, but we think she's probably about 14.  She is one of the children in the little village of Kalavai, South India, where we have been working for about 4 years doing intensive, local-church based community development.  When i first met Rajasuri, she was a little waif of a thing.  Big tears welled up in my eyes when i greeted her because she reminded me a lot of my daughter Peri, and something of Peri's sweetness was evident in her expressions even before i got to know her.  After first meeting her, i learned that she often goes days between meals (she lives in a single parent home with five other siblings where her mother is often ill and is poorly equipped to provide), that she owns only one outfit (it was ragged and filthy), had never been to school, had little hope for a future, did not have any sense that she matters or that there is a God who loves her, that her orange hair and sunken little features were evident of chronic malnutrition, and honestly, she said little and smiled less.  Over the last four years, however, Rajasuri and i have become buddies.  When i'm in the village, she usually sidles up alongside me, quietly slips her little hand into mine, and follows me around wherever i go.  She still doesn't say much, but her smile (amazing, isn't it?  It's like someone dropped a star onto her little face!) is overwhelming, and i've had the privilege to see her eat better, attend school for the first time in her life, have clean water in her village, proudly show off how she can now count, read her native language and even speak a little English.  Rajasuri is growing in every possible way, and so is her mother (Maliga) who now works more often, is sick less, and has greater support from the community.

In the midst of it all, Rajasuri now knows Jesus and can be found every day huddled alongside the other village kids offering prayers for her family and friends before heading to school.  She eats two to three meals a day, attends church in the little community and not only is mentored by our friends Jeyan and Jency (the local pastors), but is even mentoring children younger than she is in memorizing Scripture and helping them to follow Jesus.   She is shown here alongside the other kids in the village who are attending school for the first time.

If you ever want to know what Change looks like, you can always ask her.  She can tell you that it's not in hidden statistics and faceless data, but in the very smile on her face, the joy in her heart and the faith in her soul.  Rajasuri is now different.  If you know her or meet her, you will be too.  When you ask what it costs to do the kinds of things we have the privilege to do, it's easy for me to just look at this little girl and say, "whatever it takes to keep this kind of Change going is worth it".  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Let It Be Said...

Today, Sami and I were joining some friends for lunch at a local restaurant.  On the tv's overhead while we were talking and laughing, i saw this article pop up on the screen.  Do you see it?  Not the "Going Underground for Love" part, but the part beneath it.  The part about being "Love Commandos".  I laughed for joy out loud and grabbed my phone to snap a quick picture.

The context of the story is about India, where arranged marriages (i.e. where parents and other elder adults select a young person's spouse) have been the traditional way that young people unite for nearly six millennia.  Now, however,  with more exposure to outside ideas, more and more couples are seeking what are called "Love Marriages" rather than the more traditional arranged frameworks (i.e. they meet and select one another without their family's arrangement).  Sometimes, these love-marriages are frowned upon or directly opposed by parents and families, thus these new networks of "Love Commandos" who have surfaced to help such star-struck couples function and thrive anyway.  Honestly, i have mixed emotions about the story.  I work in India a lot and some of the strongest, most committed marriages i've ever had the privilege to experience have been "arranged" marriages where the husband and wife never even met until their wedding day.  I actually think it can be a beautiful way for entire families and support systems to be involved in a young couple's life together, though, as with our own systems of dating and courtship, sure, sometimes that goes south and families choose unions for reasons other than what is best for the young couple (i.e. money, status, etc).  But that's not why the article struck me.

The article struck me because I mused to myself how cool it would be to be called "Love Commandos".  I love Commandos.  I am inspired by them.  I love the fact that they are highly capable, highly motivated individuals who possess a nearly fanatical dedication to doing whatever it takes to accomplish a given mission.  In our current military arsenal here in the US, Commandos are people like US Navy SEALs, US Army Rangers, US Marine Recon Units, US Air Force Pararescue and the like.  They don't mind crawling on their bellies for miles or days behind enemy lines and often through muck and mud and goodness knows what just to have the chance to take down an enemy supply convoy or strategic asset.  They are used to hunger, sleep deprivation, thirst, fatigue and stress, and to facing forces many times their size, and often without any direct support, air cover or artillery from "home base".  They are called by such titles as "Snake Eaters" and "Devil Dogs" for their tenacity and ferocity in battle, and their unwillingness to back down even at the cost of their own lives.  I love those guys!  

But what would it be like for the world to look at those of us who call ourselves by the Name of Jesus and call us "Love Commandos"?  Not people who crawl on our bellies to take down radio towers or communication bunkers, but who are willing to wade into the brokenness of marriages and lives and relationships where people live without Hope or Love or Light.  Not people who can point and shoot, per se, but people who can insightfully pray for and serve one another.  Not people who study demolitions and improvised munitions, but people who know where people are hurting and how to reach them.  Love Commados who refuse to back down, who are willing to crawl through whatever muck is in people's lives in order to have a chance to drag them out of their darkness into the Light and Love of a God who is searching for them.  What would happen if people thought of us like that?  If CNN talked about US like that?

I for one would love it!  In Missional Moves, we talk in a variety of places about our belief that every single follower of Jesus Christ should indeed seek to be a Love Commando.  Such is not a calling for "elite clergy", but rather for every single one of us.  In our book, a Love Commando is someone who possesses a ruthless and relentless passion to infiltrate every domain of darkness in human experience and sabotage whatever exists there to keep people bound and restricted from the Light and Love and Freedom and Hope offered by the God we serve together.  Motivated by Love and inspired by Hope, let it be said of us someday when the systems of Oppression and Darkness in our world fall that we have been found to be Love Commandos ourselves, doing whatever it takes to advance the Kingdom of God. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Of Poets, Pointed Prayers, Prisoners and Personal Poverty...

If you know me, you know that I believe I am one of those people who was probably born out of time and out of place.  Most of the things i love to read are 400 years old or more, and are probably rooted in cultures or times where love, valor, passion, courage, sacrifice, simplicity and faith were virtues to be courted and cultivated as well as lived out in practical ways every day at all costs.  Not that those things aren't still necessary today (Indeed, what could be more necessary in any culture at any time?), or as valuable, but they were able to be verbalized and pursued with a purity and focus that i think sometimes gets lost in the dizzying whirlwind of complexity, volume and velocity in which most of us live our lives.

At any rate, my prayers of late have had a sense of deep frustration in my soul, a longing that seems to cry out for God in a way that seems in some ways to even be despite myself.  It is as though there is a passion to Know and be Known, but an endless litany of red tape and bars and bodyguards that i don't want that prevent my Beloved from getting to me.  So i cried out today with the borrowed words of an old friend from the 16th century who seems to have had the same problem.  As he is more eloquent than i, i just let my heart cry out with his words even though the sentiment is a nearly perfect match for my own.  What follows is one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets (number 14):

"Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend;
That i may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is capitv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."

If you've ever felt that the soul inside you was a captive in some ways to your own life, body, choices or decisions, i urge you to recognize like I am that thankfully, there is a God who can indeed break down our doors, smash our chains (even ones of our own making) and take us back off to belong to Himself, regardless of what enemies or slave-traders we've managed to sell ourselves to along the way may dispute His claim. He is gentle and kind, and will never force that transaction, but make no mistake, He is able to do so if we ask Him.

Sometimes i forget that.  I think it's my job to barter my way out, negotiate with my captors or even fight my way out or overtake them.  But I can't.  So like my friend John Donne, i sat today and simply asked that God would batter the gates I have constructed against Him, and flood my city so as to take it back for Himself.  I think i'm beginning to get a better picture of what Jesus meant when He said in Luke 4:18 at the outset of His ministry, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the Poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free."  In my life, i have worked hard to construct the belief that i am none of those things.  I'm not Poor.  I am not in Prison.  I am not Blind.  I am not Oppressed.  But I am.  So are you.

In Missional Moves, we talk in chapter five (From Center to Margins) about the fact that "Everyone is Rich, Everyone is Poor".  It is when we allow God to take our own Wealth into places where He is at work that our own Poverty is both exposed, but filled up by the Wealth of others.  If you're going to experience true personal transformation, recognizing your own Wealth and Poverty is the starting point.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"...Just a Very Bad Wizard": Musings on Power

My kids and i have been discussing an issue lately that has consumed a lot of our thought and attention.  We have talked about Power, where it comes from, what it is, what happens when we seek it for its own sake, what it appears to do to people, who handles it well and who does not.  It has been a really great ongoing discussion, and in the process, i have had a recurrent image pop into my head about why we are so often disappointed in the people we place in positions of Power, whether they are in the realms of government, business, society or even the church.    

If you've seen The Wizard of OZ, you no doubt recall the moment when Dorothy and her intrepid band discover that "The Wizard" is really just a little man pulling levers behind a curtain.  "The Great and Powerful Oz" is a sham; a little man bent on trying to hold up the image of something that he is not.  In her fury, Dorothy exclaims, "Oh!  Oh, you're a very bad man!", but then the Wizard, hurt spreading across his features, remarks, "Oh!  Oh no, my dear!  I'm a very good man… i'm just a very bad Wizard."

At the heart of our hunger for a truly Great and Powerful Wizard, we long for someone to make the world right.  Someone who can give us our Brains and our Courage and our Heart and our Home.  We know that the world is not what it should be, and we want it to be, so we place people we trust or fear or believe can do the job into the seat of Power and ask them to lead us where we desire to go.  When they cannot or do not or will not and consistently fail us, either due to their own weakness or our demands set too high, we stamp our feet and are continually amazed that they cannot pull levers fast enough or speak loudly enough into the speaker and we throw them into the light and demand an accounting for why they have not been the Wizard we always wanted.  

We do this because we think that if we heap upon a physical man or woman all our hopes and expectations for someone to make things right, they will be able to do so through science and technology or political maneuvering or spiritual wisdom or social programs or conservative budgets or unlimited financial affluence or business acumen to give us what we lack, whether that is Courage or Brains or a Heart or a Home.  But we're always disappointed because in most instances, those we place in positions of Power are, in fact, just very good men (and women)… But they're just very bad Wizards because no human being can be those things.  The expectations aren't realistic.  No matter how badly i want it… 
… The President (or any member of government) cannot save us,
… The CEO of Apple (or any other company) cannot save us,
… Tom Cruise (or any other Rock or Movie star) cannot save us,
… Our parents cannot save us,
… Our friends cannot save us,
… Our pastors or imams or rabbis or priests cannot save us, 
… You cannot save us,
… I cannot save us.

It may sound audacious or trite or even stupid in our current complexity to say it, but there is only one person who can save us.  He is the one who will not merely pull levers or give us emerald colored glasses and try to convince us that everything we see is really that green (if you've read L Frank Baum's book and not seen the movie), and he will not disappoint us when we truly trust in him.  There is only one person who both invites us into an audacious hope to believe that a world of color and vivacity that would make Oz seem like a black and white landscape is truly possible and has also given us samples and glimpses of its quality.  We might even say that there is a path that leads to him too, but it is probably not paved with gold bricks and munchkins singing of Lullaby Leagues and Lollipop Guilds.  Rather, the road is narrow and is paved with blood and sacrifice and love and compassion and simplicity and a tenacity to walk into environments that will demand everything from us if we will follow behind him, but give our lives the kind of peace and meaning we crave if we do so.  There is only one real Wizard,  my friends.  His name is Jesus, not Oz, and there is no substitute for Him.  

The removal of the "Wizard" mentality described above is at the heart of "From Formal to Fractal Leadership" in Missional Moves.  In it, Rob and I have learned that in the Jesus Way, everyone leads, everyone follows, and all surrender to the only real Power in the world:  the Lordship of Jesus. 

Missional Moves eBook: The G3 Map

If you haven't heard the story, when Rob and I sat down to write Missional Moves , we thought that we were being asked to write a 250 page book... so we did just that.  Problem is, Rob and I typically write using Arial Narrow, 10 pt, single spaced, so our 250 pages ended as a combined 225,000 word document... but it fit into 250 of OUR pages as described.

So we had to re-work it to fit a 50,000 word target, and were able to do so for the finished product that is now on shelves as Missional Moves, but we sort of felt that the contents of those extra 175,000 still had value, and we wondered what to do with them.  As a result, we drafted four eBooks that contain some of that content.  They add to, supplement, augment and amplify the concepts in Missional Moves, but they are available for free download through in the Resources section.

Over the next three months, we'll be rolling out each of four eBooks, and while they could each sort of "stand alone" on their own, they are really intended to be better understood within the framework of Missional Moves.  The first eBook is available for download today (and it's called "The G3 Map:  Discover God's Map For Your Church" -- you can also download it here).  It's one of our favorites, and I'm so glad that it will be the first available.  It's basically about understanding the arc of both Scripture and our lives in terms of God's redemptive plan for all of mankind, and how to find our place in that story as we lead churches, organizations, families, others and ourselves.

Transformational Partnerships:  Church to Church (available for download on 10/22/12):
Partnerships are critical, whether in local communities or around the world, and we believe that at the hub of each truly transformative partnership, you are going to find On Mission local churches and faith communities at work.  But how do local churches in one context partner with local churches in another without creating Dependency and dysfunctional relationships that lead to damage and disharmony over the long haul?  This eBook explains how we have sought to navigate those waters both in India and in our local context here with Granger Community Church, and lists some principles we have found helpful when coaching others as they have chartered those waters.

Transformational Partnerships:  Church to Organization (available for download on 11/19/12):
Partnerships are critical, whether in local communities or around the world, and we believe that at the hub of each truly transformative partnership, you are going to find On Mission local churches and faith communities at work.  But surely local churches aren't meant to supplant the hard fought work, experience and field expertise of world-class NGO's and organizations who have served for years or decades in contexts around the world, right?  Right.  In most instances, all sorts of agencies, organizations, parachurch ministries and NGO's have had to carry the freight when the Church has contented itself with a "Saved Souls" Gospel message (see Missional Move #1 in Missional Moves if you would like an explanation) rather than the transformation and redemption of every area of life, so we never posit that the Church should operate independently of such organizations.  However, this eBook outlines the fact that we do believe that there are some solid principles for how local churches should approach and be understood by such organizations to minimize misunderstanding and maximize effect wherever they join together.

Spectrum of Involvement:  Moving Your People Out On Mission (available for download on 12/17/12):  
"Yeah, but how?" is a question we hear often from local church leaders when we start talking about giving our people practical hand-holds for jumping into the flow of Mission as a local church.  As a result, this eBook seeks to elaborate what we outline specifically in Missional Move #10:  From Professionals to Full Participation.  It gives greater insight into how Granger Community Church is experimenting with its own Spectrum of Involvement, and what is really going on in helping to create a monolithic and centralized local church process for helping people take their next steps toward Christ... together, On Mission.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Missional Moves!

This is a bit odd for both myself and Rob Wegner, actually.  For the past ten years of ministry at Granger Community Church, we haven't been "trying" to write a book.  Actually, we've just been "trying" to figure out what God is doing in the world, how to best join Him, and how to mobilize as many people within the framework of our local faith community to do likewise as possible.  Over that time, we've learned a thing or two, smacked our heads against a few brick walls, seen some amazing things, bled a lot, sweat a lot, gotten really dirty and had the privilege to walk alongside the men and women who are either "regular joes" like us, just trying to live out our faith, or some of the most unbelievable Commando Christ-followers you'll ever meet who are planting churches and transforming communities all over the world and in some of the most ridiculously remote and hostile places on the planet.

We've had the privilege to work in our own community amidst the amazing people of the Monroe Circle Community in downtown South Bend, Indiana, as well as across the world in Tamilnadu, India, alongside Indian church planters who are part of a growing network of indigenous leaders who are bringing Light and Life at the very bleeding edge of the Great Commission through the network at Life Mission International.  In the process, a couple of years ago, we sat down and realized that some of the things we were seeing weren't specific to just us and our experience.  Rather, they were currents beneath the surface that were starting to pop up everywhere.  They were like waves that weren't ready to crest, but as you sit on the surface, you can tell that when they do, they won't just be surfing waves, but tsunamis of Love and Hope and Joy and Freedom the likes of which the world has probably not seen since Jesus walked the planet.

So we decided to write some things down, partly from our own experience, partly from things we've seen and learned from others, and totally and completely from our hearts.  The result is a book that releases this month called Missional Moves, and over the next several months, both Rob and I will be talking, blogging, Tweeting and Facebooking about it at lot.  If you are into some of those social media, you'll be able to note that Rob and I both will be Tweeting using #missionalmoves if you'd like to track that, and we're always happy to see you on our blogs or Facebook pages.  In addition, we've also generated a tandem site that provides supplemental material to and for the book called .   There, you can download free additional eBooks that go along with the text, watch media that we have uploaded to support various chapters as well as documents we reference in the text, and be directed to EnterMission Coaching Hubs all across the country for deeper community and processing.  We're hoping that Missional Moves will be more than just a book, honestly... we want it to be a resource for church leaders, volunteers and people simply seeking to get out of their seat and into God's Story all over the world.  We hope that if you pick up a copy of Missional Moves, you'll find it fun and exciting, but also a useful tool in surfing the tsunami that is coming as God's Kingdom advances in our world!  Surf's up!

Farewell, Smart Zombie...

Friends!  If you have followed my blog over the past few years, you have probably gotten here by going to one of the two following: or .   Because Rob Wegner and i both will be linking our blogs to various other social media in promotion and coordination with our new book Missional Moves (which comes out this month), however, i decided that a) i didn't want to continue to pay GoDaddy to renew since it continues to go up in price and... well... i think it's a scam anyway, and b) despite how much i love the concept of being a Smart Zombie, the idea is a little gross for anyone not more indoctrinated in the genre.  So... as a result, i have renamed this blog simply .  If you're following either of the above two other addresses via RSS or other reader, you'll want to note the change.

In addition, Rob and I will both be seeking to update, cross-link and feed numerous posts that conjoin Missional Moves and other things related to it, so hope to see you here if coming to this site is helpful for you in connecting.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Summer of the "Hiako"...

I wanted to invite you into something fun that my family is doing this summer as a way of practically disciplining ourselves to being Agents of the Kingdom.  It stems from something that Sami thought up (and i thought was incredibly clever) while we were talking about our desire to have this summer be "the Best Summer EVER" with our kids, and our enjoyment as a family when we have the opportunity to be what we call "Love Ninjas" (stealthy, silent, generous, loving, invisible expressions of God's love to others) in our everyday lives.  Here's the concept:

A "Haiku".
You may have studied the Japanese poetic form called "Haiku" in school.  Even in the US, most people are aware of the short, simple, poetic expressions from Japan that are comprised of 17 syllables and often deliver a single poignant thought with an elegant beauty.  I actually love Haikus for their elemental simplicity and their philosophical precision, and if you remember from school, a Haiku always follows the following three simple "rules":
  • Short – A Haiku is short and simple.  It's 3 lines of a total of 17 syllables in the framework of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, then 5 syllables. That's a "hard deck".  It's not a haiku if it violates that rule.  
  • Poetic – Haikus are poems.  They are more than just 17 syllables strung together in an obvious statement.  The best haikus use contrasting imagery, often natural or philosophical images, and sometimes even humor.  They have a symmetry and beauty best understood in native Japanese, but can still be appreciated in form and concept in any language.  As poems, they hold something inside themselves that penetrates deeper than just a Twitter post or text.  There is a flow and a rhythm to the words that comes  from both mind and spirit, and elicits a response beyond just "Oh. Ok. Whatever."
  • Intentional – If you've ever drafted a Haiku, you know that you have to stop for a second and think about it.  At a minimum, you have to at least make sure that your syllables line up (5-7-5), but the best Haikus show perception and a purity of focus that gives them an intentional "weight", even though they are relatively short and simple.  
As an example, here's a haiku that i wrote while looking at a painting of a woman standing on the seashore, staring into the surf at some undefined point with an expression of contemplation on her face:

A lone female form
Stands dry but deeply immersed
In the breaking surf

You see?  Simple!  But hopefully more than just a random accumulation of words.    

A "Hiako".  
In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard talks about his hatred of the phrase "Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty".  Willard explains that Kindness and Beauty impact others not when they are random and senseless, but when they are focused, intentional and directed.  Rob Wegner also talks often about "the Power of Small Interventions" to solve the world's problems, and how "small intervention + focus = big impact".  As a result, Sami and i have decided this summer (much like the process outlined in Hugh Halter's "Tangible Kingdom" if you went through a TK group here at GCC) to make it "The Summer of the HIAKO".  It's like a Haiku in that it's Short, Simple, Poetic and Intentional, but rather than being lines of written poetry, these will be acts of service that we embark upon "writing" with our lives as Agents of the Kingdom of God.  What's a Hiako, then?  It's a…

H ighly 
I  ntentional 
A ct of 
K indness for 
O thers

So here are the rules (for us, anyway … you can make up whatever rules you like):
Short – These are not "saga service acts".  We can accomplish them quickly.
Cheap – We're probably going to put a $ limit our Hiakos.  For us, none of them will probably cost more than $10.  Probably less.  
Poetic – Whenever possible, we want to try to figure out what would be meaningful for a given "mark".  In other words, we're not going to drop candy on the desk of a person who is on a diet, for instance.  
Ninja – We're going to try to be as invisible as possible in the process.  Like Ninjas.  Love Ninjas!

We're making a list of potential people and target actions, and we're going to try to make it our personal mission to let our lives be a Hiako each week this summer in a definable way.  Want to join us?  Jump on in!  Imagine what would happen if everyone just started "writing" Hiakos this summer with their lives and their families!  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mega -> Missional: Decentralized Shift

Rob and i will be presenting a workshop on the topic of "Mega to Missional", and we will do it in one of two parts, depending on what the people in our shop feel is the most helpful. In our upcoming book, Missional Moves, we talk about three general categories of change that are significant for any local church seeking to make the leap to more Missional thinking. The first of these changes is Paradigm, and includes deep foundation theology and thinking around the concept of God's mission in the world and how we are to join Him in advancing it. The second relates to Centralized shifts in thinking and tactics that relate to how local churches like GCC organize and program their activities to make them more accessible, efficient and effective as an institutional structure. Finally, the third shift is Decentralized, and involves moving from Attractional Megachurch style thinking to also including decentralized responses and pathways for people to embrace the Mission of God in the world wherever they are and however God has wired them. While Rob and i will go over either the Centralized or Decentralized Shifts during our Workshop, we're also including Livescribe audio and pencast of each so that we can direct participants here to retrieve whichever one we did not cover, or to hear/see again the one we did cover. As a result, if you would like to know what we're saying about Decentralized Shifts, you can click here to watch the LiveScribe pencast.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mega -> Missional: Centralized Shift

Rob and i will be presenting a workshop on the topic of "Mega to Missional", and we will do it in one of two parts, depending on what the people in our shop feel is the most helpful. In our upcoming book, Missional Moves, we talk about three general categories of change that are significant for any local church seeking to make the leap to more Missional thinking. The first of these changes is Paradigm, and includes deep foundation theology and thinking around the concept of God's mission in the world and how we are to join Him in advancing it. The second relates to Centralized shifts in thinking and tactics that relate to how local churches like GCC organize and program their activities to make them more accessible, efficient and effective as an institutional structure. Finally, the third shift is Decentralized, and involves moving from Attractional Megachurch style thinking to also including decentralized responses and pathways for people to embrace the Mission of God in the world wherever they are and however God has wired them. While Rob and i will go over either the Centralized or Decentralized Shifts during our Workshop, we're also including Livescribe audio and pencast of each so that we can direct participants here to retrieve whichever one we did not cover, or to hear/see again the one we did cover. As a result, if you would like to know what we're saying about Centralized Shifts, you can click here to watch the LiveScribe pencast.

Exponential Conference!

Rob and i will have the privilege of visiting and speaking at the upcoming Exponential Conference in Orlando, FL, next week! We were able to go last year as well with a small team from GCC, and look forward to having the opportunity to hob-nob with some 5,000 innovators, church planters and pastors from around the globe who are attempting to figure out how to advance, proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom of God in contexts as varied as US/Urban to International/Remote-Rural. I will attempt to post a bit as we have the privilege to learn from Mark Batterson, Francis Chan and others, and will look forward to reporting back about what we learn along the way!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Parting Shots: Samurai Girl in Chicago

After leaving our friends at the Japanese Cultural Center to head to Big Bowl (our favorite restaurant in Chicago, and a site of great sentimentality since Sami and I had our first date there almost 15 years ago), Sami took some fun and candid shots of Peri in her full kimono and gear on the streets of Chicago. The one above is my favorite, and i think embodies the sense of both ancient "touch" and contemporary fun that we experienced throughout the day.

Samurai Journey: The 7-Fold Path of Bushido

In Feudal Japan, the samurai class followed a moral system called Bushido (literally, "The way of the Warrior"). In Inazo Nitobe's famous work Bushido: The Soul of Japan, he illustrates that even though the samurai culture has been dead in Japan for the better part of 250 years, its Bushido foundations still serve as the ethical and moral foundation for Japanese society. As such, just like their European counterparts (i.e. the Feudal Knights of Western Europe who adhered to Chivalry), the samurai were expected to embody the very best of what their culture had to offer, and to serve as an apex example of the qualities to be sought by all citizens of the realm. At its most essential level, Bushido can be boiled down to what is called "The 7-Fold Path". Notice how remarkably similar these qualities are to what we, as followers in the Jesus Way, would also echo and hail:

* Righteousness (Gi) - Sometimes referred to as Justice or Righteousness, the concept of Gi in ancient Japan would have been to act in such a way as brings the absolute best of one's thoughts and actions into the world in which we live, and a willingness to stand behind one's actions even to the point of death.

* Courage (Yu) -The ability to confront fear and do what is right amidst pain, danger, uncertainty and/or intimidation.

* Love (Jin) -Like the Samurai, Love is actually our first "Family Value" as a family unit. My children have memorized the definition and know it simply as "to passionately and selflessly pursue the growth, intimacy and wellbeing of God and others."

* Respect (Rei) - To ascribe dignity to all beings, and respond deferentially to them worth of that dignity.

* Truth (Makoto) -In Japan, this concept goes far beyond "the opposite of lying", though that would certainly be included. Rather, the Samurai would have valued purity in the absolute innermost parts of one's soul, and would have judged that value not only on the basis of intention, but on impact in one's world and posterity.

* Honor (Meiyo) - While this is sometimes viewed as an elusive concept in the West, our family defines honor simply as, "to highly esteem that which is praiseworthy by God and others, and to live in such a way that is worthy of such high esteem."

* Loyalty (Chu) -The complete and absolute dedication and service of one's life to one's Lord. In our context, there is only one LORD, though we serve one another in the pursuit of His Mission in the world.

Samurai Journey: CQB Armed Jujutsu

I have a deep and profound respect for all martial arts, both because of the pragmatic and primal cauldron in which most of them were born, as well as my own preferential connection to them as ways to grow and learn. However, as with most martial artists, while i may choose to employ various techniques based on the need of the moment, the specifics of the environment, the nature (and number) of attackers, or the presence of weapons, i find myself usually gravitating whenever i can to traditional Japanese Jujutsu. Jujutsu (literally "the art of flexibility") was developed for the battlefield by samurai warriors who would have lost their primary weapon in an armed encounter against a heavily armed (and usually armored) opponent. The goal, then, was not to "go all UFC" on the opponent, but to utilize a series of joint-breaks and throws to get the opponent away from you quickly and efficiently so that you could either a) escape, b) retrieve your weapon, or c) achieve the upper hand. It is, therefore, ideal for small females as well as burly men because it emphasizes utilizing an opponent's own motion and momentum against them rather than blinding series of punches and kicks, and i have found that while i can take a pretty good beating if you punch or kick me, i tend to scream like a wounded puppy if you apply the right kind of pressure to my wrist, elbows, back or joint.

For Peri, then, i was pleased to see that Pitchford Sensei helped her to grasp the basic concept of Jujutsu, but incorporated his expertise with weapons into the mix, helping her to see how use with a very short blade in one hand could be blended very nicely with "open hand" (i.e. a hand not wielding a weapon) tactics in another. As a samurai sought to be an honorable warrior, it did not mean, however, that he/she was looking to be easily taken advantage of in a lethal encounter, and so would most certainly have both used and kept a variety of weapons close at hand to ensure the maximum survival potential of both themselves and those they protected. After all, people use weapons to win in a combat encounter. The samurai would have been experts at doing so.

Samurai Journey: Iaido "Lightning Draw"

Make no mistake that despite the decorum and efficient beauty of the likes of the Tea Ceremony in which we participated, Feudal Japan was, in fact, a martial culture. Most things during this era had a military or combat "edge" to them, whether relating to how you held your rice-bowl when you ate (i.e. with your thumb over the lip of the edge to prevent someone from knocking it out from below and thus distracting you while they drew their blade to strike you) or how you walked down the street, and so, not surprisingly, Samurai warriors developed a method of deploying the swords at their sides in a fashion that was absolutely blinding to the untrained eye. Similar to our Wild West gunslingers and their notorious alacrity with drawing and firing a six-shooter, the Japanese art of Iaido emphasized drawing one's blade to strike or block from a variety of positions to ensure one's survival and safety, even from a relaxed, sitting or kneeling posture.

Pitchford Sensei again took Peri on a fantastic journey through this art, allowing her to understand the deft hand that it took to draw one's blade not only with speed, but with effective targeting to lethal effect. He also kept Peri laughing when she would grasp the handle of her bokken too rigidly or forcefully. He would say, "You're grabbing it like it's a ham sandwich, Peri! You have to grab it like you're petting a dog. Softly. Gently. Your blade is your friend. It's your pet. Treat it smoothly and nicely and it will protect you." From that point forward, whenever she would forget, he would call out, "Dog! Not sandwich!". She would laugh and change her grip/draw, and eventually, got to where she could move with considerable effect.

Samurai Journey: Tea Ceremony

Although dating back to between the 9th to 12th centuries (depending on which records you site), the Japanese Tea Ceremony was a critical part of Samurai life and tradition. Tea Masters, in fact, though typically not Samurai themselves, were actually permitted (along with sword-makers) to wear swords at their sides -- a privilege reserved otherwise only for Samurai -- and were highly sought after by Feudal Lords for their skills in conducting the beautiful but highly ritualized activities of serving Japanese Tea to guests (a very visible symbol of hospitality, respect and generosity).

For our time with Peri, we were introduced to three students of one of Chicago's renown Tea Masters, featured left to right in the above picture (Brian, Sarah and Christopher). Through the time together, we learned some fun and fascinating things:

* Japanese Tea is actually called matcha, and is served more as a thick "milk-shaky" liquid rather than what i have always thought of as "tea". What most of us think of as tea would be referred to by Japanese as "thin tea", and Buddhist monks in the mountains actually consume it "somewhat more akin to the thickness of pancake batter than anything else". It may sound strange, but the matcha was actually delightful, possessing a sweet and clean taste that possessed little of the bitterness i expected at those concentrations.

* Japanese tea accessories (such as the tea bowls) were highly prized as possessions, even to the point of extremity, and were highly guarded and passed down for generations. They were so valuable, in fact, that they were often used by Feudal Lords as ways of repaying valiant retainers or debts in lieu of land, castles or villages.

* The language used throughout the Tea Ceremony is an exchange of hospitality and generosity between the participants. When the tea is served, the server will always ask, "How is the temperature of the water?". In response, even if your lips are singed with 3rd degree burns, you are to respond, "The temperature is perfect!".

* Everything in the Tea Ceremony, when complete, is done in perfect reverse. You put the tea bowl down in exact reverse of how you picked it up. You exit the tea house in reverse of how you came in, even down to observing the flowers and tea accessories. When i asked why, the Tea Masters responded, "Because everything you touch or use should be replaced exactly as you found it. It is a principle for life, whether in relation to a neighbors's lawnmower or even the world in which we live. If you use something, return it in the same condition and position in which it was received." Pretty basic, huh? And yet, a great principle to live by.

Our Tea Master friends were great with Peri, carefully instructing her at each step of the ceremony and keeping the event fun and lively. Sami and i were astounded at the precision and efficiency of the ceremony, and developed a new appreciation for its mastery over time.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Samurai Journey: Battlefield Kenjutsu

As mentioned, the first of Pitchford Sensei's lessons involved Battlefield Kenjutsu. While he used a katana-sized bokken (i.e. a "wooden sword"), Peri used the shorter waikizashi-sized bokken as it fit her smaller stature better and would have been closer to the weapon a Samurai Woman would have been more accustomed to carrying.

For starters, Pitchford Sensei tried to help Peri become better accustomed to using her voice. "You usually have to be quiet, right? Especially indoors. But not today! Not now! When you strike, i want you to use your voice! I want you to scare your opponent! I want you come after me as though i am a bad guy trying to attack you! I want you to show me that you are not afraid of me, and that you are going to defend yourself!" While he was incredibly patient with Peri, he was also technically and practically precise, requiring her to pay attention and execute her movements with efficiency. The video below shows Peri learning to strike from a "Jodan" (overhead) striking position, and he had her practice this sequence 30-40 times until she could execute with comfort.

Samurai Journey: Weapons Introduction

After Peri's time with Fujii Sensei, we changed out her kimono for the more traditional "gi" garment used for martial instruction and then introduced her to another friend, Sensei Ken Pitchford (i.e. Pitchford Sensei). Although he is an American, Pitchford Sensei has lived extensively in Japan and has studied Japanese sword arts for the better part of two decades or more. He was incredible with Peri and made sure that everything that he told her or showed her was easily accessible to her as a 7 year old. He was amazingly careful with her, injected tons of humor and fun, and yet was precise and reasonably demanding of her and her attentiveness.

He started their first session together by showing Peri two books on Japanese martial arts (both of which were more than 100 years old), including sections specific to Feudal Japanese women, the weapons they would have used and what their martial training would have included. He also showed her a couple of his treasured weapons, one of which was a katana (samurai long sword) whose blade was more than 500 years old -- Peri shown holding it below. We arranged with Pitchford Sensei to have his training with Peri include the following components for the day:

* Battlefield Kenjutsu - Kenjutsu (literally "Sword Art") is the art that samurai would have practiced for battlefield use, and would have included various forms of footwork, blocking, striking and movement with the katana and/or waikizashi (short sword). While most women would not have been trained extensively with the katana (preferring instead an 8" dirk called a kaiken), many of the techniques would have had universal utility with bladed weapons, and so still accomplished the objective nicely.

* Iaido "Lightning Draw" - During certain eras of Feudal Japan, the threat of assassination was a very real and ever-present threat. As a result, samurai developed an entire methodology of drawing their blades to block and/or strike with amazing rapidity. This art is called Iaido (most often also described as "the way of the lightning draw"), and i liken it to our own culture's Wild West concept of "quick draw"... but with a sword instead of a six-shooter.

* CQB Armed Jujutsu - I have studied traditional Japanese Jujutsu for nearly ten years, and have found it to be a close friend over that time. Initially, I thought it might have been cool to have Pitchford Sensei work with Peri in this art, but he had a great suggestion instead that we actually went with for the day. According to Pitchford Sensei, "Modern Jujutsu" (which is unarmed) is a relatively recent convention. The truth is, no samurai would ever have been "completely" unarmed, always making sure that they practically bristled at all times with hidden daggers, spikes, knives or other weapons. As a result, he suggested that he spend the time with Peri teaching her what he called "Armed Jujutsu", which focuses on CQB (Close-Quarters Battle), but assumes that at least one hand is holding a short weapon. This made total sense to me, and i'm glad that we took this route.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Samurai Journey: Culture Basics - Bowing and Greeting

Most people from the West understand that bowing is an important part of many Eastern cultures. In Japan, in particular, bowing remains important even today as one interacts with other people, whether in business or even in many casual settings. In Feudal Japan, however, bowing was even more important as it often held meaning for acknowledgement of one's social status as well as the conveyance of honor or respect. Respect was even given to one's enemies on the battlefield, in fact, or in mortal combat as it was believed that even in conflict, all people are worthy of honor and respect. To refuse honor, therefore, often reflected more upon the one refusing rather than the person being refused, and i heard in my head the words of my own mother about a similar concept when tipping at restaurants.On one occasion when i was younger, we had a server at a restaurant whom i did not believe had served us well. I nudged my mom and asked her why she was still leaving a tip and she replied, "Tipping is a reflection of your generosity, not their service. Never refuse to leave a tip as it reflects more about your pettiness and stinginess than it does about their incompetence as a server. Better to be thought unnecessarily generous than small, petty and stingy." Yeah, my mom is a wise woman, and her sentiment would certainly have accorded well with Japanese Feudal martial culture.

The two most common types of bows in Japan are as follows:

Rit-su Rei (standing bow) - When standing, one places their hands either on top of their thighs (if a woman) or at the sides/seams of their pants (if a man) and bends at the waist with their eyes down. In a martial encounter, one would most certainly not lower their eyes, but would keep them on their opponent, even though striking someone who was showing you respect would have been considered the epitome of cowardice.

Za Rei (sitting/kneeling bow) - When seated or kneeling, one puts their hands into a "triangle" on the floor and touches their forehead to it, making sure to keep their back straight and to bend at the waist rather than bending at the shoulders.

Peri is shown learning both here from Fujii Sensei. Later, Peri remarked, "You know, i really liked bowing. It made me feel good to show respect like that."