I left my last church for a few reasons. At the top of that list was how uncomfortable I felt with the silence surrounding racial violence and injustice in the United States. I walked into service on a Sunday heavy-hearted following the Charleston church shooting and it was business as usual. The lack of acknowledgement did not sit well with my soul. My faith and my God are both intrinsically tied to justice for those who are oppressed and persecuted, and that is a biblical fact.
One of the first times my husband and I visited New Life Fellowship church was in 2017, almost directly after the Quebec City Mosque shooting. One of the associate pastors facilitated a moment of silence for the deceased and I will never forget the way we prayed over the families of all who had been affected. We lamented with the broken-hearted and prayed for God to draw close and provide consolation. This was just one of many examples to come where I saw that this congregation was not only concerned with other fellow “Christians” but they were concerned with people. They did not turn a blind eye to those in need or the sin of racism.
It was in this church that I first heard Pastor Rich Villodas, the lead pastor, preach. I found it easy to both like and connect with this Puerto Rican pastor from Brooklyn who led such a diverse congregation in Queens. I looked forward to his insightful sermons and started to learn a new way of living from the church. Taped up on our refrigerator is a 7×5 postcard that reminds us of the congregations Rule of Life which we adapted with open arms in our home. The Rule consists of four parts:
Prayer – pray without ceasing, befriend silence, allow scripture to shape our lives, embrace contemplative rhythms
Rest – keep the Sabbath, eliminate hurry, practice self-care, receive God’s limits as a gift
Relationships – point others to Jesus, apply emotionally healthy practices to love well, bridge ractial, cultural, economic and gender barriers, lead out of your marriages or singleness
Work – empower the poor and marginalized, share our gifts generously, savor the sacred in all things, embrace all work as a full-time ministry
If any of this is calling to your soul, I need you to run, not walk, to buy Pastor Rich Villodas debut book “The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus.” Pastor Rich begins this book by outlining all the ways that we are formed by a shallow world. He speaks directly to “American Christians” who are stepped in idol worship, materialism, militarism, nationalism, racism, sexism and the like (I would add homophobia to the like…) and expounds on the five values of Christ that need to be harnessed in order to move from shallow roots to being deeply grounded in Christ and purpose.
The five values are as follows:
- Contemplative rhythms for an exhausted life.
- Racial reconciliation for a divided world.
- Interior examination for a world living on the surface.
- Sexual wholeness for a culture that splits bodies and souls.
- Missional presence for a distracted and disengaged people.
Each value has two corresponding chapters. The first offers theological and biblical vision to help us see the big picture, and the second offers simple (yet not easy) practices that can position us on the deeply formed journey. I’d like to take a moment to note that I was hesitant about the word “reconciliation” entering this book after reading Erna Kim Hackett’s “Why I Stopped Talking About Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking About White Supremacy” but Rich’s working definition of reconciliation and clear dismantling of whiteness as a means of maintaining systems of power put me at ease.
(I would say more, but Rich did it so well in the book, I won’t bother trying. If your interest is piqued that’s just another reason to read this book.)
This book was something my soul deeply needed in the midst of all the chaos, violence and unknown. The words and values outlined will not only stir emotion, but when combined with deep reflection, they will spark change for the better. I leave you with a few of my favorite quotes (Please note that this was a difficult exercise for me because of how annotated my copy is. So many gems!)
“In a world that operates at a frenetic pace and with the addiction of achievement, slowing down brings us to a place of centeredness and stillness before God. “
“How can I say that my identity is grounded in God’s love when I give most of my attention to approval of people I’ve never even met? “
On Sabbath keeping – “Sabbath keeping is a weekly twenty-four-hour period of unhurried delight with no have-tos or ought-tos, result- ing in deep rest and renewal. Sabbath is an invitation to a life that isn’t dominated and distorted by overwork. Some of us come from families who immigrated to this country and had to work nonstop to survive … when Sabbath begins, we’d do well to raise our hands and step away from our devices, the office, or wherever and by whatever means we are working. We keep Sabbath not because it makes us more productive at work but to resist the idol of productivity. It’s a day of noticing, a day of simple joyful presence, which is why community and eating together are such good Sabbath practices.”
On reconciliation – “Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish. There can be no true reconciliation without justice “
“The purpose of honestly wrestling with history is to see where we have been and how we are still being formed by the myths, narratives, and practices of the past. When it comes to conversations on race, our level of offend-ability often reveals the level of our maturity.”
“For the same reason, men must lead the way in listening first and more often to women, as they have thoroughly held power and have enjoyed the benefits of a world ordered by patriarchy. So too must wealthy, upwardly mobile men and women listen first and more often to the experiences of poor and working-class people. They have enjoyed the benefits of wealth and power and are often far removed from the plights of the poor.”
“The sad truth about modern spirituality is that we often avoid feeling our own pain and in the process avoid feeling the pain of others.”
“There was a time in history when “White people” did not exist, meaning they were known and identified exclusively by their ethnic, national identity. They identified as Italian, Irish, British, or German, and before that as Celts, Scythians, Vikings, or Anglo-Saxons. But over time, as the European empires that grew from these ethnic groups came into contact with people who didn’t look like them, they felt an unfortunate need to classify, distinguish, and rank.”
“Whiteness has historically been a force of oppression (slavery, Jim Crow laws, discrimination, apartheid, and so on), rendering other people as inferior and even subhuman. Historically speaking, retaining Blackness or Brownness had been an act of survival and a heightening of dignity. For example, when Black men and women have proclaimed “Black is beautiful,” it’s an affirmation of value in a world that has regarded Black as ugly or inferior. “
“Like a child hiding a broken figurine from his mother for fear of judgment, we hide broken parts of ourselves from others (and more importantly, from ourselves) in an attempt to deliver us from judgment. Christian spirituality involves acknowledging all our part-selves, exposing them to God’s love, and letting him weave them into the new person he is making.”Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life
I could go on, but I’ll stop here and emphasize what an impactful book “The Deeply Formed Life” is and encourage you once again to check it out. I pray that if you do read this book, you gain wisdom that deepens your spiritual walk and transforms how you move in the world. I know I have.
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