Monday, November 23, 2009

The Path of Disciplined Grace

I knew I'd get ya with that blog title... This, essentially, was what Jeff Pratt, our teacher from last week, taught us about. The topic of the Spiritual Disciplines was the official title of the week's teachings. Jeff, himself, has founded a sort of urban monastery in New Haven, Connecticut where he invites people to commit to a three-month monastic internship where one engages in daily rhythms of prayer (a.k.a. a daily office) as well as other disciplines (fasting, confession, celebration, study, etc.) and daily serves a marginalized people-group that he or she feels called to. It's really a new, and yet old (in the ancient sense) way of living out one's faith. I was just speaking with a man named Nick Brotherwood today about this very idea of hearkening back to what Christian antiquity has deemed essential. Basically, it comes down to making (and therefore, first, becoming) disciples. Now, what does that mean, exactly? Aren't all us Christians always trying to "make disciples"? How is that anything new? Nick explained to me today that although we may have always tried to "make disciples", that could mean a lot of things over the years. Nick is an ordained Anglican minister who has witnessed (in the province of Quebec) a drop from 93,000 Anglicans to less than 13,000 over the last sixty years. In other words, he's witnessed a centuries-old church be brought to its knees and, now, to its death bed. Because of this, Nick has been given the unique, exciting, and scary task of exploring new manifestations of church and the Christian-life. The Anglican church (with its very traditional tradition) has been humbled enough by this seemingly irreversible secularization to finally be open to something new, something experimental, something unorthodox. For the last 10 years, Nick has been spear-heading a church called Emerge Montreal, which has provided him and his friends a laboratory to really ask: What are we here for? What the hell is Church, anyway? Where does Jesus' life and how he lived it come into play here? Needless to say, having a discussion with this guy is an edifying experience. If I've received any insight in talking with people like Nick, or Jeff Pratt, or Mark Scandrette, it seems that the future of the church is largely mapped out by the past, the distant past--through Jesus' Way and through those who followed that Way after his bodily departure. By following that Way (roughly a balance of prayer and service), we will inevitably make disciples of ourselves and, therefore, of others. If this sounds vague to you, you're not alone. It's hard to exactly say what this new expression of making disciples (church) looks like; but what's not vague is our Western culture's slow-but-steady denial of anything religious, and, thus, we must respond (somehow) in a way we think Jesus would.
Speaking of "What Would Jesus Do?", check out this relatively short but insightful article on what one Catholic priest thinks Jesus would do, and is doing:

Monday, November 16, 2009

First Half of November

So, as usual, it's been too long since our last blog. Unfortunately, not having internet at our apartment poses a problem for frequent blog updates. Lauren and I decided not to get internet for two reasons: it's too expensive and, without it, family time is much improved. So, we made a commitment to keep our home-space free of internet distraction, which has been rewarding and challenging at the same time.
So, as the previous blogs mentioned, we had a great trip to Toronto, with lots of interesting discussions with interesting people. We were glad to get back to home-sweet-home Montreal and keep practicing our French. That has been one major change this year with our school being so Francophone (French-speaking). Lauren and I have been thrown headlong into a mostly French-speaking environment day-in and day-out. Last year, most of the students were English-speaking. This year it's the opposite. It's a great challenge and we love learning more and more each day, but it's not all sunshine and happiness. It's hard!
The first two weeks of November were non-teaching weeks, which means the students had more time to explore further possibilities for volunteering and an internship. For Lauren, lil Denny, and me, it meant some more home-improvement and preparation for my big concert, which took place last Friday. The concert went really well; I had a good turn-out of friends there to support me and played 2 sets, about 17 songs in all. I'll put a few of them up on the video bar to the right. Hope you enjoy.
As far as home-improvement, we're getting ready to host (starting today) our school's teacher for the week, whose name is Jeff Pratt and comes from New Haven, Connecticut. Jeff is simply an amazing person to get to know. We had him for a week of teaching last year, and got to know him a bit through that. But this year, he's staying at our apartment! We're looking forward to some more in-depth conversations with the Pratt-Master, as Lauren and I like to call him. Here's a link to the community that he runs in New Haven ( Lots of great opportunities there for young folks looking for a chance to deepen their faith in a new place.
We're really looking forward to a great week! We'll be updating again sooner than last time, so keep checking!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Mid-week update

We still have one meeting left, which will happen today with Jim Beverly, a well-known authority on world religions. We've met with all the others earlier in the week, and everything was great. Two of the organizations we met with were focused on poverty and caring for the economically poor. Another was focused on art and artists, asking: how can art play a bigger role in our Christian faith and vice-versa? The last one we met with was focused on homosexuals, asking: amidst the wide spectrum of Christian opinions on homosexuality, how can we offer those dealing with it a safe-haven for discussion, counseling, and understanding? Of course, this has offered all of us, individually and collectively, an abundance of fodder for thought and discussion. For me, it's been nice to meet with these organizations a second time because I'm not swept off my feet with each new place we visit. Last year, these people were so insightful, compassionate, and dedicated to their causes, after each meeting I was convinced their respective cause and perspectives on that cause were the only things that mattered. This year, having become "a bit less vague to myself", I'm more certain of my personal goals. Nonetheless, this year's visit to Toronto has still had a significant impact on a few beliefs of mine; specifically, what Geoff Ryan at 614 Salvation Army shared about our undeniable call as Christians to identify with the poor. Geoff, his wife, and their 3 or 4 kids live in Regent Park, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Canada because of the poverty and gangs that are present there. He has chosen to live in this neighborhood because he believes there's no other way to have a significant impact on it. So, his kids go to school there at a sub-par inner city school, and when there's a shooting or a fire in the middle of the night and everybody is outside, he and his family are outside, too--immersed in all the action of the neighborhood, living side-by-side with these people. Of course, the difference is that he and his wife have chosen to live there, the others have never had a choice. He explains that Christ had all the choices in the world, he was God!, but he chose to humble himself and become one of us, and absorb the sins of the "neighborhood". This is how Geoff theologically explains his calling to the inner city, and it's a passionate one. Just one example here of some of the amazing things we've come across this week. We pray that amidst all the info-influx, we are able to personally take steps towards making these ideas and concepts concrete realities in our own lives. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Toronto this week!

Tomorrow we leave for a week-long trip to Toronto with our school. Altogether there will be 11 of us (six students, four staff, and one baby) on the trip. Fortunately, we've made some great connections through friends to be able to stay at some nice houses while we're there. I (Denny) have taken on the responsibility of planning what we'll be doing and who we'll be visiting during the week. Last year while I was a student we went to Toronto, and this year will be very similar. We'll be meeting with Yonge Street Mission (, a ministry in downtown Toronto working with the poor, and John Franklin, the executive director of Imago Arts (, an organization that exists to "to engage in promoting artistry of high caliber that will be both enriching and carry positive influence on the Canadian cultural landscape". We'll also be meeting with Geoff Ryan from the Salvation Army along with his Ignite interns ( to learn more about the intensive, amazing things he and his team are doing in an area of Toronto torn apart by gang-violence and poverty. That same day we'll travel out to Mississauga to meet with Wendy Gritter ( from New Direction, an organization doing some amazing things related to the homosexuality issues within the church. I encourage anyone to check out her blog, very interesting stuff all the time. Lastly, we're meeting with our friend Andrea's father, James A. Beverly, who happens to be a significant authority on world religions within the evangelical Christian milieu. In fact, he recently finished a book, Nelson's Illustrated Guide to World Religions, which Hans Kung (a world-renowned Catholic theologian) has given his illustrious commendation to. I wrote him to ask if he would meet with us humble YWAMers and he replied saying only because his daughter said he should. I appreciated his honesty! We'll meet with him on Friday to discuss how we as Christians can gain new perspectives on other religions and learn to live side-by-side with people of other faiths in our immigrant-rich context. Amidst all of that, we'll find time to do some sight-seeing and walking around the big city of Toronto. It's the biggest in Canada, with roughly 4.5 million inhabitants. A staggering statistic we heard this week is that 47% of people living in Toronto were born outside of Canada. That's a lot of immigration! So, we're looking forward to an engaging, motivating week. When we return, we'll be looking forward to a bit of a calmer November than October. Lauren has finished and passed her French course, so we're getting better with the language obstacle every day. It's really exciting once you get over that hump, language-wise. So, when we return, we'll be able to really get settled in for the long haul and continue this wonderful journey we're on together. Our funding is really tight, but we know we're where we're supposed to be. We'll write again soon. Check out the links I listed above if you're interested; all the organizations are really interesting to learn about. Love ya!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Quick Update

Well, we're about finished with the first two weeks of our school, and, of course, it's been a whirlwind of activity. Lauren is almost finished with her six-week French course and has really benefited from it. Next week we're in for a great week of teaching on urban missiology. The week after that we're headed to Toronto to meet with a few great ministries out there. By the time we return, we'll be ready to settle into more of a routine, getting involved in both of our volunteering responsibilities and continuing to run the school. This morning it was 30 degrees outside. There were actually a few flakes of snow falling from the sky! It's October 15th! Despite the prematurely freezing weather, we're doing great! Enjoying the excitement of being on our own and learning our rhythms as a family once again. I (Denny) have my second Montreal gig on November 13th, so am beginning to practice/prepare for that. Of course, there's much more to tell you, but we must be patient. Thanks for following!

Monday, September 28, 2009

School starts this week!

Voici! Our second blog since touching down here in the Great White North. Actually, it's not so white just yet. Of course, we know it's coming, though, as each morning gets a little brisker. We're excited for the winter, which is good, because we probably won't be for long once it sets in. But, hey, it's only September 28th, we got some good sunshine ahead of us before we have to cross that bridge. In fact, next week, our little house-church community, Curieux, is headed an hour outside the city for some apple picking at a monastery! That will be a really fun field trip. Not only will we be apple picking, but we'll also be discussing the future endeavors of our little community. Being a part of this church has really been a great experience for Lauren, Dennis, and me. It's definitely more of an alternative type of church, where sermons never happen, music only seldomly, the location changes each week, and there's always a delicious potluck meal to enjoy. The first time we went we fell in love because it was so easy to have Dennis there. It's very similar to a lot of communities across North America and Europe who are sort of experimenting with what it means to be a church and/or community of beleivers. Now that the founding members have moved away, the core group of us (about 12 to 15 people) have the exciting task of asking once again who we are, and where we're going. Curieux started as an alternative type of church that reached out to those in the arts scene. David Brazzeal, the founding member, saw a disconnect between artists and the church and so started Curieux (which means Curious {plural-adjective}) to reach out to artists of faith. Now, we're presently asking ourselves how we can maintain our natural, very social environment without compromising the impassioned faith that we all share and long to espouse in various ways. It's kind of like stripping down everything that usually means "church" to the western mind, keeping our foundation as Jesus-followers, and rebuilding something new from that common foundation. It's truly an exciting process to feel a part of and be able to contribute to. We'll keep you posted as things develop.
Our school starts this Friday. We've had a good month settling in to our new home for the next two years, and are ready to begin our work for this year. Thanks for keeping us in your prayers as God guides us, as a family, through this time of transition.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Getting Settled

So, we arrived Wednesday night at 11 after our flight was delayed for about three hours. In the end, it was a blessing because half of the flight got redirected to other flights so that by the time we reboarded we had 6 seats for the three of us! This made the flight a lot easier for Dennis, which, as all you parents know, made the flight a lot easier for mom and dad. The latest video posted will show you our home for the next two years. We're really happy with it, although it's really empty. Through our great friends Andrea and Julien, we have multiple connections around the neighborhood with people who are willing to just give us stuff to furnish our home. So far we have a fridge, a stove, a desk, a table and chairs, a queen-size bed, a futon mattress, and a rug (which is the only thing we actually have purchased thus far). So the last 3 or 4 days have been filled with organizing boxes and suitcases around the apartment, trips to the park, meeting new and old friends, and acquainting ourselves with our new neighborhood, Parc-Extension. The neighborhood, of course, is unlike anything Lauren and I have ever lived in. We're just beginning to learn about it, but we do know from our friends who have been here for three years that it's about 50% South-East Asian (meaning Indian, Bengali, Sri Lankan, and Pakistani) and the rest is a pretty even mix of Africans, Chinese, South Americans, and caucasians. The neighborhood used to be inhabited completely by Greeks, but most of them are older now and there kids have moved to other areas. Nonetheless, their influence still lingers as there are a few Greek Orthodox churches still alive and well. As with most very ethnic neighborhoods, it's not an upscale area, but the many immigrants here have many kids, which makes for a safe, playful feeling on its streets. We're excited to become a part of this community and learn from the cultural diversity that is unavoidable here.
Our YWAM school will be starting next month, so in a week or so we'll have our first few meetings in order to prepare for the six students who will be attending: 4 girls and 2 guys from France, Germany, Switzerland, and Montreal. Our little church, Curieux, met last night and we were welcomed with much enthusiasm by our closest friends out here. Of all the confirmations that Montreal is where we're supposed to be, our little church has been the biggest one of all. Over and over again we have been blessed by that community, and look forward not only to more blessings but also to what we can give back over the next two years.
So, things are off to a great start out here. Once again we find ourselves on the precipice of an adventure, now with the knowledge of last year's experience, our enthusiasm is bubbling within us as all the possibilities and potential present themselves. We continue to ask for all your prayers and support as we discern what God can and will do through us these next few days, months, and years. This is really fun.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An End, and Another Beginning...

As the summer draws to a close, we look back and reluctantly bid adieu to our family and friends, the foundation of everything we're doing in Montreal. And then we look ahead as the path winds out of sight and into a city we know, with so many possibilities we don't yet know. The twinge of excitement mixes with the dull pain of two years away from home. Still, our home away from home, Montreal, is looking more and more welcoming each day. We have great friends out there, Andrea and Julien, who have already found an apartment for us to rent, a free queen size bed, and a few boxes of kitchen essentials their friends are trying to get rid of. They email us with updates almost every day, and all we can say is "wow".
We apologize for not updating the blog very much during our three-month furlough at home. It's not as if we weren't having as many noteworthy experiences at home as we did in Montreal. We've been to San Francisco, Santa Maria, San Diego, Pismo Beach, Catalina, Tucson, Gilbert, etc. and in between spent most of our time hanging with Grandma LoLo, Uncle Jimmy, and the Manthornes on Santa Carmela. Grandma Lolo, aka mom, has been and continues to be our biggest supporter not only at home but also in Montreal. This summer she's whisked us away to all kinds of fun events, sometimes joining us, sometimes insisting we enjoy some alone time while she watches Dennis. Not even a smidgeon of what we're doing at home or in Montreal would be possible without her.
As for us, Lauren has worked hard all summer--learning first hand what it's like to be a working mom; and I've spent a lot more time with Dennis--learning first hand what it's like to stay at home. It's been insightful, difficult, and rewarding for both of us. It's an experiment we deliberately entered into--to switch the roles we'd so strongly established in Montreal--in order to acheive a more balanced work/home life between the two of us. It should definitely impact the way we organize our respective and collaborative efforts in Montreal.
So, one week from today we have a non-stop, one-way flight from LAX to Montreal. Traveling with Dennis, now that he's nearly walking and as determined as ever, will be an adventure all its own. The first few weeks, I know, will be fraught with character-building and stretching, but, unlike last year, we do know the city, we're learning French, we have a core group of friends that are already buffering our arrival, and we feel as sure as ever that Montreal is and should be home for the next two years.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Well, well, well. It's been much too long since our last blog, nearly two months. We've been home now for most of that time, with a few vacations interspersed. Lauren just landed her third job for the summer. She now works at a restaurant, a coffee shop, and on the tennis courts. She's making some much-needed money. I, on the other hand, am laying low most of the Summer with no major obligations except caring for Dennis Michael. Other than that, I have been doing a few little projects/experiments here and there. A few of those are volunteering at an elderly home once a week, going to a weekend-long retreat on the Buddha and Jesus, recording nine new songs for another album, some football coaching, and just recently beginning to play out at some open-mics. Also, in June, while I was in San Francisco for a family wedding, I was able to meet with two prominent people of faith in the Bay Area. One of them was Nichola Torbett from Seminary of the Street ( and the other was Mark Scandrette ( I encourage you to check out both websites; these people are doing some very unique, creative things within their communities. It was great to share thoughts and ideas with both of them. On that same note, I've started meeting occasionally with a friend of mine back home here, about the same age as I am, who seems to be on the same page as I am in a bunch of ways. It's been great to meet with him and start discussions that have been swirling around in both our heads for quite some time now about our faith and how it relates to Orange County, our careers, and our families. It's really been a blessing to me. We leave for Tucson to share a few days with Grandma and Grandpa Fitz, Uncle Steve, Aunt Katie, and Cousing Lily on Monday. We'll be there until August 1st (Dennis' birthday) and then come back home for our last month in the OC for quite some time. It will be filled with fundraising (hopefully), preparation, work, and anticipation. Amidst all of that, we hope to be able to continue working on our French. From what we've heard, the school next year will be predominantly Francophones, so it'll be sink or swim for us Anglophones. Rosetta Stone to the rescue! Just as long as I can get my sugar mama to find some time in the daily grind for a little parlez-vous...
Until next time! Thanks for following. Leave comments!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Superb Experience

So, I wrote in my last blog that I would elaborate a bit on what I did for my internship and my internship report. Our school director, Pierre, calls the internship a personal faith project. As I wrote in my last blog, for me it was experimenting with everything I've ever been interested in. Firstly, it was prayer, and that remained primary throughout the entire eight months. I knew from the beginning that prayer would precede everything else I did out here; so, I surrounded myself with resources that would birth, nourish, and sustain a habit of prayer. That in itself has been and will continue to be quite a journey for me. Secondly, my search for a vocation (AKA the career I was meant to pursue) motivated and initiated many of the diverse experiences I've had in this big city. To summarize, for weeks, sometimes months, at a time I seriously considered each of the following careers: musician, social activist, chaplain, journalist, farmer, music therapist, and teacher. I've written new songs, I've met with an elderly man once or twice a week, I've reported on events for a local newspaper, I've learned the ethics of how we eat (mostly thanks to my wife and Wendell Berry), I've gone to information sessions and conferences pertaining to these interests, I've met with various faith-leaders, whether Buddhist, Catholic, or Evangelical, and, finally, I've learned about the importance and innate value of work. In other words, I've learned that our work, the daily tasks that each one of us has, whether it be at home or outside the home, religious or secular, is the substance of our spirituality; it's where our faith is "wrought out at the coal-face", as Lesslie Newbigin describes it. In response to this realization and through lots of prayer and practical logic provided by my wife, I decided a few months ago to return to the career I thought I was leaving behind when I came out here. Thus, I've applied and been accepted to l'Université de Montréal for their masters program in English Studies, starting next fall. Of course, my primary obligation (besides Lauren and Dennis) will be to the Urban Cultures YWAM school that Lauren and I will help run the next two years. The classes for my masters will be worked in around that. Nonetheless, I'm happy to be progressing towards a career in teaching literature, no matter what form that may take.
So, at the end of the eight months, while reflecting on all these experiences and realizations, I decided that music would be a good vehicle to crystallize them. Thus, for a good two weeks before the internship report was due, I scoured my journals and notes, highlighted, wrote down, cut-up, and grouped together anything that seemed to represent a common theme that was prevalent during my time here. I was determined to finish 8 to 10 songs, record them, and burn them onto a CD to hand in on the due date. Much thanks to my divinely patient wife who generously allowed me the time to write and record, and thanks to my fellow classmate Andrew Koole who supplied the Apple Garage Band program and his sweet harmonies, I was able to accomplish my goal. The 10 songs on the CD are very raw, recorded in about 3 hours (compare that to the near 300 hundred hours my last CD took), but nonetheless are adequately representative of my/our experiences out here. I'm excited to share, continue writing, and playing these songs with some of my friends and family back home.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Woman's Perspective

It's been too long since I've had this blank blog page before me, the keyboard at my fingertips, feeling such power and freedom with the knowledge that all you loyal followers will read whatever I, Lauren Christine Fitzgerald Flanagan, choose to express! Ah, the World Wide Web!

Okay, so it's a rainy day and I've been inside a little too long. Actually, not true either. I'm prattling now (if you don't know the word: look it up; it's my new fave, probably because I do it too much!). Focus, Lauren, focus...

Denny, Big D (switched from Lil' D since he's a beast now), and I just returned from my favorite place here in Montreal: Jean Talon Market. The only way to give you an accurate image is to call it a farmer's market, yet it's so much more...Open all week long, every day, one stop shopping. Now that Spring has come-- and with it asparagus, tomatoes, leeks, rhubarb, and the like-- the market is booming. It's enormous, and there are outdoor vendors set up as in any farmer's market, as well as permanent stores selling local meat, cheese, beauty products, grains, bulk, produce, you name it. Any herb, plant, or flower is also there to purchase, along with other gardening supplies. Amazing. I can never get enough. After strolling through, studying cheeses I've never heard of and seeking out Quebecois produce for about an hour a half I feel like I'm just getting started... but King Dennis usually lays down the law and hurries me along.

I was recently able to show off this favorite spot of mine to a very special visitor... Momma Lolo herself (Lois, Denny's mom, that is)! She arrived the 1st of May, Dennis' 9 month birthday, accompanied me while Denny was away on his outdoor extreme camp, and was then here for a week after Denny returned. What a blessing! To see Grandma and Grandson reunited after too much time apart... words don't do it justice. She marveled at his smile and flirtation skills (wooing every person who is willing to look his way), watched him learn how to crawl, was here to guide us and snuggle with him during his first real sickness, and even allowed us a date night on her last night in town: what a woman! We tried to spoil her as best we could (especially on Mother's Day) by showing her our favorite spots, feeding her crepes, and drinking red wine and some local beer. We had an awesome time together, and are now anxiously anticipating all the time we'll have in good ol' Fountain Valley beginning in 18 short days.

As to not overwhelm you all with a 17-page blog, I'll save the stories of my growing passion for social justice through the way we eat and cook for another day. In the meantime, if anyone has any good bread recipes or tips, leave me a comment! I've been teaching myself to make our bread that we eat, and it's a learning process...

Thanks for reading; happy Spring!

Thursday, May 14, 2009


So, it's been a few weeks since our New York trip. Since then, we've had class on different forms of church, gone into the wilderness for 5 days for the Niko Camp, and been working hard on finishing some of the major reports due at the end of the month, also known as the end of the school! It's a very busy time for us with the above-mentioned reports, preparing for our quickly-approaching summer at home, and, most importantly, Dennis crawling! Man, it's turned us on our heads. He's quite opinionated now that he can crawl, not to mention mobile.
One report that I just finished was based on two books: Foolishness to the Greeks: the Gospel and Western Culture by Lesslie Newbigin and The Complex Christ: Signs of Emergence in the Urban Church by Kester Brewin. Both were excellent explanations of how and why we need to revamp our thinking of missiology in the western world (meaning Western Europe and North America roughly). They really gave me new insight and meaning into what it means to be missional in the urban context.
Another report that I'm still working on is a study on the sub-culture of the elderly in Montreal. Based on my weekly meetings with an 82 year-old sweetheart of a man, a few visits to organizations serving the elderly, and a book based on the important role of the elderly in Quebec, my report will focus on the problem of isolation among many seniors in Montreal and their inherent, but all-too-often ignored, value in our society. I've come to realize that working with the elderly is definitely something that's heavy on my heart; I am thankful to have discovered such an interest.
Lastly, at the very end of the school, we are required to turn in our internship report. My internship over the last eight months has basically been experimenting with every thing I've ever been interested in. As you can imagine, it has lead me all over the city where I've experienced all kinds of amazing things. In fact, for the next blog I will go into detail about my internship, all the experiences it has entailed, and how I plan to wrap it up nicely with a bow on top. For now, I'll keep in you some suspense.

Monday, April 27, 2009

New York City and Community

We came home a bit tired Friday night after about 12 hours of travel. Although our angelic son had handled the trip both ways like a seasoned traveler, we all three were so glad to be home. New York City was amazing, edifying, and huge, but we sure were glad to be back in the not-so-big, not-so-busy city of Montreal: our stomping grounds!
We've now had a few days to reflect on our whirlwind experience, and have all agreed we did things like New Yorkers in New York City. When in Rome... And although I feel I'm still processing much of what took place there, I really want to share some of our experiences before I lose any precious details.
To summarize, as mentioned in an earlier blog, our main goal (beside doing some sight-seeing, touristy stuff) was to visit a few communities that we felt were exemplifying what it means to live in Christian community. The whole concept of "living in community" has been burgeoning anew in and outside of Christian circles throughout North America. It's often viewed as a way to fight against our individual-oriented, materialistic North American culture. New York City proved to be fertile ground for such a goal. All in all, we visited with six communities: two churches, four intentional communities, and one Catholic Worker.
One community, Bruderhof, was a community of 15 people living under one roof, families and singles. Although this community shares all its money and eats together each night, most of its members have jobs out in the city somewhere where they are able to serve the larger community. Some were teachers, some nurses, some volunteers, some worked for Non-profit organizations, etc. These people lived in close community, and welcomed us into their home for dinner and lots of good conversation.
Another community, All Angels Church, comes from the Anglican tradition and is located in the Upper Westside, a very rich area of Manhattan. However, this church has struggled for years to include the poor and homeless in its congregation. Through this, they have developed weekly soup-kitchens, where not only food is provided, but also professional counseling and career opportunities. They were very honest with us about the many struggles that have resulted from being radically open and welcoming to the poor and homeless (mostly black and hispanic males) amidst their predominantly rich, white congregation.
New Song is a 150 person church in Harlem that is about 10 years old. The pastor there told us that when the church began with six people in an apartment, they commited to focus on a 10-block area of Harlem. Out of this very narrow focus, they have been able to do some amazing things within the last 10 years. Not only do they have a church building, but they also own affordable-housing buildings, a youth development center, a health and wellness center, and are soon opening a restaurant where they will serve healthy food and offer hospitality. This is all within a 10-block area of Harlem!
Another community, Bronx Household of Faith, was in the roughest area that we visited during our time in New York City. This community, started by two couples, has been there for nearly forty years. They too have a very modest, yet focused area that they work with. The community resides in two houses and one apartment all along the same street. One of the couples that started the community has had six of their own children and adopted seven, most from pretty rough backgrounds. The father runs a ministry that helps troubled men in the troubled Bronx area get back on their feet, while the mother has home-schooled and is still home-schooling all 13 of their kids! Two of her children gave us a little concert with their cellos while we visited. Amazing stuff.
Lastly, we visited the Catholic Worker in the East Village. The Catholic Worker exists throughout the world, but is concentrated mainly in the U.S. The one we visited was the original, started by Dorothy Day, an amazing woman. She died in the 80's and is somewhere on her way to being canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church. The lady who spoke with us worked with Dorothy Day, and told us that she often said, "Don't call me a saint because then you won't take me seriously." Dorothy Day was and the Catholic Worker is still today extremely concerned with serving the poor and homeless in each respective community as well as affecting political change on a national, even international, level. It's quite a decentralized organization, so much so that you wonder how it doesn't lapse into chaos. Nonetheless, it has done some great things much thanks to the woman who got it all started.
I could go on and on about our experiences there, but I'll stop here. Needless to say, the week definitely clarified for us what it means to live in community in a culture that goes in the opposite direction. It was an extremely interesting and extremely challenging week, one that I will continue to reflect on for months, maybe years, to come.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Spiritual Disciplines

A few weeks ago, we went out to the Quebec countryside for a week's teaching on the spiritual disciplines and a weekend-long silent retreat. It was one of the best weeks of teaching Lauren and I have experienced in this school. Basically, the teacher, Jeff Pratt, who happens to be great friends with Brennan Manning (author of Ragamuffin Gospel), taught on adopting a daily rhythm of prayer similar to those practiced in monasteries for centuries. Jeff actually started what he calls an urban monastery ( in New Haven, Connecticut where he and the other members of the community commit to a common Rule of Life: 1. to daily moments of reflection and surrender (30 minutes minimum) 2. Holy Communion and prayer observed each Wednesday 3. Accountability friendships 4. Weekly acts of service to those locally in need of compassion or justice 5. Weekly sharing of Truth with pre-believers. It comes across as a very structured spirituality, but Jeff insists that these commitments are time-tested not only by the thousands of saints who've gone before us but also by Jesus himself. You can't read too far in the gospels without coming across a passage where Jesus goes off to pray. For us, it was nice to realize that although some of these disciplines may sometimes feel like striving or even legalism, the fact of the matter is that they bring us to a place where communion with God can take place. They don't cause communion with God, but they help us become attentive to his voice. As an example of a sort of daily rhythm, Jeff suggested praying over a psalm in the morning, maybe mid-day writing a prayer to him, and in the evening praying through music, etc. It's just one example. There are many ways to pray, and many books written about those ways as well. Fortunately, we believe in a God who values diversity and creativity. So, Lauren and I were really inspired by this teaching and have slowly begun to develop (individually and communally) a daily rhythm of prayer. It's a long journey, but we're glad to have begun.

Monday, April 13, 2009

At last, at last...

Easter is here and Lent is over. He is risen, He is risen indeed. It's a new blog, a new blog indeed. Now that Jesus has freed us from the bondage of our Lenten fasts (internet, chocolate, alcohol, etc.) we are back with lots of exciting news, impossible to contain in one blog. We just wrapped up a busy Holy Week, and now are joyously reveling in a free Easter Monday. The sun is shining brightly, the snow has all melted away, and a week of Springy weather awaits us. The hope of the season is upon us.
The last blog I put up was from early March announcing our commitment to Montreal for two more years. Now, we're almost to mid-April and, although the end of the school approaches, there's still much to be done. For example, this coming Friday the school will travel to New York for a week's trip to meet with different intentional communities. Basically, an intentional community, according to our definition, is any group of people who meet on a regular basis and share a common vision or higher calling. For example, any church could qualify as an intentional community. We'll meet not only with some churches but also with communities taking things a step further. For example, one group in Harlem (formerly called Bruderhof, now called Church Communities International) lives in a house together, shares all its money, and eats together daily. Another group in Brooklyn called Radical Living is somewhere in between: they live in three separate houses, close in proximity, and meet together 3 or 4 times a week for meals, devotional times, or community action. The goal, being in an urban center ourselves, is for us to learn about different constructions of community in a context very similar to our own. We want to search out people who are exploring different ways of seeing Christ and being Christ in the city. It's shaping up to be a really interesting week.
Then, we'll have a few days back in Montreal before I (Denny) and the other four students in the school strike out into the Quebec wilderness for five days. No, that's not a figurative statement--really, five days in the wilderness. That's all they're telling us...It's called a NIKO camp; Lauren did one when she went to Argentina for her DTS in 2006. She's still alive, so I'm hopeful. By the end of that it will be almost mid-may, and only a few weeks from our much-anticipated return to the golden state for the Summer.
Stay tuned for another update before we leave for New York on Friday. I'll go into detail about our time of Lent, the silent retreat we participated in, and the latest developments within my internship and volunteering.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Considerable Extension

Five months later, we've seen/felt/learned a lot since we left home to come to Montreal. We know what it means to leave family and friends--and familiarity. We've experienced the freedom and the loneliness that comes with such a decision. We know it, and we've decided we want some more! In other words, YWAM Montreal has invited us to join as staff for the next two years, and after months of thinking, talking, and praying, we've decided to accept. To head home for good, back to the O.C. in June, was too premature for us. Our time out here has been so full of discovery that we simply could not end this chapter come June. We will come home for the Summer (which we're very happy about) in order to reconnect with family, make some money, and continue asking for support. With YWAM, even as staff, we're responsible for raising all our own support. Then, the plan is to return in September to begin our two-year commitment. Basically, that commitment will entail helping run the Urban Cultures DTS (the school I'm doing now) as well as continuing to be involved in the city in various ways: through volunteering, internships, education, church, etc. We're nervously excited, or excitedly nervous, but, nonetheless, convinced that God has more to say to us out here, and we'd like to stick around a bit longer to hear about it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Social Justice

I (Lauren) recently made a decision to volunteer at a store called Ten Thousand Villages (Dix Mille Villages here in Quebec) in an English area here in Montreal. These stores are all over the U.S. and Canada and sell only fair trade goods: everything from household goods to clothes and jewelry to edibles such as chocolate, coffee, teas, and spices. Not only is it a retail store, but it's also a great community where I will be able to learn about fair trade through people, books, and workshops that they put on quite often.
For some time now, I've been interested in the HUGE topic of social justice and more specifically, women's issues (domestic violence, prostitution, etc.). I tried to get involved with an organization called Women Aware but, unfortunately, I have only done online research for the org. and haven't even gone in to work at all. I was hoping to learn a great deal of information that way and it just hasn't worked out. During my time here I have become increasingly aware of and interested in our economic system and the link between environmental issues and social justice. In other words, I've been really into living as "all naturally" as possible but have just recently discovered the link between the lifestyle choices I make and the direct effect it has on many, many poor people and countries. It has actually been a real source of joy discovering this, as it's such an obvious way to reconcile my desire to be a full-time momma as well as concerned with global and local social justice issues. Every purchase I do or don't make contributes to the well-being or the suffering in workers all over world.
This last week our speaker was Dave Skeen, founder of an organization called Global Youth Network (sending university students to third-world countries to teach practically on social justice issues), and his topic was on social justice. To my surprise and delight, the first three days were really all about the environment and our lifestyle choices, fair trade, etc. He spoke about making it a value and priority to buy less and buy local. He talked about making community more important than our individuality, both locally and globally: to do what is best for community and not just our own convenience. This topic touched me so much and really affirmed my decision to volunteer at Dix Mille Villages and to learn more about this subject, while doing all I can here and now.
In fact, he showed us a short video called "The Story of Stuff" that I would recommend to all of you. It was such a concise, informative video concerning these ideas and really drove the point home about our consumer culture. Just type in and the video will come up. I hope you can all check it out and enjoy it.
We are loving our new home and have been entertaining often while still enjoying having space and privacy. We're so excited about all we're learning here and really appreciate all your comments, support, and encouragement!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


It's February now and that means we're halfway through our school. As Lauren explained in the previous blog, our biggest change of late has been the amazing house we were asked to live in for the next four months. We've now been in the house for four days, and are taking full advantage of the privacy, tranquility, and intimacy that it provides. Dennis is sleeping better and Lauren and I are staring into each other's eyes more often. It's great!
As far as the school goes, there's much going on. For my volunteering, I was recently paired up with an 83-year-old man named Emile Pirro. I've met with him twice in his apartment, and am thrilled with the man. He's got quite a personality and seems to really enjoy company. I'm really looking forward to getting to know him over the next four months. Essentially, I meet with him once a week for 2 or 3 hours simply to talk or go through old boxes of stuff.
Also, I recently had two articles published in a local newspaper in Montreal called the Catholic Times. I covered two faith-oriented events and wrote articles for each. I'm planning on doing a couple more for this month as well. Another thing required of us in the school is to do a two-month study of a spiritual movement outside Christianity. I chose to study Zen Buddhism because of its emphasis on prayer through "emptying" and "turning off the mind." I attended an orientation meeting at a Zen Center in the city and also attended one of the prayer times, which is referred to as "zazen". It basically consisted of sitting in silence for three twenty-minute periods, each one broken up by walking around the "zendo" for five minutes. During the sitting periods, all noises and movements are strongly discouraged. I never realized how much I swallow and how loud it can be when sitting in a silent room full of people! Nonetheless, I'm very excited for what it might teach me in learning to quiet myself and just listen for the still, small voice.
A few other things that are in the works include a visit to a local monastery to have lunch with a community of monks and "monkesses", a few different interviews with Islamic, Jewish, Evangelical, and Sikh faith leaders, and hosting our home church's Sunday meetings a few times (now that we have the space to do so!).
Of course, there are many more things that have happened and will happen out here that are too many to tell; nonetheless, I can say with the utmost conviction that our first four months in Montreal have gone way beyond our expectations. A whole new world has opened up to us, and we are eating and soaking it up. The infinite opportunities and experiences within the urban context that is Montreal have revealed God's breadth and depth to me in fresh, new ways I had never considered. In the most anti-religious of North American cities, it's amazing to see God's presence in such creative ways.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Provision and Abundance

Lesson of the week: God provides. No, no, God does more than provide: He blesses, and He blesses abundantly.
Last Saturday (our supposed "family day"), Denny and I were sitting at our table frustrated and confused. Lil' D was trying to sleep while the roommates were home, cleaning and going about their normal business. It's not that they're abnormally loud or disrespectful in the slightest, but our apartment has great acoustics; in other words, it is insanely loud in our room. I had been getting much too stressed out about the noise and we were discussing how our situation had become unhealthy for us: we were getting mad at each other, our roommates, and every creak of the floor. We weren't able to spend quality time together, because we could never count on the house being empty and outdoors is not always comfortable in the Canadian winter. While we were having this discussion, I received an e-mail from a good friend I've made through our church, asking if we had received the notice about the Brazzeal's (the pastor/leader of our church who is currently spending 6 months in Florida) empty house and whether or not we might be interested. I called her right away to find out the details, and she went on to e-mail the couple for me. All said and done, within 24 hours we had heard about how they needed someone to stay in their house while they were away, e-mailed them, received an e-mail back from them, and confirmed that, yes, we would be more than willing.
So, cutting to the good part, we will be moving upon our return from Quebec City next week (we leave Sunday the 25th)! It is incroyable (incredible) how quickly it happened and what an incredible, incredible, blessing it is; a completely wonderful, undeserved answer to prayer. This house is beautiful: 3 floors, 3 bedrooms, beautiful colors and art on the walls (all done by their daughter); I could go on and on. And it is all for us for the next 4 months! It is located downtown, very close to a metro station, just a bit farther from the YWAM office but very close to many other things we're involved in (volunteering, etc.). We can't believe how much space we will suddenly have, and we can't wait to be able to host church (our church meets at different homes), YWAM meetings, and friends for dinner... I am still in awe...
So please, come visit us! We can house you, all of you! You will be staying in the guest room, otherwise known as Dennis' room, so just bring him in to us when he cries... See you soon!

Friday, January 16, 2009


In Montreal, a look out the window to check the weather can be deceiving. Par example, the last three days have danced around -30 degrees fahrenheit without a cloud in the sky. The sunny days are the coldest! You know it's one of those days when the moment you step outdoors, your lungs reject such frigid oxygen and you immediately start coughing. Or when the wind blows in your face, and you tear up a little, your eye lashes suddenly have frozen tear-particles attached to them. Wow. This is fun!
Lauren and I are actually glad that even the locals are saying this is exceptionally cold weather. For months now we've repeatedly seen the look of pity in people's eyes when we told them where we were from and that this winter would be our first. They would laugh and say something obscure about how it makes you tougher. Finally, now, we're facing the monster and we will not be undone. We march on, shielded by two layers of pants, wool socks and boots, three layers up top, a beanie or two, gloves, and a scarf. And there's more where that came from!

Friday, January 9, 2009


Home is a good place to be. There's nothing like coming down that airport escalator, knowing your loved ones are waiting to embrace you at the bottom...especially when you're carrying your first-born baby boy in your arms. Lil' D-Mike showed off for his Grandma LoLo, Grandma Lou, Grandpa Fitz, and Uncle Jim immediately, with his good nature and the Irish jig he's perfected (no explanation possible, you gotta see it). We were impressed and relieved with the way he handled the travel- amidst all the delays, long flights, and airport madness. I'm not anxious to do it again, but he was incredible, a true traveler at heart!

I was afraid the two weeks in Orange County might pass too quickly, but it was the perfect amount of time: any longer and I would have become too comfortable (too adapted to the warm weather!); any shorter and I would have felt cheated of time and worn out from all the traveling. We were able to spend plenty of time at home with Lois and Jimmy, Denny's mom and brother, just relaxing and watching bowl games, as well as time to visit with my parents (they were finally able to spend some q.t. with their first grandson!), the beautiful Manthorne fam (holding Kelsi and watching Kai and Kaci laugh at the D-Man), our great friends Tim and Karen (and their cute new pup Dublin), and last but most definitely not least, the Dubranskys (my sis and her fam). Lily, my sister's 9 month old, is 4 months older than Dennis and we were fully entertained watching her and Dennis interact. I can't believe that Dennis will soon be crawling and standing up like Lily is- it is so fascinating to watch these babies learn!

We were also able to have time for a small concert, where Denny played some new songs and we talked about our Montreal experience thus far, as well as what we hoped for in the future. Organizing the event really helped us sort through all we had learned during this time and it was so great to be able to talk to people more in depth about our experiences. I had some awesome conversations after we shared, and felt so affirmed and reassured speaking with other people about the radical life Jesus calls us to and the way they are trying to do that in Orange County.

So, we are back in Montreal now, where it is 15 degrees and snowing! A slight change from California, but beautiful all the same... (most of the time, at least!) I miss everyone already, but just being home gave me the renewal I needed to last through the Canadian winter.