17 April 2014

Submerge Schema: A Relational Liturgy for Missional Living

In 2005 I spent some time in Kenyan refugee camps. These refugees were from Uganda and had been uprooted as they fled from the LRAThe formation of the rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army recruited 5000 children into the Ugandan government army. My role was to explore not the LRA itself but the issues related to attachment by families that resettled in Kenya. As we spent time in these refugee camps we compiled information and stories about the serious struggle for individuals and families to attach to a new place indefinitely. The issue we investigated was called the Displacement Affect.

The Displacement Affect pioneered by Otto Fenichel is the ensuing influence that an extended season of uprootedness has on the process of rooting. What happens when people are put out of home, out of place and hover in a displaced state? Settlement Identity-Crisis takes hold when people are prevented from attachment. When the emotional muscle of attachment is suspended, severed or even underdeveloped it makes bonding significantly threatening, unfamiliar, frightening and difficult. It is an unconscious psychological state that causes one to stay above place.  

This exploration has made me acutely aware of the signs and symptoms of Displacement Affect.

In no way do I want to minimize those displaced by war but I do think we are experiencing a version of Displacement in many Western urban contexts.

Atrophy in Rooting
I believe the rigorous pursuit of Self-Actualization which generates the furious pursuit to land the ideal job, the ideal partner, the ideal status, the ideal education creates atrophy in the emotional muscles necessary for rooting. Rooting in a particular neighborhood with a particular people feels unnatural and potentially constricting. The cultural force compelling us to chase down our own dreams has made being present, really present an underdeveloped discipline.  This cultural trajectory has acted like a backhoe digging up the maturation of incarnational attachment. What we have fortified in the trek to maximize the self has actually become a source of accumulative violence on our ability to bond. I concede that it is covert but is ruinous on sustainable missional living.

Tenting to Tabernacling
In church planting I've seen this displacement within myself and others. I’ve seen it in the most passion-filled church planters armed with missional theology. I've seen it in the most fiery social justice advocate unwilling to work faithfully on the ground. There is a strong tendency to attempt to build something without grafting and super-gluing to a place. Most of us have attachment issues knowing how to Tent (Abraham made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in Tents - Heb 11:9) but not how to Tabernacle (The Word became flesh and Tabernacled among us - John 1:14).

4 Place Connectors 
A simple schema emerged. What follows is a neighborhood navigation tool for pulling a community into a real-time place; shifting our habitual patterns to draw us into the "other".  This acts as a primary tool for practical, ongoing, incremental submerging into a neighborhood. It naturally moves from the macro to the micro. It doesn't matter whether you’re new to a place or have been living somewhere 20 years, this Relational Liturgy will open up new space by plummeting your missional community into a social labyrinth. This Submerge Schema is intended to be an ongoing instrument in discipleship-processing-pods for reflection and direction in rootedness. A Place-based community will have to embrace their limits and active listening as they go about. When applied for the long haul, it nudges us below the buzz of marketing, self-promotion and event-dependence into the vital ordinariness that God’s mission requires in our world.

The Submerge Schema

Province From Indifference to Partnership

Text: "Leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum(Matt 4:13)

We must shape our location devotion. Our ability to emotionally attach and resonate with a place has a scope and size. We are limited in our sense of environment. A province is a manageable section of our city that we take some ownership of. We begin to seek out who is already doing significant work in our province, no matter the creed and color. How do we serve them, form solidarity with them and learn from them? The pains of this place must become my pains, the aches of this place become my aches.
  • What observations have we made about our Province?
  • What is beautiful in our place?
  • What is the brokenness in our place?
  • Who are the marginalized in this place?

Porch - From Independence to Interdependance

Text: “which of the three became a neighbor… the one who treated him kindly, so go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:39)

The Porch is symbolic of our literal residence. A typical home is a realm of personal privacy insulated from the public world. I've learned much from my minority Brothers and Sisters on how to use the front stoop, the lawn chair, the BBQ, the sidewalks and the front lawn. Inviting the “other” into our home is inviting Jesus into our home. There is something equalizing about sharing food together.  
  • How do we extend shalom to our neighbors?
  • Do I see my home first through the lens of Protective Security or Sacred Hospitality?
  • How can we slowly begin to establish a common table?
  • What are my fears associated with home generosity?

Pathways - From Repelling interaction to Impelling interaction

Text: “Walking along the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth and stopped to address him.” (John 9:1)
Our Pathways are the regular routes we take. God's dwelling is tied to the streets connecting us to each other. We easily become isolated from the places that we meander through, withdrawing into minimal interactions. The slow discipleship work is to transition from Unconscious Busyness to Conscious Habitation. The pathways we take shape our understanding of the city. 
  • What roads and routes do we want to take to encounter those in our neighborhood?
  • Do we walk? Do we drive? Do we bike?
  • Are we open to stopping along the path?
  • Are we consistent in our pathways?
  • How do we move to astute listening along our pathways?

Pivots - From Consuming Perks to Beholding People

Text: “Jesus passed through Samaria… and Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon. A Samaritan woman, came to draw water. Jesus asked, “Can I have a drink of water?” (John 4:4-8)

Pivots are those places we park, spots where different sorts of people can mingle. Pivots are where relational intersections occur. When you pivot there are people within arm’s reach. Gain eyes of faith for holy interruptions and sustainable habits in these locations. Become a face in the place. Seek to build bridges that travel beyond suspicion to trust.
  • Are you a regular there?
  • Have you made introductions?
  • Can your faith-community collide there?
  • What tribes are already hovering there?
  • What anxieties are inhibiting your presence?



  1. This is very well thought out and easy to follow...I am very excited that you are going to talk on this at the Seattle gathering this weekend....stuff to ponder for me...thanks for writing this for us to ponder and apply

  2. Certainly Arlene. Thanks for pondering!

  3. Thanks for this mission and discipleship-making article. As a sociology major (along time ago) and nearly a psychology major I deeply resonated with your reflection. As a pastor who is serving a church which merged 38 years ago and didn't know how to be a neighbor; a church that finds its having to divest itself of its property and move back to the old neighborhood (that never really lived as neighbor), your blog is extremely timely. Sincere thanks. John Longard

  4. Glad it was helpful.
    Blessings on your congregation as you love your particular neighborhood.

  5. "God's dwelling is tied to the streets connecting us to each other." His Spirit leads us to divine connections and prompts us how to humbly serve those He brings us to. This sets up amazing "one another" opportunites. http://stevesimms.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/one-anothering/