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Gardens of Growth & Grace: What Veggies Have Taught Me About Flourishing

Over the past five years, my husband and I have taken up square-foot gardening in our backyard. Given that we live in a high desert, this isn’t the most cost-effective way to supply fresh veggies for our family; however, the fruit this discipline has produced in our souls is more than worth the added resources we’ve poured into these beds.

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The Grand Essentials…Old School

For the early Christians the Wisdom literature, particularly Proverbs, was the launching point for their consideration of human flourishing. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10 NIV) is the persistent theme of Proverbs. This wisdom is necessary for the practical realization of human flourishing, that is, a life lived well. Furthermore, it is a wisdom that originates in God and makes God known to us. The following selections illustrate early Christian reflections on wisdom.

Jerome (c. 347–420), the fourth-century Bible scholar best known as the translator of the Latin Vulgate, writes:

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Fully Alive in Christ
Choosing Love, Faith, and Hope

It is about 2 a.m. when my feet hit the soft grass under the bedroom window of my ranch style home. I walk down the silent street of the small Wisconsin village, walking “crosslots” through empty backyards, under the goalposts of the high school football field until I arrive at the door of a church. On Sundays I come here in my “good clothes,” but tonight I am a thirteen-year-old barefoot supplicant in cutoff s and a T-shirt. I find in the moonlit darkness of the sanctuary what I long for—a transcendent Presence that I somehow misplaced during the daylight hours of home and high school, and even church. I don’t stay long, but for a few blessed moments I feel the peace that passes understanding holding my mind and heart; I sense a love that is deeper than my knowing. I feel fully alive in those moments. Then I leave, retrace my steps, and noiselessly climb through the window and back into my own bed.

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Flourishing in a Life of Sacred Rhythm

Years ago, I sat in a staff meeting at a church I was serving; the purpose of the meeting was to talk about how we could attract more people to join the church. At one point someone counted the requirements for church membership that were already in place and made the startling discovery that somewhere between five and nine time commitments per week were required of those who wanted to become church members! Outwardly, I tried to be supportive of the purpose for the meeting, but on the inside I was screaming, Who would want to sign up for this?  I was already becoming aware of CFS (Christian fatigue syndrome) in my own life and couldn’t imagine willingly inflicting it on someone else.

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Practicing God’s Presence…for the Next Ten Minutes

The d-word in “spiritual disciplines” makes it sound like spiritual formation is for those who like a well-ordered routine. The message seems to be: If you want to become Christlike, if you want your life to flourish, then you need to do these things regularly, consistently, and without fail. And certain (structured) ways are more preferred than others.

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I type these words with a mixture of sadness and joy. This Front Page contribution for Issue 12.2 will end my formal editorial involvement with Conversations,  and I will join my friends David G. Benner and Larry Crabb in “retirement” to the masthead as a founding editor of this publication.

I love the design phase of new start-up projects much more than the administrative grind that follows. For me, the cycle for actually working with an idea, once it has been hatched, has typically been about three to five years. But engagement with Conversations  has been so much fun over the years that I broke that mold. I wanted to stay involved—long after my attention had been diverted to other new ideas. But now that I’ve passed two perfectly good biblical numbers as possible stepping-away points, I need to call it quits with Issue 12—or else I’d have to wait for Issue 40 to roll around. It seems appropriate on many levels that this issue is built around the theme flourishing . It is a term that comes to us from the relatively new fi eld of positive psychology and implies living in an optimal range of human functioning that includes goodness, happiness, love, creativity, and growth. A flourishing plant is well rooted, vibrantly alive, growing, and fulfilling its life mission. It is the same with human beings.

I remember sitting around a table in a restaurant of a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, just over fourteen years ago. Larry Crabb and David Benner were my tablemates, and we were lamenting that psychotherapy was much more focused on remediation than flourishing. Of course, we were not using that particular word at the time, as it was still years away from notoriety in the field.

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Soul Discovery
Flourishing in the First & Second Halves of Life

A journey into the second half of our own lives awaits us all. Not everybody goes there, even though all of us get older, and some of us get older than others. A “further journey” is a well-kept secret, for some reason. Many people do not even know there is one. There are too few who are aware of it, tell us about it, or know that it is different from the journey of the first half of life. So why should I try to light up the path a little? Why should I presume that I have anything to say here? And why should I write to people who are still on their first journey, and happily so?

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Flourishing in Unhurried Community

Before I was given this gift of a leadership community of grace, my ministry had been more about gathering a crowd than about cultivating a community of the committed, following Jesus together with them. My style of ministry was hurried and frantic. My goal was to fill the calendar with more events and fill the seats with more people. I would never have said it that bluntly, but it would have been hard for an objective observer to come to a different conclusion. I felt satisfied and important when the number of college students coming to our meetings was growing. I felt frustrated and worthless when that number decreased or even stayed the same. In conversations among our church staff at the time, we would say, “We count people because people count.” I don’t think that kind of math made anyone but us feel important.

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The Call to Flourish so that our Neighbor can Flourish

While on a long flight,  I finished listening to my favorite pieces by John Coltrane then opened some music I had recently downloaded but not yet heard. It was a recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, played by Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. The piece, intense and passionate, has been very important to me over the years. I hadn’t noticed that this recording included a short video excerpt of Bell and the orchestra during a recording session, playing an especially dramatic passage. When I opened the file, the video suddenly began to play.

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How to Live Well
Eternal Life Begins Now

EDITOR’S NOTE: When we settled on the theme of flourishing for this issue, we knew we had to include the voice of Dallas Willard, whose teachings and vision have undergirded the mission of Conversations since its inception. We couldn’t think of a better person to introduce this concept, and no better piece than this excerpt from his last public lectures, the Knowing Christ Conference, sponsored by the Dallas Willard Center for Christian Spiritual Formation at Westmont College. These talks were subsequently published in book format, and you can read all of Dallas’s inspired words in Living in Christ’s Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God. Dallas is now living fully in eternity, and while we miss him, we are grateful to him and those who carry on his legacy of great teaching on the kingdom of God.

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