Dave Nixon has a loud voice in my life. A fact that is ironic because he’s never actually very loud. We are wired similarly, but whenever I meet with him I can’t help but think (on my worst days) that he is a far better version of me. Or (on my good days) that he is simply years ahead of me on the journey. Either way, there is no more trusted voice in my life.
Dave Nixon of Sustainable Faith
At our last lunch, I asked Dave to consider writing a series as a guest blogger here. As he normally does, he took his time to think about it. I’m happy to say that he accepted. Dave and his wife Jody live, what I would call, a protestant urban monastic lifestyle in Norwood, Ohio – just outside of Cincinnati. He is a spiritual director. (My spiritual director when I actually remember to show up and learn from him.) He is the director of Sustainable Faith and fosters spiritual retreats for leaders and pastors in his home, a re-converted Catholic convent house.
I’m proud to present Dave’s first guest post in his series called Reflections on Stability:
It was the middle of the night and cold outside when I woke up from a dead sleep to the sound of someone shouting outside and banging loudly on something. “Am I hearing what I think I’m hearing?” I stumbled to the second floor window of our bedroom and peered through the window to see if I could spot the source of noise. I couldn’t, but the lamentation and pounding persisted, so I opened the window to hear it better. “Yo bitch! Let me in! You know I love ya! Yo bitch, c’mon, let me in! You know I love you! C’mon bitch, don’t do this to me! I love you!” Across the street, pounding on the front door of a house, was a young man who had apparently been cast into outer darkness for some infraction against his dear bitch. All he could do was wail, beat on the door, and offer up terms of endearment to show his remorse. I was thinking to myself, “Seriously? I don’t know what world he lives in, but in mine there are no women who come running into a guy’s arms at the word ‘bitch.’ “ I simply couldn’t wrap my brain around it. “Should I go give him a short lesson in etiquette, offer a little coaching?” I figured at the time it probably wouldn’t help, and besides, I don’t think I could have pulled it off without a smirk. So I went back to bed.
Almost seventeen years ago my wife and I took a vow of stability. Together we decided to bind ourselves for the remainder of our lives to a particular place and to a life within that place. We would live and work in our neighborhood (Norwood, Ohio) until the day we died. This wasn’t a decision we made lightly. For me in particular, it was a sobering choice, but we made it gladly and were confident that God had guided us toward it, so we embraced the invitation, come what may.
Despite our decidedly non-Catholic upbringing and complete unfamiliarity with monastic life, we weren’t total strangers to vows. After all, we’d been married for nearly 21 years at the time. Without the promises which we’d made to each other, the vows we had exchanged “in the presence of God and many witnesses,” neither of us think we would’ve made it through some very dark times. There are many truths about wedlock, but one that you can bank on is that the person you think you’re marrying will be very unlike the person sleeping next to you years down the road. (That’s why there’s all that “for better or worse” stuff.) And if there was one thing we’ve learned about life, it’s that it rarely turns out as you imagine it will. So on the front end of this decision we were necessarily clueless.
But who ever knows? No one, really. In the end, we’re all completely ignorant of what’s around the corner. Completely. So a vow of stability was the proverbial but real step of faith. We hoped for better, for richer, for health, but what if worse, poorer and sickness came? If the neighborhood tanked economically and socially, turning over time into a crime-ridden hell-hole that threatened our safety and sanity, our prior vow would still mean staying. If it turned into some sterile, polite, gentrified repository of upper-middle class American values — God spare us all! — we’d still be rooted there. If it slowly blended with the near exclusively black neighborhood just to the south and, as a consequence, the aging white population fled to keep one step ahead, well, there we’d be — visually very distinct.
Within days we began sharing this with our young, emerging church, telling them, “You might leave, but we won’t. For us there are no longer any greener pastures. If we’re going to see the kingdom of God come, for us it will be here or nowhere else.”
What I’d like to share with you in this and the next few posts are a few of the outcomes of our decision, ways in which it has challenged, shaped and surprised us.
One of deepest invitations to us has been to learn about a world very different from one we would have chosen for ourselves. Jody and I grew up in upper middle class homes where decorum, propriety, looking good, and self-improvement were all the rage. If our lives had gone the normal route, we would’ve ended up surrounded by people just like us. I’m convinced we would have ended our days staring in the mirror, seeing nothing more than our own reflections.
The thing that struck me most about the incident mentioned above was that this young guy, unlike me, had no apparent shame. He was “acting out” in public. Who does this sort of thing? (Of course, maybe he was three sheets to the wind and had lost all inhibitions.) But maybe a better way of seeing it is that he actually felt deep remorse and was expressing it demonstratively in the only language he knew to someone he loved . (He just needed a little help.)
In Christian circles we talk a lot about God and the need for relational transparency, about “being who we really are,” taking off masks, etc. Here it often seems that people don’t talk much about God but they have no problem being exactly who they are, even when it’s not flattering. A part of me thinks that’s because they’ve already lost so much in life that the thought of putting up a front would just appear a silly gesture. I on the other hand still care far too much about my image, believing that I have lots to lose. My neighbors can teach me in this respect. But without a vow of stability, we would’ve run away a long time ago and kept our first and false impressions of those around us, who are a gift to us as much as anything else.
Learn more about Dave’s work at www.sustainablefaith.com.