Author Archives: Sonny Hennessy

About Sonny Hennessy

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I once lived the “American Dream”

I once lived the “American Dream”. Boy, did we ever!! 4,300 square feet on an acre with 6 bedrooms! What?!

Were we crazy! Who needs 6 bedrooms other than a bed and breakfast or the Welch family? (Welch’s have 7 children and I wanted to give them a shout out! Love you guys!)

But for real, why and how and what were we thinking? We had an hour commute one way and both worked as our 3 and 4 year old kids were babysat for those extra two hours a day. We were both making the dough to afford our sprawling house (with no landscaping because the land developer was out of money before the house was complete). 

I could rant about this and the regrets and the money that ran down the drain for days, Shawn and I have often to each other already. But the solution is in the fix. We fixed our priorities and sold the cars and started living trully within our means. As I look back, I never lived out my dreams as we were in the middle of the “American Dream”. We were strapped, stressed and unfulfilled. I can now say that when making 30k a year on our sabbatical we began to live out “Our Dream as Americans”. We began to see how simple life could be in our little tree lined street and how important our healthy kids are to us. We found comfort in each others arms in front of the fire in Wisconsin watching a Packers game or having a family Redbox night. The movies were now a luxury and seemed ridiculous compared to all watching a movie for a dollar snuggled up on our L-shaped sectional. 

We talked and prayed and dreamt about what our future church would feel like and how much we wanted it in the center of where people live and work. We talked about how we wanted LIVE in the center of where people live and work like we had in Plymouth, MI. We were done driving into our garage and closing it as we got out of our car and not ever meeting any neighbors because they did the same. We longed for the city, not the suburbs. We realized that is just who we are and who we are created to be.  Frankly, we love people and we want to have the opportunity to interact all the time. We want to “do ministry” with our kids in tow too.

In a recent trip to Portland, 6 year old Aubree saw a homeless man outside the pub where we were sitting down to eat. She quickly told us she needed money to give him. We told her we only had our debit cards on us. She began to tear up and offered to go tell him he could come in and eat with us and we would pay for the meal. Hmmmmmm? We both paused for necessary time to think of why we wouldn’t do that. We selfishly came up with some excuse and then told her we would order him something and she could give it to him in a to-go box. Shawn took her outside to meet Ron and let him know to stick around and wait for the cooks to finish his meal. Aubree came back in and on the back of her kids menu drew a picture for Ron and prayed for him: See video and Picture below:

IMG_0738.MOV Watch on Posterous

Photo-6

 

Her goal was for him to know Jesus loves him and that is why she loves and cares for him. Why would we ever want to not do ministry with our kids. They will love God and His people rather than dispise a ministry that “took their parents” time away from them. I want to live the “God Dream” not the “American Dream” anymore. I don’t want more, more, more that keeps me from my kids and gets my eyes off people in need so I can fill my own wants.

Below is an article from one of my favorite sites and networks, Q. It is much more bold than I am brave enough to be….. 

Saving Suburbia: From the Garden to the City

 

by Mel McGowan

I had a single-family detached house on a half-acre parcel with a three-car garage in a bedroom suburb of Southern California. In order to afford my piece of the “American Pie,” I commuted to work at least an hour each way, barely making it home in time to tuck in my youngest child each night, and rarely in time to have dinner with the whole family. I spoke to my next-door neighbor about three times in three years. The elementary school that was located behind our tract was shut down so my son had to be driven or bussed several miles to the next school. Although I attended the same church where I became a Christian, it had long since given up its Main Street address to relocate to forty acres of agricultural land on the periphery of the city. As a result, it had achieved mega-church status, with over 5,000 weekend attendees. I felt my wife’s pain as she attended week after week enjoying relevant teaching and worship, but not one real conversation, much less the start of any new friendships. It may sound like a “glass half-empty” description, but, in fact, having grown up in Europe and Asia in urban flats, apartments, and townhomes, I felt blessed to have a home like this for my family. However, something was missing from my American Dream. 

I have come to understand that something to be a God-wired hunger for community. 

THE KIDNAPPING OF COMMUNITY

God is a God of community. Before the beginning, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “did life together” in community. “In the beginning,” God created a perfect setting for community—Eden—for vertical connection with him, as well as horizontal connection with others. After the cleansing of the flood, God chose a particular people—a community—to tell his story and reveal his ways. And for the past two thousand years, the Bible says that his presence has not been contained by a tent or a building but is somehow found within in Christ-centered community: the church. Humans, made in God’s image and for his purposes, are hard-wired for community. 

However, today, the concept of community is being kidnapped from us. To be sure, the word itself is still used at great lengths. We have special interest communities (e.g., the gay community, the evangelical community, etc.). Single-family detached tract residential builders have renamed themselves “Community Builders” and their single use tracts with the minimum required landscaped setbacks are “Master Planned Communities.” And the leading Real Estate Development trade and research association, Urban Land Institute (ULI), defines “Community Centers” as a shopping center anchored by a discount or department store with a typical GLA (gross leasable area) of 150,000 to 300,000 square feet… a.k.a. a “strip center” or “big box center.” But amid so much talk of community, we have lost its true meaning. 

The three-car “garagescapes” that have replaced the tree-lined front porch streetscapes of small town America create anonymity and social isolation. Anonymity is also a common critique of the Sunday morning experience in the darkened rows of contemporary mega-churches (many of which actually use the word community in their name). Ironically, in order to achieve mega-church status, many of these “faith communities” are essentially once a week gatherings of dispersed families from the same 20-minute drive radius as a big box retail center. Given the placeless homogeneity of much suburban sprawl (the same big box retailers, tract home builders, gas stations, and “vanilla” office parks), the word seems to be invoked specifically to compensate for the lack of authentic community. 

Perhaps the biggest threat to the classic definition of community is technology. The internal combustion engine killed Main Street, Elm Street, and the walkable scale of human settlements and towns. Whereas the “public square,” with its sacred and civic spaces (from the Greek agora, Roman forum, and Italian piazza to the New England village green) was the first and central defining anchor to any community, for the last sixty years the creation of such public spaces is actually prohibited by modern single-use zoning practices. The latest technological shift that is radically transforming the definition of community is online social media, which seems to remove the need for actual physical spaces to connect with others. Are the “real” places becoming obsolete? 

All of these changes are demonstrating that when we divorce the word community from the reality of a particular human-scaled place, we fundamentally lose something in the mix. Today, many church planters and next generation Christian leaders feel a calling to be “architects of community” in either urban or suburban settings. However, most are ill equipped to answer this call because they lack a biblical understanding ofplace and a historical understanding of terms like city and suburb. Without an adequate theology of place, we resort to either devaluing it (throwaway church buildings) or overdoing it (by trying to re-build the temple). And without a greater understanding of how physical human ecologies and environments either facilitate or constrain community, we will fail to be truly present in the places and cities to which God has called us. In light of this, we’ll consider a theology of place first, then explore the tangible challenges we face for creating authentic community in our cities, with a special focus on the suburbs. 

A THEOLOGY OF PLACE

Some consider a theology of place to be primarily concerned with religious buildings; they focus on how to create sacred worship space. Church and religious architects would even argue that there are “timeless principles of liturgical design.” I call this the standard bag of tricks. These induce the user through a series of perceptual and physiological manipulations in order to artificially induce a sense of sacred. They include using stairs and ramp for ascension, forcing the “pilgrim” to lower their head through lowered openings or ceiling elements, and then using filtered natural light to “draw the eye heavenward.” 

In contrast, I have come to believe that the most beautiful (not to mention opulent) cathedral can be the site of the most profane acts (e.g., child molestation), and that the smelliest back alley can be the site of the most powerful redeeming act (serving a homeless teen as if she were Jesus). A theology of place needs to be bigger than even the biggest and grandest of church buildings. 

The Bible is concerned with place. Indeed, the entire biblical story can be seen as a metanarrative of the journey of God’s people from one place to another, from the Garden to the City. This first place we encounter comes at the culmination of the creation story. It’s a very good place. 

Some of our imagery of the Garden of Eden is fuzzy, ranging from an assumption of an abstract metaphor to a literal image of an unending, unspoiled jungle. The actual word Paradise entered European languages from the Persian root word pardis, which referred to a beautifully-tended garden enclosed between walls. The Hebrew word pardes (probably derived from Persian and used in the Jewish Talmud to refer to Eden) could be interpreted as a park, a garden, or an orchard. 

This may sound a bit off, but I find it helpful to relate the Garden of Eden to a theme park. Although an angel with a flaming sword is more impressive than a typical minimum wage theme park security guard, the idea of a carefully designed environment in which every detail (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch) is carefully considered and designed for the enjoyment of its denizens is a powerful one. In fact, it is so compelling that Disney’s walled gardens are the top tourism destinations in America, Europe, and Asia. After spending nearly a decade of my life with the Walt Disney Company, I have come to appreciate the intensity and intentionality of the multi-disciplinary design effort that goes into the creation of a theme park. 

 

 


The Church should be the Third Place not the First.

I can’t wait until we launch our church in Portland and can see it become our third place! Can’t wait to not have it be the first place as it should never outshine our family and home time. And, even though we will work full time in ministry, I am thankful that we won’t have it be our second place either.

 

You ask why? Because, if I am behind a desk in an office in our building and not at a coffee house or Powell Books or Pioneer Square downtown, or at a City Council or Chamber meeting in Portland then I’m not really working anyway. I want to meet people every single day. That is my personal and professional goal. Every single day, unless we are home with our family chillin, I want to meet people (plural). How else can we “Go into the world and make disciples” if we never go and make acquaintances with future disciples? I want to come on the scene, as futurist Leonard Sweet says, and “find what Jesus is already up to in people”. I Can barely sit still here on my couch and wait! 

 

The people we gather, the friends we make, the life-long relationships we discover will all form the “church” or comraderie. When we are together, in a building, our building, our bookstore, or worshiping in services, then we can be the third place. 

 

The ‘third place’ is a phrase coined by contemporary sociologist Ray Oldenburg. Oldenburg (1990) postulates that the third place is a term referring to a public place where people gather for the social satisfaction that they can’t get from the first two domains of the home and the workplace. Moreover, Oldenburg argues that the availability of such gathering places in America is lacking. Loitering outside of convenience stores and fast-food franchises has become a common practice among those looking for a neutral social atmosphere. In an age of such compartmentalized social life, there simply is no public place for people to go and enjoy one another’s company. Aren’t we glad that isn’t the case in all cities in this decade? Starbucks, local coffee houses, cigar lounges, pubs have all become popular places of socializing. 

 

Article about Starbucks blogged in 2009

Inspired by Oldenburg’s observations, Schultz of Starbucks has turned America’s seeming lack of place into a viable business opportunity. Encouraging loitering and offering lattes, Schultz has developed Starbucks into a cozy home-away-from-home. In a book of his own, Schultz (1997) applies the need of a third place in the lives of people to the popularity of Starbucks with its customers:

In an increasingly fractured society, our stores offer a quiet moment to gather your thoughts and center yourself. Starbucks people smile at you, serve you quickly, don’t harass you. A visit to Starbucks can be a small escape during a day when so many other things are beating you down. We’ve become a breath of fresh air. (p. 119)

Oh, to not be a church that is “beating you down”. A breath of fresh air would definitely have described Jesus and his ministry. Then it went on to describe the message his disciples lived out. We, the church, the third place, can be what Howard Schultz described in 1997 that has caught on a bit, don’t you think?! 

This concept, which I have studied and meditated on for years now is probably another reason why I love local coffee houses and local bookstores. Why I love a small park or fountain area in an urban neighborhood where people congregate. Once you are bitten by the feel of doing life together in that third place, wherever that may be, you are never satisfied with work, home, work, home, far off vacation, work, home again. Oh, Plymouth, MI how you have inspired me and forever changed my idea of community.

THE THIRD PLACE: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the community and urban planning concept. For other uses of the term, see competition.

The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book The Great Good PlaceRay Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil societydemocracycivic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.

Oldenburg calls one’s “first place” the home and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs. Oldenburg suggests these hallmarks of a true “third place”: free or inexpensive; food and drink, while not essential, are important; highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance); involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there; welcoming and comfortable; both new friends and old should be found there.

Michael Krassa argues along similar lines, looking at neighborhood design, social network formation, and civic involvement.

Robert Putnam addressed issues related to third place in Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital (1995, 2000).

The concept of a “Third Place” has become popularized and has been picked up by various small businesses, including as a name for various locally owned coffee shops, and is commonly cited in urban planning literature on the issue of community-oriented business development and public space.

Variants

Variant forms of the concept include the “community coffee house” and the “community living room”, a term which has been adopted by several organizations to describe the model of a cooperatively-run “third space” which includes commercial or non-commercial functions with an emphasis on providing a free space for social interaction.

The general store or pub and occasionally bookstore or diner are traditional variants of the concept, provided in such cases there is an emphasis on expectation of socialization, and customers are invited to stay and “hang out” with or without making any (or additional) purchases. Institutions which traditionally provided some functions of a third place included shared leisure facilities such as a bowling alley or arcadefunction hallslodges or social clubs, when and if facilities were available for casual use.


Telecommuters

An increasing percentage of American workers now telecommute, not from home, but from a third place. Workers cite isolation when telecommuting from home and find working in public spaces a happy medium between the home office and the corporate office. Availability of public wifi has been a major enabler of this trend, and an increasing number of retail chains are catering to it.


Socialising

A traditional public house encourages social contact between patrons. But a third place which provides internet access may create a hollow effect in that the patrons are physically present but do not make social contact with each other, being absorbed by their remote connections. Some café owners are trying to ameliorate this effect by staging performance art such as live jazz and turning off the wi-fi to encourage audience engagement.

What and where is your third place?

 

 


The Fasting is over….more on the horizon.

My fasting journey ended on September 28th sadly. I wasn’t eager to eat whatever I wanted, I didn’t feel “free”, I wasn’t ready for normalcy again. I truly felt more in control and completely out of control all at the same time when I fasted! I didn’t feel bound by temptations and desires for food or junk, it wasn’t an option. I didn’t hear the voice of God audibly or see writing in the clouds but I did have stirring in my heart and mind. 

The stirring was painful and confusing and exciting and wonderful ALL at the same time. We had God tell us “no” on some plans and ideas; plans we weren’t even asking about actually. Then we had God tell us “yes”, “maybe”, “Dream bigger Shawn and Sonny” too. I think God was waiting until we fasted, maybe until we matured enough to choose to fast, to reveal more long term plans to us. 

I believe a new fast will be required in the near future. I am not excited to eat less and adjust life again but I am excited to hear the next steps from God again. He is so wonderful, so faithful, so gracious and fun! I highly encourage obedience in the spirit to kill the disobedience of the flesh. It is faith in action and faith can move mountains!


My Fasting Journey

The Lord wouldn’t let me sleep one night mid August and when I listened to what he was trying to tell me before I fell asleep, I was delivered the firm awareness that I was to go on a liquid only fast for 40 days. Other times that I have tried to fast, when in my own strength and determination, I failed. In this liquid only fast I didn’t fail day 2, day 4, day 15, day 20……It went really well. I started out with the goal and need to break a food obsession (or lack-there-of obsession). It quickly turned into a time where God started to uncover “small” character flaws in my attitude and perceptions. I saw some ugly things in my rise up, like getting offended, hurt, etc. 

It also started to open my eyes to our future. Something, I had chosen to ignore so that I could be content in where we are and what we do. It can be exhausting to dream and pursue the vision for the future so I had sat back and thought, this is easy and comfortable for a change. However, the fast began to birth some new things and bring to light the old things we have dreamed of and even done before. I started thinking about our time in MI when we had Easter Sunrise service in the park in the center of the city. I began to dream again about another day of a huge Easter Egg hunt like we did for the city. Wanting to be intricately involved in a community is our heart! Suddenly, God was revealing the things we did well and that we shouldn’t forget and that we should try again. 

The fast was going great, aside from common light-headedness and weakness. Then on day 28 I passed out in our house. After having our kids run in with Shawn to find their mommy laying on the floor unresponsive, I felt released to eat something to get my strength and protein back up. Shawn and I talked and I told him of my desire to end the fast. I determined I would give up coffee and sugar for the last 11 days. It has been 6 days of eating and last night I wrestled as I tried to sleep with the fact that God is not done speaking and revealing at a “fast” rate. Food gets in the way for me….I think about all the options and find my comfort and safety in it. I want that broken among other things. 

Today I will start a Daniel Fast until Sept. 28th. 

God, give me strength and direction. Sustain me, but more importantly continue to speak wisdom, knowledge and discernment into my spirit. 


6 more Months of Learning, Growing, Developing.

Will learning and growing ever end?? Nope….and it shouldn’t. However, there are times when I feel a concentrated amount of learning taking place. Usually through pressure and squeezing of my brain and heart, right?! The strain that requires we learn or bust. From that comes growing. “Growing pains” isn’t just a phrase, it is a true affect of choosing to grow.

Development is the final part where we actually see some hope peeking through. We begin to see what the learning and growing from pain and stretching is creating in us. Developing into the person we should have been. Developing tools to deal with situations in the right way vs. the less mature way. Developing a prayer life that takes the Word and correct thinking into consideration rather than our old way of making decisions. Development is like getting on the scale and seeing that a month of dieting and excercise resulted in losing 20lbs. At that moment, all the hunger and sweat were worth the result.

Is every strain worth development? Yes! How long will it take to see full development? Forever! That is the tough part for us to wrap our mind around. How can we go through so much thinking, “This time I figured it out” and turn around to have to start up the next mountain of learning? 

We won’t be fully sanctified (or mature) until we get to heaven and the trying is over. We won’t dodge conflict or learning until we come to the end and face the Final Say. I am learning that growing and development is a non-negotiable. I am learning to humble myself enough to lose the mindset that “I should have figured it all out by now”. That, I repeatedly have to tell myself, is a slippery dark slope. One in which shuts the door to being teachable. Being teachable is being humble and being humble is being teachable. At even 90 years old we should still be teachable. 

My desire and prayer is to be humble, teachable, flexible, longsuffering and willing to learn. As I look at the past 6 months that we have been consulting and revitalizing for different organizations, we have actually been the ones learning and growing. Though life is not safe and secure and set out before us, we are making a point to stay humble and teachable. We are waiting on God to plant us in THE CITY we are to make a covenant with and devote our lives to. Until then, learning, growing and developing is welcomed as preparation for that day. 

 


My Fasting Journey

The Lord wouldn’t let me sleep one night mid August and when I listened to what he was trying to tell me before I fell asleep, I was delivered the firm awareness that I was to go on a liquid only fast for 40 days. Other times that I have tried to fast, when in my own strength and determination, I failed. In this liquid only fast I didn’t fail day 2, day 4, day 15, day 20……It went really well. I started out with the goal and need to break a food obsession (or lack-there-of obsession). It quickly turned into a time where God started to uncover “small” character flaws in my attitude and perceptions. I saw some ugly things in my rise up, like getting offended, hurt, etc. 

It also started to open my eyes to our future. Something, I had chosen to ignore so that I could be content in where we are and what we do. It can be exhausting to dream and pursue the vision for the future so I had sat back and thought, this is easy and comfortable for a change. However, the fast began to birth some new things and bring to light the old things we have dreamed of and even done before. I started thinking about our time in MI when we had Easter Sunrise service in the park in the center of the city. I began to dream again about another day of a huge Easter Egg hunt like we did for the city. Wanting to be intricately involved in a community is our heart! Suddenly, God was revealing the things we did well and that we shouldn’t forget and that we should try again. 

The fast was going great, aside from common light-headedness and weakness. Then on day 28 I passed out in our house. After having our kids run in with Shawn to find their mommy laying on the floor unresponsive, I felt released to eat something to get my strength and protein back up. Shawn and I talked and I told him of my desire to end the fast. I determined I would give up coffee and sugar for the last 11 days. It has been 6 days of eating and last night I wrestled as I tried to sleep with the fact that God is not done speaking and revealing at a “fast” rate. Food gets in the way for me….I think about all the options and find my comfort and safety in it. I want that broken among other things. 

Today I will start a Daniel Fast until Sept. 28th. 

God, give me strength and direction. Sustain me, but more importantly continue to speak wisdom, knowledge and discernment into my spirit.