By Duane David Otto
Many years ago the Lord planted a seed deep within my heart. It came in the form of a question - or a series of questions, really - that have quietly directed my meditations, my prayers for illumination, my study of the Bible, and my interactions with trusted friends. The following is an attempt to convey the fruit of these spiritual exercises and in turn lay down what have become the hope and prayer of Ithaka Fellowship.
Rooted Tree or Hydroponic Plant?
In the Scriptures a rooted tree symbolizes a person that is mature, wise, or blessed (Ps. 1:3). The interpersonal dynamics are composed of a complex root system that runs deep within the soul, creating a powerful interplay between love, trust, dependency, and fidelity to a region or place. Friendships are cherished and tend to be maintained for long terms. Families relish the support of relatives and grandparents. And the life that is most generous and wise is the one that humbly trusts in the Lord and understands work to be the means by which one's relation to the land comes alive.
Conversely, the worldly life is ethereal or chafflike in nature (Ps. 1:4). Though rooted (Pr. 2:22), its system is aquatic in nature. All sustenance and meaning are found in the superficial rather than the eternal, creating a shallow and makeshift life - a life easily influenced by adverse currents both within and without. Closeness and intimacy are valued, yet must be found in voluntary associations formed by common interests or spiritual practices. Friendships tend to be short-term and address only a few dimensions of life. And the life most sought after is the one that capitulates to the subtle demands of Progress and in the work exploits the land for a "greater good."
An Age of Uprootedness?
Which best defines our culture? To my mind, and it grieves me deeply to say this, ours is an age of institutionalized pond-life. The reciprocal and analogical ties between marriage, household, church, community and the land have been ripped apart by the wisdom of the age and each dimension of life has been parceled out to well-intentioned "experts" who can, at best, only encourage the disgruntled masses to move on to a "better" pond when the stagnation becomes a bit too much for them to bear. The migration patterns are everywhere, even within the church. Baptismal vows, marriage, and family life are not central. Husbands and wives find it easier to revoke their commitment to each other and transplant their hearts outside the home. Christians are not staying in churches for the long haul. When things get rough it is assumed that God would want them to live in a nicer "pond" - one that makes them feel happier. More broadly speaking, we are witnessing a complete mistrust in a providence that puts individuals and families in a place and time for kingdom purposes; a multi-generational faithfulness testifying to the glory of God.
What is the challenge before us? This brings me to the core questions alluded to at the outset. For many years now it has been my hope and prayer to understand the following questions:
- How can the church develop a relationship with Christ that goes beyond a shallow view of personal interest and private concern?
- How do we redefine our situations so that Jesus is Lord of our families and spiritual community and not merely our private lives?
- How do we counter a culture that increasingly encourages consumerism, novelty and short-term commitment and in the process develop a biblical discipleship with regard to land, place, and community?
- How does one adhere to godly form and structure, but not at the expense of Christian freedom? Or simplicity, without giving in to separatism?
Ithaka Fellowship's Place in the Struggle
Prior to the founding of Ithaka Fellowship, for ten years my pastoral task in life was to equip the saints for ministry (Eph 4:12). This was a very rewarding work, one that is still very dear to my heart (Jer 3:15). Yet, during that time it slowly became clear to me that the Lord desired my family to open a place where the church can send the hurting, the bruised, the seekers and the skeptics to witness first hand the harmonious life - a place where marriage, home, church, community and the land are integrated and shaped by wisdom and a devotion to Christ. Certainly ours is an age of fragmentation. We, however, believe fragmentation implies totality. It is our hope and prayer that Ithaka Fellowship will be used to address the ill effects of this fragmentation and teach and model truths that create patterns of wholeness and redemption for our generation, and Lord willing, the one to come.