Belonging with Others: Dan Lowe’s Story of Life Done Together

The following is a guest post from Dan Lowe. Want to write for the blog? Send me an email.

“Everyone has a thirst to belong.”

I have always had a desire to belong. I grew up in an upper middle class family in the southern U.S. I attended a primarily white, conservative United Methodist Church where I actively participated in the youth group and other church activities; I was in the high school marching band and participated in the high school poetry club. In university, I participated in various college civic and religious groups, was part of a group of friends and went to numerous parties, yet I rarely felt as though I belonged in any of these settings.

In the Fall of 2004, I moved to Kentucky to attend seminary. During my first year, I wandered, trying to fit broken pieces of my self into some kind of recognizable whole. I’d spent the previous three years giving out parts of myself trying to figure out, with little to no success, where I belonged. I was lost and fractured, and having moved away from everything I knew, rootless.

Finding Communality

During my second year of seminary, I befriended some people from a faith community called Communality. They were a group of people experimenting with what it meant to follow Jesus in the ordinariness of life. Yet, what they were doing and how they were doing life together seemed far from ordinary to me. 

Many of the people in this group of about 50 had chosen to relocate from their comfortable homes in the suburbs of Wilmore and Lexington, KY to the inner city of Lexington. They made a determined effort to live the values, convictions, and faith life of Christianity in the ordinary spaces of a 24 hour 7 day week. 

It was in this community that I found belonging and learned what it meant to both belong and extend belonging. After participating with my friends in Communality for a year, I was invited to co-manage a live-in halfway house for the chronically homeless and narcotics addicts. I lived with three other men. Mark, my roommate, friend, and co-manager; Leo, my 53 year old friend who was a recovering alcoholic struggling with chronic homelessness; and Jason, a 19 year old recovering narcotics addict. The house existed to provide structure for both Leo and Jason as part of their recovery program. The philosophy in the house, though, was that we all struggled with brokenness and fragmentation in some way, and that we needed each other and our friends in our neighborhood and in our faith community in order to both find and experience more of what it mean to be fully human.

I lived in the house for a year. During that year, I learned about belonging. 

Becoming Vulnerable

I learned that belonging requires vulnerability. That healing from whatever breaks us in life requires a risk to (re)open our wounds to trusted others who have, themselves, experienced healing. Growing up, my dad was, more or less, an emotionally absent alcoholic (he has now experienced 5 years of wholeness in his own life), but it took many nights sitting with Leo on our front porch, listening to his stories and allowing them to reopen my wounds, to begin to understand my dad. And Leo experienced wholeness through having roommates and by watching and learning how to follow the daily, structured routine of living in a home, of bathing regularly, of cleaning his room, and of coming home at a set curfew. Lessons not easily learned by a 53 year old man accustomed to living on the streets.

Remaining Faithful

I also learned that belonging requires faithfulness. Faithfulness is a complex practice. I learned this by submitting to a schedule that existed as a rule of life for our house. A rule that required faithfulness if we hoped for our struggling friends to find life and healing. This was not always easy, as I had classes twenty miles away as well as a girlfriend in a different town and numerous friends with whom I was in relationship. 

One of the most important things that I learned about faithfulness in this rhythm of our rule of life and my own life is that is that in order to be faithful to relationships with others, I had to be faithful to my own needs. 

Sometimes, in order to be faithful to my relationships with Mark, Leo, and Jason, I had to practice leaving. Getting away from the tensions, arguments, and anger that come with living with other human beings. But I also had to learn to leave the places of refuge and refreshing in order to offer myself again to those men to whom I had committed my life for a season.

I also learned the importance of celebration and the difficult, though necessary, practice of mourning. 

Celebrating Together

During the year, we developed a practice of celebrating sobriety. For Leo, this included celebrating 3, 6, and 9 months of living in a house (though there were a few nights when he chose to sleep on the streets because life just got too difficult). For Jason, it meant celebrating 3 and 6 months of sobriety. These were the easy celebrations because they were the most obvious. Lots of friends from the neighborhood and Communality would come to the house, and we would grill hamburgers, eat cake, and celebrate life lived a little more complete. There were also smaller, less obvious celebrations for those stories that required a little more vulnerability and risk, and these were often marked by tears and loving embraces. 

Mourning Together

And I learned the importance of mourning. In human relationships, people sometimes leave. Sometimes vulnerability and risk are too much on which to follow through. Sometimes someone finds that giving and receiving in the process of belonging requires too much. And often, this is experienced as loss.

Jason never made it through the program. He began relapsing, then manipulating, a little after 6 months of sobriety. We had several sit down meetings with him to try and put together a relapse prevention plan, but in the end he left the house. And those of us who were left experienced loss to some degree or another. In his leaving and the experience of loss, I learned that belonging requires learning how to mourn well because sometimes belonging includes letting go. 

Belonging is not ownership; we do not belong to each other. We belong with each other. And sometimes people choose to no longer belong with other people.

When Jason left, I felt a myriad of emotions. 

Mourning was not the first. Anger, sadness, relief, happiness, betrayal, worry, manipulation, failure, anger again. In order to process through these emotions, my closest friend and mentor, Billy Kenney, one of the founding members of Communality, walked with me through it all and taught me that I had to, as a way of letting go, mourn the loss. And through Jason’s leaving, through the community’s loss, I learned the importance of mourning as a practice of letting go. 

The Thirst to Belong

“In every human being there is such a thirst for communion with another, a cry to be loved and understood – not judged or condemned; there is a yearning to be called as special and unique” (Vanier, 1989). 

Everyone has a thirst to belong. I would go so far as to say that everyone needs to belong. Yet, to belong in such a way that one’s thirst begins to be quenched is not easy; often it is not even simple. 

I have learned that this journey toward wholeness, in belonging, marked by characteristics such as vulnerability, faithfulness, celebration and mourning is worth the risks required to drink deeply with communities who have learned how to offer a taste of life-giving water. 

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Video and Website Launch for Dear Edmonton

I'm excited to announce a new website, and a video, for Bridge Songs: Dear Edmonton - please watch and share!

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When Denominations Dance: Sacred Space in Review

St Faith's Sacred Space - April 2014 - 5 I'm sitting across from Rev. Travis Enright at the Popular Bakery. At this favourite community haunt, we are reviewing last Sunday's Sacred Space gathering at St.Faith's, led by The Bleeding Heart. And we are eating some of the city's best sandwiches.

I have the sandwich Travis wishes he ordered. I offer to trade half of my sandwich. Now I am enjoying variety. Half house special, half ciabatta. This fusion is my best-case scenario, and it's not a bad metaphor for last Sunday's event.

When denominations dance, it can be clumsy. We can step all over each others' feet. We can stumble and fall. But if the music is just right, and we know who is leading at each moment, the dance can be beautiful. A miracle, even. But it takes listening, sensing and responding.

This past Sunday's Sacred Space at St.Faith's Anglican was a dance. There was give and take, and complicated steps to follow. There were some stumbles, but, praise God, for the most part we floated across the floor together, to the rhythms of grace.

Here is how the morning went.

The morning began with some community announcements from Travis. St.Faith's Anglican is his community and there are always house keeping items to get through. Those stood outside the service - before the dance.

Travis, from the back of the beautiful, wood-lined sanctuary, called the morning to order with a line from scripture;

"I am the resurrection and the life", says the Lord; "Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die." – John 11:25-26

From the front of the room, I began to play our first singing-song. What A Friend I've Found. The lyrics foreshadowed how our relationship with Jesus gets us through the difficult moments of life.

Next came the opening question. Or, it should have. I forgot about this, so it came later, after the Gospel reading.

The Gospel reading was a marathon. John 11:1-45. As the reader (in Anglican circles called the Gospeller) read on and on, I think we were all shuffling in our seats. 45 verses! The reading was just so long and so dense. There was so much to take from this story of Lazarus and his two sisters and Jesus and waiting and death and resurrection. Almost too much. This is why we decided to focus in on one aspect of this story for our morning – the responses of Mary and Martha to the death of their brother, and the long wait for his resurrection.

The question, what would frame the rest of our morning, was this;

When was it very difficult to wait for something?

I wasn't sure whether this would be a hypothetical question, or we would get some responses. This is the beautiful risk/reward of a liturgy that truly requires action. If people get involved, it's beautiful community. If no one gets involved, it's crickets and tumbleweeds.

People shared about waiting for a new job. Waiting for test results stands out as an answer that elicited many sighs of agreement from the congregation. It was clear that we've all waited for something, and not liked the experience.

The homily came next. I say homily because that is what Anglican's call it (I think). My tradition calls this the sermon, but then it is four times as long. David William's homily was about 10 minutes, and focussed on setting us up for how we would interact with the gospel story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Really, the homily and the liturgical experience to follow all fused as one central part of the morning.

St Faith's Sacred Space - April 2014 - 3

Here is the text that was given to the congregation to describe the exercise.

ʻPostcard Promisesʼ Liturgy

This morningʼs liturgical experience centers around the various ways we respond to waiting, loss and pain. Martha and Maryʼs responses to the death of their brother are generalized here, in the concepts of The Head and The Heart.

Martha clings to her theological understanding - believing that Jesus can and will make this right, despite all appearances. Lazarus does already stink, after all.

Mary deals with the loss from the depths of her heart. As she begins to speak to Jesus, she breaks down weeping. He weeps with her.

These responses are overly simplified, but represent a spectrum of how we deal with loss, waiting and pain in our own lives. This morningʼs excercise explores both extremes.

The room is divided into two sides; your left represents Martha, or the response of the Head. Beliefs. Theological understanding. Reason. Your right represents Mary, or the response of the Heart. Emotions. Tears. Faith beyond words.

This morning we will spend time with both responses.

Each side of the room has the same set of promises from scripture. These are words we know to be true, but wrestle with when we face troubles. Each side of the room also has blank postcards.

In the centre of the room is a basin of water. This water represents the tears of Christ, who meets us in both responses.


Read the passages on the wall, and think about one that you have experienced as true in your own life. It may take time to reflect and pray. Take your time.

Copy that passage onto the front of a blank card.

On the reverse of that card, tell the story where that passage was true for you. You can use many words or a single word. You can use images, collage or any of the art supplies provided.

Take the card with you. After this morning, you may decide to share the card with someone who needs encouragement, or keep it for to encourage yourself.

MARY: THE HEART (Right Side)

Read the passages on the wall, and select the one you have the most difficulty accepting. Which sounds hollow to you this morning? Which do you most struggle with? Take your time to reflect and pray about your choice.

Write that passage on the front of a card with the water-soluble marker provided.

Take that card and put it into the water in the centre of the room. As you watch the words dissolve in the water, think of Christʼs tears. Ask God to reveal the truth of that statement to you – to give you faith.


Is there a situation where you are waiting on God to act? Take a moment to pray somewhere in the centre of the room, near the basin of tears. If you like, find someone you are comfortable praying with for this need, or someone who you can pray for.

People engaged this deeply. Again, there were no tumbleweeds. No awkward silences. There was movement, all around the room. There were people writing and creating and many people gathered around the 'basin of tears', watching their wrestling dissolve into grace. Travis told me this was the most powerful image from the morning for him. On Holy Saturday, his community will take those very same cards and burn them. Knowing there was meaning in this, even beyond this Sunday, is a gift to me.

This whole piece was a reminder that people can be trusted to engage. Like any good art, I cannot control the meaning, but I can trust that people will find and make meaning if I've done my job well. It seems, in this case, that Bleeding Heart did our job well.

St Faith's Sacred Space - April 2014 - 7

Next came Psalm 130. Rather than read it, I sung it, using the tune and phrasing from Seedbed, which you can access here. I like the sound of this version - it sounds mysteriously medieval to me.

From there we went into the 'St.Faith's' portion of the morning. These are elements that are critical to a Sunday morning for the St. Faith's community, and so we kept them basically in tact.

During the offering, an 'offertory' song is played. I played a song I wrote, which references Lazarus, and waiting, and pain and loss, called Miracles. The chorus promises us that,

Now's not the time for miracles Now's not the time for trap doors and way outs ... But everything comes in its time

The Eucharist, or Communion, came next. In the Anglican church this is a very set part of the service, and I appreciate the rhythm and rootedness of it. Certain words are always said. Certain songs are always sung (one called 'The Sanctus' took me a few tries to learn). There is a back and forth, call-and-response with the community. And then the community comes forth and is served, but the leadership of St.Faith's. They are given bread. They drink wine from a communal cup. They kneel and humbly receive the gift of Christ's death and resurrection. It is a powerful moment.

After communion, there is a communion hymn. I chose In Christ Alone.


Nearing the end now, Dr. Randy Ritz came to the front and read Ezekiel 37:1-14, in his inimitable dramatic style. Behind and beneath the reading were sounds of wind, and fire, and cracking bones, produced by Brook Biggin. It was a chilling moment. Interestingly, Travis Enright tells me this was different, and perhaps even difficult, for the Anglican congregation present – to just listen to the scripture and not read along. They are people of words. A normal Anglican service involves a LOT of reading.

After the reading, Travis offered a blessing, and asked me to play one final song. I hadn't prepared, but chose one that I love to play and everyone knows – a parting promise that felt right. Jesus Loves Me, This I know. Then a final sentence from Travis Enright and we were done.

All in all, it took nearly and hour and a half. It was longer than either a St.Faith's or a Bleeding Heart gathering would normally be. Some of this comes from our process of adding up to make this liturgy, rather than a true 'melding together'. I think that next time our dance could become tighter.

But it was an honour to share the dance floor with St.Faith's and their congregation this past Sunday. We worshipped God together, a varied kaleidoscope of faith's and backgrounds, in the midst of our creative community of Alberta Ave.

Like that mixed-breed sandwich, our experience has left me hungry for more.


There will be more to come as to exactly how we put together an experience like this, and how you can do it with your own community. In the meantime, you might want to review our list of 11 Resources to Bring Creativity to Your Church and Your Faith.

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A Poem and a Pause for Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of a season of the Christian Calendar called Lent. In Lent, we remember Jesus' journey towards The Cross - it's like an advent calendar for Easter. But instead of treats each day, we often deny ourselves something. It is a time of fasting and deep listening. A time of drilling down, as we approach the darkness and death of Good Friday, to ask ourselves what, this time around, must die. We also ask where we need new life. Where Resurrection will shine. Carl_Spitzweg_003-smallYou can read the scriptures for Ash Wednesday on the Vanderbilt site, where you'll also find prayers and artwork tied to the current or upcoming holy day or Sunday. The image in this post comes from that site.

Find the Ash Wednesday materials at http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=23

This morning, considering the day, half reflecting and half fading back to sleep, I heard birds singing. Then I wrote this poem for Ash Wednesday.


I lie on the couch

as dead

When suddenly, outside

birds chirp a symphony

cheering me on towards morning

And all the strength I need

all the effort I could not muster

is laid upon my ears as the gift

of spring


And I arise


Spring is coming

behind a death

following a heavy burdened trudge

up the twisted hillside


the first tulips twitch to life

within their tombs


for death comes first

and we are all ashes

and dry bones

waiting to dance alive


waiting for the song of God





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Call for Submissions: #JusticeYEG, The Gallery


The Bleeding Heart Art Space is looking for visual art submissions for the art gallery at #JusticeYEG: A Local Conversation. This gallery will bring together art touching on social justice issues with local relevance to Edmonton. All visual media are welcome.

The issues included in the conference will be HIV/AIDS, aboriginal contributions to restoration of community, housing and homelessness, sex exploitation and sex trafficking, creation care, and restorative justice. Artworks can deal with any of these issues, or the concept of social justice in general.

The Gallery will be on display at the historic First Baptist Church during the #JusticeYEG conference, November 15 & 16.

All work must be submitted by Sunday, October 27. 

Download the Call for Submissions

#JusticeYEG - Call for Submissions (PDF)

Blog for Bleeding Heart!

You have something to say–why not say it here? Email your blog post idea to dave@bleedingheartart.space and let's chat.