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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Grow Your Art Check In: April

Grow Your Art April Check In As we move towards Spring, the Grow Your Art Challenge has entered its second quarter.

A quick recap for those asking 'what on earth is the Grow Your Art Challenge?'. Some of us set out together to pursue personal art projects during 2014. We set goals we felt were realistic and attainable, and we vowed to keep each other posted on our progress (be it inspiring or less-than). As a group, we would hold each other accountable.

And that is why we are gathered here today. To keep one another in check. To ask, 'How is your project going'.

Please post your progress below, addressing these four questions;

  1. What have you made for the Challenge since last month?
  2. Is there something you can show us?
  3. What is the biggest challenge you are facing now?
  4. How can we help you move forward?

Can I Still Sign Up?

Yes indeed! If you would like to join the Grow Your Art Challenge, make something this year and party with us when it's all over, just post your intentions below. You'll find a more detailed primer on the challenge here.

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ArtsTalk Tuesday

Let's talk art. What art, media and culture have you engaged with this past week? What would you recommend and why?

Art is best enjoyed and digested in community, so this is our weekly space to have those conversations - to practice discernment as a collective.

So, what are you watching, visiting, listening to, reading, etc?

Where have the arts taken you this week?


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Take The Grow Your Art Challenge

Lately I have been feeling stuck. I’m unfocussed, muddy-minded and have a vague sense that I’m not quite where I’d like to be creatively. January is, of course, the season for reflection and for making resolutions as a way forward, but I’ve been hesitant to make resolutions for fear I will lapse and fail and end up worse for wear. But I want to grow. I want to grow my art and my self this year.

The best way I know to grow well is with the support and accountability of community.

I’m giving myself a challenge, and I encourage you to join me.


In the most simple terms, we will each move towards some definite, individual creative goal and we will connect here on the Bleeding Heart Art Space blog to report progress, failings and offer support so that we can all finish 2014 having accomplished our goals. In the end, we will have grown as artists, as individuals and as community.

Sound good?

Here is how the challenge works.

1. Define a Measurable Artistic Goal for 2014

I could say my 2014 goal is to ‘be a better songwriter’. That goal would likely fail, because I have no way to measure success. Or I could ‘succeed’, without any way to quantify that success. It would probably all depend on how optimistic I felt and how much grace I offered myself at the end of this year. A vague goal like that will not do. We need a goal that can be measured, and held to account.

A better goal for me could be “I will write 10 new songs this year”. That is a goal that either will, or will not, happen. And once I put it out there, I’m accountable. You can hold me to it.

As I think about what my goal ought to be, I can reflect on questions like, ‘how do I want to grow as an artist’, ‘what skills would I like to improve’, ‘what creative endeavour would be life-giving for me’ or ‘how could I serve others well with my art this year?’ Another question may be ‘what have I wanted to create for some time, but have not been able to make it happen?’

When I think of these questions, a clear answer comes to mind. I would like to record and release a collection of songs. A full album of my own.

What will be your artistic goal for 2014?

2. Evaluate Whether Your Goal is Realistic

One of the worst things about setting goals is the sense of frustration and failure when we do not reach them. The challenge we always face is setting the bar high enough to stretch us, while not so high we cannot possibly reach it.

We all have only so much time in the day, and most of us are not making art full time. For many of us, art is mostly or solely a labour of love, wedged between other roles and responsibilities. It will serve us well to acknowledge our reality in setting goals.

Is my goal of recording and releasing an album realistic? To be honest, likely not. The project will require a lot of work - writing many new songs, recording, mixing and mastering those songs and figuring out the whole world of how to release the thing. Even if I could write and record one song a month, which is about all I can manage realistically in the midst of normal life, that leaves no time for mastering, distribution and the like.

I am going to take my original goal and sand it down a bit. I am going to commit to recording an EP of 6 songs. I am going to have that EP finished at the end of this year. I will leave the release of that EP to early 2015. This I can manage, but it is still more than I would be doing this year without this challenge. It is still a stretch I will be proud of.

Do you need to refine your goal to make it realistic?

3. Share Your Goal Publicly

This challenge includes community. I encourage you to find friends or family who you can share your goal and your progress with over the coming year. Having real, face to face conversations about your goal will be and important part of accountability. If you like, I’d love to have coffee and chat about your goal, too.

We will also share our goals here, in the comments of this post and future posts related to the Grow Your Art Challenge. Typing your goal into the comment form below is a small, but definite step towards achieving it.

Are you ready to share your goal publicly in the comments below?

4. Plan to Reach Your Goal Through Small Steps

Your goal may be very simple (“complete that painting I started”) or very complex (“stage a play at the Fringe Festival”). The more complex the goal, the more important it is to break it down into small, measurable steps that you can complete one by one.

I get overwhelmed very easily by complex tasks. Without a razor-sharp focus on the next ‘to-do’, I can almost literally feel my brain-gears grinding at the thought of the whole project.

In planning out any project, I find it helpful to work backwards from the deadline, then define key parts that need to be completed, and assign deadlines to each smaller part as necessary. Essentially, you come up with a plan that is realistic, knowing that if you can manage to get this part done by this date, and that part done by that date, you will, in the end, have completed the whole thing.

Let’s take my 6 song EP. Through simple math, I can divide the 12 months of this year by 6 songs and know that I need to complete one song (write it if need be, record it, mix and master it) every 2 months. If I can do that all year, I’ll have finished 6 songs.

Is this a manageable timeline for me? I think it is.

You should also consider how you will keep track of each step of your project. A simple notebook may work well for you, or a series of reminders in your preferred Calendar app. For larger projects I use a free online service called Trello ( It works on the paradigm of a bulletin board where you can stick and re-arrange cards, each holding some bit of information about your project. As the cards can be freely moved around the board as your thinking about the project changes, I find it especially useful for tactile, visual thinkers.

Don’t get distracted by choosing a system to manage your goal. Just keep it simple and go with a system that works for you. The important thing is to have a plan.

How will you track your progress?

5. Share Your Progress in Community

I will post my progress here each month this year, the first week of the month, keeping the challenge alive. I invite you to keep track of how you are doing and share your progress in the comments, regardless of how well you are faring.

You may find encouragement to keep going, or help in an area you are struggling with. You may find others willing to come alongside and hep you succeed when you feel stuck.

You should also plan to meet regularly with those friends you chose to share your goal with. You can define what those meetings look like, and what you mean by ‘regularly’, but being intentional and accountable is a key to success.

Community is vital for me because I am a horrible self-critic. My self-doubt can easily become suffocating. Left to my own devices, I will likely talk myself out of this project. I am counting on you to keep me at it.

How can this community help you reach your goal?

6. Celebrate Success in Community

At the end of this year, we will have a party. Not just a ‘chat in the comments party’. I mean a real-life party. With treats.

We will bring our completed projects to the party and show each other what we’ve done. It will be a listening party for my EP, and perhaps a viewing party for your series of photos or your short film or a a reading party for your new book of poems.

Even if, for some reason, I have only 4 songs done, I will play those for you. We will celebrate success together and offer ourselves grace where we’ve come up short.

I imagine, even if all of our goals have not been met, we will have grown and we will have succeeded in other ways we did not plan for.

Will I see you at the party?

The Challenge is Before You: Grow Your Art

So there is our challenge. I’m going to record a new EP. What are you going to create in 2014?

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No more Bleeding Heart events for 2012, but as we approach Christmas Day, we find ourselves now in Advent - a season of waiting and watching.

What are you waiting for? What are you watching for? How sharp is your expectation?

Many of us are waiting for Jesus. Many artists have tackled this waiting throughout the years. You can see some of their work at 'Advent in Art'. Perhaps these images will help you in your own waiting and watching these coming days.

Or, perhaps, a lot of tiny chocolates will help, too?

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