8th & Wyandot: Care for the Widows, the Orphans, and the Grasshoppers Among You

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The three boys—some of our biggest troublemakers—walked into the front office beaming with ear to ear smiles. They were more than eager to show us what was inside the jar with holes poked into the lid. Some of the girls ran screaming as they proudly displayed the grasshopper they had caught. They had named it and were already making plans for how they would care for it. This plan included avoiding their mothers, who they knew would make them set the little guy free.

Most children have a special fondness for animals. Kids will often ask their parents for puppies and kitties, while parents exhaust every excuse to avoid giving in. But there is something about the special bond many kids on the margins of society have with the animals they encounter. The love they have for them, and the tenderness with which they care for them, is noticeable.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes a statement that is rather disorienting and deeply mystical. He says that whatever you do to “one of the least of these” you do to Him. What a profoundly humbling thing to really think about! How have you treated Jesus today? I’m not sure I would like my own answer to that question.

Somehow this notion of caring for those who are weaker, for those who are either oppressed or their plight simply ignored, is not a difficult one for children—especially children who find themselves in places like Joshua Station. In fact their treatment of vulnerable creatures—like their grasshopper friend—often puts to shame their treatment of each other! Still, there is something welling up inside of these kids that we would do well to pay attention to.

May we feel that love and consciousness welling up inside of us that leads to the care for the “least of these” among us. May we love and care for them as we would Jesus Himself, because after all, we are.

 

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

8th & Wyandot: Loving the Vandal

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The chaotic scene left behind by her was shocking. Nearly every car in the parking lot, much of the building, and lots of sidewalk space was covered in profanity creatively written with a few items from the condiment shelf at the grocery store. She hoped that nobody saw her, and expressed a deep amount of shame over the incident when she realized they had.

She is one of the most interesting kids I’ve gotten to know over the years at Joshua Station. She is—all at once—everyone’s favorite kid to hang out with, and everyone’s biggest pain. Being one of the first kids that I got to know, her story has brought Nicole and I lots of joy, sadness, anxiety, and excitement over the years. It is true for us that she is one of our biggest pains. It is also true for us that she is one of our favorites. In short, we truly love her.

There was a sense of certainty that she would be cast out. After all she had put us through, this surely had to be the last straw. Surely we would say, “We have given you so many chances to behave differently, and you just don’t seem to get it!” But what she was truly struggling to “get” was just how loved she really was. Of course, there would have to be consequences, but she would never be cast out. She seems to expect that someday our love for her will end and our wrath will take over. But that’s just not how it works. That’s just not who we are, and that’s just not who she is to us!

Her reluctance to believe how much we love her has placed a mirror in front of my face when it comes to my trust in God’s love. I find myself saying, “Surely God has reached the end of the rope. Surely I will be cast out this time.” And it’s as if God gently whispers back, “That’s just not who I am, and that’s just not who you are to me.

May we—along with our resident troublemaker—allow our defenses to drop and truly trust that God’s love is not conditional. We are not going to be cast out. That’s just not who God is, and that’s just not who we are to God.

 

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

8th & Wyandot: Holy Interruptions

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I have an office at Joshua Station that is isolated from everyone else. Some people have expressed their sympathy saying things like, “You must be so lonely.” These people obviously don’t know that I am pretty introverted and love the fact that when I go to work I am away from all of those interruptions that can keep work from getting done. I love the fact that I can “hide” for a few minutes before Kids Club to prepare myself for an hour of chuck e cheese level craziness. I also love the opportunities I get in my office to read, pray, and practice contemplation. It really has become a sacred space for me in recent years.

But sometimes even our sacred spaces get invaded. This time it was a particularly irritating interruption. I was reading my weekly devotion out of Meal From Below when my co-worker came in to inform me that a man was downstairs and that he needed to take a drug test…and I was the only male staff person around.

I was so irritated! I had to leave my time of spiritual formation to do something that felt very “non-spiritual”. In fact, it felt awkward as hell! I hate giving drug tests. There are few things a guy hates to hear more than, “I need to watch you pee.”

The irony of that situation is that I was reading a book put out by friends of mine who feel called to be people of the Incarnation. I realized as I was giving this man I had never met a drug test that I was experiencing what my friends would identify as the genesis of spirituality. Spiritual experience does not start with me reading a spiritual work, or even finding a quiet place to pray. As important as those things are, spirituality begins with the real stuff of life. And the real stuff of life for this man was that he and his family were homeless. They were really hoping to get into Joshua Station to find transformation, and my irritated self reluctantly played an important part in helping make that happen.

I realized that day that moments of Incarnation often feel like they take me out of spirituality, but really they help me come face to face with it. It is my prayer that I will become more and more aware of the gift of interruptions—especially the particularly uncomfortable ones.

 

This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot reflection. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

Exploring Spirituality: We need to have a conversation

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Last weekend I had the chance to visit my brother in Omaha. While we come from the same womb, in some ways we couldn’t be more different. For the past few years, politics and spirituality were things we just pretended didn’t exist. I can’t speak for him, but for me the primary thing that maintained the silence was fear. I didn’t want to drive unnecessary wedges between us, so we talked about his latest hunting trip, my favorite soccer team, what our favorite beer was that week, etc.

Something really cool happened during my recent visit. We talked. I mean, we actually talked. We covered spirituality, politics, and obviously still beer. We didn’t try to convert each other as much as we simply opened up about our own convictions. I feel like I have seen my brother, and that he has seen me, with a new level of raw honesty. It was great and I really believe that it has pushed us deeper into our appreciation and love for one another.

It feels like we restarted the conversation. I have been thinking a lot about this idea of conversation lately. I listened to a podcast recently where Krista Tippett interviewed the philosopher and poet, David Whyte. Whyte sees conversation happening all around us–the conversation between the sea and the shore, between the sun and the moon, etc. I love that imagery. Everything in conversation.

But this also brings up a great tragedy for me. In the Christian household, the conversation has been feared for quite some time. It has been feared so much that in many instances, it has even been forcefully ended by silencing the “other side”. This has happened a number of times, but two specific examples come to mind.

1. Christianity got into bed with the Empire.

When the Christian Church was “Early”, there were many voices in the conversation. The voices ranged wildly and offered different perspectives, asked different questions, and forced the Church to constantly evaluate its beliefs and commitments in an effort to be sure that they were following Christ as closely as possible. Now I don’t want to romanticize this period. People were called “Heretics”. They were passionately argued against. They were told that they were wrong. But…they weren’t silenced. The early church didn’t have the power to silence teachers who challenged their interpretation of Jesus’ teachings. They simply had the power of argument and reason. Essentially, the conversation was lively!

Once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, (4th Century) that little problem of not having the power to silence the “other side” was solved. It was during this period of the Christian story that Pelagius was excommunicated and branded a Heretic. He was forced to finish his days in exile away from Rome. It wasn’t the Church that eventually made sure of this, but Rome itself through the tireless effort of Augustine of Hippo. His was only one of several voices that were seen as problematic. And so, the inconvenient voices were no longer present. The conversation was silenced.

2. The Celts were finally tamed.

There was one stream of Christianity that had somehow managed to exist just outside of the Empire’s reach. That was the Christianity practiced in the Celtic world. Largely inspired by voices that were no longer allowed in Rome, like Pelagius, the Celts were off-beat compared to the Roman Mission of Christianity. They held women in high esteem, they saw the essential goodness of all created things, and they had no interest in conforming their way of spiritual practice to the demands of Rome.

In 664, Rome had finally had enough and the head on collision between the Celtic Mission and the Roman Mission occurred. It is no surprise that the Roman Mission was victorious and the Celtic Mission was ordered to conform to the Roman practice of Christianity, including the silencing of the voices deemed “Heretic”.

The tragedy of this moment is not simply that the Roman Mission won and the Celtic Mission lost. The tragedy was that the two could not find a way to engage in conversation, but instead engaged in war–the fruitless fight to prove that I am right and you are wrong. Once again, the inconvenient voices were no longer present. The conversation again was silenced.

We live in an age where many of us are tired of this dualistic mindset. We are a people who don’t buy into the lie that if you are not Republican then you absolutely must be Democrat. We are a people that don’t buy into the idea that wisdom does not exist in the tradition and perspective of “the other”. We are a people who are tired of the silencing of the conversation. So, let’s reclaim it!

Let’s not be afraid to read the Heretics. Let’s not be too proud to embrace our friends with whom we disagree. Let’s listen to one another. Let’s hold our convictions with deep commitment and also deep humility. Let’s reclaim the conversation!

8th & Wyandot: Come Play!

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A few months ago I had a hilariously humbling experience. I went to church on Sunday morning and heard a sermon based on the Lectionary text of the week—Jesus healing a blind man who cried out to Him through a crowd aggressively telling him to shut up. It’s a scene I had pictured many times before. Jesus walks by while a desperate blind man yells. Embarrassed people around him beg him to stop! This was their chance to see this man that everyone had been talking about, and maybe even make a good first impression. Then ‘that guy’—the one everyone in town just overlooks out of sheer disgust—ruins it all by yelling like an idiot. I can easily imagine how it must have felt for nearly everyone in that story.

That’s an interesting practice—to imagine which character in these Gospel stories you most identify with. In the past I had always imagined that I was the blind man, desperately calling out to Jesus. On really good days I might even be convinced that I’m Jesus—embracing the outcast despite the angry crowd. But during Teen Group, on that very same Sunday, I quickly learned where I can most often find myself in that story.

Jessica is a girl that lives at Joshua Station. She is very needy for acceptance and often smothers the people around her in the attempt to get it. Kids Club—the program I lead for her age group—is often difficult to get through without a good amount of frustration when she’s there.  That’s why I whispered, “Oh God. No. Please.” when I saw her approaching our Teen Group on the basketball court.

She really wanted to play and I had no interest in letting her. I immediately began to think of what clever reason I could give for why she couldn’t stay. “This is Teen Group”. “I think I heard your mom calling you.” “I think basketball might be a little too rough for you.” But before I could spit any of those winners out, our Teen Group—made up of teens living at Joshua Station as well as from the church I work at—tossed her the ball and said, “Come play!”

In an instant I realized that I was the angry crowd and the teenagers who I am supposed to be setting an example for, were Jesus. I wanted Jessica to be excluded, while Jesus pierced right through my attempts to do so with a beautiful invitation. My heart was made a little softer that day by the unlikely teachers I have the privilege to know. Now when I see Jessica—or anyone else I feel a need to exclude—I often hear Jesus whisper, “Come Play!”
This post is the most recent 8th & Wyandot update. To find it, as well as the entire 8th & Wyandot archive, Click Here.

How Celtic Christianity Salvaged My Crumbling Christian Faith

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My “becoming a Christian” story is not unusual in Evangelical circles. I was 16 years old when my youth group took a trip to Denver–the big city closest to my small Nebraska town. We were there to attend a popular Evangelical youth conference complete with bands, speakers, and lots of corny Christian themed T-shirts. A vibrant and compelling speaker ended his speech with an “Alter Call”–an invitation to ‘accept Jesus into your heart’. I responded to this one similarly to how I had responded to the few prior ones I had experienced at Christian punk rock shows. Yup, that was a thing. The big difference this time was that I was immediately surrounded by a few of my friends and mentors who congratulated me on making the biggest decision of my life. They welcomed me into the “Christian Household.”

Looking back, those were some of the simplest and most incredible feeling days of my life. For the first time I felt as if I was a part of something bigger than myself. I very quickly became the ideal Christian youth. I spoke at youth events and was asked to be on a few “Ministry Teams” in my town. As I look back, I might describe those days similar to the way Paul described his Pharisee days. I was about as good a “Christian teenager” as you could find.

My friend Kathy Escobar would call this my “Fusing” experience. Everything made sense and no question would go unanswered. My fusing experience lasted for about 5 years. But eventually certain questions started breaking through my defenses in college and caused me to ask whether I really believed the things I said I did. I managed to convince myself that I did for another few years. Then I had my moment where it all came crumbling down. I was 26. My wife was pregnant with our first child. I took a shower and was struck by how “real” this shower tile was. I realized that it was infinitely more real than the God I had constructed in my head based on all the answers that had no questions.

After 24 hours of trying to convince myself that I was an Atheist, I gave in and admitted that I did still believe in God. But something was visibly different about what I was willing to say I believed. I had this image in my head of a large ship safely navigating the raging sea of questions. I felt as if God was inviting me to trust the questions and jump in. It felt unsafe. It felt uncertain. Many of those questions looked as if they had no certain answers. Still, I knew I needed to jump in and allow the waves to take me where they will–even if that means they take me away from Christianity.

For about 2 years prior to my “Shower Tile Experience”, the chaplain for our staff, Father Scott Jenkins, had shared a few things from this relatively new (to me) spiritual stream called Celtic Christianity. I remembered feeling a sense of warmth when he would share his insight based on how the Celts would view this Scripture, or this season, or this life event. Remembering these things, I went to Scott and asked him if he had anything he could give me on Celtic Christianity. I told him that it felt like something I would like, but that I really didn’t know much about it. He eagerly went inside his office and came back with his copy of “Christ of the Celts” by John Philip Newell.

As I read Newell’s book, I felt as if God was gathering the pieces of my faith that had shattered in that shower. I felt as if God was telling me that some of those pieces would not fit anymore, but that I should hang on to the ones that do and allow Celtic Christianity to help construct a new container–one that might hold them with the tenderness their fragility called for in that moment. What I have experienced in the years since can only be described as life changing. There is so much about Celtic Christianity that I have found incredibly healing, but I want to take a minute to share the top 3 with you.

It honors the mystery
A huge part of what led to my “Shower Tile Experience” was feeling as if I needed to have answers. Ultimately the questions were piling up faster than the answers, and even the answers I had previously accepted as satisfactory were beginning to show weakness. Celtic Christianity invites us to embrace the mystery of God in a way that honors the questions as sacred without demanding that they be answered. Newell says that “Celtic Spirituality is more poetic than doctrinal. Belief is pointed to rather than defined.” As I found myself being beckoned out of the ship of answers into the sea of questions, this posture of poetic listening offered me life where I was beginning to believe there was none.

It teaches that God is present within all Creation.
Celtic Christianity teaches that God is within everything and that everything exists within God. This great mystery offered me a theological frame that showed deep concern and love for our environment, our neighbors, and even our enemies. For the first time, many of Jesus’ teachings felt as if they were being affirmed by my spiritual practice rather than pushed to the margins.

It honors the feminine
Marrying my wife created a tension within me thanks to the teaching of male superiority I had been trained to believe. For those of you who don’t know her, just take it from me, she will not sit by and allow anyone to tell her that she is subordinate to men, period. Celtic Christianity affirms (even throughout its history) not only the gift of leadership within women, but also the presence of a feminine divine energy in God. It recognizes within the pregnant woman the grace of being invited into the creative process in a deep and absolutely divine way. God is viewed as having “given birth” to all of Creation. My wife, Nicole, says that “Embedded deep within the feminine is a divine, creative force that beckons women to create. To create sacred spaces for community. To create homes. To create ideas and movements.” Celtic Christianity affirms that women should not be marginalized in our society or within our faith traditions.

I am grateful that you are still reading this. It took a bit of vulnerability to write it all out and I have a very important reason for doing so. I wanted to share my experience because I am wondering if you too might find life within the Celtic stream of Christianity. My dear friend Father Scott Jenkins, and his dear friend Teri Thompson, have started their own Denver area non-profit called The Celtic Way. If my story peaks your interest, please look them up. They are officially launching their non-profit on May 11th. John Philip Newell has graciously offered to help launch this beautiful adventure by teaching at the event. Please consider this your official invitation to grab a ticket and join me on the 11th as we explore this ancient, deep, and rich spiritual tradition.

 

Heads Up: The Souls of Black Folk

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I had a brief period of believing I was an activist. I was swept away by a few of my friends who were deep within the Black Lives Matter Movement here in Denver. I found myself disoriented and in many ways I am still unpacking the impact of those few months. One question I found myself asking over and over again was “What now?” I was not content allowing my Black Lives Matter experience to sit on a shelf in my mind and become some anecdotal story I could bounce back to from time to time. I felt like an entirely new world had burst into my consciousness and I knew I needed to take some kind of a “next step”.

It was around this time that I listened to one of my favorite podcasts. Krista Tippett was interviewing a few people, including Maya Angelou, about a book and  man I had never heard of–Dr. W.E.B. Dubois’ ‘The Souls of Black Folk’.  Their conversation convinced me that this book was the answer to my question of “What now?” So I picked up a copy and began reading it alongside a friend. The conversations that have come out of doing this are still happening and are packed full of more grace and beauty than a simple blog could communicate.

I just finished the book and decided I would do my best to articulate why it is one of the most influential things I have ever read. My one disclaimer is that I want to share this with you, and I also feel incredibly out of my league in doing so. I am going to be speaking out of my ignorance as much, or more, as out of my knowledge after having read the book. As a white man, I am not sure I am truly capable of understanding this work and all it contains.

Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois was born in 1868. He wrote ‘The Souls of Black Folk’ in 1903. For those of you not super brushed up on your American History, he wrote this book exactly 40 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. His context of writing sat with great tension between the Emancipation of somewhere around 4 million men, women, and children who were enslaved and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. This is a period that almost felt non-existent in my history studies. It seemed that the narrative felt something like: “Slavery ended, then came Dr. King…and now racism is over.” This short, but incredibly dense book offered a dramatic picture of what life for the Black community was like between Emancipation and “I Have A Dream”. 

Dr. Du Bois was a poet and scholar and this book reflects the depth of both of those realities. It seems that his mission was to, on one hand, make a case for the inclusion of the Black community in the shaping of American culture. In fact, he pointed out some ways this was already happening. On the other hand, another clear objective was to illuminate the evil barriers Black folks were coming up against that the white community was blissfully ignorant, or even gleefully supportive of. And throughout the book, he deeply affirms the beauty, strength, wisdom, and love of the Black man and woman–against strong belief to the contrary. He illuminates how White America–including the majority of Christianity–is complicit with the harsh reality he is describing. He tells stories that are sure to trouble you, sure to inspire you, and sure to leave an imprint of his struggle toward freedom for his people on  your heart and mind.

The one line I have shared with my friend over and over again as we discuss this book is that I am struck by how everything and nothing has changed in our country since 1903. It is impossible to read this book and not walk away with a sense of gratitude for how we as a country have progressed toward a greater understanding of racial justice. But it is also impossible to walk away without a clear awareness that in many cases the struggle is exactly the same and it feels like reshaping language has been called “progress” while the open wound of injustice continues to fester.

I hope that you will read ‘The Souls of Black Folk’. In many ways it feels like the words of this moral and intellectual giant are more relevant to us in 2016 than they were when they first found themselves on the page in 1903.