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.

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8th & Wyandot: Spectacularly Missing the Point

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I literally felt like my often defiant 4 year old had somehow possessed all of the kids at Kids Club that night. Every…single…thing was an argument—“No! We don’t want to do that Ben! You can’t make me Ben!” “This is stupid Ben!” I was on the brink of throwing my hands up and saying, “Forget it!”, and going home. But something inside me said, “You’re missing something important here. Shut up and listen.” Now maybe God sounds different in your head, but this is somewhat normal in my experience.

Peter has such an interesting part in the story of Jesus. He is a man to whom much was given in terms of responsibility and influence, yet he was the master at missing the point. Jesus’ famous, “Get behind me Satan” was aimed at him. He infamously denied that he even knew Jesus 3 times out of fear before Jesus was crucified. Even Paul has a run at him long after Jesus’ resurrection! His track record of “getting it” in a timely manner is less than impressive.

Even so, Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter. The moment on the beach when Jesus asks Peter 3 times if he loves Him is in many ways a healing moment. It is a moment filled with all kids of grace. It’s as if Jesus says, “I know you didn’t—and largely still don’t—get it, but I still want you here. I want you doing this work. I believe in you.”

That night at Kids Club, I felt an awful lot like Peter. That voice in my head was telling me to stop being so worked up about who was listening, and instead join these hooligans in their craziness. For a moment I did. I stopped worrying about the rules and just played the games the way the kids were playing them, and the most incredible thing happened! They actually had fun…and so did I!

We all participated in a sacred moment on the playground that night. We encountered each other—and God—in a very real and unpredictable way—and I felt Jesus asking me over and over again, “Do you love me?”

 

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

Jesus and the Powerless Gospel

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When Karen had lived at Joshua Station for more than a year, she submitted a single painting to an art show. Her art hung on the wall next to professional work from local artists. A woman saw Karen’s painting and loved it. She wanted to buy it so badly, but it had already been sold. She approached Karen and asked if she could pay her to create a duplicate of the piece.

Karen, who had always been artistic, was blown away as she saw her talent affirmed in such an obvious way. She agreed to make the painting. Her work got better and better. She started an Art Club at Joshua Station where she inspired younger residents to find their own creative outlet. She hosted more Art Shows at Joshua Station and sold many more paintings to eager buyers.

Through her art, Karen had experienced the sort of freedom revealed through Jesus’ reading of Isaiah in the Synagogue in Nazareth—the official start of Jesus’ public ministry. She experienced a sort of release from captivity and freedom from oppression. She was able to see, for the first time, things that she had previously been blind to within herself. Her art has been such a gift to so many around her, and it became a key that unlocked so much of who she is. It has been a gift to see that unfold over the years.

The lens through which I read the Bible began to change significantly after getting to know Karen and other friends at Joshua Station. They quickly became more than neighbors. They became a catalyst for a dramatic shift in my understanding of the Bible, Jesus, Christianity, spirituality, and myself.

Joshua Station is a community committed to the understanding that we are anointed with the burden of the same Gospel as Jesus. It is not a Gospel reserved for those who hold the lion’s share of the power. It is a Gospel that leads us to embrace those left out of the systems of power within our culture. It is a Gospel that leads us to pursue a different reality than the one that got us here. It is a Gospel that invites us to experience the fullness of God’s transformation, both individually and collectively—and that transformation is why this Gospel is actually Good News for us all!

 

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

Advent 2015 (Week 4)-Consent & Simplicity

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I was literally doing all I could to not vomit. Somehow I had gotten the idea in my head that being transferred to the hospital during our home-birth meant that my wife and child were almost certainly going to die. I pulled out of the driveway and turned down the most convenient street to get us to the hospital. At that moment a train began to pass by, blocking my route. After uttering a colorful word under my breath I backed up on the one-way street, grateful for the fact that it was 3am and desolate. The second route got us to the hospital a mere 20 minutes before my son was born.

We are entering the 4th and final week of Advent. As we look at the events leading up to the birth of Jesus, the word ‘chaos’ comes to mind. I imagine Joseph filled with terror as Mary uttered the words that informed him the baby was coming. In the story they are in Bethlehem, they apparently don’t have a place to stay, and Joseph is desperately trying to find Mary a place–any place–to experience the miracle of giving birth.

Somehow the desperate couple found their way to a stable where they found shelter. It was in this stable that Mary completed the journey of labor and held her beloved Son for the first time outside of her womb.

Movement 1: Consenting to the Process

My wife works as a Birth Doula, and she has taught me a lot about the importance of consenting to the process of labor. As Mary is in a situation that is anything but ideal for labor, she is faced with the opportunity to consent to the miracle unfolding within her–she is being invited to give up resistance and trust the process (and herself) entirely.

Acceptance is not the same as consent. When a mother doesn’t truly give herself over to the process, labor can come to a stand still. Of course this is only a momentary pause, but it can cause what could otherwise be a beautiful experience to be much more painful and difficult. Either way though, the baby is coming.

It is my prayer that I find the courage within myself to consent to the life unfolding before me–even when that life is filled with sorrow, pain, fear, and disorientation. I pray that I remember that my resistance only stalls the necessary transformation. It doesn’t finally stop it.

Movement 2: Simplicity Through Necessity

Mary certainly had a vision for how her labor would happen. I would be willing to bet money that neither a stable nor a manger factored into that vision. As a poor couple they probably didn’t have expectations of grandeur, but I imagine they had a short list of things/people that they “needed” in order to usher their son into the world. I would also imagine that most (if not all) of those things/people were glaringly absent when labor surprised Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem.

We all have moments when everything comes into perspective. We realize that what we thought we needed, we in fact only found some unnecessary comfort in. Birth and death are particularly powerful examples of this.

It is my prayer that I become aware of what my needs actually are. I pray that as I encounter invitations into the truth of my experience, full of joy or sorrow, I will have enough wisdom to see what can (and maybe should) be let go of as I enter into that moment–as I consent to the transformation happening within me.

May you learn to willingly give yourself over to the experience of transformation in your own life. May you realize that refusing consent will only be a temporary relief–especially if the transformation is born out of a place of deep sorrow. May you find the courage and strength necessary to take the next step on your journey, realizing along the way how much you’re already capable of.

Are you just now finding this Advent series? No worries! Week 1, Week 2, Week 3.

Advent 2015 (Week 3)-A Healing Inclusion

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It’s not uncommon for new residents of Joshua Station to cry when they first see their new apartment. Most of them expect something far less warm and inviting. They expect to be moving into a cheap motel and instead they are welcomed into a home. Coming from backgrounds of drug and alcohol abuse, generational poverty, immigration struggles, etc., the message our families have received from their society often serves to remind them that they belong on the margins–not with the rest of us. I believe that God’s response to this message is to spend an awful lot of time on the margins, inviting In those folks that many of us would cast out.

Today marks the beginning of the third week of Advent.  The people within the Advent story that guide my reflection this week are the Shepherds. The Shepherds seem to always be present within the Nativity Scene. But there are some details about them that often go unnoticed.

The Shepherds were very poor. They were seen as social outcasts–as well as geographical outcasts since their flocks were outside of the residential areas. It is believed by many that they were not trusted by their fellow people and were considered crude and morally questionable.

But God does what God seems to love to do. The people you might think would be invited to participate in the beautiful moment of Jesus’ birth–the birth of “The King”–like high ranking officials, social and religious elite, etc. are bypassed. Instead God announces the birth of Jesus to these crude and morally questionable people who were tending their flock on the margins of their society–where they knew they belonged. God invites them to participate in this blessed moment. God invites them In.

Movement 1: The Beggar Within

Jesus, in the Beatitudes found in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, mentions the “Poor in Spirit”. Perhaps the best way to understand this phrase is simply as “The Beggar Within”.

Like the Shepherds, there are pieces of ourselves that we feel don’t belong. We carry shame when we think about them and often we ignore their presence until we no longer can. We do everything within our power to hide them from even those closest to us–even God.

It is my prayer this week that I might realize God’s tendency to invite the marginalized in. I pray that I might accept that God will connect with me most through these painful places in my life. I pray that I–like the Shepherds–will accept that invitation to allow all of who I am to be brought In.

Movement 2: The Beggar Without

The Advent story reveals something profound about God through the Shepherds. Apparently God is not impressed with “Status” nor does God have special places prepared for those who have it in good supply. Instead God sees the pain our obsession with having the “Ins” and “Outs” has caused, and over and over again decides to identify with the “Outs”.

It is my prayer that I might begin to remove myself from the systems that create illusions of who belongs and who doesn’t. I pray that I have the courage to seek ways of being present on the margins of my society–knowing that God is already there.

May you understand that God invites all of who you are–including your own “Beggar Within”–into the transformational relationship happening between you. May you also see the ways that your life perpetuates the myth that some belong and others don’t. May we all follow God’s example and invite In those who have been cast Out. Amen.

Did you miss weeks 1 & 2? No worries! Week 1. Week 2.

Whose side are you on anyway?

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There is this incredible story in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is often seen as the center of this story, but I think the true center of the story is a Scribe. I imagine him to be a young man. He walks into a room while Jesus is arguing with the young man’s fellow religious leaders. He is somewhat intrigued and impressed by Jesus’ answers and is inspired to ask a question of his own.

“What commandment is the foremost of all?”

If you come from a Christian background, you probably know this passage well. Jesus answers the question with the famous words illuminating the holistic love of God and neighbor as the foremost commandment. This is where I imagine the room becomes a tad unsettled by the young Scribe’s response. He seems to get a rush of passion and excitement as he essentially yells back at Jesus an emphatic Amen!! I imagine all the other Scribes and Pharisees looking at this guy with a scolding glare. At least for a moment, he had forgotten what team he was supposed to be playing for.

Jesus’ response to the Scribe after he excitedly affirmed the answer to his question was deeply profound and maybe even a tad uncomfortable for him to receive in front of all the other big shots. “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Joshua Station is a disorienting community for some folks. You walk in with all sorts of team associations in your life. Maybe you are conservative or liberal. Maybe you are Presbyterian or Methodist. Maybe you are Black or White. Maybe you are Christian or Muslim. No matter what teams you are fighting for, Joshua Station has a habit of making them irrelevant. Regardless of how you associate, you are invited to love within a community entirely disinterested in your team identification. The only thing that matters is how you love.

For at least a moment, most people who enter this space forget what team they are on and simply respond to the presence of God being displayed in their midst. In that moment, I believe Jesus would affirm each of us—“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

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

Advent 2015 (Week 2)-The Journey & The Stranger

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I most certainly did not expect the invitation to look like that. I am a pretty quiet and non-confrontational guy. I seek out ways to calm the sea, not create waves. So how exactly did I find myself on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol participating in a Black Lives Matter demonstration? I felt as out of place as it sounds. But I also knew that I was being invited into something that would profoundly shake me to the core. I knew that this unfamiliar package contained an invitation to encounter Christ. I knew I would never be the same.

We are entering the second week of Advent. It seems that my Advent guides always use this week to tell the story of the Magi–the Wise Men–who travel from a distant land, following a star, in order to lay gifts at the feet of the newborn King of the Jews.

It took me a few years to see why this particular part of the story is so jarring. The people around Jesus, people of “The Book”, didn’t see it. But the Magi–a people of a different nationality and even a different religion–were led to Jesus through the intentional practice of their own religious tradition. These outsiders saw what God had presented as the sign of Jesus’ birth–a sign that made them perhaps most likely to see it.

Movement 1: Intentionality & Faith

The Magi found the discovery of “The Star” so compelling that they embarked on a journey that some scholars believe would have taken approximately 2 years to complete. I don’t believe that they knew exactly where they were going. They only saw the star and followed it with intentionality. They had faith that their journey would indeed take them to the King.

It is my prayer this week that I might be inspired by the Magi. Though I do not see the destination, I see the invitation to embark on the journey of today. I pray that I will find the strength within myself to embark on that journey with intentionality, having faith that it will lead me to an encounter with Christ–even if that journey takes me to unfamiliar “distant lands”.

Movement 2: Embracing the Mystery & Welcoming the Stranger

The Magi claimed to know how to find the Christ. To many Jews this might have seemed impossible. These foreigners are not of the right faith to have any understanding to offer. But assuming that God will only reveal God’s self in expected places and through expected people might be why the Magi weren’t accompanied by hundreds of faithful Jews eager to see the Messiah.

It is my prayer that I might recognize the Magi in my own life. Who are the outsiders, the strangers, the foreigners around me? Who in my life has God sent on a journey that leads to Christ? I pray that I embrace the mystery and look for truth and wisdom in unfamiliar places. I pray that I am reminded to welcome the stranger–the outsider–knowing that they could very well have seen something that I have missed–something transformational.

May you feel the invitation to embark on the journey being laid out before you–even if the only guide is a distant star. And may you welcome the strangers and outsiders among you–and may they all play a part in leading you to an encounter with Christ.

 

Did you miss Week 1? No worries! You can find it Here.