8th & Wyandot: Your Gift to the World

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I had no idea that she was a poet. Writing was something she only did behind closed doors and she felt too shy to share it with any of us. Over the course of two or three years she had written dozens of poems—some for school, but most of them because it was her way to process the experiences of her life.

One day, perhaps by accident, one of our staff members caught a glimpse of her talent with words. Pretty soon everyone was reading the piece she had decided she was willing to share. You could tell that she was excited to finally have someone else read her work, and maybe a little nervous because of what we might have to say about it.

After repeating this a few times, one of our staff members decided we needed to ask her, and one of our boys, to create and perform a poem at an upcoming event. They were informed that it would give them a chance to perform, but even more than that, it would be an act of service that would benefit Joshua Station. They both jumped on board and prepared rigorously for the event. Something had come alive in them. Her secret hobby had become her gift to the world around her, and she felt the deep significance of that reality.

We all have gifts, skills, passions. In some circles these things get treated like nothing more than a personal experience, something that can serve to inflate our egos, and if we are really lucky, make us lots of money. But this misses the deeper invitation of life.

Our work, our art, our music, our writing, it all has the potential to be a gift to the world. The girl who wrote poetry in secret had no idea how much her words would touch the spirit of our staff, or tug on the hearts of the donors in attendance at the event where she performed. The great irony is that when we recognize the invitation to become a gift to the world, our work becomes overwhelmingly more fulfilling than if we ignore it. So what is your gift? How can you share it with the world around you?

 

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

8th & Wyandot: Be Fruitful & Multiply

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“What gives you life?” I am pretty new to this whole ‘be a chaplain to the youth’ thing, but that seemed like an important question to ask. “I write.” The answer was simple and yet took me completely by surprise. Becky has been a part of the Joshua Station community off and on for the past 7 years. During that time she had developed a reputation for literally falling asleep when I would start up a conversation in Teen Group that required any level of depth. I imagined her watching netflix. I imagined her taking multiple naps after school. But writing? Nope, didn’t see that one coming.

Since this conversation I have encouraged Becky to keep writing and she has graciously allowed me into that sacred space of reading the fiction tales she likes to put together. I have occupied that sacred space with many youth over the years. Karen and her painting, Juan and his color pencil drawings that looked so crisp we suspected it was ink, Robert and Kimberly with their spoken word, Emery with her music. There seems to be an innate desire to do more than just absorb. There seems to be an innate desire to create. To create something—anything that feels like it could cause a ripple in the world around us.

Our community recognizes that God invites us into the ongoing act of Creation. For some of us that invitation leads us to have children. For others it leads us to plant trees or gardens. For others it beckons us to allow the beauty of our inner voice to come forth through song, poetry, dance, visual art, writing, and the list goes on and on.  All of these things are expressions of what it means to participate in that ongoing act of Creation.

Understanding that we have the power to create also comes with an awareness that what we create has the power to be thoughtless, harmful, needlessly offensive, unjust, and counter productive to God’s dream of Creation. We have the power to create societies where there are none among us lacking essentials and dignity, and we have the power to create societies where some have and others have not. We have the power to speak words that serve to inspire those around us, and we have the power to speak words that cut others off at the knees. We have the power to create goodness, joy, peace, and love, and we have the power to create horror, sadness, war, and hatred.

What I love about asking the youth the question I asked Becky is that the answer is rarely something that serves to create the negative world I’ve alluded to. When they listen to what’s stirring within themselves, what wells up is almost always full of goodness, joy, peace, and love. May they listen to that stirring—and may we follow suit.

 

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: 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!”
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8th & Wyandot: Daring To Be Unclean

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The kids at Joshua Station have a favorite playground game. It’s called “Groundies”. I hate it. The kids always cheat—they are supposed to have their eyes closed when they are “it”—and I have this need to play by the rules or the game doesn’t seem fun. So what often happens is that I’m hitting my shin on playground equipment while the kids are doing acrobatics over the slides insisting their eyes were closed the whole time.

On one of the many nights that we played Groundies I found myself particularly frustrated. I couldn’t stand all the cheating, and I was making that fact very well known to everyone playing the game. The kids began to have a sour attitude toward me and Kids Club was taking a dramatic turn for the worst. That’s when my mistake-prone friend, St. Peter, came to mind.

Peter was praying on his roof when God suddenly spoke to him in a vision. Peter was hungry and God showed him several animals and told him to “kill and eat.” Peter was petrified. He refused to do it, because never had he dared to eat anything that was unclean! God then smashes Peter’s theology to bits by telling him not to call anything God has made unclean!

We find out that this vision was setting the stage for a group of visitors Peter was about to receive. They invited him into the home of a Gentile and Centurion. This was another example of something that Peter—a man devoted to God—could not do lest he break the sacred law! Moved (and confused) by his vision he accepted the invitation which led to a sacred encounter that would have been prevented had he followed the rules that felt so central to his beliefs.

I decided to take a page out of Peter’s story and dare to break the rules. I peeked along with the other kids. I joined them in their lawlessness and let go of my need to follow the rules of the game. The connection that we experienced as a group once I made that decision was truly beautiful. The kids felt safe. They felt accepted. They felt loved, all because God was inviting me—in the name of love—to cheat.


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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?”

 

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8th & Wyandot: How Quickly We Forget

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“Raise your hand if you’ve ever been bullied?” I had other plans for Kids Club that day, but was inspired to ask this question after I witnessed a couple of our kids exposing the weakness in the other in order to get a couple laughs from their friends. Ian proudly smirked as his hand stayed down. “You’ve never been bullied?” I asked. “Nope”. Of course Ian is forgetting the time I actually witnessed him get bullied to the point of tears by some of our older kids a few months ago. Still, he was playing it tough. He made it clear that he was the bully, not the bullied.

The Biblical Prophets are full of the call to remember. Israel was taking bullying to an extreme. They were oppressing people within their kingdom. They were ignoring the cries of the poor, widows, and orphans among them. The prophets understood how crazy it was that the same rag tag slaves who God had rescued from the oppressive Egyptian empire were now repeating the cycle of abuse.

Ian was forgetting his own wounds. I told him about the time I made fun of a girl in my class with a lazy eye. My friends called her a “cross-eyed bitch”, and I laughed along. I had forgotten my own wounds too. When those friends of mine weren’t making fun of her, they turned their attention toward me, because of my all too noticeable stutter. In a moment when I had the chance to extend love and affirmation, I bought into the lie that I was protecting myself by laughing along.

Remembering our own wounds is painful work, but it is necessary. It helps us to remember our planks, rather than obsess over “their” speck of sawdust. It helps us to remember our own inner poverty, rather than think ourselves better than the materially poor. It helps us remember that we are all in this together, and there is no need for anyone to throw the first stone.

Ian walked away from our conversation pretending not to care. I have decided to take a bit of comfort in the fact that he hasn’t openly made fun of anyone in Kids Club for the past few weeks. May we all remember our own wounds. May that remembering help us to pass along healing instead of continuing the cycle of violence.

 

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