Neighbour to Neighbour

I’m not sure of the circumstances that led to his present condition, and frankly it doesn’t matter. What did matter was that this large gentleman, this double amputee, needed help – and fast. He was being pushed by his wafer thin companion, and it was obvious that the combination of gravity and Seattle’s hills would halt their progress in short order.

What happened next was a picture of the life that God summons each of us to.

A Father, who had been in our group of parents and youth feeding the homeless, saw the pair struggling and went to help. He got behind the wheelchair and started to push. At the very same time his son, who is 4 years old followed him and said “Daddy can I help?” Without waiting for an answer, he put his small hands, on his fathers large back and “helped” him push the wheelchair.

The scene brought tears to eyes in the group, and capped a magical time of service. Every time we make ourselves available to be extensions of Gods kingdom amazing things happen. (The happening’s are mostly very ‘ordinary’, and easily missed because of the false notion that kingdom movements are announced with fireworks and press coverage.) Everyone who was looking at the boy ‘helping’ his father knew that wheelchair was not progressing because of the child’s strength. Passers by smiled not at the boy’s muscle power but at the largeness of his heart, and the nobility of his intentions. Without the father all the boy’s efforts would have been in vain.

As the group debriefed outside Pioneer Square Station, we reflected on the truth that handing out 120 sandwiches with water and granola is not going to solve the problem of homeless or hunger in Seattle. Ours was not a mission of deliverance, but a liturgy of benediction on all those sons and daughters of Adam imaged by God. We act in the present, as we believe we will live in the future. The ultimate deliverance is not by us the children, but by our heavenly father, who has unabashedly adopted the CEO and the AA attendee into his divine family.

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Prisoners of Hope – On Cornel West and Abraham Joshua Heschel.

On Saturday night I had the opportunity to listen to Cornel West (Professor, Historian, Philosopher and Social Activist) wax eloquent about the work of Rabi Abraham Heschel, and how it fertilised the soil of his imagination.

For West the kinship with Heschel transcends their shared Judeo-Christian roots, rather it is in the subversive prose that Heschel authored. West felt a rhythm and cadence when he first read Heschel that gripped him as being deeply poetic. West is convinced that poetry and poets are the invisible legislators of our world, they speak into the wind, they exist in the realm of imagination and beckon us toward an alternate vision of reality. (Every warp and woof of West’s language has obvious loops of artistic appreciation woven in. During his presentation he would seamlessly transition from Anton Chekov to John Coltrane, from Descartes to Toni Morrison.)

West’s speech was not linear, but there were points where pathos took a back seat to hardboiled registry. The three points I remember scribbling were Heschel’s thoughts (as interpreted by West) on the

  • Pietistic
  • Prophetic
  • Poetic

as vehicles of change within dominant structures in society. Piety – an acute remembrance of history that humbles and boldly proclaims a new world. Prophecy – speaking truth to power in love. Poetry – the seedbed of change and subversion. West also bore witness to a shared pessimism with Heschel in their commentary of society. They are both prisoners of hope that speak out on issues of justice regardless of foreboding circumstances or censure. West spoke for 90mins without notes, his mind is encyclopaedic in retention and powerful in delivery, I barely scratched the surface in the above summation. I will end with a phrase that West delivered  and I hope to live –

                                “Justice is what Love looks like in Public.”

Cornel West

*End note: In the past 6 months I have heard N.T Wright, Walter Brueggemann and Cornel West speak in Seattle, although they traversed different topics, they are all soul mates in subversive biblical imagination, and advocate for the arts to be attendant with theology. The journey has been fresh and challenging, and leaves me hope-full in Jesus. With this newfound imagination I am excited in partnering with God in His activity in my church and city.

When the saints went marching

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MLK Jr. day was on Monday. I went to my first march and it was incredible.

The march snaked for two miles along Seattle’s streets. It started in the Central District, and moved through Capitol Hill, ending at WestLake Park. A multitude of people, fighting for a plethora of causes, turned up to have their voices heard. There were friends and families fighting for the Free Nestora Salgado Campaign.  There were those against mangling and powerful nuclear weapons that nations spend millions of dollars stock piling.

Nuclear WarHeadThere were Buddhist for peace, Iron Workers, Steel Workers Union, Teachers, Black Panthers, Communists, Socialist, The Rainbow Coalition, and every other strip in between.  

The largest faction of the day were the $15ph minimum wagers. Led by newly elected Socialist city council member Kshama Sawant, they were a sea of effusive crimson platelets surging forward for their cause.

The call – “What do we want?”

Westlake Mall

The response – “15”

The call – “When do we want it?”

The response – “NOW!”

I  am aware that many of the feet that ate up ground with me that day, would go in radically different directions to me on many, many issues. Be it economics, race, sexual ethics or religion, but there was a chord that bound us together. There was a throbbing, prophetic impulse, that echoed the Isianic cry of all humanity – “Oh! That you would rend the heavens and come down.” Is 64:1. It is a realisation that all is not well with the world, creation groans for redemption.

Although these modern prophets and preachers would balk at my religious reading of the march, to me it was 2.1 mile prayer offered. Joyful, intense, crude, sweat stained prayers; cries exploding from human hearts for heaven to influence earth again.

During the march, I saw around me a congregation of brother’s and sisters, mothers and fathers desperate for the will of the Father to be done. Sure, some of them see through the mirror dimly (don’t we all?) and some don’t even believe the mirror exists, but I know they echoed the heart of the Father.

My heart has been full, but aching, since the march. As a witness of Christ’s inaugurated kingdom, and a herald of the renewal of all creation, I want to meaningfully demonstrate the gospel to my brothers and sisters in the here and now. Bill Johnson in his book Hosting the Presence, p96 makes the point that since the treasure of heaven (the Holy Spirit) has been released amongst us. “To look for another open Heaven is to incorrectly steward the one we’ve been given.”  I pray that we will all be faithful stewards of our cities, towns, villages, hamlets and homes in 2014. I pray that we will add our time, voice, and money in coaxing the moral arch of the universe to bend toward justice.

amen —

This is life.

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I came home last night around 10pm. My wife had told me that our daughter was still up, which is unusual for her.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened when I opened the front door. My 7.5 month year old daughter saw me, and before I could take another step in the house she squealed. A toothless, dribbling laugh that arrested all my worries, and incarcerated by concerns. Then she started to jump ecstatically on my wife’s lap, and beckoned me toward her newly created euphoric space, with her plump little hands.

I breathed in every last drop of her sweet happy dance, and burst into a smile. After exiting the stage of the days events, where I am judged on my performance, and critiqued on my output, it is soul restoring to slip behind the proscenium, and be anointed by the rich adoration of my daughter. Not because I performed, but because I exist.

In that moment she transformed ordinary life into a eucharistic act, and became a faithful witness of God’s unfettered love to me.

This

Is

Life.

Friends In Church. Do or Die

In 2007 I packed my bags and was driven to Keele University in the midlands of England. I arrived with no friends, zero. I didn’t know anyone who was going to the same university, much less anyone who was pursing the same degree as I was. I quickly started to interact with my suite mates, and faces that were nameless in my 200 strong Law class started to have stories and experiences attached to them. We also debated in labs made up of 15 or so students, and we rubbed shoulders in social activities that most remembered through the fog of a rabid hangover, “the morning after the night before”. I listened, slept, missed and suffered through dozens of lectures each semester with the same people. Yet our shared experience of listening to a talking head for two hours at a time, for two years didn’t magically draw all 200 of us into intimate relationships with each other. The same is true in church family, our shared experience of listening to a sermon, may lift our spirits, but it doesn’t magnetically draw us to each other.

Paul in Romans 16 is getting ready to “land the plane” as it were, he is no longer navigating heady theological concepts, rather he is wrapping up his book with greetings to friends and family. Paul’s greeting reveal the church in Rome consisted of units ( affinity groups if you wish) that he acknowledged and addressed : v16:1-5 Phobe, Priscilla & Aquila and the church that meets in their home, v14 Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, v15 Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints.

The church that Paul was writing to was not a single thumping entity, but rather an aggregate of families, and groups. There were congregations meeting in homes, and some were bound by blood ties as well as spiritual bonds. Additionally Paul mentions by name his relatives v7 Andronicus and Junia  v11. Herodian  v21 Lucius, Jason and Sosipater. Lastly Paul sends a heartfelt greeting to individuals that he was especially close to through shared experiences.

Acts 2:42-47 is sometimes hijacked to mean “the church must be a commune of people with no property rights, sharing daily potlucks and bank accounts.” Another train of thought goes like this: “if this church was really Christian then we would all be friends, one big happy family and everyone would know if I was sick and didn’t come to church. My church isn’t like that, therefore it is full of uncaring hypocrites.” I can understand the frustration of being a young person in a church, and feeling utterly disconnected with the larger body. I know what it feels like to debate going to your local church or visiting “bedside Baptist church” for the third time in a month. I get it, really, I’ve been there got the t-shirt, and taken the instagram picture.

The problem with this expectation of church being a grand perfectly connected organism of happy people is that it’s not even biblical. Paul’s greetings are to groups of people who constitute a body. It is not sinful to be drawn to people in church who share similar passions, interests or jobs, and we shouldn’t begrudge such natural groupings. Of course if they intentionally and systematically segregate themselves to the exclusion of others, that is a problem. So please, if you are a young person who is drifting from church to church, looking for the congregation that lays out the red carpet for you and where every family and group invites you home for lunch – good for you, keep looking. I mean that sincerely, we should aim for welcoming atmospheres for outsiders, but the day will come where you have to mourn for your dead expectations of homogenous friendship groups. Unless you intentional set out to make friends, connect, and attach you will be continually disappointed by your 11am Sabbath experience. On many levels if you want a satisfying experience on Sabbath, you need to cultivate the ground before you can realistically expect seeds to flourish. Do not begrudge those who naturally form groups within your church if they are loving Christian people, they have the right to do that, and they are not being “worldly” by doing so.

Friends

What can you do this week (at church and outside) to meaningfully connect and build a relationship with some one?

Locus of Control

In May 2009, I begun my MDiv at Andrews. I came  excited, expectant and full of optimism.

I battled classes from Aleph through to Omega. From Mabul to Timelessness. I was stretched beyond my physical, emotional capacities at times. But I had great friends, professors, and I didn’t snap. 107 credit hours, and by the grace of Jesus, I stand on the cusp of completion.

Some of the teachers that I initially dismissed as being too simplistic taught me some of my most important lessons. The ones that could exegete a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma  left me with wide eyed wonder, but I can’t repeat much of the material from their classes.

One of the most important lessons that I learnt is what is termed the Locus of Control. This term says that as the environment around you changes, you can either attribute success and failure to things you have control over, or to forces outside your influence. The orientation we choose has a bearing on our long-term success. 

Sometimes I chose to blame professors [for the grade I didn’t like] the awesome Michigan snow [for making me late, even though I left my house with exactly 37 seconds to spare] or sneaky deadlines [for making me pull an all nighter].

At times I neglected things within my own control, and then got eaten alive by my circumstances outside of my control. God’s grace is a very soothing balm, and so I finish full of excitement, expectation and optimism for the blank canvass of my future! And furthermore my biblical locus trumpets victory.

NIV – 1 John 4:4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

Lessons from Rwanda.

 “…the hardest principle within Christian spirituality for me to deal with. The problem is not out there; the problem is the needy beast of a thing that lives in my chest.” – Blue Jazz. Don Miller

This weekend Andrews University a Seventh-day Adventist institution, hosted its first annual Summit on Social Consciousness – Lessons from Rwanda It was a weekend that caused much introspection for many, and I was not exempt.

The keynote speaker was Carl Wilkens(the former head of ADRA in Rwanda and speaker for WorldOutSideMyShoes a non profit organization. He was the only American that stayed in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994. 1 million people lost their lives in 100 days.

Rwanda - Land of A Thousand Hills

During Sabbath school time me and my Wife interviewed Carl and his wife Teresa. They shared how they made the decision to stay, they shared what life was like for Carl in the 100 days of the savage carnage, as neighbor killed neighbor, and church member killed church member. Yet Carl refused to share just the horror, he shared during the interview and his keynote address, the stories of hope that pierced through the thick gunk of incomprehensible evil. Carl did not stay to be a hero, he stayed to help his two neighbors. That’s it. He did not know that  in staying to help his neighbors he would be used to save over 500 lives.

Below are a few points that he shared with us that caught my attention, here they are in no particular order:

  1.  “Stories and acts of service are our most powerful tools to break down prejudice and build bridges of unity.”
  2. “Genocide stems from thinking that says ‘My world would be better without you in it, You and your kind”
  3. “Freedom is discovered when we encounter “The Other”, or Freedom is threatened when we encounter “The Other” The choice is ours.”

I had to ask myself what seeds I had in my heart. Do I have seeds of genocide ( ‘My world would be better without you in it, You and your kind) or am I cultivating seeds that embrace “The Other.” I have been wrestling with these questions because we all know that “a man reaps what he sows.” I do not want a crisis to peel back the produce of my heart and be mortified by the revelation. It’s in times like this that we realize that the epicentre of God’s eternal character is distilled in this:

Matthew 22:36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39

 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”