Category Archives: Friends

Please pray…

A dear member of our church family in Los Angeles was just diagnosed with West Nile Virus and is undergoing risky treatment for this as we speak. Pray for her husband and for their baby (she just found out she is six weeks pregnant); for God’s protection and for complete healing. She is currently experiencing paralysis form the neck down and is having difficulty breathing. We are joining our friends in around-the-clock prayer for her, and I am asking anyone willing to carry this burden with us to intercede for her.

Thank you.

Who is paying attention?

There is a couple in our church here that I have known for as long as I can remember. Keith and Florence have devoted much of their life to ministry and training and advocacy for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I am privileged to sort of share some office space with Keith (who travels regularly to the Congo in his ministry role for our denomination) in our church building. Keith and Florence have been role models and examples to me my whole life, and I appreciate the ways that their presence in our congregation here reminds us regularly of what our sisters and brothers in Christ are experiencing in the Congo. Looking at Keith during worship, I can sometimes almost physically see his concern, the ache of his spirit, for a people he knows and loves.

I came across this at Brad Boydston’s blog this morning and while I can’t figure out how to post the graphic here, I want to post the link here and encourage you to take a look.

Grief, fasting, and community

My friend Christine writes with great beauty and depth about journeying with pain and loss as ever-present companions. Christine lost her beloved son one year ago, and she wrote the following reflection on how her grieving mother’s heart will journey through Lent this year:

Last year at this time, I had a strong sense that I ought to abstain from meat for 40 days. It was odd because I only tolerate meat in minuscule amounts. I’m partial rather to shellfish and dessert. Hence, the high cholesterol.

I wrote something then about abstaining from the stuff of life rather than the fluff of life. It was a prophecy uttered unknown to myself for now until forever in this mortal habitation we call time. For what is the stuff of life more than children? They are evidence that one isn’t just going through the motions “long after the thrill of livin’ is gone,” to quote John, not the Cougar, Mellencamp.

This is how I know that God was not absent last March 28th at nine-o-something in the evening. It was his Spirit who inspired me to abstain from the stuff of life—the blood and muscle and sinew of my days—instead of chocolate, too ordinary a Lenten abstention, but one much more challenging for a frivolous fool like me.

The Almighty was preparing me for who knows how many years of abstention, of hope deferred, of evidence unseen…

So what this year? Am I excused from abstention because I do without already. Every day. Every hour. Every heartbeat and break. From the stuff of life, by half.

No. I think not, because life does in fact go on in this interminable Eternal Now. The flesh still needs its training in abstention. Abstention from excessive grief. Abstention from wallowing in the bitter cup. Abstention from fear and morosity…

Perhaps I’ll feast on joy for 40 days…

This past week she offered this comment on a spiritual retreat she had just attended:

Here’s the verse I brought home to meditate on through Lent:

He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

(Psalm 126:6, ESV)

Our speaker reminded us not to surrender to our wilderness experiences, but to God in them. When we surrender to God in our difficult circumstances, we gather seeds to sow for the nourishment of others.

I had the privilege yesterday of sitting for a bit with a woman who, with her family, has walked through a simply life-shattering experience as a result of the actions of Christian sisters and brothers. She is on a journey of healing from the events that injured her and her loved ones, and I do trust that God is with her as she passes through this place of abandonment and affliction. But it is that: a dark place with more questions than answers.

I am reminded today how many of us need Lent to remind us to consider places of pain, sobriety, and grief. We need the ashy mark on our forehead because it is not our heart’s inclination to mourn and weep. But there are others in our midst who are already living among the ashes.

In the earlier centuries of church life, the forty days of Lent were the season when new believers prepared to be baptized into the church community. The members of the faith community joined these new believers in this special time of preparation and reflection on the death and new life that Christ gives. Lent and baptism were, for many years, intimately linked together (and still are for the Catholic Church). Lent was something the church did together, to identify with one another and with those being welcomed into their family.

My thought today is that we would do well to consider this season as something we do as a community. What would it look like for us to consider the places of suffering and death and isolation and grief that are present among us, and exercise intentionality toward joining our sisters and brothers there? Could we spend these days fasting, as a community, from the isolation that falls too quickly and easily upon those in pain? Could we see Lent as an invitation to come together as a body and identify with one another in some new way?

Scott Intern

One of the Servant Partners interns we had the pleasure of getting to know down in L.A. was a young man named Scott (or Scott Intern as we called him). I just caught this video tonight that shares a bit about his life with our community in South L.A. The video was made by a film crew from Urbana who came out and spent some time in our community filming Scott and his life. I was preaching the Sunday that they were there filming.

Enjoy!

Seattle Pacific

This afternoon I have the opportunity to guest lecture at Seattle Pacific University for a dear friend, Bob Drovdahl, who is a professor there. I will be speaking on my experience with adult education and I am very much looking forward to meeting the students and hearing more about their hearts for ministry in the church. I hope that i will have something of value to offer them from my own experience, and it will be fun to be on the SPU campus (a school I considered attending before deciding on North Park).

Scot McKnight recently posted some thoughts on the rise of the “NeoReformed“. He writes:

The NeoReformed, for a variety of reasons, some of them good, don’t recognize that evangelicalism as a village green. Instead, they want to build a gate at the gate-less village green and require Reformed confessions and credentials to enter onto the village green. Put differently, they think the only legitimate and the only faithful evangelicals are Reformed. Really Reformed. In other words, they are “confessing” evangelicals. The only true evangelical is a Reformed evangelical. They are more than happy to call into question the legitimacy and fidelity of any evangelical who doesn’t believe in classic Reformed doctrines, like double predestination.

In effect, the NeoReformed are a new form of Fundamentalism, so one might describe them accurately as the NeoFundamentalists. Which means they seem to need a trend or an opponent upon whom they can vent their frustrations (see Rene Girard). This results in two clear traits: the exaltation of some peripheral doctrine to central status and the demonization of a person. The goal in such cases seems to be to win at all costs.

I have heard that the influence of Mars Hill on the students at SPU has been significant. One student told me that for young women on campus, there is a heavy trend away from considering careers or many ministry callings because of that particular church’s teaching on the role of women at church and in the home. It will be interesting to see if that trend is evident in this class today.

On his blog, Scot asks why younger adults are so drawn to what he calls the NeoReformed movement as evident in places like Mars Hill Church. Desire for certainty, hierarchy, and heavy leadership are a few observations some have made that seem to resonate with me, but I am not totally sure.

Liars

I caught this story on NPR this morning on my very short drive to work. It reminded me of how deep and costly and tragic the consequences of racism have been in our country’s legal system. I can remember learning the scandal of this during my years in Chicago, and seeing how even the very young were chased, beaten, and jailed unjustly. I remember sitting across from twelve and fourteen-year-old boys and listening to how they walked in fear or hid because of those selected to “protect and serve”. Hearing their stories of being chased and tackled, beaten, struck, I knew I would have run too.

And I am still haunted by the bruises; the brown flesh made blue and black; the broken jaw: children beaten by bloated men of power. And no one ever said they were sorry.

Simply complex

In a recent post, David Fitch tackles head-on the issue of why the Missional and Emerging Church movements are so white. I resonated with some of his experiences and observations and thought I would share a few of my stories as well:

I remember being at a justice and compassion conference hosted by my denomination a few years ago, and one speaker shared a series of thoughts about “living simply” or choosing to have less materially for the sake of mission and discipleship. After he had spoken, the mostly white audience nodded approvingly, but a pastor of an inner city church that has significant impact on its urban community stood up. “It’s one thing for all of you to get up here and talk about what you should give up, what nice car you shouldn’t drive, what vacation you should forgo. It’s one thing for you to say this; you’ve had your chance to have these things. My people are still climbing to get to that point. So it’s one thing for you to say that we should give those things up. It’s one thing for you because you’ve had them. We are just now getting that same chance.”

I remember a few people around me cringing at his words; judging him for what seemed like a selfish, stuff-loving orientation. I felt differently that day, though I struggled to assess why.

More recently, within our church community in L.A., there were places where I felt judgment run strong between ethnic groups in the area of money and how it was spent. Our church had some of the most generous, committed givers I have ever known. Many of these people came from families that had money and they themselves made really good money–and they gave a ton of it away. They were committed to supporting the ministry of the church and they valued living without certain things they could afford for the sake of being generous among others. That said, they were also the folks with high-paying careers or home-ownership or investments or whatever that, while not necessarily affecting their daily finances certainly existed as a backdrop of wealth to their simple lifestyles.

Others in the church who came from immigrant backgrounds were certainly inclined toward building wealth that their family had never had; providing for their kids what they had lived without. These were individuals not unfamiliar with hunger, limited opportunities in terms of education, and rarely home ownership. It was more common to see the latest electronics gadget or bigger TV in their homes, while the “simple living” folks had hand-me-downs.

But again, retirement accounts, college funds, families with money, and a home, not to mention career/education assets that could be applied toward earning more money, change the overall picture of those choices a bit.

Doug and I were the “poor folk” among our peer group. We made choices to pursue school and have babies (well, we didn’t always make those choices, but the Lord blessed us) and commit our energies to our community as lay pastors. Our poverty was, in essence, a chosen one, and that made it a bit easier for me to live among peers who were buying and remodeling homes and eating well and, again, giving away A LOT of what they had. But there were times, if I am honest, where I would hear the discussion about simplicity among these peers and know full well that they had not lived on flour and water crepes filled with peanut butter because that was the best they could do. They had the choice about when and how they would go without something; within the broader scope of our “choice”, we did not enjoy that same freedom.

That said, Doug and I were always in the center of people who would not hesitate to give us a financial gift when we were met with two three-hundred dollar deductibles from my hospital stays associated with Mercy’s birth; or help us buy a minivan when we ended up with three little ones with not-so-little carseats that exceeded the capabilities of our Altima’s back seat; or send us a check from afar to cover a car repair that was necessary but totally beyond our means. I am aware that being white and educated and connected makes my “urgent difficulties” or challenges look soft compared to those of so many of our neighbors there.

I recall too Eugene Cho’s reflection on some amount of hesitancy he felt toward “Buy Nothing Day” as a response to the hyper-consumption of Black Friday:

Why my reservations?  I’m still moved by a conversation I had with a friend couple years ago that challenged my support for Buy Nothing Day.  This friend who is African-American said some interesting stuff [paraphrasing]:

Buy Nothing Day is basically a thing of and for White folks and comfy Middle Class folks who have had the privilege of consumption their whole life.  And now, they can afford to start things like Buy Nothing Day.  True, it speaks to the issue of overconsumption but how much of it is to appease their guilty consciences.  I’m also very skeptical and cynical of Christians  who’ve jumped on this bandwagon – the “enlightened evangelicals” who also come from a place of privilege.  Stuff like this sickens me because it has completely no idea about the plight of minorities and low income folks that are trying to survive.

The thing that got to me was the story he shared about some of his family and friends who simply NEED to make many of their major purchases on that day.  Specifically, he shared about his uncle and aunt.  They get in line every year in the frigid cold here hours before the retail store opens at 5 or 6 am because it’s the only way they’re able to get their kids the necessary tech gear to keep up.

I’m not dismissing the cause behind Buy Nothing Day.  We need to address this because us Westerners and particularly, Americans [including me] are just gluttonous.

But let’s be real here…Black Friday shopping mean different things for different folks. For many of us, it’s a game, a sport and an event we mark but for others, it’s a matter of necessity.  This is why I have reservations about Buy Nothing Day.  Perhaps, the majority of us should sincerely adopt Buy Nothing Day and let those who truly need the “doorbusters” be the first in line – for a change.

One final thought: in terms of Fitch’s observations. He speaks of “living beneath one’s means” as a high value for many in self-identified Missional/Emerging groups, and when I think back to so many individuals and families I have known over the years I think of single mothers working one or two or three jobs to support not just her kids but her sisters kids; I think of households made up of generations; and I think of the way those individuals would, without any hesitation take in another mouth to feed or another child to raise. This was a different sort of “living below their means” that considered their wealth and property to belong to a much broader community of individuals than I can ever remember seeing among any of my white peers.

So, I don’t have all the answers as to what is right or faithful or how we can all be in this together. I appreciate David’s discussion and would love to hear more.

“The church that came to me”

I read with interest Dan Kimball’s recent post on Christianity Today’s Out of Ur blog where he posed some questions about whether or not “missional” churches are churches that bear fruit in terms of effectively making disciples. He points to larger “attractional” churches (Willow Creek, for example) whose buildings and impressive gatherings seem to, in his estimation, hold great appeal for many and therefore be more effective in the fruit-bearing department.

A few things came to mind as I read this. I remember taking a van-load of neighborhood kids to attend a worship service at Willow Creek when I was living and ministering in Chicago. They were totally awed by the buildings, the food court, the size, the scope, the big screens that descended from the ceiling, the way the blinds automatically lowered during the service to block out the setting sun. They were engaged, on every level, with the singing, the video clips, and the music. And I can remember so well their reaction when they saw the budget update printed in the bulletin: “Just the amount that they are over budget this week could pay for our program for ten years!”

My kids wanted to go back every week. They loved it. Yes, it ministered to them; it appealed to them. It was impressive and exciting and cool. But would driving there for an hour each-way every week really translate into transformation for them and for their community? As their schools crumbled; as parents abandoned and abused; as gangs walked up to parked cars and opened fire, what difference would video screens and food courts really make? I don’t say that to disparage Willow. I have dear friends involved there, and have no judgment to make about their effectiveness in what they do. But for my kids, an “attractional” church divorced from their community made no sense.

Fast forward to Los Angeles, ten years later. A homeless couple, living in a city park, comes into the park’s rec center one Sunday morning. The hot coffee tasted good after a cold night on the ground, and the people were warm and friendly. Free coffee soon turned into relationships which led to some financial help with first and last month’s rent to get into an apartment. This eventually led to work and sobriety and counseling. And casual Sunday friendships turned into family.

I wrote this about one of these dear friends two years ago, and to this day this memory makes me cry:

I think I can say that, in general, the collection of the offering is rarely the high point for people in weekly Sunday worship gatherings….This past Sunday was an exception.

When it came time for the ushers to come forward to collect the offering, a nicely dressed woman from our congregation walked to the front with the other usher, each carrying large baskets. She began to pass the basket to those sitting on her side of the congregation, soberly collecting it when it reached the end and offering it the next row. Ushers can sometimes look either bored or distracted; like they don’t know what to do with their hands and eyes while the baskets are moving through the congregation. She was not like this: she was focused, intent on her task, participating fully with those she served.

I watched from the back where I stood with Aaron in my arms. I watched her closely: her very straight posture, her face solemn with responsibility, her entire body attentive to this sacred act. I looked to the other side of the congregation where I knew her husband was sitting. His eyes followed her every step, his body moving continuously to keep her in his constant view. He could hardly stay in his chair and his face was unable to contain the enormous smile that overcame him. As the music ended and the ushers walked to the front carrying the baskets of gifts, I saw this woman walk quietly to our pastor and reach for the microphone. As the last note faded, she looked out at her fellow worshippers and asked us to pray.

Her simple prayer thanked God for his many gifts to us. She thanked God for waking us up that day and allowing us to come to this place to worship. And she thanked God for our pastor. Our “Amen” had scarcely joined with hers when the sound of clapping filled the room. Her husband loudly applauded for her: for her offering of herself, in service and in public prayer, for the sake of the body. Though she has worshiped with us since our beginnings in Loren Miller Park, this was her first Sunday serving in any formal capacity. Our pastor acknowledged that this was her first time participating in our worship this way, and we joined her husband with our applause.

I am sure that the visitors among us probably thought this all a bit strange. What they could not have known is that this poised and polished woman and her husband came to our church two years ago because we offered food and coffee and a warm place to sit indoors for the many homeless who slept in the park on Saturday nights. What they could not have known is that her story is filled with decades of the unspeakable and unimaginable. What they could not have known is that when we first met her, she was a woman consumed with fear and shame. And what started as our weekly gift of a warm drink became a very different kind of gift from Another: the gift of living water that becomes “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

As she later told her estranged mother who had custody over her children: “this is the church that came to me.”

As I watched her serve with reverence on Sunday, I was struck by a memory from a year ago. I was very pregnant and extremely tired, and I needed to get my house clean in preparation for celebrating Mercy’s birthday with our friends and neighbors. This woman offered to come over and do some work around the house for me, and I accepted. Doug and I were very committed to helping her and her husband out in different ways, and I was eager to be able to bless them with some money for her time spent cleaning. I was also very eager for someone else to bend and lift and scrub and to give my back and belly a rest.

I had just put Mercy down for her nap when she arrived. I set out all of my supplies, told her what my cleaning priorities were, and then promptly went to my bed and collapsed, sound asleep. I woke two hours later to the sound of Mercy chattering through the monitor. I went into Mercy’s room and got her up, and we came out together to see a sparkly clean house and our good friend with a smile on her face. When she saw me her eyes teared up, and as she spoke she started to cry. She told me that she could not believe that I had let her into my home, with full access to all of our things, and then closed my door and gone to sleep. She said that she had never felt so trusted by someone; she had never felt so much pride and dignity and worth as someone who did not have to be doubted and feared.

I don’t think many of us have a reference for that kind of redemption. I don’t think that many of us come close to grasping the kind of tangible, radical social restoration that Zacchaeus or Mary Magdalene or the bleeding woman knew at the hands of Jesus.

My friend does. A year ago she could hardly fathom being trusted to clean someone’s home. How much more did she experience dignity and wholeness on Sunday as she collected our offerings and brought them before her Lord? I am grateful to my friend for leading us in what was most definitely a time of worship.

I don’t believe Willow should close their doors, nor do I think Church of the Redeemer’s slower growth is any strike against us through kingdom eyes. A widow’s penny was deemed a vast treasure by Jesus, so I am certain that we just can’t look at branches and fruit and harvest the way we do the stock market. The balance sheet can be very confusing…

What I will miss, Part I

As we prepare to leave here in a few weeks, my head and heart feel full of thought and sentiment around what we will so deeply miss about our life here. I thought I would share a bit of those things here…

Last night, I sat for a few minutes on our little front porch, appreciating the range of Christmas lights along our street that still feel funny to me in the midst of palm trees and hot-weather days. Doug and I have talked repeatedly about how we will miss the density of our street: the proximity of buildings, the crowding of people, the intimacy if you will of life on Kenwood. While this density can be annoying when trying to find a place to park on the street, it offers something vibrant and honest to the day-to-day.

On Kenwood, there is not a lot of hiding that can take place: people for the most part are seen and known and heard by one another, both when that is desirable and when it is not. That’s where the honesty part comes in. When I yell at my kids? The neighbors hear me. When we sit on our porch at night to enjoy a scotch or a glass of wine? Our time is punctuated with hello’s and waves as life crawls on beneath us. When Aaron runs out to greet his Auntie in his underwear? Everyone knows that I’m that mom who can’t keep three children consistently dressed.

Then there is the proximity of our landlord who lives beneath us. Recently retired from teaching high school, Paul is home a lot and he is often an hourly part of our every-day. He raises animals in the area behind our house, and I told someone last week that I never bothered getting a Zoo membership here in L.A.: if you came to our backyard, you would understand why. My kids have held and fed these animals; they have seen their eggs, held their newborns. Paul has been like a really cool Uncle to them, and it’s hard to imagine living in a house with no one else sharing the space. My kids are not allowed to jump off things in our apartment because it is “like elephants on Paul’s head”. While I look forward to seeing my kids jump freely in their space, it actually feels like more loss than gain in some ways.

The other piece of proximity that feels so significant is that on our street alone, there are five church families. I am not embarrassed to say that on more than one occasion I have pulled into my driveway with some impossible scenario of more babies sleeping than arms on my body, and I have called Elliot or Lauren or Arthur to come over and help me sherpa my family up the stairs. One of the joys of playing out front on the sidewalk in the late afternoon is welcoming everyone home from work. As our friends all park and get out of their cars after long work days, they will come over, set down their bags and say hello, run a few races with the big kids or chase Elijah down the driveway. Our play-space is a public walkway, and while that can cause me to tear my hair out on some days (especially now that Elijah is on a daily death wish about running into the street), it is also a very practical way we share our lives with our church family.