Emily and I just signed a new lease today and so for our fourth summer in a row we will be moving…sigh. It’s odd how much we dislike moving because we seem to do it so much! We are pretty excited about this move for many reasons: one is that we are staying in Highland Park, a little nook in Los Angeles that I’ve grown to love. More importantly we are moving in with Chase and Kate, and Arkay, something we are really looking forward too. Emily and I have always wanted to live in community with friends and so even though we love our own space, and our great apartment we have decided to take the chance and get a community?? house (but I’d rather call it a compound for kicks and giggles though).
I love it and hate it when it rains in LA, being from good ol' Canton Ohio I am fully aware of what life submerged by water looks and feels like. So when it rains here I am not so surprised by this moist substance falling from the sky, though I am pretty sure that's what would happen if it snowed here for many; no, there isn't any surprise by the rain – but there is by the people.
I have been reflecting back on the speed that life has taken on. All of life’s distractions, duties, and the pace at which it seems like we must get things done has been pulling me away from the simple and quiet life that one needs in order to maintain a peaceful and love-filled life.
I have taken a bit of a hiatus from the world of blogging, primarily beacuse I have been recovering from writing the Barclay Press entries.
I was asked to review Ryan Bolger’s new book “Emerging Churches” for Barclay Press’s book review in February. I am really excited about this prospect, as I really respect Ryan’s work not only in this area but in the other area’s of academia that he pursues. For those who are unaware I am his teaching assistant this Quarter at Fuller. So not only do I get to know him from what he has written about in his book but have spent time learning from him. I am also in the process of writing a proposal for my PhD application to study with him Fuller, as well as the University of Birmingham (UK).
Emily and I spent sometime at the Huntington Library in Pasadena this weekend. It was a part of us celebrating her birthday which was on November 17, 1980! Huntington is beautiful, the gardens and museums are astounding but I would have to say my favorite part was going to the tea room and drinking tea and eating little savory sandwhiches and other great foods. It was a lot of fun to just do something different. It did cost $15 just to get into the museum (before paying to go to the tea room) and I do think that’s a bit much. Actually I am not so sure its really worth it, unless you are planning to go for the whole day and see everything, otherwise just wait till the one Thursday a month when its free.
It was really nice to celebrate Emily a little, I do feel as though she is an unsung hero around here. She is a very hardworker, very compassionate toward those in need, and has convinctions of a lion. She is always evaluating how we are living, what we eat, how we spend our money, and whether these things are appropriate for followers of Jesus, and point toward the kingdom of God. She has willingly lived in homes that are placed in the city (since we’ve been married) in order to live out the example of Christ in places where most white people are afraid to even drive through. When I tell people that we in the city, they will ask me “how does your wife feel about that” and I with a grin on my face get to say “It was her idea as much as it was mine.” The fact that she chooses to work in the school systems she has, has also proven how huge her heart is and how deep the call of God runs in her. She refuses to take the status quo at face value, instead she questions every aspect of it, and often times subverts it. She truly seeks to live life as one who has been “saved” and is being saved daily. I love the fact that she is stubborn Christ-following Quaker, a feminist, a vegetarian, a pacifist, a prayer, an intellect, a marvolous friend and that she is willing to do things that are culturally not cool (she wears make-up just a couple times a year) like ride bikes to school, drive old used cars (when she could have a nicer one), and shops at secondhand stores all because she takes seriously the call of Jesus. For all these reasons and many more she is a wonderful wife that somehow believes in and loves me. I continue to be challenged by her love and her life, and this is not only cause for celebration but what love and Christianity really should be.
I rode my bike over to the train today – I made it there before it started raining, unfortunately I didn’t make it from the train to the bookstore before it rained – I may need to think about a rainjacket.
But something happened today on the train…I had the opportunity to talk with a hispanic man while we waited for the train and rode it. We just chatted, finding things we held in common and talking about what we do for work, I saw that I really can begin to practice this whole train-riding buisness differently. I didn’t get to read my Ray Anderson book, Judas and Jesus – but hey I think something better happened. Something is changing in the air.
In another life – I would have gone to college to be a filmaker by night and a bike messenger by day. For now I just get my thrills rocking on my road bike to and from work, but tonight I found a website with some videos of messengers having fun. They are large videos so they take awhile to download but if you are willing to wait then you are in for a treat.
Maybe someday – in another life.
I must say that these conversations as of late have been very stimulating, all this talk about living and not living in places of perceived danger and felt danger. I have some last words to say before I head out on a two-week hiatus in a couple days.
I am not trying to con-vice anyone and especially Shane of my position for I know that if I were to seek to do that I would be trying to convince someone to Wess’ truth not God’s. However, I do not see myself as one who is misled by the Spirit and thus I feel it necessary to exegete my view further, with a greater depth and clarity so that there may be peace and understanding of how I see (and how I ultimately feel the Spirit has led me to see) these things discussed.
First to my friend (and I mean that with the utmost sincerity) Shane, In one of your recent posts you said, it seems like some Christians want to frown upon my wife and I for moving out of a not so nice neighborhood (which I’m just going to call the ghetto) because too many Christians are moving out.” I must respond in an offer of peace, that I would much rather you think of my comments as first coming from friend and then coming from a Christian. The reason for the splitting of these hairs are that often to say a Christian thinks this or that about me” equates He or she is judging me.” I have added comments first as a friend who feels that I have room to make comments in a constructive way and further, and in the hopes to create dialog that will be beneficial to all for I know that as we seek to have clear and fair dialogue with one another the Spirit is able to teach us all. This was a basic premise that underlined our Monday Night Bible study back in the day, we believed that everyone had a right to speak, that is those who are of faith in Christ, because we all have the spirit of God within us. So take this as a peace offering.
Secondly, I think as people of faith we ought to be intentional about becoming more aware of those who are underprivileged, oppressed or just down and out. This is why the word Ghetto” makes my spine tingle, and why the connotations with that word are even worse. What we I think we mean (and I mean we because I am guilty of it too) when we say Ghetto is something more discriminatory, and often classist or racist. What I mean is that Ghetto has a very negative and hurtful connotation, hurtful to God who is the God of the oppressed (and Ghettos are often times homes of the oppressed – this is a basic historical point). The Minor Prophets in the Old Testament, and Psalms such as 130, and 136 tell us that God intentionally seeks justice for the poor. If this is true then we ought to as Christians as God, how can we be active in helping him in his pursuit.
Notice I said His pursuit” this is because to minister to and with those who are poor and unlovely (and often times dangerous) is not our pursuit as human beings, it is not the thing that we choose naturally, that is why it is so hard to find social workers who have worked in the field for a long time (and if you can – ask them is they still enjoy their job). Working with the unloved is the business of the church. No one argues this point; it is just how we interpret the unloved that makes this tricky.
Who are the unloved? I think there are many in every race and class that are unloved. I think that we ought to have the church serving all peoples, and loving all. But the problem comes when everyone wants to love, serve and live in specific suburban areas. That is to say, there are too many people being called to the Suburbs (if that is what it is) and not enough being called to the city. Is God unaware of the needs in places like skid row in downtown LA where 20,000 people are homeless every night (In America)? And Skid row is just blocks wide and a not many deep. There are not many churches down there, and the ones that are really need help surviving because there are little resources. But In Pasadena where the city seeks to be a “Utopia” (this is literally what council members have said they want that suburb to be) there are churches (and wealthy ones at that) all over the place. Some of the largest and most influential churches in the country are here. So I ask who are the Unloved? And what are we doing to put our lives on the line to love them.
Isn’t this what Jesus did? He said if you seek to save your life you will lose it, but if you seek to lose your life you will save it. Did he also actually live this way? Shane brought up a good point about the times when Christ fled when his life was in danger. Christ did flee, but it tells us three things about Christ: 1) he had a certain appointment with death that could not be interrupted or maligned for his appointment would change the course of history (my death certainly is not anywhere close to this category); 2) If Christ fled from danger more than once that assumes that he continued to go back to dangerous areas; 3) and/or Christ was not in dangerous places because poor people and unloved people are not dangerous to him, rather danger came to find him – that is those who sought to kill him watched for opportunities to do such, such as the chief priests, Pharisees and Herod (Mark 2).
There are so many accounts of Christ working with those that would by today’s standards fall into one of our negative labeling categories that we ought to begin to re-evaluate what it is that underlies those categories. Is it Americanism? Is it the Church having fallen victim to wanting to grow in numbers and material goods? Is it our fear of loss and pain? Our search for safety? These latter two are not wrong, they are true for all humanity, but they must be fit into Christ’s upside-down values instead of the other way around. Those upside-down values are the things like the Beatitudes where the mourners are happy and the poor and feed – where Christ tells people to love their enemies instead of killing them, and if need be lay down your life for others, where he tells people to lose their lives instead of trying to save them, and where the last keep on truckin. This is the Christ who calls for a reversal of “White-Flight.”
I agree with my brother who stated that it is funny for one to say that Christians are leaving the city, when in reality most people want to flee to the suburbs. The clarification is that it is mainly the whites who are the ones leaving, this is an actual statistical fact and in the anthropology and sociology books you will find the exact term “White-Flight” to explain the phenomena that rules much of white Americans and that includes the church. Why are they running…fear.
But the God of Upside-down values says, “Fear not for I am with you, and Ephesians 1 talks of the triumphant power we have in Christ, Paul talks in Gal. that “I no longer live, But Christ in me (meaning he has forfeited all of his “rights to God, and in Phil. he say “to live is Christ and to die is gain (drawing a paradox of equal value between life and death). Finally we know that James Jesus’ brother told his audience that “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” Who are the orphaned and widowed in our day, the powerless, the hopeless, the unloved and rejected?
Finally I think that we should as Christians at least at Prayerfully what is my part in helping to serve the poor and unwanted.” Because this mindset is a much more active response to the problem than noticing it and wanting to do something about it, but yet making no move. This Our fault in downtown Canton, we loved living on 8th street, and knew a couple of people that lived on our street but neither of us were pro-active in being Christ to our neighbors and that is where we messed up. Because all God asks us to do is to be His people to those around us – to pro-actively love and serve whoever may come across our paths.
I guess I think often about Luke 4:18-19 and what Jesus said he came to do, it was his inaugural speech for his ministry, here are the things that were on his agenda that is pretty powerful and I want to have that same Christ-centered agenda because it was good enough for him. Secondly Matthew 11:4-6 Kind of tells what Jesus had accomplished that far into his ministry, which were the things he said he was gonna do …the good news is preached to the poor…” they had to be preached to because many of them had never heard before, because they were not welcome in the synagogues etc.
These are my thoughts that cloud up my mind, and take over my heart in passion.”
I found, at least for myself, one of the best places to spend a fourth of July Church service at – an African-American Church located in the middle of the hopeless and Notorious Skid Row of Los Angeles. Emily and I went to Central City Community Church of the Nazarene (CCCN) this Sunday and experienced a side of church (and patriotism) that was good for the soul and challenged a white-man’s pride.
I spent this past week with my Urban Mission Models class meeting at CCCN and was intrigued by their grassroots” approach to the hopelessness within Skid Row. I decided to call it hopelessness as opposed to poverty or homelessness because that is exactly what it is; Skid Row is comprised of Human Souls that have lost all hope. This Church seeks to have small groups of people that it ministers to; attempting to build transforming relationships with each person they come across. This leads them to shutting their doors on some people, but it also means that they are able to be more deeply involved with those they are ministering among. Their style of ministry got my attention and so my wife and I went to visit.
We found this church with its doors wide open, people flowing in and out of the doors, some sitting outside against the walls, showing that the location of this church is very important to their ministry. The predominately black church, was filled with many people, some of other colors, some wearing dress clothes, suits, some wearing jeans and head bands; it was truly a band of misfits which reminded me of Gideon’s army.
There were two significant things I walked away with yesterday: the first was that it is important to hear counter-narratives of our country and Christian faith and the second is that building community must be an intentional act within the church for any community to take place.
First the pastor, Jeff Thomas, gave a powerful message on Dependent Independence,” the main point of his message revolved around the theme that America within the Declaration of Independence wanted freedom from its oppressor, England, while at the same time oppressed those that maintain the economy of the country – those enslaved by those writing against oppression. This was much more my kind of Fourth of July service, no USA worship, no uncritical talk of the sheer amazingness of America; rather it was great to hear another side to the “the truth.” I was glad to hear, the other side of the story.” The story not often talked about in those ways, especially not most white churches today.
I can’t help but think of the deaths of the Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans when it comes to America’s Independence, but this is not a popular view-point, and many people push it off as – can’t we move past that yet? I thought about this also, but then I realized something, the African American churches continue to talk about this because the white churches have not collectively owned up to this or talked about it. When one group (or person) tries to persuade the mass population that group or person, often must tug hard the other direction in hopes of raising awareness, this is one reason why I think the black church continues to rehash these issues.
Secondly, history must be retold in hopes of preventing repeats and learning from past failures. Unfortunately America is in the business of oppression, our economy is fueled by sweatshop labors in and outside this country, it is powered by service oriented governmental jobs that create needs in order to create jobs (one example of this is the compartmentalization of much of the educational system – there are many more specialists in the field than every before yet the quality of education continues to drop), and it is powered by resources that we must take from other countries. Bush’s war on terrorism, motivated for a control over the middle east’s oil resources is yet another form of America oppressing others. I realize that some will not agree with this view, some will argue for humanitarian reasons that Hussein had to be removed – I don’t doubt that there was awful cruelties taking place in that country, but what we have done over the last year with our bombs, and warfare machines has created much more destruction and brought the end to many more lives than what Hussein was doing. If we were motivated to rescue the people from his tyranny, why was the war sold as a quest to end terrorism, and why has it turned out to be all about gaining control of Iraq’s oil resources?
These questions need to be asked, leaders need to be questioned, and I think the fourth of July is a perfect time to talk about what is freedom?” and how are we freeing or oppressing others? In our country and in the world?” The white evangelical church has for the most part turned a blind eye to the injustices in this country and world, they are not listening to the voices of the oppressed. The cries of the poor, urban and black churches continue to seep forth from the walls of injustice, calling those in power, those educated, those who have turned a blind eye to look up and notice – that our country is not yet land of the free,” it calls forth hoping to find a prophetic voice from which it can speak.