Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gallery Show - this Friday!

Come and celebrate the artistic expression of an amazing group of kids from one of the most creative neighborhoods in town! Admission is free, though donations will be accepted on behalf of Blood:Water Mission, an organization providing clean water in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The event starts at 6:30pm at the Ward Theatre downtown this Friday, August 20th. Everyone is welcome!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Final Week: Including Everyone

This week was the final week of the village art project. The theme: including "Everyone", the last point in the summer's larger theme of CREATE Community. Check out more pictures here and here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Relationships are not like McDonald's hamburgers.

I am reading this book right now called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Read as a whole or by individual chapter, it doesn't matter-- the author is full of tips and inspirations to bring out the writer within.

You see, she has this chapter titled "Writing is Not Like a McDonald's Hamburger." "Writing is not a McDonald's hamburger . . ." she says, "the cooking is slow and in the beginning you are not sure whether a roast or a banquet or a lamb chop will result." And you thought I was being all clever with my title! This is my favorite chapter of the book because, well, I work at McDonald's. I have made plenty of hamburgers in my 5 years and 3 months of service.

After reading Aaron's post from this week, it brought me back to this chapter of the book. I laughed to myself at his description of how we, culturally, want things to flow: " . . . quickly and in a controlled environment to make sure everything goes according to plan." Ha. That is how I do my job. Which, for a corporation that prides itself on being fast in delivering it's product, is probably how I should do my job. If you disagree with that statement, then next time you have a slow or poor service experience at a McDonald's in the continental United States, don't complain to me about it (because you know you are gonna want to.)

I digress.

My point is, I have spent a lot of time trying to do life the same way I do my job, quickly and controlled, according to MY plan. Except, I kept forgetting about the creator of the Universe and how He already has a plan for me. I remember being 13 and deciding to date when God brought "Mr. Right" into my life . . . now, I seriously considered joining eHarmony last week. OK, so maybe I didn't really think about it as much as I joked, but there have been too many times I have rushed into relationships in order to speed up the process, control it, and make it fit my plan. All I got was a closet filled with skeletons and regrets. I can't do life like that. I need time to be patient, because good friends take a long time to grow. (Again, not from me; I read that on a pillow at a craft show). As cheesy as an analogy as that is, it's true. Relationships take time, they take patience, they take commitment and a willingness to try and try again. And again. And . . . again, and again, and again, and again, and again. You get the point.

In order to maintain a communtity, a growing and thriving community, you need time. And if you are going to spend time developing something, you need to have patience, because it's not gonna be want you want it to be right away, or at all, for that matter. Like Natalie's quote says, you don't really know what the end result might be, only that it's gonna be AWESOME. 'Cause, seriously, who wants a McDonald's hamburger when they could have a bountiful banquet?

Love in the Creator who has a plan for FAR better than any of our own,

Friday, August 6, 2010

VAP Week 7: Community takes TIME.

Here are some pictures from this week's event.  Make sure to read the posts below to hear from some folks who've been thinking about this week's theme....TIME.

Our story, the story of God, and taking time in community to bring them together

This week for the Village Art Project we talked about Time and how it takes time to CREATE community.  This inevitably invites me think about time and how time is inextricably linked to community.  The following are some thoughts I  have about time in addition to some other things I've been contemplating lately.  Forgive me if this seems a bit tangential - it probably is - I suppose that's just how I am.

Time is something that often we're not very good at. Culturally, we don't value slowing down, listening, being contemplative, meditating, resting, sitting and stepping back. We have this idea that doing, action, forward motion, general movement, is instead what we should be striving for. We want things to happen quickly and in a controlled environment to make sure everything goes according to plan. And because just about everything we do involves some kind of interaction with people, we often overlook the beauty in people, aspects of people that should be appreciated, for the sake of time.

I have been thinking lately about story; about our "internal narrative" and the external realities that influence it over time. I have been thinking about how everyone has a story, and about how so many people hate their story. And yet, because it’s their story, they either defend it or hide it from others because its meaning is seemingly incomprehensible, often perceived this way because of pain built up over time. People who have suffered or who have not experienced the creature comforts they see around them, would logically want to trade their story, or even just part of their story, for a different less painful one. The problem is it isn't that easy. But too often we don't conceptualize the complexities of a person's story, and to their detriment, we try and convince people of an ease that simply doesn't exist.

Too often societally, we say poor people should just get a job and stop being so lazy, we talk about female victims of partner violence and accuse them of being stupid and we say they just need to leave, we talk about people who early in life never had a healthy attachment relationship with a caregiver and we say they just need to act more normal, we talk about people who have addictions and say they just need to stop. Do you see it? We profoundly over-simplify complex and painful stories we know nothing about. And in so doing, we vandalize grace and disfigure it into a repulsive misrepresentation; something that rejects rather than attracts. Over-simplifying someone else’s story like this is sad because it produces shame, and then humiliation, and ultimately only keeps people within their narrative rather give them the confidence to seek freedom from it.

I think part of God’s plan for the world, part of the mission of the church, is to help human beings live consistent with God’s story as revealed in scripture. The Gospel, a narrative of Jesus life, paints a picture of who Jesus is and how the people of God should live. The story of the Gospel is one that, in contradistinction to the agonistic, calls people into a different kind of story. This story is one about the Kingdom of God, and how in this Kingdom people love their enemies, extend hospitality to those that can’t reciprocate, the hungry are satisfied, the sinner is loved and the poor inherit life.

Followers of Jesus, Christians, will likely find it very difficult to help people integrate their narrative into the narrative of God - combining and making sense of their own story within the story of God – without meaningful relationship; more specifically, without friendship. It took a person’s entire life, a great deal of time, to develop the personal-historical story they have. As followers of Jesus, we are at best misguided when we expect individuals or a community of people to change quickly, and to change without the foundation of loving friendship.

Jesus gathered to Himself fisherman and tax collectors, failed revolutionaries caste aside by society. Then…..….He loved them.  Sometimes telling people about Jesus might need to be more about discipling people into a relational community, where a person’s story is safely revealed over time, rather than moving too quickly to get people to have an experience praying a prayer. God’s good news needs to be connected somehow to the deep yearning of a person’s internal narrative. This deep yearning, I think, so often looks like community, Koinonia community.

Reconciliation, at least in part, is about restoring human beings into authentic relationship. This is what we were meant for. Jesus spent time with a handful of broken, messed up people and loved them in ways that were beyond their comprehension. He didn’t over-simplify their pain by minimizing or too quickly moving past it; He sat in it with them. God is using community in my life and the lives of many of my friends, teaching us that when we love God and love people over a period of time, and in the context of friendship, the story of God becomes revealed in our time. All of a sudden, our need to defend or hide our story dissipates, and we find the story of God slowly and gently integrating into our own.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Time, or What it takes to realize the goal of all human history

This week during the Art Project we're going to be talking with the kids about how genuine community--togetherness that reflects God's best intentions for his people--takes time.  And after reading Acts chapter six, I'm reminded why.

Because sometimes its really hard to be together.

Acts 1-5 recounts the miraculous, surprising birth of the newly redefined "people of YHWH"...the ekklesia, the called-out ones.  It's big and it's bad. People are speaking in languages they've never heard before, sick folks are being healed left and right, people are joyfully selling property and sharing everything they've got with the poor among them, formerly timid disciples are handily trouncing the religious "Ivy Leaugers" in public debate...who wouldn't want to be a part of something so dramatic, so radical, so....cool?!

Then Acts 6 happens, and we're reminded that though this new movement is so earth-shattering in its genesis, it's still made up of normal, every day folks like me.  See, already, in spite of the fact that Jesus was pretty clear that the reconstituted people of God had absolutely nothing to do with whose blood was running in your veins, division had arisen (if it had ever gone to sleep) between the Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews that had decided to follow Jesus.   Mind you, at this point the division was probably less about religious custom (being that these Hellenists were probably Gentile converts to Judaism, or at the very least "God-fearers" [converts minus the more "painful" requirements for conversion], who, following THAT conversion, were beginning to walk in Jesus' way) and probably almost exclusively about ethnicity.  This wasn't a "new" division.  It was one imported from the past.  When we come to Jesus, and I mean WE, old patterns of relating tend to come with us...

Not only had this division, imported from pre-conversion Israel, tagged along, but we find that a complaint has been voiced by the Hellenists that as the church, under the direction of the disciples (see Acts 5), has been redistributing the money brought by its members to be shared among the poorest among them, certain ones of the Hellenists' widows have been overlooked in that redistribution.  Luke gives us no reason to think that this overlooking is a simple mistake...he leaves us to assume that there is some measure of intention in this overlooking, and that ethnicity is at the heart of it.  So not only has this anti-Jesus division found fresh life in the incredibly young community, but so has the tendency for us to provide for the needs of those most like or closest to us, to the detriment of those with whom we feel some "natural" division.

(I won't touch it now, but it'd be very interesting to study the role of the disciples in this...is their response about the priority of scripture study and prayer to "waiting tables" a noble defense of their apostolic role? or is it an excuse to get out of a spot they got themselves in to?  Remember that chapter 5 seems to assign them the role of redistribution.  And then to think that Stephen, one of the men chosen for the less important task of "waiting tables" is actually the first Christian martyr, and all the debate that will rage among the apostles themselves about the place of Gentiles and Gentile converts to Judaism in the coming chapters...I said wouldn't touch that now!)

What I'm seeing in all of this is that after the joy and drama of conversion comes the difficult work of learning to live together as God's people.  After the Acts 1-5 comes Acts 6.  After the book of Acts come all the letters of Paul and John...  Becoming the people of God for the sake of the world is a difficult task that takes TIME.

But we are a people who do not respect time.  More and more we are becoming a people who expect things (including relationships) to work perfectly the first time.  We find ourselves presented insistently with an unending multitude of options.  If one isn't working, you probably just need to switch to another.  Don't like your preacher?  Google the name of a famous one and listen to his podcasts.  Don't like your husband?  Jump on Facebook and try another round with an old high school flame (or the dude that was your best friend's flame)...or just hop on one of those Christian dating services!  The glut of options available to us, while having some positives, is, for the most part, killing our ability to stick with, fight for, and truly experience Kingdom-of-God community.

What I notice is that there are lots of Christians who are willing to talk about the importance of "fighting" for our marriages, or fighting for our families, or fighting to make sure that our kids don't become homosexuals.  But there are few, it seems, who are as interested in fighting for our churches, our Jesus-families, the institution that Jesus died and rose again to create.  And I don't blame them.  Because it's not easy.  And we don't have the "blood tie" that makes the genetic family a unquestionable essential (or just makes us feel so guilty that we have to do something).

As I reflect on this, the consequence of neglect suddenly appears, simple and severe; we, in our over-land-and-sea efforts to win a single convert are in danger of making them twice as much sons of hell as ourselves.  The problem with the Pharisees and religious leaders that Jesus was in constant debate with was not that they were evil, ill-intentioned villains knowingly parading as pious saints.  It's that they were unable and unwilling to embrace and work at Jesus revelation of who God's people truly are and what they're supposed to be like together.

Time.  Community takes time.  Will we give it?  Will we see it through?  Will we keep celebrating even if sometimes if feels inauthentic or difficult?  Will we keep respecting one another as we find out how unworthy of respect we sometimes are?  Will we continue to empathize even when we feel misunderstood?  Will we be committed to doing good even when it sometimes exhausts us, or when we feel like others aren't giving as much as we are?  Will we vigorously seek to include all kinds of people, even as their addition reveals our prejudices and forces us to deal with them?  Will we respect that all of this is going to take TIME?  Maybe days...maybe weeks...maybe months...probably years.

But the end is nothing less that the what God is up to in the world.  The creation of a people who look and smell and talk and act like Jesus...together.  May we hold on and see the glory for which we labor.  He has promised to see it through, and He is faithful.

Love in Jesus, the Risen One who pleads for us to keep going,