Tuesdays with Nicole

For about a month now I have been meeting my daughter for breakfast Tuesday mornings. We meet at a local coffee/bagel shop before heading to work. I really enjoy this time with her. I am always the first to arrive for our breakfast. Nicole is typically not distracted by being on time. I have come to believe this is a genetic predisposition for which she can thank her mother.

Nicole has a busy life full of all kinds of distractions; some more serious than other — not unlike most 22 year olds. She is working full time and going to school part time as well as working with a young boy through the Autism Society part time. Nicole has an incredible heart, for which I also think her mother deserves a genetic nod.

Nicole has been dating a wonderful young man for long enough to suggest it will be with him that she spends her future. With this comes the likely prospect that she will be moving away in the not too distant future; maybe next year, perhaps the following. It is this prospect that has me holding jealously tight to my Tuesday mornings all the more.

25 Random Things

Janelle (see #4) tagged me. This was first posted on Facebook, but I figured I would crosspost it here as well. If you are so inclined to put together a similar list of your own, consider yourself tagged er, tug…

The Rule: Write a post with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. Then tag whoever, however you wish.

25 things about me:

1. I’m not sure I can think of 24 more things to list.
2. OK, now I’m not sure I can think of 23 more things to list.
3. I just realized this may be easier than I thought 😉
4. I have no doubt I will get back at Janelle for this…

OK, more to the point of this thing:

5. I was without finger prints for the better part of my 16th and 17th summers…
6. I had a job gluing and pressing sandpaper belts…
7. I worked third shift.
8. I learned to drive in a ’72 VW Super Beetle…
9. It was manual shift…
10. I was 14.
11. I once had the hiccups for 3 straight hours…
12. It was the time I first tried ‘chew’…
13. It was “Red Man”.
13. I am realizing I married my best friend…
14. We have 2 beautiful children…
15. They are adults.
16. I am the same age as our new President, Barack Obama…
17. I am not sure what I want to be when I grow up…
18. I am not sure that I intend to grow up.
19. I have discovered Amazon’s One-Click and mp3 downloader…
20. I am really diggin’ Amos Lee…
21. I shall soon be broke…
22. I hated English class in High School…
23. I loved English class in College…
24. Poets can make me cry…
25. I am in awe of a Creator who creates the sunset and allows His creation to photograph it and call themselves creative.

On The Loose

Last summer I wrote how the group of believers I hang with have a tradition of taking one Sunday a summer and venturing out and worshipping with a different faith community. Some join a neighbor at their place of worship, some go as small groups and some just venture out on their own. I think it works best if you are able to experience something that you may never have before; something out of your comfort zone perhaps.

This year my son and I and another father and son met at the local Friends Meeting. Being from the Quaker State, I am somewhat familiar with what a Quaker is historically, but I had never seen one in the wild.

We were greeted graciously and made to feel very welcome. It was explained to us that the Raleigh Friends Meeting was ‘unprogrammed’ — no pastor and no order of worship. They spend “First Hour” in quiet — “expectant waiting”. The room is oriented so that four groups of seat point toward the center. If someone feels led, they stand and speak or give “vocal ministry”. Speakers are expected to discern the source of their inspiration — whether divine or self. “First Hour” is brought to a close (rise of Meeting) by a designated person shaking their neighbors hand which is then repeated around the room. There is then some time for coffee and tea followed by the “Second Hour” which is very much like Sunday School.

Our greeter also mentioned — almost as a second thought — that they try and “see that of God in everyone.” So greeting for her is “a way of welcoming the Divine.” I am still processing that and I am thinking it could be quite helpful if more of us saw “that of God” in others. Imagine walking by and not smiling at God. Imagine not stopping and sharing what you have with God. Imagine hurling a spiteful insult at God. Imagine dropping a bomb on God…

The first twenty minutes of worship found my mind jumping around and rather active. About twenty minutes in I finally calmed. There were still things going through my mind but they were more of a flow and less of a jumble. I was remembering a Rob Bell video I recently watched where he was talking about the name of God (YahWeh) and how it sounds like breathing. He continued with this thought in that the first act of life we all perform is saying the name of God and that the last thing we will do in this life is say the name of God.

As I sat there in quiet I could hear several people calling the name of God. One near by was somewhat more hurried than others; nervous even. Another was very methodical and respectful. I looked down and near my feet were shadows of tree branches and leaves dancing in the breeze outside the window. I considered how all of creation is ‘breathing’.

Call To Repent – Misguided?

clipped from an email from Jim Wallis/Sojourner

Next week will mark five years since the United States invaded Iraq. We all lament the suffering and violence that continue after these five heartbreaking years.

To commemorate this anniversary, many Sojourners board members are joining with me to issue a statement calling on the U.S. church to repent for the war and to commit ourselves to a new path toward peace.

Would you join us in signing it? Just click here.

We all share in responsibility for a war that has been waged in our names and with our tax dollars. The fact that fewer U.S. soldiers have died in recent months doesn’t change the fact that this war should never have been waged. Our country should end this war, not try to “win” it, and we must help the Iraqi people build a safer and more peaceful country.

And so, in this season of Lent, I believe the time has come for us to repent for the Iraq war. But repentance means more than just being sorry. It means admitting that the course we have been on is wrong and committing to begin walking in a new direction – starting with an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Support for U.S. wars and foreign policy is still the area where Christians are most “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). We must commit to put our love for Christ ahead of obedience to a misguided government and ask our brothers and sisters to join us in working for peace.

That’s why we’ve put together a statement that issues a call to the U.S. church to lament and repent of the sin of this war. We’re planning to promote that call widely to Christian audiences of all theological and political stripes.

So far it’s been signed by friends like Brian McLaren, Mary Nelson, Richard Rohr, Barbara Williams Skinner, and Ron Sider. But we don’t just want prominent leaders to sign on – we want you.

If everyone receiving this e-mail signed the statement and recruited friends, family, and congregation members to do the same, we could show that millions of ordinary Christians are seeking a world in which our Lord “guides our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:79).

Click here to read and sign the statement lamenting and repenting of the Iraq war.

I hope you’ll join us in committing to pray and work for peace.


Jim Wallis and the rest of the team at Sojourners

P.S. We’re planning to publicize this statement widely, including placing advertisements in Christian media – can you make a donation to help get the word out?

This is certainly an interesting effort by Jim Wallis and Sojourners. Oddly enough it helps me in my process to first come to grips with, and then to repent for some of my past sin, but in a way perhaps not intended.

I am very much a product of the religious right movement of the 80’s. Much of that is from what I am now repenting. Perhaps that is causing me to be hypersensitive to the methods of the religious right, especially when I see characteristics of these methods in use by groups with whom I would today be inclined to support. Such is my reaction to Wallis’ proposal.

I find calling on the U.S. church to repent a bit hollow. The parts of the U.S. church that have actively joined in the drum beating are hardly poised to repent and I do not buy his argument that the rest of us, by paying taxes, are implicated in the sins of the U.S. Government. If that were true then would not thorough repentance include no longer paying those taxes? Wallis also goes on to claim that, “[s]upport for U.S. wars and foreign policy is still the area where Christians are most “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2).” This seems like yet another straw man argument by Wallis. Not having data to suggest differently, I still choose to believe that unbridled consumerism is much more deserving of his claim.

I mentioned about my process of coming to grips with and repenting for sins of my past. It is ideas and reactions such as what Jim Wallis is promoting that prompt me to look even deeper into an Anabaptist worldview/theology/history. Over the past few years I find myself moving more in the direction of disengagement with the system(s) of this world. Initially, I was of the thought that this was simply an overreaction to my past — an overcompensation of the pendulum if you will. But, I am finding it more and more difficult to reconcile faith in government with Christ’s heart and call to us his followers. I am increasingly seeing governmental solutions as at best a poor return on investment of a Christ follower’s time/resources and at worst a devilish distraction.

For now I am viewing this as more of a rant and less of a life statement, but I am not sensing the pendulum’s return swing anytime soon…

A New Friend

I am making a new friend and I am finding it fascinating. You shall know him as M. M and I are participating in an effort that matches a Christian in the U.S. with a Muslim in Iran into an E-Pal type arrangement. There are some basic guidelines pertaining to respect and some suggested discussion starters, but the idea is that as relationships are built perhaps, in some small way, peacemaking is happening. Will ongoing email conversations prevent some future war? I may not broker world peace, but I can be a diplomat for peace with at least one other person.

We have exchanged a handful of emails and I am enjoying the experience emmensly. M studied English Literature at university and has a part time job teaching private English classes. Among his favorite authors are William Shakespeare and Mark Twain. M lives in Qom, near Tehran and also works in a barber shop.

While M and I are just getting to know each other, I am taken aback by his heart and his forthrightness. Here is a quote from one of his early emails:

…life is good here. These days I am celebrating the birth of Jesus (peace be upon him) with some christian friends of mine (I bought them a santa clause and a snow globe), I love christians and Americans and I believe we can do better, we don’t have to waite for governments, we can make a difference and I’m very glad to share with you what I believe in, and my daily life in Iran.

I’ll keep you posted…

Last Thursday

It has been a week now and I thought I would have had enough time to get my head around things, but that seems not to be the case. So, before my memory completely releases its grip on the details in lieu of some superfluous chunk of data, I figured I would at least get some thoughts and details blogged down.

There was an event in downtown Raleigh last Thursday. The name of the event was Project Homeless Connect and this was the first time for such an event in Raleigh. There were similar events being held Thursday in Durham and Chapel Hill — the other two points of The Triangle. The day was rainy but the turnout was remarkable; expected: 350 or so — served: over 500.

I had mentioned previously how inspiring I find the likes of the E’s among us. They are people who have an incredible heart for the homeless and feel obliged to build relationships with people who’s circumstances, choices and conditions have landed them in situations most of us, if we are honest, find uncomfortable; pitiful even.

E1 suggests getting to know the homeless by name. This has a way of validating their worth and is an important building block if there is to be relationship building. I was blessed by a message on a recent Sunday morning that reinforced this very thing. There really is something about our name. Try talking to someone and not look at them when you speak your name. Now, the thing is, people like the E’s appear to people like me to be specially wired for this type of interaction and relationship building. Let me say right here and now that I am not so gifted. However, I have never found a loophole or legal crack through which to escape when faced with our very specific instructions on how to treat our neighbors. What I needed was an intentional and purposeful ‘event’ within which I could ignore my typical hesitancies and connect to my neighbors.

This brings us back to last Thursday. My official function was that of a host. Hosts were people who essentially kept an eye out for people who appeared to need a dose of hospitality and have someone walk with them as they navigated the 60+ services represented there that day. Some hosts hung around the welcome tent and would tag along with someone as needed. Others meandered around and about the grounds, again keeping an eye out for someone in need of a friendly cohort. Then still others were making their way around the perimeter of Moore Square inviting people into the event. I did some of all three.

It was while I was completing my second or third lap of the square that I stopped to talk with K — the only other male at the particular training session I attended the week before. He quickly directed my attention to a man at the corner with what was likely his entire earthly collection in a wheeled traveling case and a dufflebag. K mentioned that he had talked to the man briefly and was not connecting, but felt strongly that the man needed to get into the event and hook up with some services. K asked if I would give it a try.

Have you ever stared at an answer to prayer face to face? It is not always the most calming sensation. I made my way over to the man. Throughout my bubbly small talk the man never looked at me. I began to wonder if he even understood what I was saying. He rolled himself a cigarette. This was cool as it suggested to me he was not in a hurry to make past tense of me. So, I stood there. Two or three times he looked up at me and once asked if I was a counselor. I replied that I was not, but I could introduce him to some people that would be able to offer him some help. He asked me my name.

I hope E1 will forgive me for completely mishandling point number 1 — ask them their name. I told him my name is Jeff and asked him his. He replied, “it’s not important.” “No,” I thought to myself. I guess it is not. Here I am regurgitating all kinds of good information and trying to ‘sell’ him on coming on in to the event and never even asked him the question so fundamental to our relationship from that point forward; “what is your name?” He finishes his cigarette and looks toward the welcome tent. With mercy, he tells me he’ll go check it out. I watch as he lays his belongings by a stone wall where it appears others have earlier. He makes his way into the tent and talks with the people there. I whisper a request for forgiveness.

I turn to face a young lady who was approaching a car parked at the corner. It strikes me as odd because I saw the three guys who got out of the car earlier. They were from a local barber school and were there to provide free haircuts. She was not one of them. I also thought it odd to carry a small printer on her hip. In her hand she held what looked like a small electronic device that she was entering information into. It then hits me. I walk over to her and smile. She displayed a polite smile herself. I asked, “is there anyway I can talk you out of this?” Her smile got the slightest bit larger but her answer was “No”. She placed the citation under the wiper and continued on her way. I head into the square.

I had the pleasure of asking a few other people whether I could help them find anything in particular and whether they were aware that there would be a complimentary packet of stuff given out at 3:00 that afternoon. They appreciated my offer but seemed to be doing alright on their own this morning. I don’t recall their names. As I walked, I ran into M from church who was carrying some coats for a lady she was walking along with. I also was able to briefly chat with J from church — another J — who works for one of the services. He was there for the day.

I make my way up through the center of the square and pass by the stand where the Mayor had earlier made a brief statement to kick off the event. Now there were people performing songs, reciting poetry and dancing on the small stage. I look over toward the larger trees to see another gentleman who’s name I do not know. His was a world in which he talked when and to whom he cared whether they were present or not. People walked by and eye contact was conveniently avoided. Passing by me was a nameless lady with a small dog inside her jacket; looked happy enough. I continue toward the welcome tent.

People began to gather at the large tent where lunch was going to be served. Everyone was given a bracelet that would get them a lunch. I size up the crowd gathering and observed an odd sense of community. Perhaps a community as a result of common conditions. Is that not the undergirding of most communities? I walk around the corner of the lunch tent and there is John. Yep, John. He is wearing a name tag and talking with another host. A young lady who informs John that he needs to grab a seat because they will quickly become hard to come by as the people gather. I grab two seats and invite John to sit. The other host bids her goodbye and returns to the welcome tent. There I am, sitting with John. “So, what have you been up to?”

John and I sit and chat for awhile. My questions were routinely met with, “shit, Jeff” or “hell no.” However, I realized that if I just let him talk, he was telling me a story; his story. He was telling me about his Aunt in Arkansas who took him fishing when he was eleven. John told me if his Aunt was awake, she was fishing. I also realized that the more I chuckled the more interesting the stories became. The couple of times I let out a hearty laugh John had a look on his face like he could go on for hours. We got hungry.

We ate some lunch and continued to talk. John was in the army and served in Vietnam. He commented that his life ended when he got off “that plane”. He used to see a psychiatrist/psychologist but all he want to do was give John pills; all kinds of colors. Some made him just stand around “staring at the walls.” I gave up trying to discern what parts of John’s stories were factual and what parts were enhanced. After all, that was not the point. He was a different person that the man I was speak at on the street corner. I asked John if there were any tents/services that he would like to check out? He said sure and rolled himself another cigarette.

We eventually did make our way down to the services he expressed interest in and that I also agreed would be the most beneficial to him. It was as we approach the people representing these service that something happened. John became someone else. He would ask the person representing the service a question. Often their answer was simply a clarifying question back to John. He would just repeat his original question with increasing antagonism. I looked at the other person with a look a parent may have when their child is acting up and will not respond to typical attempts to calm them down. Things got very uncomfortable quickly. John decided he would not visit any of the other services claiming that they were all shysters. He became very irritated at my attempts to gain control of the situation. He told me to leave. I attempted to diffuse the situation. He told me to leave. I thanked him for our time at lunch and wished him well. He asked me to leave. I left.

As I mentioned in the begin that I am still trying to process so much of what went on that day. I don’t know that I should expect to come to grips with it. Pray that our paths will cross again… John’s and mine.

Best Laid Plans…

I pulled through to the parking lot behind the building. I was not sure which door was the one I was to enter through, but I saw some guys around the side of the building so I headed that way. I was early. The men eat dinner between 6:00 and 6:30 and it was about 6:10 or so. I walked up to the door and found it locked. Just as I dropped my arm to my side and began to think about plan B, the door opened. Greeting me was an officer from the Sheriff’s Department. He gave me a respectful “Hi!” and then asked if he could help me. I gave a quick explanation and was directed to the main/front counter where I again explained my purpose for being there; this time dropping a couple of names that I was sure they would recognize — for some reason I saw this as affording me additional credibility.

I did not find much reassurance in the look on the young man’s face. He said he was not expecting me but would check with some others there to see if they had any more information. I was not completely surprised as the plans came together rather quickly and for the communication to not completely reach those that make things happen is not necessarily uncommon. The young man suggested I could stick around for awhile and see what turns up. I decided to spend this time over by my new friend, the one with the gun.

I was ‘there’ to pick up some gentlemen and give them a ride to our Tuesday evening EWoB session. ‘There’ was the South Wilmington Street Shelter. Some conversation had occurred between a Social Worker who serves at this facility and our Minister of Community Development a few days prior. One thing lead to another and I was to pick up five guys and give them a ride to and from class. I remained there until around 7:00 and finally left by myself. I have contacted the Social Worker to figure out what fell through and hopefully next week I’ll have a minivan full of guys to take to class.

While I was standing there waiting I was struck by several things I observed. Having the biggest impact was the professionalism of the staff. Regardless of what the next person in line brought to them as far as an issues goes, they were not flustered. They were firm and clear. At about 6:30, there came an excited man running up to the counter saying that Charles was convulsing in the back room. The staff quickly gained control of the situation and within what seemed like just a few minutes emergence medical help had arrived. I am now firmly convinced that I could not perform that work. I am just not wired for it. I understand the purpose and the need, but I would self-destruct

I was also struck by the diversity of the men I saw. Some really did fit the stereotype I carry around with me, but so many others looked… well, looked like me. They did not seem particularly troubled. They were clean and seemed to sport a bright disposition. I found this at once oddly calming and deeply troubling.

Regarding the EWoB program we have had five learners join us so far. I believe three are originally from El Salvador and two from Equador. If Janelle stops by perhaps she’ll correct me if I got that wrong 😉 With the five men from the shelter that will give us ten. There have been several others who have made contact with us as well. We’re figuring that twenty, maybe thirty would be the max we could handle. The biggest structural issue we have to deal with now is to challenge the learners at whatever level they are. We are finding at least one learner will lose interest soon if she is not approached on a higher level than many of the others.

So, onward we go. While I suspect we may fumble here and there, I also suspect that that’s not the point…

Out and About

We have a tradition in our community of believers. On the second Sunday of July we do not have worship at our church but rather the community is expected to worship in another church in the area. Some go out individually while some go in small groups. We are encouraged to worship in a church that may be a bit out of our comfort zone or perhaps just a church that we always ‘wondered’ about.

Last year a few of us attended Vintage 21. This is an ACTS 29 church and is a must attend for anyone who fears — or contends — that emergent churches are somehow relinquishing any claim to solid, conservative, evengelical theology. The message was clear and undiluted… and the music was top-notch.

The one hitch in the giddy-up I experienced during my visit to Vintage 21 was their approach to communion. Row by row, individuals went to the back and through a short hallway. From a bowl on a small table, each individual took a piece of bread and dipped it in a bowl of juice next to the bread. Having supped, each individual made their individual way back to their individual seat. I thought to my individual self, “that sucked.” I have grown to so much appreciate communion as a, well… as a communal engagement. There are hugs, smiles and more hugs. Afterall, the community just took part in a wonderful reenactment of community.

Well, this year my son and I decided to attend a worship service with the Saint Sharbel Mission. This is a Maronite (Lebanese Catholic) church. St. Sharbel is a small church community. There were maybe forty or fifty in the pews including children. In many ways it was a typical Catholic service. There was a good deal of ritual and a liberal dose of incense, for which I have yet to develope a nose. There was singing; no instruments, but much singing. Some was in English and some in Aramaic. These people can sing. The message concerned the violence and oppression back home and relating it to the persecution of their patron saint who was martyred. The message was a brief fifteen minutes or so.

The most powerful experience for me… well, there was actually two. Hearing the Lord’s Prayer in the original tongue was incredibly moving. I am still surprised how moving that was. The second is the children. The biggest, darkest brown eyes. These are the eyes Jesus looked into in Matthew 19:13. There was no effort to send the children to nursery or children’s church. Nope, they were there, right where Jesus wanted them. As I think about it, there was a third powerful experience. I had never been a part of ‘passing the peace’. How they passed the peace began with the Priest. With his hands in the typical praying pose — palms together and fingers extended outward — he said a short blessing and approached the ‘deputy’ Priest. The main Priest opened his fingers just enough in order to clasp the similarly posed hands of the second Priest for a few moments saying a few words of greeting. The second Priest then repeated this with someone in the front row who in turn repeated it with their neighbor. This quickly spread around the room. Passing the peace — cool!

While I am not a stiff ritualistic type person, my experience this past Sunday was a powerful one. I am without a doubt, as I looked around at the faces of my brothers and sisters in that room, that there too was Jesus.

Cheek Turnin’

For the past several weeks the messages at church have been navigating through the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) and it is customary to have a Sunday where the message time is set aside for a few people from the community to share their thoughts and reflections on the recent series of sermons. This past Sunday, along with two other people, I had the privilege to share. The first person spoke regarding the merciful. the second shared her thoughts on the meek. I took a look at turning the other cheek.

We’ve recently begun recording the messages as mp3 files and you can find my portion of Sunday’s talk here. So, whether you’re actually interested in my seven minute reflection on turning the other cheek, or you’re just curious about what this dislocated yankee sounds like, give it a listen.