My Man, Father Mike

Father Mike has been dropping wisdom bombs in my life for a while now (via video; we’ve never met). I’m not Catholic but the wisdom he shares cannot be denied.

Loneliness can drive us to make really bad decisions sometimes; we fill our time with distractions, things and people to avoid being alone with ourselves. I think there is a difference between being alone and being lonely; the way we approach each of these can have a tremendous impact on the path we take in life.

Vulnerability

I went on a camping trip with some friends a couple weeks ago, which I wrote about at that time. I wanted to dive a little deeper into part of that trip; to be vulnerable regarding what I experienced in that moment now that I have processed it more fully.

A few days leading up to the trip God was REALLY driving home being vulnerable and I was feeling so frustrated because I felt like I had grown a lot in that space. For a little background, I’d also been having some lung problems because of my allergies for about a month. All this happened leading up to me on a hike in Hocking hills. We were going to do a 3 mile loop but some of my friends wanted to add another loop (ultimately around 7 miles). I tried to dissuade them but I didn’t want to look weak in front of people I really admired so ahead I plowed, not mentioning to them that it already hurt to breathe. My lungs felt like fists clenching tighter and tighter, and this continued for maybe two hours. I got to the point where I’d lean my body forward and force my legs to respond by catching me. I continue to try to act like everything is okay. Mask the pain. I told myself, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Then, suddenly, no more air. I see my friend beckoning to me and I can’t speak. I gasp and still, no air. A young couple passes me by and I make eye contact with the woman and wonder if she can see my panic.

This is the first time during the entire hike I actually begin to pray. It’s suddenly so quiet. I look up in awe at the tall trees surrounding me and I see spots of light dancing around me and I ask God, “Is this really my time? Will I really die from lack of oxygen surrounded by the very things you created that make oxygen? My God, where is your breathe of life now? I don’t have it. Help me, Abba. I need you.” Tears swell in my eyes and I’m torn between my plea to God and my desire, still, to hide my struggle so that my friends don’t see my weakness.

Suddenly, there is a woman in front of me, the one who had walked by before. She says something about also getting asthma attacks and my brain responds, “Yes! Asthma attack! I’m not dying.” I imitate what she does, following her instructions and slowly, deliciously, air begins to fill my lungs. And as I breathed in I felt not judgment but love from God, paired with what could maybe be described as a mildly disapproving sigh.

After a short rest and a very slow final climb, we made it to the parking lot. As I reached the car all I wanted to do was cry. To break down. To acknowledge the moment and all that came with it. But I locked it down, pulled it together. I laughed and ate Mexican, occasionally wondering if my friends now saw me differently because of this experience and if they would like me less because of it.

As I prayed about it later I felt how silly God thought it was that I would rather LITERALLY run out of air than tell my friends my lungs hurt. That we had talked about this and because I put my fear of rejection ahead of God’s call to be vulnerable with my community, I had to suffer and he had to send someone to teach me how to breath. Later I was talking to someone and they remarked at how lucky I was; that they had known of several people who had died from these kinds of attacks. That they were dangerous and should be taken seriously. It was at that moment I remembered a text someone had sent me at the end of May describing a picture they’d received for me:

…a picture of you rowing a boat with these really wide oars that were like fish fins so you had to do a lot of work to row but when you did you went far. He felt the Lord was saying you were in a season for the next eight weeks of heavy work but it would propel you far. Then on the oars he saw 1) 2) and 3), like there are three areas of focus and a small 4), like maybe you could do a little in 4) but 1.2.3 were the focus. The words behind those were self, health and safety…

I realized how much I had endangered my safety with my unwillingness to be vulnerable. After the trip I went and got allergy medicine and an inhaler and it was amazing the difference this made to my health and even my attitude! And so a big area that God has impacted through this is my health and safety, in learning to listen to my body better and to take care of it. But the third that came with it is my ongoing struggle with rejection.

I shared this struggle with my small group as well as with my co-workers, a moment of sharing my current “mess” that felt both exhausting and encouraging. I have known for a while that my greatest desire is to feel known, and not just known but to still be loved when I am known. This is also the thing I most fear, and the thing God has been working with me to overcome these last few months. Because of my background (particularly with my two longest running relationships), I have this undercurrent in my heart that whispers, “If they really know you, they won’t love you. People don’t stay for people like you.”

I know this probably sounds like a super depressing place to be but it isn’t, it’s just hard. I can continually remind myself that I am already known and loved by a King who adores me, and that if I remain authentic to my God and myself, then the rejection or acceptance by others will not influence the love I have for myself. And so, I am in this eight week season of working on the self, health and safety. Self, that I would become even more free of rejection and the ways that it influences me, making me an emotionally healthier person and leader. Health, in that I am learning to listen and respond to my body and what it is telling me. And safety, not that I would begin operating out of fear but rather that I would truly appreciate how fragile life is and what a blessing it is to be able to experience the moments I do. Lastly, within all these things I need to seek God and listen rather than believe that I can do this on my own.

Encountering Mystery

I had spent a very, very long time trapped in a space mentally and emotionally which felt like complete hopelessness and loneliness, clinging to a tiny shred of hope. It was like the glow of a single, twinkling Christmas light in what felt like an otherwise black abyss. I had started going to Crossroads about 10 months before, and a series of events had made me curious enough to begin asking, “Is there a God? And if there is, is God good? Who am I to God?” This ended up with me landing in India, going to some of the darkest places I could imagine, and challenging this God to show up.

I experienced a moment there that I will never forget. Crossroads partners with several homes in Mumbai and Kolkata, India, that rescue girls and women from sex trafficking. I was in the first group that went to Kolkata and we spent one of our days there putting on a day camp for the girls. We sang, we danced, we played, we taught each other songs and we also did some crafts. One of the crafts was to make a beaded bracelet or necklace. The different colored beads stood for things that were important to us or things we wanted. Examples would include hope, friendship, love, wisdom, etc. I was making a bracelet with one of the girls when she noticed the beads I had chosen to use. “No, no, no. More love.” I was confused, and asked her what she meant and she smiled and laughed at me. “You!” She pointed. “More love,” she said as she pointed at my bracelet, which barely included that color at all. She then proceeded to dismantle my entire bracelet and fill it with the color of love.

My heart broke in the most wonderful way possible in that moment, like walls around it were crumbling. It was as if all the darkness I felt like I was covered in turned into a liquid and puddled at the bottom of me and suddenly, the world seemed to be made of color. Of light. This child who had been through so much could see the very thing I felt I lacked but that I so desperately longed for and she piled it on, unabashedly. She taught me to worship as we sung, “Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, Rejoice!” I was overwhelmed, I was baffled, I was in the process of becoming. If this young girl who had experienced the true darkness of mankind so fully could worship God, could call out for love with a hungry heart, than certainly there was something special happening here. Some kind of extraordinary goodness that could say, “Even in this place I will give you joy. Even in your suffering, you will know love. Loneliness is a lie because there is a God that loves you and is always with you.”

It wasn’t the first time or the last time that I encountered the Mystery of God, but it planted a seed of faith so deep inside of me that it successfully took root. I began a steadfast pursuit of this God that comes close, who moves in our lives today. While I’ll never fully know or understand God, I feel called into this Mystery that is. I get a sense that not only am I welcome to explore the character and nature of my God but that my desire to know God brings joy. When I begin feeling alone or discouraged, I look back on this moment and I remember how God used the ordinary to speak about the extraordinary and I rejoice.

Being Beings and Discovering Mystery

John Shea’s essay, “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light,” outline four different environments that we all share, best understood as “the basic contours of our existence.” (Shea 2) The environments are made up of the self, loved ones, society and institutions, and universe. Our experience as humans may appear to be summed up by our interactions with these four, but there is a fifth environment which encompasses these: Mystery. Our basic experience can be understood in having two points: ourselves and the environment we encounter (for instance, I (1) eat bread (2)).  When this interaction reveals a dimension of Mystery, we experience sacramental awareness (the addition of the third point). In the instance of eating bread, I might understand it to be not only bread but my personal participation in the account of Christ who gave his followers bread and told them it was his body, broken for them.

There are five primary ways Shea outlines as a means of becoming aware of the ultimate dimension of our experience as humans. First is contingency, “what Kazantzakis calls the luminous interval between two darknesses.” (Shea 13) Sometimes it looks like the gift of living fully and joyfully in the moment, amazed by the very experience of it all. At other times, it can be a reminder of how very fragile and finite out lives on this planet are. The second path is dialogue and communion. Through dialogue people discover who they are and in communion they discover a love and acceptance gifted to them by their community. The third path is collapse. “When order crumbles, Mystery rises.” (Shea 16) This is the falling apart of the beliefs or knowledge we clung to and our reaction to that loss. “A fourth path to Mystery leads through a deepened sense of the ambiguity of our moral activity.” (Shea) While we strive for moral ideals, we most often find ourselves falling substantially short.  Last is disenchantment. Well known throughout history, it refers to an awakening which ultimately calls us into a maturing religious consciousness.

When we read Pigeon Feathers, by John Updike, we see a boys journey to sacramental awareness. The main character, David, experiences these environments in such a way that he becomes disenchanted, one of the five paths mentioned by Shea. David has an encounter with Reverend Dobson over heaven when he didn’t answer David satisfactorily.  “His indignation at being betrayed, at seeing Christianity betrayed, had hardened him. The straight dirt road reflected his hardness.” (Updike 36) He searched and searched for truth, but he was lost in the darkness that can fall when one realizes there is a question but no answer. He saw his classmates and their ill-fated path towards imminent death and eventually lost his desire to read altogether. Although concerned, his parents resolved to give him a gun for his fifteenth birthday. We can see the “universe environment” and it’s influence on David as he practiced shooting, which put fear into his dog who he would sometimes comfort. “Giving this comfort to a degree returned comfort to him.” (Updike 43) Ultimately, David is asked to use his new skills to clear out the pigeons in the barn. Although he didn’t have a desire to, he did as he was asked. As he killed more and more pigeons, he enjoyed it more, feeling the power he held with his gun and his ability to predict the pigeons path. Yet it was when he went to bury them that Mystery entered into his world: “He had never seen a bird this close before. The feathers were more wonderful than dog’s hair… a pattern that flowed without error across the bird’s body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides…And across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers….no two alike… designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him.” (Updike 50) He was startled by the intention behind them and the fact that they were treated like pests. In this encounter, he rediscovered his God, “….that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.” (Updike 50)

References

Shea, John. “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light.” Stories of God. Liguori, Missouri: Liguori Publications, 2006.

Updike, John. “Pigeon Feathers.” Olinger Stories. New York: Vintage Books, 1964. Short Story.

 

 

Wilfredo Choco De Jesús: Paying the Cost of Reconciliation (Catalyst Notes)

Wilfredo Choco De Jesús was one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2013. The senior pastor at New Life Covenant Ministries in Chicago, he is a man not only of the Word but of action. He started his talk with Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This, he said, is why Jesus came. This is what we are called to: to seek and to save the lost.

How do we lead in a drifting culture dominated by fear? First, we must realize that nobody drifts towards holiness. Holiness is intentional. Therefore, a Church that offers transformation in a drifting world must be an engaged, purposeful, responsive Church. Prayer is not a crutch. It is the start of something, not the end of it. Revelation calls for a response. Understanding can wait, obedience to the revelation of God cannot. “When my Father says do something, I do it.”

Remember: God uses unusual people to do extraordinary things. It’s all over the Bible. Wilfredo De Jesús, also known as Pastor Choco, felt called to buy a farm and amazing things took place to make it happen through all sorts of crazy turns. That farm has, to date, rescued 625 girls and women from prostitution. There is a cost to reconciliation, but we, the Church, should be happy to pay it. He told a story of buying five prostitutes for one hour. They brought them to a place where they laid out a beautiful banquet. They spoke truth over them, that they weren’t born a prostitute and they were loved. Those women walked away from their path and, through the sacrifice and support of the church, ended up becoming leaders in the church. It’s just like in the parable of the lost sheep: the sheep is not rebuked for being lost, it is celebrated for being found.

Or the prodigal son. The son who basically told his father, “I don’t care about your status, I wish you were dead.” He demanded an inheritance he wasn’t even owed and his father gave it to him, sacrificing his status for him. Then that son leaves and squanders it all. Eventually he came to his senses and returns humbled. What does the dad do? He RUNS to the boy. Men didn’t run in the first century; children and women ran. But again, the father disregards status and runs to the son. He embraces and covers the boy, showing that his protection is over him. He gives him jewelry which is a symbol that tells the son and others that he has complete authority to negotiate on behalf of the father with the assets of the family. That’s some crazy sacrificial love.

Why is the older brother upset? Well, this was all at a cost to him, in his mind. The inheritance was rightfully his, and already the father had allowed his younger brother to squander half of it. Now, he was paying for this celebration as well as giving the prodigal son his status back. You see, someone always pays the cost of reconciliation. There’s a cost to bringing others to the table, to gather those that Christ calls us to. The question is, what are you willing to pay so others can be reconciled to God? Are you willing to stand in the gap?

Father Edwin Leahy (Catalyst Notes)

Father Edwin Leahy is impressive, although he doesn’t think so. There’s some videos below that explain a lot of what he has done and what his work is. Some of his insights as he spoke:

  1. Racism is America’s original sin.
    1. White people in power knew what they were doing, starting in the 1800’s, to neutralize black males who were now free, and that neutralization continues today.
    2. Most of the students he is responsible for at his all boy school are missing fathers. They need help discovering and amplifying their voice.
  2. Be quiet and listen. Folks in the community will eventually tell you what they need.
  3. Tell people, ‘God loves me to the cross. But also, love others.’
  4. Recognize attitudes versus the vastness and vagueness of “culture.”
    1. Whatever helps or hurt my brothers and sisters helps or hurts me.
    2. Tend to their hearts.
    3. Create community.
    4. Create leadership opportunities.
    5. Accepting the Other and where they are.
  5. Be okay with arguing; sometimes provoke fights. It’s not okay to stay comfortable.
  6. Remember: the orchestra tunes to the first violinist.
  7. Develop listening skills.
    1. People will teach you how you can best be of service to them.

He said, “I wasn’t called to be successful, I was called to be faithful.” A great joy is seeing boys who graduated return as fathers with their kids.  They are designed to be a community that bears one another’s burdens. He told a story of an expelled student who was a Junior and he never left. He sat outside his office for two days and the Father told the other boys, “No, he’s out.” The next morning, the kids hid him. During attendance, they’d call his name as absent when he was there and then stopped. They spent the year avoiding each other and his Senior year the Father welcomed him back.

Why is there a fence around this school in downtown Newark? It marks off holy ground in the middle of a city in struggle. Like Moses, in the middle of the ordinary we encounter the extraordinary. Remember: Not all fires destroy; some fires ignite us.

Just a little bit about Father Edwin Leahy and what he does.

Remember…

Bryan Loritts: Multi-ethnic Cultural Engagement (Catalyst Notes)

Bryan Loritts is the Lead Pastor of Abundant Life Church in Silicon Valley, California, a published author and the President of the Kainos Movement. He began his time by stating that multi-ethnic cultural engagement is challenging but necessary. Consider I Corinthians 9:19-23, “or though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” What Paul is talking about is contextualization: the gospel doesn’t change and isn’t open to interpretation but the delivery is. Without the gospel, contextualization is compromised.

Bryan helped to put together a book called Letters to a Birmingham Jail, which includes the entire letter from Dr. King to the churches in Birmingham. He laments the evangelical passivity. Bryan points out that all great examples of teaching and preaching that pastors learn in school are written by middle aged white men; where is their voice? And why is the church silent when deaths happen? The only thing worse than hatred is indifference; when we fail to grieve with those who grieve. Is that the Church that Christ called us to? Yet this is what happens when our relationships aren’t multicultural.

People begin to brew in their bitterness, he said. He referenced Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” and challenges us in responding to each other this way. People, bitter over their experience with the church or white America, also fail to engage. At the least offense, they want to take their ball and go home. He said, “Thank God that he doesn’t judge and condemn us the way we do our white siblings!” It is harm on all sides.

There is a call in the Church for redemptive impatience. This is different than passive! It is patient and aggressive. When we look at revelations we see a diversity in the people in God’s presence. Bryan reminded everyone that if you have a problem with diversity, you’re going to have a problem with heaven. Paul knew that this wasn’t a vertical gospel, focused only on you and those like you looking towards God. We are called to love our neighbor as we love our self. To give this some context, in Jewish culture hate is detachment. Therefore, if you say you love God yet are indifferent to the suffering of your brothers you are missing the point. We are call into a community of the beloved, we a robust orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Relational intentionality is important. Your sanctuary is your dinner table; you need to invite people in. You can’t ask of others what you aren’t doing yourself, you cannot lead people to where you aren’t. Therefore, multiethnic cultural engagement is important. Homogenous churches become racist because your biases become entrenched in your systems and structures. We need people with differences in perspective to keep this from happening. How do we know it isn’t happening in most of the church body? When people get shot our disparity of response tells us we are disconnected. If you don’t see your brother in their death, you don’t mourn, you don’t protest, you don’t seek justice.

Paul says, “I have become…” This is the discomfort of change, where you lay down your rights and your preferences for the other. Bryan says that black folk who are successful necessarily learn the “I have become…” but this is not a requirement of white folks. At no point are white people force, out of necessity, to become. It is worth remembering the ultimate I have become is Jesus Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11