As you may know, a couple years ago I left full time church work and bought a small business. It probably didn’t look like a wise decision on paper: A specialty coffee shop in one of the most depressed counties in the United States. The price tag was reasonable but owning, operating, and relocating it was expensive. I’ve had my moments of second guessing myself but today I was reminded again it’s been worth every penny.
This morning I had to take Golden Boy, my 2001 Saturn to the shop. He was making painful and disturbing noises. (Fortunately it’s going to be a beautiful day and I can get around on my motorcycle.) I took it to Oliver’s, a family owned garage in Flushing that I found through my friends at the coffee shop. Bill, a good friend from the coffee shop came to get me. And no doubt when the car is ready to be picked up tomorrow, someone from the coffee shop will tote me back to Oliver’s.
When I got home I began to think of the network of relationships I wandered into two years ago. It’s like a big sticky spider web that when you run into it you notice. “Whoa…what’s this? There’s something here. I’m not sure what it is. I sure didn’t expect it.” It gets onto you. It gets into you. And like a spider web there are several anchor points that keep it taut and in place; care, generosity, energy and time.
Rublev’s Coffee is not a utopia. People still disagree. Some folks visit and don’t come back. But if you stick around you can get a glimpse of the way things should be. My friends…most of whom do not attend church…regularly show me the beauty of humanity.
Quick math shows that I would be in the same place right now financially if I would have just lived frugally off what I had in the bank before I bought the business. That is sobering. However, I’m so glad I didn’t take that track because a quick internal inventory tells me I would be relationally bankrupt.
Relationships are very expensive but the return on our investment is quite lucrative. I’m not sure if or where this post speaks to you today. All of us have valid reasons not to risk being in relationships with people. Take it from me…it’s worth it.
So I’m reading Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I just finished chapter eight in which he talks about a friend whose daughter is struggling. He makes the comment that “she isn’t living a good story.” The Father hadn’t mapped out a good story for his family. “And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used. In the absence of a family story, she’d chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence. ‘She’s not a bad girl,’ my friend said. ‘She was just choosing the best story available to her.” After laying awake the next night the father decided to set a new course and find a new story for his family. He found a village that needed an orphanage and risked much to meet that need.
For many years the Harvey family story was how God moved miraculously to birth a new community of faith. We were all part of it. All equally called and used by God to announce good news. We had purpose. We were on mission. The narrative was clear and exciting.
Then it happened. It all crashed…at least that’s one way to look at it. But if Miller is correct in what makes a great story makes a great life, the conflict is not the end. It is the moment when the characters change. The protagonist becomes something he wasn’t. The family is at the juncture of becoming something new and better and stronger. The story is not over at the point of conflict but is ready to give birth to something new.
During the last two years the story of our family has been put on pause. My children have been left to find their own story line. In my pain and loss I have left them to drift in the sea of questions. Tears are coming to my eyes as I realize how I’ve failed them. I’m so sorry for that…more sorry than my marriage falling apart.
I need to find a new story for my family. Maybe not find as much as listen for. After all, this is God’s story that we are finding our place in.
Yesterday was a big day for me. I cancelled my cable and internet…not to switch to the dish network or DSL or dial up. I cancelled it.
This might not be a big deal to you but it is for me. I am a child of the 60’s…not in the hippy sense, I was too young for that. Rather, I was a kid who grew up in the heyday of television and I loved it. I wasn’t a total couch potato. I played ball, climbed trees, ran around outside, and built plenty of forts but when I came home my friends Gilligan, Bugs, and Uncle Jed were there to greet me.
It didn’t matter that it was in black and white. It didn’t matter that you had to get up to change the channel, of which there were only three. It didn’t matter that the entire family had to agree on which program to watch (dad breaking all ties).
Theme songs and commercial jingles became the soundtrack to many of our lives.
Almost two years ago I moved into a condo and had to adjust to being single for the very first time. My first major purchase was a tv. I realize now it was more for noise than entertainment. It would help me believe that I wasn’t alone. The soft blue glow and the dull roar kept me company. That’s pretty sad to admit, isn’t it? Even bordering on pathetic, but it’s true.
In difficult times people find ways to medicate their pain. I chose to retreat into other worlds that lasted 30-60 minutes in order to escape or distract me from my reality. This week I decided it was time to let go, give up my drug cold turkey.
I’ve grumbled to myself about how little I’ve written lately…how I’m off the pace of my reading goal for the year…how dull my thinking has become. Here is my chance not only to get rid of something that has numbed me but to embrace something new and creative.
How many times have you heard, “It’s all about the journey?”
We hear journey language everywhere. Spiritual people talk about it. Outdoorsy folk sing it’s praises. Even Harley Davidson has used it in their marketing campaigns. I’ve been sucked into the metaphor as well. For me, “The Journey” evokes a picturesque path gently winding through a beautiful countryside. But Leonard Sweet points out in So Beautiful, “Journeys invite all sorts of irritations and interruptions. The English word travel comes from the French word for suffer travail and the Latin trepalium, a three pronged instrument of torture.” pg 88
You won’t see that on the banner at expedia.com.
I’ve had the chance to travel. It hasn’t always been glamorous, not often to exotic places or foreign lands or expensive resorts, but travel just the same. I enjoy it. I notice the most interesting and meaningful parts of the trip are usually about what went wrong. What I read while I waited for a delayed flight. What I learned or saw from taking a wrong turn. Someone I met because I needed help. The stories I come back telling aren’t about how smoothly things went.
I agree with Sweet, to journey means we open ourselves up to all sorts of inconveniences and potential troubles. And yet when we talk of the spiritual journey…even the Christian journey we often leave this out. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it too. I/we paint a picture where things always go well…at a comfortable and predictable pace. When I/we do this we do our friends great disservices.
We offer a mirage not the real thing. We are guilty of false advertising. We set people up for a huge disappointment. And when the wheels do fall off, our friends are in danger of shouldering the blame…like they aren’t doing it right…that it’s more evidence that they don’t get it or can’t do the spiritual thing right.
With that disclaimer, I would encourage anyone to take the journey. Remember you’re inviting irritations and interruptions. But remember even more…those are the places where life is most enriched.
When I was leaving Williamstown Sunday, I caught a glimpse of a steeple on an old church. I set a course through the alley and navigated my way to it. From a block away I could see there was a red banner with yellow lettering above the door. I assumed it was to advertise a new program or special event or maybe the church had a name change. Boy, was I off! When I reached the intersection I could finally read the sign:
RJ’s Pawn Shop – Anything of Value.
I talked to my son Tyler about it. I wondered with him about whether this pawn shop church was as tragic as my church planting brain was telling me. How would I feel if the church that I started had become a pawn shop? What happened? How could a space which was once filled with people, life, and music now house lawn mowers, bicycles, and wedding bands?
Trying to be optimistic I thought, “Maybe the church outgrew the building and needed to move. Maybe the leadership gained a new vision for ministry and the hundred year old structure wasn’t conducive to their new strategy.” But honestly, I doubt either of those are what happened. The church probably just died.
I’m glad we continued to chat because eventually I started to think less clinically, less like a religious practitioner. We posed some different ideas about these strange bedfellows. After all a pawn shop is a place where something old or expendable by some are seen as new treasures by others. And a church is supposed to be a people & a place where we’re reminded we are God’s workmanship and reassured of how valuable we are.
Maybe it’s not a tragic end to the church at all. It could quite possibly be a powerful image for us. We follow the sandal prints of someone who pointed out beauty, value, and worth everywhere he went. He embraced the cast-offs of society. He offered belonging to the lonely. He proclaimed the reality of a new home to anyone who was interested. Maybe if our churches were more like pawn shops when they are filled with people, life, and music – they wouldn’t end up housing lawn mowers, bicycles, and wedding bands?
Today I feel incredibly fortunate, aware of the great friends God has given me. Some are close, some a scattered about, some I’ve had for years, some are new.
Yesterday I made my way from Michigan to Kentucky. I stopped to have lunch with Jason in Dayton. He was my intern ten years ago. Since then he has become a husband, father, pastor, and scholar. I am so proud of him. Not only for his accomplishments but for his willingness to allow the hand of God to shape and mold him.
Yesterday afternoon I stopped at the University of Cincinnati to visit Chris. He was at the Edge House where he serves university students. By “serves” I mean he extends hospitality, offers coffee & conversation, and provides space (both physical and spiritual) for students to lean into the life Christ is calling them to. I hadn’t seen Chris for probably 15 years. It was so inspiring to hear his pilgrim story from church based ministry to the coffee business to a now…a place where all his passions and giftedness have melded.
Last night I met my friend Darrell at Montgomery Inn for Cincinnati’s best BBQ and then we went to the Reds game. Darrell and I met in Border’s in Flint about six years ago. We and a diverse handful of pastors formed a book club to discuss A Generous Orthodoxy, by Brian McLaren. I felt an instant connection and it was easy to tell that he had a pastor’s heart and a consultant’s mind. Darrell is now a sr. pastor in Williamstown, KY. He has entrusted to me the privilege of speaking at his church tonight and tomorrow morning, which is truly an honor.
Why would I post this?
Because for me it’s too easy to focus on the people who’ve hurt me or let me down. It’s so very tempting to spend most of my emotional energy picking at the carcass of other people’s failures. I posted this to go on record saying, “It is such a gift to not only cross paths with people along the way but to enjoy the way God intertwines us in each others lives for years to come. I couldn’t have made it through the last few years without people like this (and dozens of others).”
How about you? Have the scars of past relationships caused you to keep people at a distance? Or are there some treasured friends out there that you need to reconnect with today?
And by the way…if any of you are in the greater Williamstown or Dry Ridge metropolitan area this weekend, services are at 6:30 tonight and 8:45 & 11:00 tomorrow morning.
Last night we had our first spring storm roll through. It woke me up around 4am. In spite of having a thunderstorm app on my iPhone, (that I often use to fall asleep) this morning I laid there irritated because it was the sound of the storm that kept sleep at bay. In my fogginess and frustration I remembered something that I wrote last summer. I tracked down the quote after all the cobwebs were clear.
“I love thunderstorms. I love to sit on a porch or under an awning and watch the lightning flash, hear the thunder boom, and feel the spray of the downpour on my bare feet. There’s something about being so close to the dangerous power of the storm and yet feel so safe…so protected. Vulnerable but secure. Hidden but exposed. Confident but afraid. Risking but sure.”
Thunderstorms are like love…a swirling mix of power, danger, energy, uncertainty, excitement, and calm. Neither storms nor love can be experienced fully from a safe distance. Both can be messy and exhilarating. Both can be frustrating. Both can bring comfort. Both can sometimes make you feel silly, small, and scared.
“The difference between Christians and Ghandi on the cross was, Ghandi saw the cross as an act to be emulated – whereas Christians embrace it as a theology to be believed. Ghandi did more with his half-truth than most believers do with their entire truth.” ~ E. Stanley Jones