Huddled Masses

The other night some of my class mates and I visited a church service. It is called Theophilus. One of my professors is the pastor there. They share space with an Episcopal congregation on the SE side of Portland. Each week, things began with dinner at 5pm. Round tables were set in a large communal room of the church. I ended up at a table with two high school guys, three of my friends from GFU, and two young women early in their careers.

Olivia was the most talkative. She is a graphic artist who had moved to Portland from San Diego. We began to joke with her about the weather…leaving year around temperatures in the 70’s, beaches and blue skies to go to the wet and often dreary Pacific Northwest. After the initial levity, Olivia told us that she made her decision very intentionally. In fact the climate was the very reason she moved here. “In southern California people are outside all the time and when it gets dark you really can’t find anyone. You wander around wondering, ‘Where is everybody?’ I wanted to come to a place where people huddle together when it gets dark and cold.”

I don’t think I was the only one at the table stunned by her assessment. It was quite amazing that someone from a place many of us dream of living – desires community and connection more warmth and sunshine. Olivia saw possibilities where many of us only see hassles.

When I get home next week the sun will go down earlier, the temperature will have dropped, and the rain will soon turn to snow. I’m not looking forward to it but I hope my random encounter will help me look at winter differently this year.

  • Hopefully I will complain a lot less.
  • Hopefully I will remember that seasons of life can grow as dark and cold as the seasons of the year.
  • Hopefully I will see the dark and cold as an opportunity to huddle together with people rather than as an excuse to stay alone.
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Couldn’t decide on a title: Structure is Overrated or Wind Power

My son, Tyler, was sharing with me about an experience he had visiting a friend out west. He described the environment his friend lives in. He painted me a picture of the physical, relational and social space she shares with her neighbors. On the Sunday he was there, someone decided they should all have breakfast together. Some were cooking. Others were helping get things ready. A few pulled out their instruments and started playing music. “It was like a scene out of a movie,” he said.

Tyler is home this week. Last night we were revisiting that story. He said, “Dad, that is community. They all know they are part of something special and they want their group of friends to get as big as possible.” I said, “That sounds like a good church to me.” A natural pause came from our daydreaming and then the conversation went another direction.

Our discussion resurrected a question that I had buried in a box in my head a while back. Why is this type of organic activity rare or nonexistent in so many established churches?

  • Is it because we try to organize – promote – control things that don’t really need to be organized, promoted and controlled?
  • Are we side tracked by the childcare questions? Are kids welcome? Should we hire some teenagers to watch them?
  • Have we forgotten how easy it is?
  • Do we over-think community, the gospel, and real life to the point that we talk ourselves out of it before we pick up the phone?

Those of you who know me know I’m not a structure guy. The church I started both grew and was eventually hindered by my aversion to and lack of structure. And no matter how many times someone tells me how important structure is, I will innately push back on it.

If I remember correctly, Jesus compared life in the Spirit to a very unstructured reality: the wind. He said, “You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone “born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” The religious leader that Jesus was talking to, Nicodemus wasn’t  comfortable with this metaphor and I don’t think we are either.

What might happen if we stopped fighting the Wind? We try to control it, attempt to direct where it should blow and spend our energy trying to quantify & count the number of people we think are being moved by it.

Instead…what might happen if we focused on living in response to the Wind, learning to be propelled by it like a sailboat and lifted by it like a kite?

 

I think maybe we would find ourselves eating with, singing with and enjoying each other.

Can we pass a sign-up sheet around on that?

 

 

Life, Projects, Adventure

I read this on Donald Miller’s blog this week:

  • “What if your own life was so engaging that entertainment seemed boring? I mean what if you were involved in projects that so captivated you that turning on the television would be a distraction from your real life? Can you imagine such a possibility?”

Writing books has been a long time dream for me. More specifically (and even more honestly) books that open doors to speaking engagements which in turn sell more books.

I know there are countless authors with more skill, intelligence and connections. I know there are over a million books submitted each year. I know it is very difficult to make a living as a writer. Yet in spite of those realities, the dream never goes away. In my nearly 49 years on earth I think I’ve only gotten a few peeks at that possibility becoming a reality. But this week it was like God started to pull back the curtains on an issue I am passionate about and bring focus to a project that moves me.

SABBATH.

I believe the need for a 24 hour period of rest is hard wired into us. It is not a Jewish thing. It is a human thing. No matter your faith, belief system or philosophy you were created in the image of a God who rested. “But I enjoy what I do.” I’m pretty sure God enjoyed creating – but He rested. “But things need to get done that only I can accomplish.” I’m pretty sure God was aware of the list of things only He could do – but He rested. “But I don’t have time to.” I’m pretty sure God established this unit of time to establish rhythm for our life.

This is not an appeal to attend church regularly. Nor is it an admonishment to carve out some ‘me time.’ This is about connecting with the Divine in a way that makes me; more human, more healthy, more fulfilled, more peaceful and more whole. This is about the observance and remembrance of Sabbath, which has been overlooked and forgotten for far too long.

So mark it down. Today, March 23 2011, you read my blog declaring I am captivated by such a notion and I give myself to this project. Ask me about it whenever you see me. Email me and hold me accountable. Pray for me when God brings me to mind.

School Daze Urban Experience

Last Friday our day began with an urban experience. We met in our classroom with Deborah Lloyd. She and her husband Ken are very involved with the homeless population in Portland, though she never used the word homeless. She referred to the people they love and serve as “our friends without houses.” Deborah explained their ministry, gave us a brief primer on the people we would meet, and provided instructions for our morning activity. In a nut shell, we were to walk about downtown Portland with a $5 bill to give someone and engage them in conversation.

We were not there to give them information. We were not to advise or instruct. We were not to take on any posture or language that would position us as superior in any way. We were to look them in the eye, shake their hand, introduce ourselves, and hopefully hear their story.

My friend John and I left Pioneer Square and headed for the library. It was a dreary rainy day and “our friends without houses” were scarce. As John and I parted ways I spotted a young man selling newspapers on a corner. From the size of the stack he carried and the time of day, I suspected they were papers sold for fundraising purposes rather than an edition of The Oregonian. “Would you like to buy a paper?” “Sure, tell me about this.” I replied. The young (20 something) man explained that the proceeds go to support the needs of the homeless population in Portland, and by selling them he and his wife were eligible to sleep indoors that night.

I gave him my $5, shook his hand and introduced myself. He adjusted his inventory and with a firm grasp of my hand locked eyes and said, “My name is Sean. Nice to meet you.” I don’t know how to explain it but he changed right before my eyes. Sean seemed to stand taller, speak more confidently and relax all at the same time. “Did you grow up in Portland?” I asked. This question opened the door to hear his story. He was a construction worker from Connecticut who arrived less than two years ago. In the same week his initial project was completed he wrecked his car. That’s when the dominoes began to topple.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been shmoozed and scammed by a number of panhandlers but this was not one of them. Sean was articulate and self-aware. He uses the computer at the library to scour craigslist every day for job postings and to check his email for any responses. He knows he’s competing with others who have more education but he doesn’t give up. Sean spoke of his dependance upon God to meet the needs of he and his wife, who happened to be cleaning a house that morning. I affirmed his faith. We talked about how fragile we all are and the fact that many people are only one step away from his situation. He asked about me, where I was from and what I was doing there. “I’m here for school and had time to explore downtown.” Then the conversation ran it’s course and with a final shake of hands we parted ways.

Later our cohort met in groups to process our experiences. Sean lacked a social network. He and his wife were alone. I thought about how fortunate I am to have such a loving and large group of friends and family. For that is really the only difference I could see between the two of us.