Monday, September 28, 2009

Encountering Christ in the Stranger

So I have been on paternity leave the past two weeks to be with my wife and our second son, Kai, at home. It was a wonderful chance to be with family and to see how our first son, Micah, continues to adjust to this change in his life. However, something also happened while I was on paternity leave that I wanted to share with you all.

Last Wednesday, Stacy and I went to Target to fill a prescription for eye drops to clear out Kai's tear ducts and as we were leaving we saw something that I had yet to see in Winona in my 3 months here. There was someone on the corner holding a sign. We couldn't read it until we passed by and it read: "Traveling Need Food & Money." Well we don't have cash and we had a full car with two car seats and so we headed home. However, I have been really thinking about what it means to live into the life of a disciple and so as we drove home, I told Stacy that I was going to go back with my car and take the young man out for something to eat if he wanted.

Well I drove back to Target and the young man was still there, I motioned him over and asked if he wanted to go get something to eat and he excitedly said "yeah." So we were off. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Dan. I asked him what he wanted to eat and he said he didn't care he liked all fast food, to which I said that it was my treat and he could have anything and so we headed downtown for some asian cuisine. We started to talk and I found out he was traveling from Massachusetts to California and he mentioned he was traveling with 5 others. So I asked where they were and he said over in the Wal-Mart parking lot flying signs and so I said lets go get them. So we headed off and I said why don't you all come over to our place for supper and so the journey began.

The whole group was traveling from a "Rainbow" gathering in Massachusetts and were heading to California. All of them were from the ages of 19-23 and were stuffed into two vehicles. We ended up having a great time together as we headed to the grocery store to pick out some food for supper (we had grilled pork chops, mashed potatoes, and fresh fruit---strawberries, grapes, and pineapple) and then came back and got everything ready. I got to hear some interesting stories of their travels and how they approached the weird looks they get from time-to-time since they don't fit the societal norm. As we gathered around the table I shared with them that in a sermon on Labor Day weekend I had given each household in the congregation a loaf of bread and challenged them to use it to practice hospitality and enter into the life of another person and that this was one of the ways that our family was responding to that challenge. So we had taken the loaf of bread out of the freezer and unthawed it and to begin the meal we broke the bread and passed it around the table and I shared with them how as a Christian I understand that Christ invites us into the life of discipleship and part of that journey is gathering around Christ's table and I recounted to them the events of the Last Supper and then we invited them to dig in. We had a great time hearing some of their stories, hearing about their families, and just being in fellowship and communion with one another. Micah enjoyed "his visitors" (as he called them) and they were wonderful to him. As we finished the meal we hung out some more and I invited them to spend the night to which they said they were going to stay at Latch Island and so I said they were welcome to stay the next night if they were still around and that we could watch a movie. Plans were made.

Well the next day I ran over to the church and shared with David about the group I was entertaining at our house and wondering if the church would be willing to help me out by giving some money for bibles and some money for gas and food as they continue the journey. The church gave some money and I headed off to get some cards and bibles to give to our new friends. I spent the afternoon running to Rochester to find a Bible translation that used more everyday language of today (which I ended up getting the Poverty and Justice Bible which looked intriguing and connected with some of the things they cared about that I had picked up via our conversations) and then came back. I wrote each of our friends a letter sharing how I was thankful for the chance to meet them and how I wished them the best in their travels and why I was sharing with them this bible for them to take and then included some money for each to have. That evening we sat around the table to have some left-overs (we had made enough for 2 meals the night before) and continued our conversations and then at the end of the meal I shared with them how the Christ had reached out to me through the church when I was a teenager in need and why I was grateful for the opportunity to meet them and how what we were doing was in response to the love God had shown us through others. Hugs went around, etc. and then we went up and watched the movie "Saved" and had a great conversation afterwords. Cletus and Whitney spent the night at our place and the other four headed back to latch island.

Friday, they came to pick up Micah with me from school (something he had wanted them to do), but they arrived late. Micah didn't seem to mind and we talked some more and they let me know that they still planned to be in town on Sunday and so we talked about going to church together and so plans were made. They came to church and the church was very welcoming and extended hospitality out to them (which warmed my heart). We made plans for them to stop by our house on their way out and they did and we said goodbye, wished them well, and invited them back at anytime that they may be coming through again.

So why do I share this story? I share this story because Dan, Sean, Samantha, Seth, Cletus, and Whitney helped Stacy and I to begin to practice our hospitality. They helped us learn a little of what it means to be Christ in the world around us. They helped us to step into our life of discipleship. Did I convert a soul? No, and that was not my goal in practicing hospitality. We saw someone in need and wanted to show them that we cared and more importantly that God cared. We wanted to show them that Christ cared for them and loved them no matter how different their life was from what society expected. They helped us to take that first scary step of inviting a stranger into your home and Stacy and I were blessed by their presence and we hope to continue this practice with those who live in our community.

Seth, who is a Christian, took me aside that first night and said, "I just want you to know that I am so thankful for what you are doing. I have been telling them that their our Christians out there like you and this has helped them see it." I said thank you, but also responded by saying that Stacy and I are just trying our best to show other the love that God had first shown us.

They weren't perfect. They live life differently then many of us would. They smoke pot. They have been arrested.

BUT......They are God's Children too and nothing they have done negates the fact that they deserve to be treated just the same as we would treat our parents, siblings, or own children.

They helped me to understand that deeper. They put flesh and real stories to those intellectual realities I head in my mind and heart.

They became our friends. Stacy and I will continue to hold in our prayers each of them and trust that God will continue to work through others that they might meet.

From Left to Right: Cletus, Seth, Dan, Me, Samantha, Sean, Whitney

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wrestling Thoughts: Public vs. Private

Over the past week I have really been mulling over a post on the micro-church written by Andrew Conard. Some of the comments really got me thinking about public life vs. private life. You can read the post and comments here.

Now I think there is some genuine wrestling with one of the commenters on the functionality of the "home" within the life of a faith community. The commenter states:

I am wondering about possible shifts in the concept of “home” from other eras when this worked in the past, like the early church or even early Methodism. Seems like we have a great many more public places to gather; resturants, coffee shops, movie theatres, etc than might have been available in the past. “Home” seemes even more private, intimate, vulnerable to me becuase of this.

I assume your concept is that it is easier to invite someone to one’s home than elsewhere, but isn’t it possible that it is also harder?

I think these are important questions to ask, but it really got me thinking about some thoughts I have had over the past few months. Why is there such an emphasis on privacy? There really seems to be the strong demarcation between public and private and I am wondering if our Christian Identity calls us to challenge those sentiments.

I constantly am reminded as a young pastor that I need to make sure that I take time for myself and my family. I know this stems from pastors in the past spending all their time at work or allowing their work to dictate their life to the point that it led to exhaustion and split families. However, maybe I am just wired different. I believe that our lives as disciples call us to journey with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to grow together, and I am sorry but isn't the best way to get to know someone in their home? Isn't there something about having someone over for a meal and having discussion? Isn't there something about them seeing the photos you have on the wall and asking questions about the people causing you to share a bit more about who you are? Have we lost this?

Why is the home avoided in so many instances within the life of the church? We gather with these same people on Sundays and yet for most members of the church they might not even be able to tell you where most of the people live, let alone their story? Pastors have an interesting position in that they can do home visits, etc. and get to know those within the community better, but shouldn't this be what we are all doing? How can anyone feel comfortable sharing their struggles if no one truly knows who they are? Isn't it in these interactions in the home where intimacy between individuals is fused?

Public life seems to have allowed us to be totally anonymous while still feeling connected. We do have so many public places, but that makes it to easy for us to "feel" connected to people without really connecting with them. When I invite someone to my home that means that I care enough about them that I am willing to open up a space that our culture has made almost exclusively private. People can see the photos (even those embarrassing photos that show the fashions of times gone by), people use the bathroom (and you risk them seeing that place where you trust they will not snoop--the medicine cabinet--or in our case the "drawers"), you allow them to see how you live, what you value. People enter into your life. Not only that but when you invite someone into your home, you don't just welcome them and then invite them to take a seat on the couch while you make the meal, serve it, and then speak only to your family (wouldn't that be awkward?....oh wait that is probably what it feels like for many to come into our churches...oh snap). No, you invite them in, you talk to them, you ask them questions, you allow them to enter into your life by getting to know you intimately.

Perhaps that is why I have structured part of my campus ministry the way I have. Each week (beginning in October after I get back from paternity leave....whenever this 2nd son of ours arrives) we will gather at my house to have a meal and to celebrate the Eucharist around the table. People will get to know me and my family and I will get to know them as we journey together to understand God and how our lives interact with our faith. This intimate discussion just couldn't happen in a public setting because it is just too easy for us to remain anonymous.

This means that some of my "family" or "private" time is being invaded by my job, but you know wife and I would have it no other way. We, as disciples, are fed by connecting with and learning from other disciples. These students are part of our family and we know of no other way to know them intimately than to invite them into our home where they can see all of our warts and blemishes but also really know who we are.

Perhaps we do really need to look more deeply at each faith community's relationship to public and private life. If most of our members have never been to other member's homes we might have to ask ourselves what type of community we are?

Just thoughts I continue to wrestle with.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Need Your Help

So last night at the Outreach/Missions Committee meeting they were talking about T-Shirts for the Church, etc. and debating whether or not to do them as a fundraiser or to just have them for advertisement. Well I decided to interject and proposed that we do something different. I proposed that we make T-Shirts with our name on the front somehow (however that will be done will be up to someone else), with a slogan on the back.

Here is the catch though. I wanted this to be more than about T-Shirts, I wanted this to be a mission opportunity and so I proposed that we make the shirts and every shirt cost $10 and all that money go to Nothing But Nets (a favorite of mine). So every T-Shirt purchased will buy a bed net to help prevent the spread of malaria. (Granted I now get to try and convince people that this is a worthy thing to support and that I can turn their donation to help make the shirts into a greater gift for the larger body of humanity, etc.).

BUT I NEED YOUR HELP. I need to come up with a catchy phrase on the back that references the fact that the T-Shirt the person is wearing is helping prevent malaria by paying for a bed net. I know I have creative friends and so please do help by posting your ideas in the comment section.

My goal is going to be to get the church to get 200 bed nets by selling 200 T-Shirts (plus then that is 200 people spreading the news about Malaria and how it can be prevented on the back of their shirts......again the reason it should be catchy and intriguing).

Thank you in advance.