Thursday, February 23, 2006

Unorthodox date night

Sometimes "rest" doesn't look the way you expect (for some great thoughts on rest, see this post by my friend Alex Kirk). Yesterday evening, I got home from work and took the girls to McDonalds so Diane could have some quiet time at the house, which she used to clean (this was restful for her). The girls and I stopped at the grocery store and picked up some food for supper, and as Diane put them to bed, I grilled a couple steaks, cooked some garlic green beans and a sweet potato, and had our meal ready for tip off of the UNC-State game. Diane and I enjoyed watching the Heels dismantle the Wolfpack, and I had fun demonstrating the art of the backdoor cut using our couch and lamp as the offensive players (and whose ability to perform said cut was only slightly less than the Pack's last night). It has been so great to be able to enjoy UNC games with Diane, and a "W" makes it all the sweeter.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Amazing what you can learn in 15 seconds

Coming home from work at 7 tonight, I saw a school bus approaching in the dark. Since this is unusual, I looked closely to see if it was a Youth For Christ bus (they pick up at-risk youth in our area for their club meetings), and as I stood there, it became apparent that it was a regular high school bus. I turned to walk in my gate and someone on the bus yelled something at me. Instead of keeping on going into the house, I turned to see who said what, and then continued up the walk, at which point they yelled again. Again, ignoring better judgment, I turned and stared at the bus as several heads ducked down in the seat and a middle finger extended out the window. They continued to yell at me, I continued to look, and then I just waved. The bus pulled off with the kids cussing me out the rest of the way.

I was so confused. What had I done wrong? Why did they dislike me so much? I think that for the most part it was just high school kids being high school kids. But in my neighborhood, things never seem that simple. All the kids on the bus were black, and so I began to wonder if they yelled at me not just because they were high school kids but because I was white and I live in the nicest house on the block, complete with the All-American white picket fence.

I also thought, "Why don't they like me? I'm a nice guy. What did I do? How can I make them like me? Could i wait out there tomorrow and take some sodas onto the bus to prove that I am a good guy?" and "What if they remember me and they want to 'get me' later?" (hey, I am being honest here about what goes through my head; also, upon further reflection, I think that my fear was based as much in socio-economic difference than race difference, because I have been intimidated by white teens who roam my neighborhood, too) and "Why do I have to be so dumb as to stare them down at a point like that?"

In a very short "interaction", God revealed fear, stereotypes, a desire to be liked, and also just made me very sad that we live in a world where we just randomly hate and fear people that we don't know. Never a dull moment!

The Office on NBC

Thanks to Mike Witt reminding me that I need to give a shout-out to my favorite TV show, The Office. If you are familiar with the Christopher Guest "mockumentaries" like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and This is Spinal Tap, you will be familiar with the style of show this is. It is a fake documentary about a divisional office of a paper company in Scranton, NJ. On first glance it might seem kind of bizarre. But as you get to know the characters, you really appreciate their quirks and how funny their coping mechanisms that they use to navigate their tedious office world really are. The main character is the boss, Michael Scott, who is played by Steve Carrell. There are times when you just cringe with embarassment for Michael, because he is so oblivious to his own obnoxiousness (like when he grilled his own foot in his George Foreman grill, which was in his bed because he likes to wake up to the smell of bacon, then complained about being "disabled" all day at the office), and then with a subtle word here or there, he almost redeems himself sometimes -- almost. I fear that this show may go the way of Arrested Development (another quirky, cutting edge comedy that was cancelled after 2 seasons). Check it out at 9:30 on Thursdays and give it at least two looks before judging (and heck, try out My Name is Earl right before it at 9:00 - another unique and excellent comedy about karma).

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Lovin' my work

The past two weeks I have spent four days on campus with different staff, and I have really enjoyed those times. It's been a blessing to meet the students that they are shepherding, to see them leading Scripture studies and prayer meetings, to hear their heart for their campuses. This is the part of being a supervisor that I knew I would love. What a gift to have this job!

Grace setting her free

While on campus with one of my staff last week, we met with a very warm, bright student who had an earnest desire to please the Lord. The more she talked, the more times I heard her saying, "Should, should, should," i.e. "I should pray more," "I should memorize Bible verses," "They should do this or that."

Thanks to my Grace Life class, my "grace ears" are hyper-sensitive, and my heart began to break as I saw how driven she was by rules and a desire to get it right for Jesus. And that is when the Lord broke through. I mentioned that I heard all her should's and wondered how she was doing keeping them, and she admitted that she wasn't doing very well. Her eyes brightened as we began to talk about the grace of the Lord and how all those little laws she was trying to keep were producing death inside.

And she began to ask more questions, like, "So how do I stop keeping laws?" and "What can I do to stop living under 'should's'," and each time she asked something like that, she would realize that once again she was trying to figure out how to do it. It was precious because those are the exact questions that grace draws out in the face of law, and the only advice I could tell her was to point her to John 15, Jesus' discourse on the vine and branches. It is risky to live by the Spirit, learning to abide in Christ and let the Lord lead, and to realize that if we never do another thing we are perfectly loved and accepted.

I am hopeful for her, that the Lord will continue to reveal His life in her and the ways that she trusts other things, and it was so wonderful to see grace begin to snap the cords of the law.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fight to save Glenwood update

Went to the zoning office last week and found that we (my street) are zoned RM12,which means that a developer could put a 12-unit multi-family structure on one acre of land. It seems that this means that there would be no zoning fight or warning, developers could just start. An acre is 208 feet by 208 feet. There is one such apartment structure on my street already, about four houses up from me. I am trying to continue to contact different folks in the city about this, and UNCG folks that I have contacted don't know anything about it.

On the inside looking out

Last week a woman in our neighborhood who needed to go to rehab stayed at our house for a couple nights while our church worked to find her a recovery home. Diane was such a warm and gracious hostess (another reason why she is #1), and we enjoyed getting to know our friend better. Periodically she would go out on the porch to smoke, and each time she would come in and say, "Man it's so nice to be on the inside looking out. I'm usually out there on the street, outside looking in. I can't get over being on the inside looking out." That's such a simple thing that I take for granted, because for most of my life I am on the inside looking out. One of the ways to glorify Christ and help others to see Him is to invite others in, a change of perspective that gives hope that life can be different (we can also join others on the outside and feel their perspective).

Our friend showed up again tonight, confessing that she had left the group home and had smoked crack again, but that it didn't work for her this time, and she wanted to try one more time. Praise the Lord that they allowed her to come back, and I pray that they received her with love and forgiveness and did not shame her. I believe that she wants to get better, and I believe that she will with love and encouragement.

My wife is #1

Today in Aldi (a grocery store), with her list half-finished, Diane got the pleasure of having Psalter's lunch projectile-vomited into her hands, while Eliza roamed the aisles saying, "Ooo, mommy, look at that." She got Psalter cleaned up, left sans groceries, and got the girls home. then she was promptly thrown up on again, at which point she and Psalter both got a bath. When I got home, there was no, "Feel sorry for me for having a hard time." There was a smile and a compassionate retelling of Psalter's eventful day, and a nice supper of mac and cheese.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A profound challenge

At our weekend InterVarsity conference, our speaker was teaching on God's heart for reconciliation, and one of the most profound things that he said was, "If reconciliation is going to happen, someone's going to have to get weak."

That, in a nutshell, is a fantactic challenge to the Church, which has made countless excuses for why separation on Sundays (and in our everyday lives, as my good friend Miles has reminded me) is all right. From worship preference to preaching styles, theological differences to politics, there are any number of "good" reasons to stay apart. And to give up one's personal preference, your main issue, requires weakness and humility. This goes for all races, but especially for whites, as we tend to be in more positions of power. We need to admit that we do have power and position that other races don't have, and offer those to the Lord, willing to get weak.

Or perhaps rather than being willing to get weak, it is a willingness to admit and embrace the weakness that we try to cover up so much. I don't have to get weak, I merely need to embrace it and be willing to have it exposed and used by the Lord.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

My work here is almost complete

Last night I went to a friend's house to watch the Duke-UNC game, leaving Diane by her lonesome to watch. She was asleep when I got home, so this morning I asked her if she watched the game, and she said, "Yes, but I didn't see the end. I was going bonkers and getting so worked up that I had to turn the channel and when I came back, it was over."

"And the two shall become one flesh."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

There is no spoon

Racial reconciliation like The Matrix? Yes indeedy. In the first Matirx, Neo goes to see the Orcale and meets a child who is bending spoons by looking at them. The child says, "Do not try to bend the spoon; that is impossible. Instead, simply realize that there is no spoon." I thought of this as I thought about Christ breaking down the dividing wall of hostility between races and cultures - if we try and knock down the walls that exist, it will be impossible. Instead, we must realize that "there is no spoon" in the spiritual.

Ebenezer Day

Today is one that I want to make sure I remember, because I think the Lord did some simple yet seismic shifting in me and in Diane with regard to our ministry here. It began with a conversation with a friend of mine named Percy Strickland, and I was challenged and shaken by the way that he and his wife have given their lives to their neighborhood in inner-city Richmond (which makes Glenwood look like the Hamptons). I began to realize that in many ways Diane and I have changed our zipcode, but we have controlled how much our zipcode will change us. We determine when and how we will minister, and I feel that in some ways we may be choking what the Spirit wants to do in the name of our own comfort. I don't have time to flesh all this out, but suffice it to say, this does not feel like a shame or guilt-induced realization.

Then tonight we had a homeless woman stay with us (our church is working with her to find her a recovery home, and she needed a place to stay; we have been getting to know her for a while now and our home was the safest place for her), and Diane discovered anew how much she enjoys hosting and loving on people in need of care. The joy we had at having our friend here made us see that we wanted a more open home. Yet each of us, on the other hand, wants life to be orderly, controlled, neat. Diane and I each live that way, emotionally and in general, guarding ourselves from being too passionate, and as we talked, we realized that we wanted God to change us. We want to have hearts and lives (and doors) open to the things God has for us, not live self-protecting lives, guarding ourselves from harm. (And yes, there is a place for boundaries, we know). Diane asked God to give her a more radical heart, and I believe He will honor that desire. And so we prayed together (not something we do regularly), and we are asking God to reorient us, to give us new love and new joy in our ministry here.

And we are asking God to raise up a community of Believers here who will move in on our street and join us in "being neighbor." I don't think that we feel lonely in the same way that we used to - it used to be a self-righteous, "why just us", fearful lonely that we felt. Now it is a longing for fellowship and community wrapped in and around mission, with like-hearted families in the Body of Christ. And we are beliving God will send them here.

I think some things broke in us tonight, and we are moving towards openness to the Lord's agenda for us and our family here, and wherever He might take us. And I want to look back one day at this Ebenezer and remember, "Thus far has the Lord helped us."

Update on the razing of the shire (I mean Glenwood)

I went to the Glenwood neighborhood association meeting tonight, and some of my original fears were allayed. One reason is that the association has fought off similar expansion efforts in other parts of the neighborhood. Another is that a lot of the imminence of the danger depends on how my part of Glenwood is zoned. So I need to research whether we are currently zoned single-family or multi-use, and that will tell me where the fight might go next.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

One runs the risk of weeping if he lets himself be tamed

This line from "The Little Prince" has stuck with me for years, and I feel its truth today. I was at the tax office to look up vacant and condemned properties here in Glenwood. My church hopes to buy one to rent out cheaply to families that we are assisting long-term, and I hope to one day have a house where college students live for the entire school year in order to do ministry among the poor. But the Lord arranged a providencial meeting with a Sister in Christ that I've never met before (I could explain how much it was a God-thing, but that would take too much time), and as she began to help me look for houses on the tax maps, she asked why I was looking for them. As I explained, she looked worried, and she said, "You know UNCG is going to be taking over your neighborhood in the next year or so." No, actually, I did not know that. The land-locked university is busting at the seams for space, especially in regard to student housing and parking, and so developers are capitalizing on this by deciding to take over my part of Glenwood, which is a hop, skip, and a jump from campus. She went on to say that our streets would be rezoned commercial, and houses would be bought at prices that owners could/would not refuse, the houses torn down, and apartments built. The renters of these properties would receive 90 days notice and possibly some relocation help (required by NC Law, but if few of them know that these laws exist, few would exercise their rights).

As I thought about our beautiful house being bought and turned into kindling just shy of its 100th birthday, after all our work and love, I was so sad. As I thought about our friends who don't own their homes here and their probable forced relocation, I was so angry. Money talks and people who don't have it walk.

I figured that Diane and the girls and I would have to move from Silver Avenue in the next 5-10 years due to UNCG expansion, but I did not anticipate the speed with which this may happen.

Questions abound: What does it mean to "do justice" in this situation? Do we need to alert the neighbors? Is there any hope of fighting this? How can we be advocates for our poor neighbors and making sure they receive their rights and protections? What are the implications for our church, which has set its sights on Glenwood as its missions field? Where will we need to move to live out our calling to the poor? Answers will come in time.

But I do have a peace and a confidence that the steady and secure hand of God is part of this whole drama. He has prepared me and my family and our church for great things, and He is leading us to a new chapter. But Glenwood has tamed me, and I will weep to see it changed.

Overrun in a wonderful way

We have 35+ kids coming to tutoring on Tuesdays ("only" 21 on Mondays), and we have 10 college students who are working with them. If you do the math, that is not the ideal ratio for academic progress. Yet it has been such a joy to be back with the kids.

  • I get to work closely with my good friends John and Melissa (who help coordinate the chaos).
  • I get to hear college students like Andrew say, "This is the best part of my week - I look forward to it every Tuesday."
  • I get to play foosball with Kenny and Julio, and I think to myself, "I am getting paid to love on these kids and have fun with them."
  • I get to make up rap-puns with Devonta, a kid I have now known for three years (his first - Why couldn't G-Unit get on the bus? They didn't have 50-Cent. My best - Which rapper makes the best drinks? LL Kool Aid).
If you are a praying reader, please ask God to send us more tutors so that we can not only love these kids but better position them to succeed and achieve. Those who aren't helping yet don't know what they are missing.