Tuesday, January 31, 2006

My neighborhood is beautiful

It's taken me a few years, but I now realize that my little part of Greensboro is beautiful. That doesn't seem very profound when I look at it on the screen, but I am realizing that I have grown so much in fondness and love for the people around me. I am finding more "joy in the margins", and it is my neighborhood now. The people are beautiful and varied, loved by Jesus in their messy and non-messy lives, and there is plenty of room for hopeful imagination. I know that some people think, "Glenwood? I wouldn't want to live there," just like I thought that when I first moved to Greensboro (me and BCW looked at houses here), and just like I thought that when Diane and I bought our house. Fear certainly twists and distorts, while hope and love give new eyes to see. My neighborhood is beautiful. I am so glad to realize it, and I hope that our friends and partners in ministry here in Greensboro are recognizing it as well. You don't even have to look too hard to see it.

For your funny bone

The first is to my friend Cory Cavin's blog. Cory is one of the funniest people I know and his writing is great. Of the current posts, "germ warfare" is great, as is "meanderings and wanderings of the day."

The next is to a video called Baby Got Book, which takes Sir Mix Alot's similarly-named hit and twists it to talk about Bibles. Now, I know that this is the height of cheese and all my cynical IV staff friends will enjoy mocking this Christian subculture silliness. But I post it because even if the content is sad, what is EXCELLENT is how closely the rhymes and rythm and flow follow the original "Baby Got Back." (There's even a shout out to the Alex Kirk wide-margin Bible). That takes time and creativity and is something that really appreciate (Weird Al is the master of this). Go ahead, look, it won't hurt you. "I ain't talkin' about a paraphrase, cause Paul wouldn't use that anyways."

Monday, January 30, 2006

Just wondering

Wouldn't there be more truth-in-advertising if Pop Tarts were really called "deceptive looking square pockets of molten stickiness that adhere to your hands and melts them?" Has anyone sued Pop Tarts yet for a burn?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

This and That

American Idol in Greensboro: very interesting to see who turned out from our fair city, and I want to reitirate that the beligerant woman at the end was from CHARLOTTE! The one guy who identified himself as UNCG student did nothing to dispell the stereotypes that people have of the school. Question: Do the "bad" performers really think that they are good or are they just wanting to be on TV?

NFL prediction: I am going with my heart and picking the Steelers (even though I think Shawn Alexander and Matt Hasselback are swell guys). Plus, the Steelers have two Tar Heels playing prominant roles, Will Parker and Jeff Reed.

UNC B-ball update: The up-and-down Heels are up right now, although I wish that they had shot that well agains Boston College, since I was at that game and had excellent seats. When the Heels play together and play "D", they are a lot of fun to watch, win or lose. When they play like the ball is a piece of radioactive poop that they don't want to hold onto, it's not fun to watch.

TV Suggestion: If you've not given a look to "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" (NBC, Thurs. @ 9:00 and 9:30), do yourself a favor and spend an hour with them. The Office is especially hilarious (especially if you like Christopher Guest films).

UNC B-ball update 2: In Sports Illustrated this week, one NBA scout rated Tyler Hansbrough as the fourth best college prospect for the upcoming draft. Tyler, don't believe the hype! You need to stay at least two more years to work on your mid-range jumper and going to the hole off the dribble. (But I will say that if he doesn't make first-team All-ACC, it will be a shame).

Crossing Cultures in Sunday School

Due in part to our tutoring program and the Glenwood dance ministry through our church, we have a growing number of kids from our neighborhood coming to Sunday school each week. This is a great development, but now we are facing up to the reality that our Body is mostly a suburban white church with an urban, multi-cultural address. And so our worship, Sunday school, and programs are mostly missing the mark when it comes to relevance and impact for the kids in Glenwood. In large part, the culture gap must be bridged first through relationships, which take time to form (and our Sunday school hour does not give us enough of that time). I feel pretty lost in how to communicate well with the kids who are coming (except for the ones that I know well from tutoring), and would love any suggestions from alert readers. One thing we are doing is praying that God give the kids grace and a willingness to stick with us as we learn how to work well together and grow towards God together.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

No Lecture Here, Friend

This morning on the way home from walking Joe, I ran into one of our friends who is addicted to crack. I said hello and she said hello back, and then I walked towards her. She said (not in a mean way), "Why can't you just say good morning and wave; why do you have to walk over here and lecture me?" Interestingly, to that point I had only said good morning, and I never have lectured her. Yet I know that she thinks that God looks on her with a lecturing heart, and as a minister, I represent God to her. So I said, "I just wanted to tell you that we love you. That's all. Thought you might need to hear it today. Please let us know if you want help getting back home at any time." It's sad that the sick expect a lecture rather a word of healing love.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Longing for Law

On Saturday at the men's breakfast for my church, we had a great discussion topic - what does it mean for us to conform to Christ versus being conformed to the world (referring to Romans 12:2). As we talked, though, I realized that our focus was on our conforming of ourselves to Christ, whereas Paul calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, a work of the Holy Spirit. Our being conformed to Christ is the work of the Father. As my table talked about what it meant for us to depend on God for transformation, it struck me again how deep our longing for a law to follow is. Christians have been freed from the Law (see Romans 7), in order that we might be led by the Spirit. But we quickly turn to making up laws for how to live out our freedom from the Law! We long for law because we long for control. If I know what to do and how to do it, then I can depend on me to do it, and I don't need the Lord God's help. And yet we fail to remember that "the power of sin is the Law" (1 Corinthians 15:56). When we make a law, sin springs to life to produce death in us. Think about the times you have seen "Do Not Touch" on a freshly painted railing - something in you springs to life and longs to touch it, simply because you were told not to.
Ultimately, sin is independence from God, choosing to know for ourselves what is good and bad and depend on ourselves to decide and to do rightly. Sin uses the law to give us the fantasy of that independence, but, praise be to God, the law ultimately does its job and leads us to failure and to a need for the loving grace of the Father, in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Greensboro MLK Breakfast

This morning I attended the Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast here in Greensboro (it started at 7:30 and my wife woke me and reminded me of it at 7:10). I thought that overall it was a nice thing, but in some ways I left more burdened than when I arrived. It was put on by the Greensboro Human Relations Commision, which has a nice mix of white, black, Jewish, Christian, etc. And everyone was nice, and we all were together in one place. Yet as I sat and listened to different speakers, some of whom were not Christians, I wondered if we really could accomplish Dr. King's dream apart from Christ. I guess what I mean is can we truly be reconciled or work towards reconciliaion when some people working are Christians and others are not? Jesus Christ is not a very unifying figure; we can talk about religion all day long, but as soon as Christ is brought into the conversation in a Biblical way, a dividing line is cast. He Himself said that He came to bring division (that division being between those who believe and those who didn't), and that the mark of the Believers would be their unity in Him. I'm having a hard time explaining myself, because I know that Christians and non-Christians can work for justice together, and I hope that we will do so. But in some ways it feels like to do ecumenical reconciliation, a Christian has to neuter their belief in the uniqueness of Christ. I do believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and I know that my Jewish or Muslim or Wyccan counterparts do not. I do believe that our only hope in being a reconciled people is through the work of the cross, where all racial sin and hatred was borne by Christ, and my counterparts of other faiths do not. I'm not saying that I cannot and will not work in some sort of ecumenical capacity, but I do believe that the ultimate ideals espoused by these groups cannot be accomplished by being nice, holding hands, and ignoring fundamental beliefs that divide us in our very souls.

Feels Like Hoosiers, Looks Like Remember the Titans: Great Movie!

Went to see Glory Road today, and was very encouraged. For those who have not heard of it, it is the story of Texas Western, which beat the University of Kentucky for the NCAA basketball championship in 1966, and were the first team to start 5 black players in the championship game. I think that they did some things really well in terms of race - there is a very raw locker room scene where black and white players get really honest and express what they feel; they show the cost of being a culture-crosser on each side of the color line. I also think that they treated Adolph Rupp and the University of Kentucky very fairly and did not make them appear overly racist. Of course the movie has a happy ending, which is what I really want when I go to the theatre to check out for a while. And the basketball footage was very well done. I really hope that lots of people go out to see this movie; if you liked Remember the Titans, you will like this one as well.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

All I Needed to Know About My City I Learned in the Church Basketball League

Tonight my Grace Community Church basketball team fell to 0-5, despite my 9 points and 5 fouls. But that is not the point of this post. Rather, the point is that I am grieved again by the segregation of the Church here in Greensboro (and beyond). Each night I watch church teams play against each other, and thus far, ours is the only non-homogeneous team (we have one black college student on ours). It's the white church teams and black church teams, and as I sat on the couch and thought about this, I was sorrowful. My city is separated along clear racial lines, and even the Church has not overcome them yet. Where is the witness to the power of God in this area, when the Greensboro Police Department Chief resigned this week because he was keeping tabs on the black police officers on our squad (an internal racial profiling unit)?

Some would say that the Church shouldn't bother with pointedly seeking reconciliation in terms of it leading to integrated congregations (if it happens, that is fine, but if it doesn't that is OK). Their rationale is that it's most important to reach the Lost and it's easier for whites to reach Lost whites and Hispanics to reach Lost Hispanics, and so on. So we should have churches in which people feel more comfortable and safe, so that they can meet the Lord better (and that means monoculturally, usually). Also, honestly, it's hard learn to worship in new ways and to let other cultures come forth to join whatever we are used to. The vision of reconciliation in this model, then, is that we try to be friends with Christians of other races by attending events or concerts or pastors forums together. Yet this model does not lend itself to relationships that get "real" (and thus messy), and so we don't have to work through issues and love each other in hard places, which is part of reconciliation. Reconciliation is not just "getting along."

I cannot square the "separate but reconciled" model with Scripture, which tells us that Christ has reconciled the races by the Cross (Ephesians 2:14-22). It says that Christ has destroyed the dividing wall of hostility. That Christ's purpose was to make one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile both of them to God (which seems to say that the horizontal work of the cross was as important as the vertical aspect). When Christians live and worship separated by race, we are living in "unreality". We are living as though His work was not effective and finished, and that our sin and fear is more powerful than His life in us.

We need to grieve this together and ask God to do a new work in us.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Body and The Blood

Today was communion Sunday at our church (I sometimes wish we had the chance to take it more often, but that is another post for another time), and I was so thankful for the Lord reminding me of why we receive both the bread and wine (juice). I have so often thought of communion as being predominantly about sin and forgiveness of sin, and that is clearly represented by the wine, Christ's blood shed to cover our sins. But why the bread? Why His body broken for us? Wasn't the cross mostly about paying the cost of our sins? Christ calls us to celebrate both the blood and the body because His body was broken to give us life, to take care of our Sin nature, which was the source of our sins. He not only pays for the outworking of our Sin, but He gives His very life that we might be transformed from the inside out. His work is not just a cleansing scrub, but a life-altering, spirit-birthing creation of something new in us that once was not there. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come." I was thankful today that not only did my Lord give me forgiveness, but He gave me life, remade me, and I no longer have to depend on my resources to "live the Christian life." He has given me life and asks me to declare my dependence on it each day.

Good Reading

Fearing that my mind was turning to mush with all the network TV I am watching, I was relieved to borrow a copy of Eldest, the second book by Christopher Paolini. This is an excellent fantasy series about a human named Eragon and his dragon, Saphira. Eragon is the last of the dragon riders in the land of Alagaesia, and the evil King Galbatorix (who was once a rider) seeks to either win Eragon to his services or destroy him. For fans of Tolkien, the book will feel familiar at times - the main players are elves, dwarves, and humans, and there is a mysterious all-powerful bad guy with shadowy henchmen and even an army of beasts called Urgals. And while there are points that I feel Paolini skirts too close to the LOTR series in some of the action and scenery, for the most part he has created a fantastic and readable story that is very hard to put down.

How ' Bout Them Heels!

UNC 82 NCSU 69

Friday, January 06, 2006

And so it begins...

After a surprising 8-2 start, the UNC Tar Heels basketball team now enters the teeth of what will make or break their bid to return to the NCAA tournament and defend their title as National Champions (hey, until someone knocks us out, we are defending it). NC State is a tough oponent for our first game, and for me, this feels like a must-win. Home games give us our best chance to win, and I think we need to have 18 wins under our belt before the ACC Tournament to have a good shot at an at-large bid. All I know about NC State is that they are good, that they are most likely NOT the 13th-best team in the nation, and I hate to lose to them slightly less than Duke. Interestingly, this is the just the second time in the last 31 years that NC State enters a game against UNC ranked higher than the Tar Heels.

The Magic Words

Living here in Glenwood certainly provides its share of unique experiences. Though not an every day occurance, it's not surprising to have a knock on the door late at night from a passerby in need of help, and the trick becomes how to discern whether or not their story is true. There are certainly some good questions to use as a litmus, but even then, things may not be as they seem. Now, I am by nature a sucker for a sad story, and I also love to please people, which makes me tend to want to help. I'm getting better at not giving in, but there are magic words that still make me want to help no matter what: "I know that you all are Christians."

Now, I am not saying that it is right to always respond to those words with help, but they communicate an expectation that Christians always help those in need and that it was my obligation to help. It's a powerful motivator when someone says that you are not acting as Jesus would if you don't help them. And it is so easy to respond to that by just doing what they want. But is that love? Is that what Jesus would always do? Each case is different, and to help them or not to help them can each be an act of independence from God (also known as sin). I am trying to grow in listening for the one Voice and one Motivation that should always precede action or inaction. The hard thing is sorting out that Voice from guilt, fear, annoyance, and pity (which is not the same as compassion).

Monday, January 02, 2006

Why "agriculture" as my industry?

In my profile, I chose agriculture as my industry. Not because I am embracing the rdiculous ad "We all go to NC State" that runs during Wolfpack sports, but rather it is a nod to a mentor of mine, Eugene Peterson.

I have never met Mr. Peterson, but his books have encouraged and taught me about what it means to be a pastor and shepherd, and God used his writings in a powerful way to keep me on staff with InterVarsity during some very discouraging years. One of the ways that he describes pastoral work is that of a farmer tending the soil of human hearts, not often seeing results but knowing that care and attention to the soil's needs will, in time, bear fruit. As I move into a supervisory role with InterVarsity, I hope to be a caretaker of the soil that is given me. God is at work in the hearts of the staff I serve, and my role is to join Him in that work, watering as He says water, weeding as He says weed, and looking for the shoots, sprouts of life, and fruit that He will bring.

Welcome to Joy in the Margins

I am on a journey of learning to love God and to love the poor, both the poor in spirit and the materially poor. As I have read Scripture over the last 10 years or so, I have been reminded again and again of God's concern for the overlooked, the least, the last, and the lost. And as I look at the world today, in general, I am reminded again and again of the lack of concern for the same. These people and the places where they live are what I would call the "marginal" of our society, and I have sensed a call from God to be in these places. However, on my journey it has not been easy to be in marginal places for any number of reasons (many of which may end up being fleshed out here on this blog). And my response to that struggle has often been self-righteous finger-pointing, wielding the "truth" of God's Word as my club, and often alienating those that I would hope to win. Sometimes I call myself "Squeaky Wheel Benbow" when referring to different conversations I have had with leaders at my church about the poor, because I am not sure I always operate in grace, and I can almost hear them saying, "Here he comes again - duck!"

Yet this past semester God has given me a gift of a Sabbatical from work, and during that time I wrote a draft of a book on loving the poor. And as I wrote and rewrote, God revealed my pointing finger to me and made me wonder if I might turn more people away. Was there joy in the margins or was it all work?

At the same time I was learning this, I was also given another gift in being able to take a class that focuses on understanding my identity in Christ. I began to see, again, how dependent I am on God's grace for life and for love, and I began to see how completely He loved me and gave Himself for me. And this lifewas to be my source of joy, even in the margins.

I had come to believe that the work was up to me, and I was led by my own laws, which were based on the convictions I had received from Scripture, and one of the surest ways to rob joy is to put it under a law. But if Christ truly is my life and the work in the margins was Christ's to accomplish through me, if I was no longer responsible for proving myself "right" and making everyone else see things my way, room for joy was created.

And so I am learning about joy in the margins, appreciating the people and nuances of my neighborhood and life in the city. I am appreciating what God has for me and my family here in Glenwood. I emphasize "learning" because I still struggle, and I still choose to follow my own laws sometimes.

As I thought about the title for this blog, I realized another meaning for "margins", which is to have space in one's life and schedule for quiet and reflection. I am a do-er by nature, trying so hard to make everyone like me and to make myself seem acceptable. But for four months, I didn't "do" too much. My faithful IV support team continued to pray and give, people and programs that I was to shepherd went on, and I had time to be quiet. Sure, I tried to fill that time with lots of things, but there is only so much filling one can do. And so I am learning that there is joy in the margins of life, too, and that there is joy in creating margins, space, to be with the Lord and remember to abide in Him.