Wednesday, December 29, 2010
“Every kid deserves to have a pet growing up,” you’ll tell me. (And I suppose it won’t help to remind you that I bought them hamsters six full years ago? No? Ok, didn’t think so).
It’s just that every time I think of all those vet visits, the hassle of finding pet sitters (in addition to baby sitters) and the added expense of another mouth to feed I’m rendered immobile as a teen asked to do chores. “Maybe just a bit more time to think about this?” I mutter, to whomever might be listening.
And apparently, no one was…listening, that is. Because my wife got that look on her face that says “Please don’t bother to say ‘no’ when I ask you this question” (her face is very expressive). “Are we going to get the kids a dog for Christmas?”
What can you say to a face that forbids “no?” Before I knew it we were off to the VA Beach SPCA
I must have had “that” look on my face (the look of a man who knows he’s about to spend money and is not happy about it) because my wife said, “Oh, didn’t you hear that Priority Automotive is providing free pet adoptions before Christmas?” (I hadn’t). “Crud, there went one of my best, most practical arguments,” I thought to myself, of course, not expressing this to the now smiling face directing me into the SPCA parking lot.
Once inside, I had the ominous feeling of a doomed man. Memories of Hillary Clinton, postulating the existence of a vast right wing conspiracy, drifted through my head. Because, I’m not quite sure how to put this, everyone in the SPCA seemed to be on a first-name basis with my wife, Bridget. “Hi Bridget, (said with a knowing look) good to see you.” “Great to see you again, Bridget, you’ll be coming right this way, yes? Oh, and HE’S the one? (with a contemptuous nod of the head in MY direction). “Good luck!”
That’s when we met a Lhasa Apso named “Alex.” Even HE seemed to know Bridget, jumping up into her lap and yipping with joy in the small cubicle reserved for ‘visiting hours.’ The realization slowly dawned on me that we weren’t ‘just visiting’ and that I had entered a battle of wits unarmed. The long freeze was over in my decision-making process. We were the proud owners of a 6-year old rescued dog who was coming home with us for Christmas.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The Regent University Mission team was in New York City this week to serve on the streets and in the hospitals to give care and compassion in the name of Christ. To be fair, there is great debate as to what if anything a short term team can accomplish that adds to the work going on long term in a location. For that reason, I work to always come alongside existing ministries like NYSUM or The Bowery.
But once the students get out on those streets, they discover the truth that ministry is draining. Jesus knew it... when the woman with a 12 year medical problem touched him, the Bible records Jesus' words "Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me." That's why our groups always visit not one but several great, bible-believing churches to recharge spiritually. This trip, it just so happened that Hillsong NYC was launching as a new church. We joined nearly 4000 other young people in making this first service a can't-miss event. In fact, for the first time I can remember, we stood in line for church for over an hour and a half!
Going to a church service that felt like the opening of a new club was a novel experience. People walking down the street would stop and ask, "What's happening here?" The answer would come, "It's the launch of a new church," to which there was an inevitable quizzical rejoinder, "What kind of church?" Answer: One unlike I've ever seen!
Couple of observations about this new church from a former church planter:
1. Almost no money was spent on advertising/marketing. The push was through Twitter @HillsongNYC btw. (yes I follow) as well as Facebook. The result? A huge crowd of young, hip church goers.
2. The pastor/spiritual rock star @CarlLentz was on the scene giving a very distinctive flavor for the evening. Virginia Beach residents will know him as the hip Pied Piper of Soul Central at Wave Church. Others of us know him as the once-errant son of Steve and Kathy Lentz (also in attendance) and the result of much prayer over the years. God got hold of this guy in a unique way that connects with young adults like very few people I've ever seen. High energy for sure.
3. Big guns @BrianHouston and @BobbiHouston, the dynamic duo co-pastors of the Hillsong Sydney "mother ship" were on hand, as well as their son @JoelHouston, the creative mind behind Hillsong United. Added into the mix was @JudahSmith from City Church in Seattle to give the service the feel of an All-star game of young, hip evangelical leaders in the US and Australia.
4. The young people who were there made it clear, however, that the unifying factor was not the pastor, nor the preaching, nor the "namebrand" church Hillsong, but the music. From the first chord, the crowd hopped, reached, sang and shouted in a familiar sway, demonstrating that it was the experience that mattered, not so much the personalities. Over three thousand people waited in a queue for hours to experience the chance to feel freedom and liberty.
So hop and sway and shout we did, drawing on the spiritual hunger and energy in the Salvation Army theater near Union Square. It replenished us, encouraged us, and sent us out to do more work for others. Do you think a church should feel like the opening of a night club? Let me know.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Her bag could have been from Fendi, a chic accessory joining the crisp, cool air to give notice that fall had come to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 55th St. The crumpled papers in her hand might have been a playbill from the latest show that the most fashionable boots in the City had tromped by droves to see. The swirl of her conversation could just as well have been recounting her latest visit to Harry Winston’s or De Beers there on fashionable 5th Avenue.
But it wasn’t.
Instead, her conversation over coffee sitting on her bag in the shadow of 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church was an orientation of sorts. This, her first night on the streets of New York City revolved around overzealous policemen who kicked, fined or screamed profanity at her. Prior to tonight she had tried to resolve her “circumstances” by sleeping on the subway. With her bag and knit sweater primly tucked around her, she survived for months in this manner, by day the fiancé of a Chinese pastor, by night a hounded denizen of the public transportation system.
I didn’t understand.
Why would this spirited, Asian woman be sleeping on the street? I began to ask questions, to discover the reasons behind her circumstances. Had she spoken to her fiancé the pastor? Did the church know she was here? How long had they been paying the fines levied on her for her nomadic public slumber? I needed a peg to hang this on, an entry point into her world.
She rebuked me.
“I could tell you more about my circumstances, but you couldn’t begin to understand. You would think you did, but you don’t. You would misunderstand and tell someone. And you’d be wrong. You don’t have the perspective of God. Would you like to know why I am here tonight?” Mutely, I shook my head. “I’m here in complete surrender to the will of God.”
She was right.
I needed a tidy explanation. I wanted her to fit into a category that explained her presence there across from the Fendi store, sleeping on the steps. As her rebuke sunk in, I knew I asked questions to discover how she was different from me. How she had fallen. Where she had chosen unwisely; who had failed her, harmed her, victimized her. So that she would be a “homeless” and I her encourager, rescuer, reaching down across the gulf to show my goodness.
Who is my neighbor?
A question asked of Jesus, that ancient sage, designed not to enable further outreach or care for a new friend, but to categorize. To place someone in a group different from oneself, and so to insulate from up close, personal love and care. And so Jesus told a story, about a man in need. A man treated roughly by life, robbed of his dignity and left alongside the road to rot. A man much like the lady I met. But wise Jesus told the story not to focus on a victim who needed help, but on the startling responses from those walking alongside the street. The fashionable, acceptable residents of that city walked right by the man. They knew he belonged to a different category, a man who had made poor choices. Given time, they might help, but circumstances dictated otherwise. But the hated Samaritan walked up and entered the world of the man by the road. Without judging his circumstances, he brought care, and according to Jesus, demonstrated that he was that man’s neighbor. And then I realized, it didn’t matter how she got there…
Eiku is my neighbor.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
St. Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894), Russian asectic, bishop, and prolific author
I don't know about you, but prayer intimidates me a bit. I'm not by nature a contemplative, and the thought of being alone in a room with just my thoughts (just as likely to be about baseball or some banal subject) is a bit scary. I've discovered that I need coaches or guides in prayer.
One I've discovered is a guy named Theophan the Recluse. I know, I know--any guy with "Recluse" in his name, who's not a spider, has got to be a little creepy. Don't let that intimidate you; he was just a Russian monk of the 19th century. Monks are the ones through history who've made a point of retreating from society in order to think more deeply about God, and cultivate a life of contemplation and prayer. Theophan's main contribution to Christian spirituality was his translation of a group of writings on prayer called the "Philokalia" into Russian.
He says something that helps me, and addresses some of my prayer insecurities.
Recall how you prayed and always strive to pray this way, so that prayer comes from the heart and is not just thought by the mind and chattered by the tongue.
When he says, "prayer...chattered by the tongue" I know just what he means. In my tradition, prayer is considered "good" if it is long, eloquent, and (usually) loud. My tradition values free-form prayer laced with spiritual-sounding phrases like "washed in the blood of the Lamb" and "sanctified and set-apart by the sinless substitutionary atonement of Jesus..." I know all about prayers "chattered by the tongue" and they do much to intimidate me in my own prayer life.
My new friend the recluse, perhaps because he has spent more time praying alone than to try to impress others, speaks of a different kind of prayer-- the prayer that comes from the heart. The thought in this more Eastern method of prayer was to memorize a simple prayer, sometimes called a "breath prayer" and repeat it often enough that the words weren't central. It was a "known-by-heart" prayer.
This kind of heart prayer takes me out of the competition mode. It puts me into more of a contemplative moment, allowing me to reflect on what God might have to say to me. This I think, is what Theophan must have intended. Perhaps that is why the saint once known as "George" took the name Theophan which means "God appears." When we pray from the heart, God often appears.
How do you feel about prayer?
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Check out this trailer to see if you'd be interested:
The film focuses on Dom Cobb, whom Peter Travers in his review in Rolling Stone calls".. a professional invader of the subconscious played with action-star ferocity and emotional heft by Leonardo DiCaprio. Corporations, like the one run by Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe), hire Dom and his crew to get inside people's heads."
Get inside my head is exactly what this film did, and if you haven't seen it--make plans to go, but be prepared to be confused. Or befuddled. Or enlightened, as the case may be. I know that I was all three before the film finished it's plunge through three layers of dream space, subconscious "limbo" and sudden shifts from past to present to future time.
In case you'd like to see the movie, I won't go in to every twist and turn of the labyrinthian plot. I would like to focus in on one aspect of the film that struck me as fascinating. It did, at least, after my wife noticed it. "Did you notice there were only two main female characters?" she asked. (I nod my head semi-intelligently) And did you notice that the younger woman (Ariadne) leads Cobb out of his regret over his wife (Mal)?" (again the semi-intelligent head nod).
That's when all the classic Greek and Roman mythology I had studied once upon a sophomore year came bubbling to the surface. (Thanks Joe Elias and Lou Ledbetter!) Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete. Crete had a lovely tradition of accepting sacrifices from Athens to feed their nasty monster the Minotaur, held at bay in a bewildering labyrinth. (see the connection coming?) Theseus was among the third group of unwitting sacrifices, but Ariadne comes to his rescue by LEADING HIM OUT OF THE MAZE. Just like Ariadne does for Mr. Cobb in the amazing movie Inception.
So what? Well, beyond a cleverly placed classical allusion, Christopher Nolan suggests to us a powerful principle. Ariadne (the maze maker and breaker) helps Cobb overcome his regret over his wife Mal (that means "bad or evil" in Latin) He has trapped himself in a prison of regret. In a very insightful review of the film, we are reminded that a recurring line in the movie addresses that regret. “Do you want to become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?”
Without spoiling the entire plot, Dom Cobb encases his regrets throughout life in a prison-like structure in his mind, revisiting them in tortured dream sequences. Ariadne discovers this self-torture, confronts him, and ultimately leads him to the only way out of regret--forgiveness. Just as in the classical myth, Ariadne leads him along the thread of past mistakes away from the monster named regret.
|Theseus & Minotaur|
Of course the answer to that repeated question for me is "NO" I don't want to be an old man, filled with regret. But like Cobb, I do keep past mistakes locked away where no one can see, like a Minotaur in my mind. I offer up sacrifices periodically to appease my guilt, but those sacrifices are never enough. Cobb was trapped, and the guilt increased, demanding more and more of his life in order to be pleased. With the character Fischer in the film, we face those like a father who their whole life has been "DISAPPOINTED" in us. Regret--living in the past--will consume you like a ghastly Minotaur.
Do you have an Ariadne that can uncoil the thread of forgiveness for you? I know forgiving others is hard, but forgiving myself is the hardest. Somehow that trap of self-punishment seems appropriate, but its inevitable end is the maze of regret. I loved the movie Inception, and it has planted the idea in me to face what is MAL (evil) in my life, and banish the "shade" of failure through forgiveness. Otherwise, I will be forever trapped. What do you think?
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, July 5, 2010
I recently saw someone who had hurt me badly. I knew the meeting was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier. My stomach dropped like it does on a rough plane ride when I saw the person. Old pain returned instantly as I recalled and rehearsed the ways this person had betrayed my confidence, attacked my character, even physically threatened me. Both “fight” and “flight” presented themselves as equally attractive alternatives—and for a moment I wasn’t sure if I was going to run away or punch them in the gut. It made me wonder--what do you do when old feelings flow over you in an angry flood?
Me—I tend to be a hoarder. Just come over to my house and you’ll find all the books and cool stuff I’ve “saved” in storage. My garage ostensibly houses cars; alas, now one can barely squeeze in past all the stuff I’ve hoarded. (Notice when it’s mine I call it stuff, if it was yours I’d call it junk.) So just to be consistent I hoard up all the hurts from the past and store them conveniently where I can get to them when I need them. Somebody hurt me? Well, I may have to haul out the junk I have on them and just share it with somebody at just the right moment to do the most damage. Or if I have a chance to help someone, may have to check my emotional attic to see what “junk” I have hoarded up against them.
You know what I’ve discovered about my system, however? Not only does my emotional “house” get really cluttered and hard to get around, I may be killing myself. Come on, really? Researchers have demonstrated that the way husbands and wives argue over those old wounds, you know the hot button topics right? Money, children, sex, dirty socks on the floor (I was going to move them honey, I promise!) …the way we argue over them can actually cause hardening of the arteries. All that junk I was hoarded up seems to have landed in my arteries!
So what’s a hoarder to do? It’s simple really. If you had a bunch of outstanding checks that were floating around out there, and you’ve never really figured out how they affect the bottom line of your checking account, what would you do? You’d reconcile your checkbook, right? That’s exactly what we need to do with our emotional debts, reconcile them, and in Bible terms that means forgiveness. Remember that phrase in the famous prayer? MT 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. That means we have to find all the junk in the basement and just throw it out. Go to the person if possible and let them know we forgive them. You know how much fun it is to go down the checkbook and see all those nice little check marks beside outstanding checks? That’s what it feels like to be reconciled—all outstanding debts accounted for, all the junk thrown away, instead of hoarded up in my arteries where they’re killing me!
What's in your emotional attic?
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Friday, April 16, 2010
The last hours of a person’s life bring clarity, focus, and poignancy. Deathbed confessions receive special consideration in a court of law, and “last words” often ring for generations because of their pithy power. In his last week on earth, Jesus the Nazarene chose to spend time with his closest friends. In the intimate setting of a meal, reclining together at the table as was the custom in the Near East, some of his final words clearly focused on friendship, and the signature stamp it gives his followers. One of His final statements was elevated to the status of a command, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Recently, I saw this bold challenge lived out in the lives of students right here at Regent University. A group of students gathered together on Maundy Thursday, the day during Holy Week that Christian churches celebrate Jesus’ giving of this new commandment. There, they took Jesus’ words literally, and “loved one another” as Jesus loved his friends. They washed one another’s feet! As an expression of love, friendship and service, they physically removed the shoes and socks of their friends, and bathed feet and toes in cleansing wash.
The moment that challenged me, however, was when one Caucasian student from the Deep South and one African-American brother from the “North” washed one another’s feet. I saw in that simple basin some of the hatred and prejudice that has so long clouded ethnic relationships in our country washing away. I knew that this was no “for the cameras” moment, but reflected a deep respect and friendship built on prayer, listening, and honesty. Truly, these two young men bore the signature stamp of Christian love and friendship, proving to be followers of Jesus.
It made me wonder, “How can I overcome barriers to love others around me more fully?” What keeps me from being a friend to others? What hinders me from taking Jesus at his word, and loving those around me in the simple, servant fashion that He did? When I look at my life in hindsight, as Jesus was able to do in that Upper Room, will it be filled with selfless service to others in demonstration of true love and friendship? Only if I challenge my own failure to love can we become the community envisioned by Jesus, the Nazarene…the one who died that I might be called “friend.”
Monday, March 8, 2010
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Monday, March 1, 2010
A river of energy flows through Mid-town Manhattan, a veritable Class-5 rapids of elite shopping and upscale destinations. From The Plaza and Central Park issues a cascade of luxury; Versace, Ferragamo, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels down fabled Fifth Avenue. Discerning shoppers come to test their skills in landing the big purchase. But there amidst the glitter is another fisherman, plying his trade.
The 'way out' will of course take more than good feelings and intentions. Doors will open to new tasks for these men as they are mentored back to sobriety. But for a day, students and residents shared apples and open doors, sure that there was hope ahead.
Friday, February 26, 2010
This op-ed by Timothy Egan in the NY Times raises legitimate and important questions about the ill-fated plans of the so-called "Kidnapping for Jesus" case of Laura Silsby. At best, her plans to facilitate adoptions from the beleaguered country of Haiti were naive and unrealistic, given her resources. At worst, they were manipulative and opportunistic.
Yet painting with the broad brush of "cultural imperialism" the author succumbs to tired romantic liberal sentiment. The "noble savage" and his pristine untouched culture and religion should not be disturbed, in this ideology. Yet this ignores many indigenous practices most would consider not so pristine--like "sati"--the burning of widows in Hinduism, or "FGM" (female genital mutilation) in tribal cultures of Asia and Africa. Does Mr. Egan claim "cultural imperialism" when the World Health organization and the UN bans FGM in their work?
As I take a team of students to New York City to express care and concern for those in less fortunate circumstances, this story takes on new meaning. What gives us the right to impose our beliefs on others? Is the "missionary impulse" inherently culturally violent? Some suggest that the "mini-messiahs" who descend upon poorer areas would do better to stay home and send their money to help the truly informed make a real difference. Are we on a fool's errand?
First, one cannot ignore the historic context of Western Christianity and the "Crusades." One's faith should be expressed through the heart, not the point of a spear. Christians should remember that their religion spread originally through generosity, service to the poor, and the death of its founders in persecution. Humility is the prerequisite for any missionary. On the flip side, however, it is naive to imagine that any area's "indigenous" culture is in itself pure or undiluted. Rather, they are the result of millennia of interaction and intellectual trade. Mohammed himself was influenced by both Jewish and Christian ideals,while Buddhism was built on a foundation supplied by Hinduism. Is this necessarily imperialism? New York City doesn't need any mini-messiahs... but humble servants, willing to be changed as they share love and practice understanding? That may not be so bad...
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE – We’re in! After a struggle to reach Port-au-Prince, Tony, our video producer, and I were finally able to get two seats on a plane from the Dominican Republic. It was a tiny “4-seater” and was so full of relief gear that it tipped back on its tail before we took off.
Approaching PAP airport was a hairy experience; planes were circling the airport like a swarm of flies. The pilot asked us to keep an eye out for other aircraft and at times we had to do ’stomach in throat’ maneuvers to avoid crossing paths. After 3 aborted landings because of runway traffic we finally touched down and work commenced.
Our Haiti National Director, Eric, met us and took us over to a light aircraft hangar that will serve as our base over the next few days.
The first thing we needed to do was secure water and food for the team; it was extremely hot and we would have become dehydrated very quickly, and a sick aid worker is useless. We also needed to secure more vehicles as our relief efforts are set to quickly expand over the coming days.
We left the relative security of the airport and ventured out into the streets of Port-au-Prince. We were instantly met with horrific scenes as injured Haitians were lining the pavement desperately trying to receive medical attention almost 68 hours since the quake hit.
At a visit to the UN compound for a coordination meeting, I saw another glimpse into the horrendous pain of this quake when we drove past a huge emergency tent full of quake victims struggling for life.
Many Haitians on the streets are wearing coverings over their mouths and noses to hide the pungent smell of death that lingers in the air. People are carrying belongings along the streets in suitcases or on their head. There seems to be quite a migration of people from what is left of the city.
Every day the humanitarian situation grows worse for the survivors.
In the heat, people are desperate for water and that is causing them to drink unsafe water from wherever they can find it. We saw some small children bathing in and drinking a muddy puddle. As the desperation among the survivors grows, so does the anxiety and frustration.
There is a very real concern among aid groups of increasing violence and theft on the streets, but today the streets were calm for us and we can only hope that as the relief efforts ramp up, the tensions will drop.
This has been one of the most difficult launches to a disaster that I have experienced and that is due to the severity of the quake coupled with the lack of infrastructure. But the delays at the airport are a sign that the world is reaching out to Haiti like never before.
Huge C130 Cargo planes have been arriving all day long from the U.S. and tonight some of those planes were being used to evacuate hundreds of American citizens. Cargo planes from other countries such as Israel, Mexico and Canada were dropping massive piles of food, essential relief items and rescue teams.
The Spanish rescue team that we have been shuttling into the quake zone came back with disappointing news that they had only found dead bodies today and most rescuers are suggesting that due to the intense heat it is very unlikely any more survivors will be found.
Saturday morning, Operation Blessing will be delivering our first batch of essential medicines to the hospitals where work is still continuing around the clock to save the lives of injured victims. We are expecting the first team of Israeli doctors to arrive from our partner IsraAid, and as soon as they hit the ground we hope to have them working.
We have 5 water purification units en route from the U.S., each one capable of purifying 10,000 gallons of clean drinking water every day. We did an assessment in a badly damaged neighborhood on the outskirts of the city and are gearing up for emergency food distributions and medical clinics staged out of a damaged primary school that is out of commission for the near future.
I just ate a U.S. military Ready-to-Eat meal (MRE) and hope to sleep soon. My mat and sleeping bag on the hangar floor will not be too uncomfortable, but huge cargo planes roaring down the runway just a few hundred yards away might make for another long night.