Monthly Archives: January 2014

the top ten things i’ve learned about community development

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I’ve been learning to live incarnationally from a ridiculously cool organization for the past three weeks. Which has been amazing. My program mentor is basically Shane Claiborne only he’s cooler and he brews his own beer. Yep, I know. So with no further ado, here are the top ten things I have learned thus far:

10. Carry a pocket knife at all times, because you never know when you’ll need to pick a lock (which is something I can now do). I feel this is self-explanatory.

9. Keep your Bible within ten feet of you at all times. That’s a huge thing I’m learning: the Bible is awesome. It’s like…the original book about community development and love. Going into this, I was a little burned out on the Bible. Then I heard a two hour talk on community development laced with scripture. It was probably the closest to God I have ever been in my life. And this Book is changing me. Something I’ve noticed about my mentor: his Bible is always within arm’s reach. It’s like me and my phone. Only…more functional? Yes. That’s the one.

8. If you don’t know what to say to someone, tell a joke. Even better if it’s at your expense. Nothing makes people feel comfortable with each other like laughing together.

7. Poverty is about more than money. If I took everything you own and left you with nothing, it would probably take you less than an hour to find a meal and a place to spend the night. It might take you a week or so to find a source of income. But it wouldn’t land you on the street. Poverty is complicated. It involves self-esteem and knowledge of systems and relationships. All kinds of relationships. We can try to put a band aid on someone, but change doesn’t happen until we invite them to be part of a body. It’s a painful process, yes, but that’s the only way change can really happen. If someone feels safe, it’s easier for them to be honest, and for healing to happen. And when you’re willing to be open and vulnerable with someone, then suddenly you’re no longer the person in power trying to help and give things. You’re a friend. That’s what people really need, anyway.

6. It’s not Lebron’t’ James. The ‘t’ is silent……..And Kevin Durant wrote “Hungry Like the Wolf.” Both of those things are true.

5. You are not a used car salesman. Used car salesmen sell things. They are really nice, and will talk to you about anything. They will treat you with respect, do you all kinds of favors, and go to great lengths to make sure you feel important. Two things, though. They want to know your financial status and they want to sell you something. You are not a used car salesman. A lot of people are, functionally. They meet someone different than them and the first thing they think is “Does this person need something from me” and the second thing is “are they listening to what I’m saying about Jesus?” But you are not selling cars. Love people because God loved you. Any other reason is an idol.

4. Your adjectives aren’t working. The people around you aren’t poor or rich or smart or successful or black or white or…you can’t put them in neatly marked boxes like that. You can’t tape a label to someone’s forehead and expect that to tell you what they need or want or do or are. In fact, you can’t really know anything about someone until you get to know them as a whole person.

3. Loving people well starts with that person in your life that you absolutely cannot stand. The one who hurts you. The one who makes you look less cool. The one who chews with their mouth open…it’s sexier to love an orphan or a homeless guy or something like that but if you can’t love your classmate with the terrible laugh then you don’t understand love.

2. Getting taken advantage of is not as bad as you think. In fact it’s probably already happening to you. You might as well embrace it and use it to glorify God. Our goal is not to change someone else’s life or to fix a policy or anything like that. Our goal is our own obedience. Our goal is to be people who follow Christ and love well, even if we never see any kind of result.

1. We need to learn to tell new stories. Part of this goes back to learning not to label people or assume things, but it also goes deeper. If you’re like me, you have a narrative in your head for the way certain people are. Someone has hurt you or let you down or something like that and that becomes the way that they always are. But if you finish the story before it’s really over, then they will never surprise you. We need to learn to tell new stories about ourselves. We need to learn to let the hurt go. We need to learn to tell God’s story. The story when sacrifice and grace are making things new. When Saul becomes Paul and weakness is turned into strength. Your story has happened. Maybe a million times. But we’ve been given grace, and sometimes that means believing the best about people. It means being vulnerable. Not just to strangers or lonely people or people we have power over. Sometimes is means being vulnerable to the people we are the most angry at. Or most afraid of. Because maybe we can rewrite the story together. (and maybe this time it starts somewhere as close as your family)

 

unfinished

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I wrote twenty three unfinished blog posts last week. One for every time I thought I had the world figured out. It was one of those weeks when you hear the voice of God in a dream, stay up until four in the morning in uncertain tears, and drink whiskey while you watch a poorly advised movie starring Kevin Durant. Playing intramural basketball. Screaming at people you’re supposed to love.

I went to church and they were talking about Ruth. Six verses, and the pastor finished with Ruth on her way to the threshing floor. He admitted that he didn’t want to resolve the story. He wanted to let the hope and worry hang over us. He talked about depression. He talked about God’s hand, moving unseen somewhere. He talked about the desire to desire healing. He talked about hope being fragile, and then he took a little notebook and asked for prayer requests. Right there in front of everyone, like it’s some kind of phi lamb meeting and everyone is twenty years old and wearing yoga pants instead of this random assortment of God Himself knows what. And people are asking and listening and praying like we always knew each other.

I don’t know the stories behind these faces. I don’t know what compelled these people to be in this room, standing there, asking a mixture of friends and strangers for some kind of intervention. I may not know how the stories turn out. I may not toast the praises over lunch or hug out the hard things. It’s all just hanging in the air like smoke on the fourth of July.

We went on a tour of the city. We were going to see all these organizations doing good things. We were going to learn all the dynamics. We got sidetracked at the day shelter talking to a man named Jerry who used to live in the neighborhood our guide has fought for the past six years. We got sidetracked hearing him talk about God’s faithfulness and scripture and disappointment. Listening to him tell us all the things he wants to see grow up from the cracks in the sidewalk. Looking at a bunch of seedlings and compost on a farm in the middle of downtown Oklahoma City.

We plan to finish the tour at some point. But it’s already changing me.

I may never know if the plants grow or the fish have babies or the building goes up for sale or the highway cuts through after all and paves the whole, beautiful community over in cement. I may be in California or I may be oblivious, or I may be dead. After all, maybe this is the last moment on earth…

I don’t want to spend it angry. I don’t want to spend it lonely. I don’t want to spend it at all…

I may never know if this struggle is worth anything. I may never be able to draw a line down to this impossible year of my life and say I see why. I may never tell the story with a knowing smile on my face.

He may live to be a hundred. He may be sick. He may die in a car accident next month.

And I might never get the closure or the apology that I so desperately want.

What I loved about church today was that depression isn’t my fault or God’s fault…it wasn’t anybody’s to fix. It just…is. One day it may not be, one day it may be again. But can you believe God is moving, even in this? Can you learn to love the questions?

Can I stand here, with the knowledge that I may never be able to *do* anything? That I have to leave this unresolved? That my best efforts are completely garbage, at any rate?

I may never really finish this blog post, because I may never understand these words that God is saying. But it’s such a gift to sit here and know that He is speaking. 

painful

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The buzz of my phone on the nightstand wakes me up for the second night in a row. My thoughts are slow to form, and I might be having some kind of vicious déjà vu.

“This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening again.”

The next words on my lips are profane, and yet they somehow feel like a prayer. I’m not addressing them to the God I used to believe in, to the God who watched me like an angry father waiting for me to fumble. Instead, I’m swearing in a small voice to the God who wept for Lazarus. To the God who sees me, even here with only the light of the screen of my phone to see me crying.

This is not a gnostic moment. It is aching with the holy and the profane, all at once. It is aching to be redeemed into something good. Something that can turn my face to His. But in the midst there is fear and exhaustion and anger. There is me, feeling clumsy with the worry and pain that are not my own. I do not have the words, so I read them. I read them again and again from 2 Corinthians, remembering that the cracked places let the light out.

I am selfish. I guess I sort of want the light to stay inside. It feels cold and dark in here. I could use the warmth. It takes me two hours to tell someone. It takes me two hours to ask for prayers. It takes me two hours to tell her that I’m sorry, and that I’m praying for him. It takes two hours for me to let the façade crack, and start to fall away. It takes me two hours.

It takes two minutes for the screen of my phone to light up again. And again. I guess I forgot that the light gets in as well. 

We are not alone in the dark with our demons. Which is not to say that they are absent. Which is not to say that it is bright and warm. It is what it is, and we are only alone when we are hiding.

It’s hard for me to draw you a map of where my heart is right now. It’s hard for me to explain to you how the new, kind of fragile joy is mingling with the worry and the hurt and the darkness. And I don’t really know how to ask you to pray, because I don’t really know how to tell you all of the things here in my heart. I don’t know what to tell her, or him, or you or………

I am fumbling for words and prayers and gestures. I am unsure of where to be and what to do. Some days I am not sure if I am looking down from the ledge or if I am fighting my way out of the water. It might be that I am suspended somewhere in between.

But I am not alone. And I just wanted to tell you how much that has meant to me. 

mostly about helmets

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I got home, and there were strange folk afoot. I was a bit…perturbed. The natural solution now is obvious…pop two blocks over to my brothers, let myself in with his spare key, and call my parents to either see if they were expecting this or inform them that all of our things were probably no longer ours.

That was not my response. I crept up to my apartment attempting to kind of squat my way up the stairs. My door was left unlocked (gasp) so I had to check under the bed and in the shower quickly while getting my old softball helmet on.

Ahm. Let me take a minute to describe said helmet: it is bright red with American flag art painted on it. Kind of abstract, ya know? I spent some time on a patriotic themed competitive team. It also has a facemask like a football helmet because of the time I broke my cheekbone.

So. Back to where we were. I’m sitting in the back corner of my room with my helmet on and my bat laying beside me. I may or may not have a blanket on my head. So I call my dad, with my voice kind of echoe-y from the helmet and stuff.

Oh. I should mention the peanut butter. When I eat peanut butter, I get hiccups. And I had eaten a sandwich with peanut butter and…you know what? Not important…with peanut butter on it just before I came home.

So I’m calling my dad from under a blanket wearing a ‘merica helmet. And I begin to hiccup violently. To the extent that my helmeted head knocks into some wall art, which crashes noisily into my helmet. It’s just all so much loud. My dad is confused. Particularly since he knew that people were coming to work on our house today. He did, in fact, give them a key. He asks if I am okay, kind of dubiously.

I’m not though. I haven’t had caffeine in 24 hours. I know there is a Dr. Pepper in the fridge in the house. I am consumed with the desire to go get it. Here comes the question of the day:

Why on earth did I not take off the helmet?

We may never know. I’m sure the painters are wondering as well. Particularly since I was hiccupping so violently that I tripped over a step and fell a little bit in the middle of the kitchen. Which was loud, again because of the helmet.

Yeah. I did make it back safely with my drink. And the hiccups got embarrassed away, maybe. Two things have become clear:

I have to use extreme caution to never interact with these workers again.

It is a very good thing that I didn’t get the chance to whack anyone with the bat. I probably would have somehow managed to light something on fire.

(additionally we can conclude that I am not, as of now, an adult. Keep the dream alive)

expectation

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Eight thirty in the morning and the word is distant.

Everyone is here with someone important to them, and I am a million miles away. I am trying not to notice the clusters of people sitting together, and I am trying not to be lonely. I am trying not to be angry, but I am also remembering all the softball games with you there in the bleachers and me, trying not to see you and afraid and wishing so much that I could just be there alone. I am remembering the blur of north Texas in my windows as I’m crying and trying to make it somewhere else. But it’s eight thirty and I’m wishing that you could somehow have understood that this is the place that I wanted you to be. The one place you aren’t.

Restorative relationships training. There are no eyes for me to share the joke with, but I laugh at it alone. God, I need this.

Hebrews 11 is happening. I’m still laughing to myself. But I’m also listening, and what I’m learning is significant: the expectation is our own obedience. We are talking about all these people who died before they got to see the result of their lives. About the unfinished story. The unfinished story is not a failure.

We are not a failure.

I know about expectations. I have learned it from these exact words. I know about them in my life. About expecting things to happen to me or for me, and about how they let you down. I learned a long time ago that if you come in without all these expectations, you get the freedom of following God without fear and without resentment. I thought I put down expectations years ago.

But she is talking about expectations in relationships. About the fact that when we expect someone to be something or do something…we write this story that isn’t ours to tell. As much as disappointment can destroy me, it’s even more toxic when it’s more than disappointment, it’s you letting me down. I was not born to fix you. You are not here to save me. We are just supposed to follow. To obey. To love each other well and not try to finish the story early.

I expected you to be here. I expected you to care about me. I expected you to…

Do you have any idea how hard it is to let that go? Do you have any idea how much I want to have some kind of happy ending? How much I want to sit in this room with you and feel some kind of resolution? I hear her telling me that it’s coercion, not obedience, unless I give up on expecting you to be all of this.

There has been enough coercion here. Nevertheless…

I’m angry, but I’m trying not to be. I’m asking God to take it from me. The best I can do right now is to hold it in an open hand and pray it falls away. Our story is unfinished. I promise to you not to write an ending without you, and not to resent you for lingering here in the sharp part. Faith is a process that may never produce anything. The process is the gift. The faith is the gift.

I won’t wait. I’ll just be here.

(I really do think that every human being in the world should be required to hear Kim Bandy give restorative relationship training. And I am starting to realize that the next sixteen weeks might rock my world more than I realized. I mean it’s been one day and I’m already just…aghast…I’ll keep you posted. I’m all about admitting that I could use a little restructuring)

Get over yourself (a stern lecture to myself)

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Maybe because you are a young adult and a student in America, you are operating under some false assumptions. You assume that your life right now is supposed to be about you learning and you growing and you being poured into. You assume­­­ that the person you are today is inherently superior to the one you are in every way. You assume that the people around you are there for you, and that they will be around when you need them, and you assume it never considering that they are pretty busy with their own universes. You assume that the difference between you and the homeless man on the corner must have something to do with effort or skill or…something. You assume that making the decision that keeps you together, whole, happy…you assume that is the decision you are supposed to make. Bless your heart, you still think it’s going to be easy. (and by the way, keep a close eye on the thing that happens when you assume)

You think you understand God. You have gotten so used to the things you have figured out about your faith that you want to make everyone around you somehow fit into that box. You also, by the way, think that happiness is some kind of reward for obedience and you think that you deserve it. You think you can hold your faith in your hand and use it like a weapon. It was a shelter for you to take refuge, and you have somehow tried to lease it out and make a profit from it.

I understand. You’re in this phase of life that is all about you. You’re paying people to teach you and take care of you. Everyone keeps telling you to enjoy it, and this is the best time of your life, and don’t waste it. They are telling you to lay this foundation, to use your singleness to take care of yourself, and to take control of your life. You are so afraid that you will somehow miss out in the midst of the grabbing hands around you. You are afraid of coming out with nothing. (nothing, by the way, would be so much lighter than all this heavy junk you’re dragging around right now)

But you look nothing like Jesus. You used to say, and yes you were naïve and small, but you used to say that was all you wanted. I want for you to understand that right now you are not necessarily supposed to be happy, and that you are definitely not supposed to be spending all your time learning and grasping and staring at your own face in the mirror.

I see you, sitting on the couch in the dark trying to find acceptance from people who walk and talk and think the same way you do, and I want to grab you by the wrist and drag you out of there. I want to show you all the people you are neglecting and ignoring and not even seeing. If you want to learn, I wish you would look outside this circle of comfort and convenience. I wish you would wake up.

Because you like to say, with your voice a little proud, that the way to check yourself is to see if you look more like the people Jesus loved or the ones He rebuked. I’m laughing at you, because don’t you know what you look like? You look like a Pharisee. And you can sing these songs and chase these feelings in this warm room, but outside it is cold and you need to understand that not everyone has a reason to sing .

Maybe I just want you to see it. Or maybe I want you to just stop it already. To try, even just a little bit, to see things from a perspective that doesn’t have you at the top of the world. Maybe what I want the most is for you to quit feeling sorry for yourself.

Besides. It only makes you feel worse. Seriously.