Tag Archives: community

concurrent.

This seems like as good a time as any to officially let you know what I’m up to next:  I’m headed back into the crazy world of telling college students about how much Jesus wants to radically transform their lives.  Yes, yes, I’ve done this before.  And I loved it and missed it so much that I’m doing it again.  This next year I’ll be based at a community college, so I hope you’re prepared for some really really fun stories.

To give you a better idea of the kind of things I’ll be doing, I’m going to give you a bit of a visual…stay with me, it might be rough at first. When solving systems of linear equations using a graph, there are three potential outcomes:  one solution, no solution, or infinite solutions.

When the system has no solution, it looks like this on a graph:

parallel

 

Note that the lines don’t overlap; those in the know (that group does not include me, I asked my math teacher dad) call that parallelism.  I often meet people whose lives are marked by this phenomenon.  This happens when they’re living dual lives:  trying to keep their relationship with or thoughts about Jesus separate from every other thing that they do.  A few years ago, I mentored a college student who was a perfect example of this.  She would come to Bible study every week, praying fervently for her fellow classmates, and then she would leave and conveniently forget about everything we had just talked about.  Her life in the ‘real world’ showed no evidence that Jesus played any part in her actions or decision making.  I’ve also met students who don’t think that faith has anything to do with their lives at all, so they just choose not to think about the effect it may have on them.

When the system has one solution, it looks like this:

intersecting

You’ll notice here that the lines overlap once, but only once.  This solution does a pretty good job of representing the way of living that you or I probably see most often.  When we live believing that Jesus is important, but only when we want or need him to be, we create an independent system (coincidentally, also the name for the graph pictured above).    We tell Jesus we want him to be in control of our lives, but only so long as he’s letting us do what we want.  The intersection occurs when we’re faced with a difficult situation, when we realize that actually we can’t do this life on our own.  The unfortunate thing about this is that there’s very little lasting impact; you’ll notice in the graph that the lines diverge again.  I’ve met with many students whose lives are characterized by independent systems–they seek guidance from the Lord only when it is convenient for them.  And then they wonder why things fall apart.

There has to be a better way.

Don’t worry, there is.  Here’s what a system with an infinite number of solutions looks like:

infinite

Check this out.  Matthew 4:18-21 is one of the accounts of Jesus calling his first disciples.  It says,

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.  Going on from there…”  

I’m only quoting the verse up to that point because I want you to take note of the fact that Jesus doesn’t wait around for the disciples to follow him; he says, “Let’s go!” and then keeps moving.  The disciples could have kept living in their small independent system, intersecting once with Jesus, but not letting him fully impact their lives.  But instead they followed him into a system of dependence, of relying on him to take care of them no matter what was ahead.  And yeah, they definitely lost sight of this at times, but most of the time they found their way back.  

So that right there is the simplest thing I want my students to internalize:  that we are a part of a system that functions when we are fully dependent on Jesus, when we are following him without looking back, when we let him change our trajectory so that our lives begin to line up with what he has for us.

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the club.

I realized that I’ve never written here about my current job. And I figure, hey, 14 months in isn’t too late.

When I decided to move north two winters ago, I had no idea what I was going to be getting myself into.  I practiced talking myself up for interviews, bought a new cardigan (I seize any and all opportunities to do that…my last roommate and I once figured out that we had upwards of 25 between us…but I digress), and started looking for jobs that involved working with a lot of people.

After realizing that the “social service” field wasn’t as ripe with opportunities as I had once hoped, I broadened my scope and ended up as the coordinator of a Teen Center at a Boys & Girls Club. Essentially, I traded spending time with homeless women and children for hanging out with low-income at-risk teenagers (this is how they have been defined to me. I generally define them as “outrageous”, ambiguous as that may be).

I still have a hard time explaining what exactly it is that I do, and all that this position entails.  Sometimes it’s as crazy as simultaneously running two mentoring programs while teaching a class on financial literacy or planning a 12-hour overnight event.  Other times it’s teaching teens how to play board games so I can beat them…I mean…teach them good sportsmanship…

It’s interesting how my time at the Mission prepared me for my time at the Club.  I have attempted to cultivate just the right amount of genuine care and seemingly lackadaisical demeanor that inadvertently tricks people into trusting me.  The techniques I used with former addicts who preferred arguing to listening are the same ones I use for 14-year-old’s who would rather play Minecraft than learn about leadership and community service.

Though I would hope it goes without saying, Jesus is just as present here as he was there.  I can still tell when I am spending too much time relying on my own strength to get through each day, because programs tend to fall apart and I find myself becoming annoyed by the most ridiculous things.  It’s also those times that I tend to focus on the transitional nature of this job–I know that I’m not going to be there for very much longer, and it’s easy for me to get caught up in that, to think only of the future instead of being present in the here and now.

This all goes back to the idea of waiting that I’ve been mulling over–this truth that regardless of the season we are in, we are in some way being prepared for things to come.  And we have to hold onto that, lest we go crazy always wanting to be somewhere else.  For example, I know that this season has already taught me much about what Jesus is actually calling me into.  While I was sure for so long that it was specifically ministering to those who find themselves homeless, I am realizing more and more that what I get most excited about is the equipping and sending out of all people.  When I was at the Mission, I found the most joy in the situations that resulted in learning; whether the person in question all of a sudden realized a bit more about their true worth or they realized what  small steps they needed to start taking, it is those things that I still think about.

And even now, I get to be a part of equipping and sending out:  I have daily conversations with teens that result in the reshaping of their concepts of respect or tolerance or gratitude, and then I get to watch them go and live that out with each other and with their families.  Instead of working directly with every demographic of people that I want to, I am learning to center myself in one and then send them out to the rest.  Funny that it took me so long to figure this out, because it’s the model Jesus himself used, when he first spent time with his disciples and then sent them out to do the work that he couldn’t be directly present for (Matthew 28:16-20).  Please note that I am in no way trying to equate myself with Jesus; rather, I’m just reiterating the fact that this idea of Jesus-replicating discipleship is straight from the Bible.

Anyway, let’s set that aside for another time.  If you made it to the end of this somewhat rambly post, I applaud you.  And I leave you with these snippets of what my days at the Club are sometimes like:

The other day I was at a park that’s essentially in the backyard of the Club and a 6-year-old wandered away from her group because she wanted to be with the teens.  I asked her to please go back with the other kids, and she let me know, very matter-of-factly, that she was going to bite herself to death if I made her go back.

There’s another kid who, upon learning that we had temporarily banned glitter from the Club, brought her own from home and proceeded to “share the love” by spreading it across every single surface she could before someone finally stopped her.

And then there are my teens.  At least once every other week, they tell the story of how, on one of our drives from their school back to the Club, I ran over a curb with the van.  In their retelling, they maintain that I nearly killed all of them, neglecting to mention the fact that I was actually avoiding being hit by a car.  They also remind me often of my singleness and that they’re sure I’m going to live alone with multiple cats if ever I reach adulthood (their words, not mine).

At least they’re keeping me grounded.


displaced, literally.

As you may or may not recall, I wrote briefly about the concept of sweeps awhile ago.  You can refresh your memory here, if necessary (for future reference, any time a word is underlined, chances are it’s a clickable link).

Yesterday I inadvertently came across this news story.   If you have a free minute and a half (which I’m going to assume you do, because reading these posts generally takes longer than that…), please watch it.

Let me break it down for you, though.  There’s an overpass here in town that, to quote the article, has “housed the homeless for years”.  But starting today, that will no longer be the case.  The City Code Enforcement said there has been a rise in complaints against the people living there, so they put up trespassing signs and kicked everyone out.  They also plan on moving more of the homeless on Monday, probably from their camps along the river.

I first watched this with someone who used to live under that overpass.  She was horrified, telling me stories of the people who still live there.  In the video, there’s a shot of a mattress being tossed carelessly aside.  That mattress belongs to a man who has lived in that spot for 2 1/2 years.

The article also says, “this solves the homeless problem here, but likely only moves it somewhere else.”

It seems, though, that moving the problem somewhere else is not, in fact, solving it anywhere.

The easy answer, if someone doesn’t have all of the facts, would be to send them here, to the Mission.  But that just isn’t plausible.

For example, there was a group of homeless teenagers who had banded together there as well.  None of them are 18, so they will have a particularly difficult time finding a new shelter.  The Mission can’t take them in because they are underage.

And even if they were older, we simply don’t have the capacity to even temporarily house all of these people.  I’ve already had to turn one family away because we just don’t have any more room.

There are extreme weather shelters that open temporarily between mid-November and March, but even they can only hold so many people.

I’m trying to figure out what Jesus would do in this situation, and I’m just not sure.  There aren’t really tables that can be flipped over in anger (Matthew 21, if you don’t know what I’m referring to) and even if there were, I’m not sure that would be especially helpful…

So, for now I guess I’ll just keep praying for this community that I love.  I’ll pray that our city would recognize that the open-ended action that they took was unjust.  And I’ll pray that some kind of solution would arise, and that something good could somehow come from what seems like an awful situation.


a thought.

An online Q&A forum (Quora) recently asked people outside the U.S. what things they’d heard about our country that they didn’t believe could possibly be true until they actually came and visited.

I’m just going to go ahead and quote straight from the website rather than try to paraphrase and lose some of the impact…some of the things they said were:

Poor, hungry kids.  Really hard to believe this one. I read somewhere recently that 1 in 5 kids in the US is at the risk of hunger. That’s a lot for a country that boasts to be in the first world…

The astonishing number of homeless people on the streets in San Francisco. It is presumably one of the wealthiest cities in the wealthiest state of the wealthiest country in the world.  I expected to see wealth. I didn’t expect to see poverty like this. It seems a little worse each time I visit. I have visited lots of countries, and lots of cities, but I was shocked by the severity of the situation.”

If you have a minute, look at the other responses on the site; some of the other things are actually pretty funny (like, our penchant for wearing way fewer clothes than necessary in freezing weather conditions). I’m posting this for a couple reasons.  One is because I just realized yesterday, as I was walking around my city, that there’s such a disparity here (as in a lot of cities, I’m sure) between the wealthy or even middle-class citizens and those who live below the poverty line.  There are at least a couple places where an incredibly nice house sits adjacent to one that’s broken down or condemned.

Another reason I’m posting this is because I think it’s important for us to realize that these things shouldn’t be the norm.  We should be appalled by the number of hungry kids and the amount of people there are without permanent living situations, rather than thinking that that’s just how it’s going to be.

Just two days ago, an amazing group of Jesus-followers here in Yakima handed out 5000 backpacks to families because they love our city and the people in it, and they wanted to meet a need that they saw.  You can read the story here.  They recognized that they needed to put their words into action, and they believed that it was up to them to rise up and make a difference.

Maybe right now you don’t have resources available to gather a huge group of people to hand out school supplies, but what are some small steps you can take to begin to make changes in your community?  It could be donating time to a local shelter or food bank, going through your closet and giving away some of the things you don’t wear or use anymore, or even just beginning to educate yourself more about the things already happening around you that you can partner with.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” (Mother Theresa)


healed.

John 5:1-6 says this:

“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.  Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?'”

Seriously?

Of all the opening lines he could have used, Jesus uses that one?

I’ve read those verses a dozen times, but this time I realized how ridiculous it is that Jesus needs to even ask that question.  As though he needed to make sure that the man did, in fact, want to get well.

But what if the idea of being healed was something the man was uncomfortable with?  After all, he’s lived broken for years.  Being healed would mean relearning how to do everything, it would mean not having a ready answer to why he does things a certain way, it would mean that he would have to learn how to live whole.

I could very easily compare this to the people at the Mission–and I’m going to–but first, I need to make an admission:  there are certain areas of my life that, if Jesus was standing in front of me right now and he asked if I wanted them fixed, I’d hesitate to say yes.  And I’m willing to bet that you could say the same.

Why do we do that?

Why do we insist on staying stuck where we are, knowing that Jesus would change us if we just asked?

I obviously can’t speak for all of us, but I do it because it makes me feel safe.  I don’t want to trade in my insecurities and shortcomings, not having any idea what I’m going to get in return.  I like having something to hide behind, even if that something slowly and systematically tears me up.

The people that I see here are the exact same way.  So many of them can’t comprehend not being homeless because that label has become a sort of safe haven for them.

They are afraid to try to be anything else because they’re afraid of failing.

The name of the pool in the aforementioned verse is “Bethesda”.  The name comes from both the Hebrew and the Aramaic languages, and it has a double meaning.  Get ready for this…it can mean house of mercy and grace OR shame and disgrace.

So we’re given this choice.

We can choose to sit near the pool of healing, knowing that all we have to do is step in, but finding ourselves too afraid to make that move, to let go of our shame.  This shame and disgrace stems from addictions, eating disorders, an unwillingness to forgive, mental illness, a lack of self-worth, and a host of other things.  We can so easily let these things consume us and cause us to live life in hiding, too familiar with and comfortable in our shame and lack of self-worth to do anything about it.

Or! (I love that there’s another choice!)

We can recognize that the pool we’re sitting by is one of mercy and grace.  It’s one that welcomes all, despite background, financial status, or even perceived level of disgrace (because, if you’re anything like me, you find yourself believing that there are just some patterns of thought or behavior that are way worse than others).  When Jesus asks us if we want to be healed, we can say “yes, please change me!” and let him begin to reshape us and make us whole.  And it doesn’t end there…he promises to never leave a work unfinished, and I’m pretty sure that means he’ll give us the resources and community we need to learn how to live in our new skin.

So I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty neat to me.  I’m getting tired of carrying around all this baggage.

Will you join me in beginning to make this change?


reach out.

We live in a world that tells us to put ourselves before others, to choose independence over interdependence.  Because of this, it is easy for us to focus only on what is right in front of us.

We live in a world where we are taught that being self-sufficient is important, that we need to rely on our own resources to get us by, and so it is easy for us to think poorly of those who clearly need help.

We live in a world that lies to us.

From the beginning of the Bible to the end, it is clear that God created us to rely on and support each other.  Genesis 2:18 says, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.’”  Things weren’t good until there was more than one person.

Jesus lived and modeled community with his disciples constantly.  He always sent them out in pairs, and the early church is the story of a people who were together and were of one heart and mind, sharing all in common.  And then in Revelation 21, we’re given a picture of a new kind of community.

The time that we have here on earth isn’t about us.  It’s not about helping ourselves to anything we want, climbing the ladder of success (that always seemed like an odd saying to me…how sturdy can that ladder really be, especially when a whole bunch of people are climbing it simultaneously?), relying on our own selves to get by, or any of those other things that we’ve been told are good ideas.

Philippians 2:3 says this:  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”

It should be our goal to look out for each other, to reach out to people who are hurting and offer to help carry their burdens for a little while.  Because isn’t that what Jesus would be doing if he were physically here?  And aren’t we to be the hands and feet of Jesus?

What does this have to do with the Mission?  A couple things, actually.  In thinking about my last post, in which I wrote about generosity (Yes, I know you don’t really need that reminder because you’re only one mouse scroll away from seeing it.  I just like to make things easier for people.), I realized that I had more to say on that subject.

The people here are generous with their time and advice and concern because they recognize that we are all in this together–we’re part of a community that attempts to openly and honestly care for the well-being of others.

At any given time, I know what is happening in the lives of the people here because they tell me.  Or they tell each other, and the information slowly makes its way back to me.  It is a messy, somewhat unexpected community, but it thrives because these people care about each other.  They are quick to share in both the heartaches and joys of their neighbors, and they genuinely look out for the people around them.

Granted, there are those who take advantage of this idea of reliance by taking more than they’ll ever be able to give.  But they are usually balanced out by those who freely give all that they themselves have been blessed with.

Jesus is so clearly at work here, and it is amazing to watch.