29 June 2006

News from the Bronx

Here's an email from Jared Looney, one of the leaders of the house church movement in NYC (the Bronx). He's in the trenches, bearing witness to the way of God.

Dear Friends,

A day in the life in the city. Reflecting on yesterday.... After a 7AM bible study with a man in my building, I met with the summer interns for the entire morning for our weekly group session. After some e-mails and casual conversations, I continued to meet with our missionary apprentice to review many of the issues at hand. After heading home at around 6:30PM, I realized the need to recant a decision I had made about an upcoming meeting, and so after arriving home, I went to the laptop making sure to keep my time brief.
Family time.... playing with Adalia, Hylma folding clothes, daddy reading, dinner late in the evening. Then, around 9PM there was a knock on the door.
A man that is being reached out to brought me out to the elevator. We went down to the basement where another brother and I met the man's friend.

His friend was 'coked up' (translation = high on cocaine). As a means of 'coming down,' he put down 48 ounces of alcohol inside of 30 minutes, smoking cigarettes and a blunt (translation = marajuana), and rambling on mostly in explitives about all the hate and pain in the world, how much he'd like to become a vigilante, and how he needs to divorce his wife. He told me why he hates white people even though he has white friends, and he explained how well he can quote the Bible. I thought to myself how much he needs to KNOW Jesus.

He seemed intrigued with how we just sat and listened. He refused prayer at first, but later agreed to it. As we prayed for him and for the power of the Living God to be at work, he became strangely calm. As we ended the prayer, he sat on the edge of tears, his disposition transformed. We shook his hand and gave him a hug as we returned upstairs, and the man who called us down to meet his friend continued to tell of how God was working in his life.

Continue to pray for us. Pray for the first man whom God is reaching. Pray for his friend who lives in the 'depths of the pit.' Petition the Lord of the harvest for workers. Pray for the power of the Risen Lord to fall upon the city. The war is waging. The Lord is moving.

Another day in the life in the city.


18 June 2006


For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with the ability of humans to survive all types of drama and tragedy. Elie Wiesel’s Night caught my heart at a young age. Imagine, as a young man, being deported from your home, neighborhood and regular routine to “hell on earth”—life in several Nazi concentration camps.

I've been arrested by Anne Frank’s writing and in subsequent dramatic productions. This young girl, able to see God’s presence and paradox through the worst of circumstances, and in the end, teach us about the necessity of hope—the Nazi tactics could touch her family and physical comfort, but they could not touch the spiritual flame that blazed inside.

Jewish people, Israel for that matter, have survived displacement, slavery, bondage, brutal working conditions, food scarcity, the Red Sea—not to mention Persian, Assyrian and Babylonian captivity. Though there communities and individual lives have endured chaos, they survive taking on the strength of that which they’ve overcome.


As profound as men and women’s ability to survive, there’s any even greater stirring in the human soul. Even greater than the human ability to survive is the human need to belong.

Gangs, Starbucks small groups (if you don’t believe me, there are many colonies of people who meet at Starbucks three to four times a week) all point to one thing—the women and men who share our neighborhoods and offices are desperate to belong. Desperate to be apart of something other than their individual aspirations and failures.

In belonging, people have identity. When we are named as son, daughter, wife, husband, teacher, coach, elder—we are given reason to live and to live well.

In belonging, people have purpose, a sense of mission. Our world is full of folks who have no other mission in life than to “shop 'til they drop” and to “die with the most toys.” Only until we have a mission worth dying for, can we really begin to live

“In his marvelous book Letters to My Children, Daniel Taylor describes an experience he had in the sixth grade. Periodically the students were taught how to dance. Thank God this kind of thing isn’t done anymore, but the teacher would line up the boy at the door of the classroom to choose their partners. Imagine what it would have been like to be one of the girls waiting to be chosen, wondering if they would be chosen by someone they didn’t like.

One girl, Mary was always chosen last. Because of a childhood illness, on of her arms was drawn up and she had a bad leg. She wasn’t pretty, she wasn’t smart, and she was…well…fat. The assistant teacher of Dan’s class happened to attend his church. One day, she pulled Dan aside and said, “Dan, next time we have dancing, I want you to choose Mary.” Dan couldn’t believe it. Why would anyone pick Mary when there was Linda, Shelley, or even Doreen? Dan’s teacher told him it was what Jesus would have done, and deep down inside, he knew she was right, which didn’t make it any easier. All Dan could hope for was that he would be last in line. That way, he could choose Mary, do the right thing, and no one would be the wiser. Instead, Dan was first in line,” (Messy Spirituality, 84-5)

Dan describes this moment, a fascinating commentary on our dominating desire to belong.

The faces of the girls were turned toward me, some smiling. I looked at Mary and saw that she was only half-turned to the back of the room. (She knew no one would pick her first.)…Mr. Jenkins said, “Okay, Dan-choose your partner!”

I remember feeling very far away. I heard my voice say, “I choose Mary.”

Never has a reluctant virtue been so rewarded. I still see her face undimmed in my memory. She lifted her head, and on her face, reddened with pleasure and surprise and embarrassment all at once, was the most genuine look of delight and even pride that I have ever seen, before or since. It was so pure that I had to look away because I knew I didn’t deserve it.

Mary came back and took my arm, as we had been instructed, and she walked beside me, bad leg and all, just like a princess… (Letters to My Children, 13-17).

05 June 2006

Dislocation: Metro Beach (Detroit, MI)

Charles Campbell recently spoke at the church where I am blessed to pastor--May 21st to be precise (http://rccaudio.christianwitness.us/).

His class "Reading the Bible in Dislocation" greatly impacted our church and some of our small groups are taking seriously the challenge of reading the Bible in multiple settings and spaces.

Campbell's premise is that the location, the very location, one reads Scripture in, will drastically shape the experience one has with the holy text. For instance, if I read Luke 4 (a prime story in the Luke narrative) in Starbuck's in downtown affluent Rochester, my experience, my understanding of the text, will be drastically different than if I am reading the text in say, a shelter for abused women. The words "The spirit is upon me to preach good news to the marginalized" can best be heard when it is read among the marginalized.

The key: remember that the goal is not "evangelism" per se but an opportunity for those who normally read the Bible in church, home, etc. to be changed by reading the Bible in the places in which most of Scripture's stories take place: market place, streets, foreign spaces.

One of my favorite lines from Cambpell's teaching time: "It is not that we good Christians posess Jesus in here and then somehow take Jesus outside to others. Jesus is already there--he's already outside! We are simply invited to go (outside) and meet him there," referencing Hebrews 13, "And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then to go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come."


So our small group went yesterday to Metro Beach on the outskirts of Detroit to read the text in dislocation. Metro Beach just might be the most visible public space of the melting pot that is Detroit: Arabs, Eastern Europeans, affluent white and black, poor white and black, Asian, Laocian--we read the Creation Psalms and passages about community in Paul's thinking, etc.

It was a subltle shift, not as drastic as reading the text in the other places we plan on doing this summer, but a shift I consistently need in my life. I need the pace and rythym of my sheltered suburban life to be interrupted. And in the process, I hope to meet Jesus.