A Prayer for Today, from a Hundred Years Ago

O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;

The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not your thunder from us,
but take away our pride!

From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches,
That comfort cruel men,

From sale and profanation
Of honor and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord.
Amen.

From G.K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936)

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Basketball Hall of Fame

I’m pretty sure that I visited the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Back when I was a boy. Maybe Cor’s age, maybe slightly younger. But my memory of the experience is not very sharp. And even if my memory was sharper, the site has changed quite a bit in the last thirty years.

Today’s Basketball Hall of Fame uses a lot of touchscreens. (They gave each visitor a special stylus, as a special precaution against COVID-19). Even the “Ring of Honor,” featuring all the players and coaches who’ve been inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame, is largely digital. No brass busts, like in Canton’s Football Hall of Fame. No signed memorabilia, like in Cleveland’s Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Just a series of glass panels, with the names of each year’s class of inductees engraved. All the actual history was accessed through several large touchscreens where visitors can scroll through pictures, video clips, quotes, and facts about each individual.

There is some memorabilia, but really not as much as I would have expected or hoped to see. Even with the historical items that were available to look at, there wasn’t a lot of information about the items. Some pieces were completely unlabeled.

The lack of labeling may be a result of the renovation process they’re currently undertaking, but still… It seems to me that they could have done more with the one-of-a-kind physical artifacts. Where is the sheet of paper with a handwritten “100,” originally held up by Wilt Chamberlain after setting the record for most points scored by an individual player in an individual game? What happened to the headband that fell off of LeBron James’ forehead Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals? We planned a whole day to browse the collection, but we probably saw it all in about an hour.

That being said, it turned out to be a boon that we visited during the time of COVID-19. We sneaked in two days before a new travel advisory from the Governor would have made our trip impossible. As a result, Cor and I didn’t see any other visitors for our first hour and a half on-site. Even at its busiest, the number of visitors roughly equaled the number of staff at the Hall of Fame. The staff demonstrated great eagerness to accommodate us and answer any questions that we wanted to ask. They looked up information when they didn’t know the answers to our questions. And they even gave us local restaurant recommendations.

Our favorite part of the Basketball Hall of Fame, however, was the basketball courts.

Underneath the distinctive dome, we delighted in the full-sized, hardwood court. Both ends of the court featured professional-grade rims, nets, backboards, and stanchions. One side of the court provided an area with lowered rims for dunking. The other side of the court included a peach basket (representing the invention of the game), a metal backboard (like you might find on an inner-city basketball court), and a barn-wood backboard (evocative of rural settings). They were fun.

Cor and I probably spent two or three hours on the basketball court because we were having such a good time. We had the space to ourselves for much of the time (especially in the morning), so it felt extra-special. We wore ourselves out by 3:30 PM, though, so we went back to our hotel to rest and watch the restart of the NBA basketball season on TV.

I’m glad we went. But I’m also glad that we included other activities in our trip to round things out.

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All the Way Up, and All the Way Under

I was excited about the opportunity to celebrate my son’s transition from boyhood to manhood. We planned two days in the High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York. After that, our itinerary called for two days in Springfield, Massachusetts, to visit the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Along the way, we hoped to enjoy some delicious food and deep conversation.

Still, it felt like it could all get blown up by COVID-19 at any moment. Mask mandates and travel advisories seemed to be updated by the hour, in the lead-up to our planned departure.

Fortunately, the only real consequence to the pandemic pandemonium was fifteen miles of extra hiking.

We drove nine and a half easy hours from Kent to the High Peaks area of the Adirondack Mountains. And the two of us enjoyed some great conversation along the way. We hit a snag, however, when we tried to check out a bear canister from the lodge at the trailhead. I knew from my advance internet research that black bears are active in the High Peaks area. So I’d called ahead to verify that I’d be able to rent the recommended canister that would keep bears out of our food, away from our camp. It should have been quick, cheap, and easy. But after the desk worker learned that we were from Ohio, she consulted a list and said that they wouldn’t be able to rent us a canister because of COVID-19 precautions. It felt ironic, given the fact that we’d chosen such a “socially-distanced” activity. Still, our state had apparently gotten too sick over the week since I called.

So we needed to improvise.

I thought about trying to go without food, though I didn’t want to make things miserable for us. We considered trying to rent or buy a canister from somewhere else, though we were in a pretty remote location. I even wondered if we might be better off scrapping the wilderness portion of the trip. In the end, though, we decided to use the trunk of our car as our bear canister — even though it was 2.5 miles from our campsite.

It actually ended up feeling like an experiential metaphor. Manhood doesn’t follow a predictable script. It can be a hardship. It requires improvisation. Strength and courage. And companionship.

We did those extra miles together. Five after dinner on our first day (after hiking 2.5 miles in with our heavy packs), five before breakfast on our second day (before a 10.5 mile hike to the top of a mountain), and five after dinner on our second day (after a 10.5 miles hike to the top of a mountain). We got tired from all those extra miles, but we also got to be together.

In between all those extra miles to and from our “Parking Lot Bear Canister,” we also climbed to the top of the highest peak in the High Peaks area of the Adirondacks (also the tallest mountain in the state of New York).

Mount Marcy was a lot more challenging than I thought it was going to be. It was long and steep. It tested our strength and resolve. Still we did it. And when we got down off the mountain, within striking distance of our campsite, I initiated Cor into the All-Under Club.

When we marked Elliot’s thirteenth birthday, it was a snowy March morning in Lake Michigan and the act of entering the water felt more perilous. In Cor’s case, however, the plunge into the icy water felt like more of a reward — at the end of our perilous journey — instead of the peril itself. Either way, our ritual combines a mix of biblical wisdom, family traditions, the experiences of other parents, and personal intuition. It represents plunging together with Cor into the chaotic, confusing waters of manhood. It was a way to enact our extra trailside exhortations to reject passivity, accept responsibility, lead courageously, and live in expectation of a greater reward from God.

“I love you, Cor,” I said, as I sat on a sunny rock with my sore feet soaking in the icy waters of Phelps Brook. “You’ve got what it takes to be a man. Not just for joining the All-Under Club. I’m proud of the way you’re growing up.” I’d told him earlier that ‘becoming a man’ was a process, not a moment. “You’ve got what it takes to rise to the challenge, and I’m excited to see the way that God works in you.

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New Trails in the CVNP

I love a good quest. I’m especially enamored with the idea of hiking “every step of every trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.”

The reality of such an project, however, is complicated.

I thought I completed the project back in February of 2018. I used a red Sharpie marker to color in every trail marked on the official map published by the National Park Service. And even a bunch of other trails that were not on the official map. But after the project was finished, I continued to discover new trails. I found an app called Gaia which showed a number of connector trails and unofficial trails, in addition to the NPS trails. So I completed all of those by the end of 2018. Still, I’ve continued to encounter new trails every so often in the last couple of years. They feel like little gems, found in the dark corners of a mine.

This week I hit the jackpot. I discovered two new trails within the northwestern section of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. And they were really beautiful trails!

Hemlock Creek Trail

The Hemlock Creek Trail is a new trail, opened in 2019. (So I didn’t just miss it, back in 2018). A two-lane, smoothly-paved asphalt trail cuts two miles from the center of Independence, Ohio, down to the Towpath Trail. But while the trail is new, it follows the course of a really old waterway: Hemlock Creek. In one spot, the creek falls five times in the space of a quarter mile. It’s gorgeous!

Terra Vista Nature Study Area

A little further south and east of the Towpath Trail, there’s an area called Terra Vista Nature Study Area. It was on the map, back in 2018, but it was only a dot, not a line — suggesting single site, not a trail. It’s also not contiguous with any other trails in the park. So I never really gave it a look until this week. And it was surprisingly nice. Water lilies covered a pond. Blackberry bushes crowded the trails cutting through meadows. And there was even an old cemetery from the early 1800s.

I’m glad I found these trails: mostly to enjoy God’s Creation in new, slight variations. But also to solidify my quest — this time covering “every step of every trail” in the year 2020.

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The Color of Compromise

I just finished reading Jemar Tisby’s book, The Color of Compromise. I first heard about this book last summer. The Staff at Estes Park Leadership Training worked through the material week-by-week as a group. And the book seemed to prompt so many powerful interactions that it got my attention. I put it on my list of Books to Read. But it languished on that list until the Staff at our church started thinking about a book to guide group interaction in the H2O Summer Intensive this year. We’d recently been lamenting the deaths of Ahmaud Arberry and Breonna Taylor. We felt troubled by the general history of Racism in the United States. So we decided to order copies of the book for every participant in the Summer Intensive. And for our church Staff team, as well.

We knew it was going to be a worthwhile book. We didn’t know, however, how timely it would be. In the same week that we started ordering copies of the book for everyone, the death of George Floyd. rocked the country (and even the world). Demand for the book skyrocketed overnight. Consequently, some of the students who were slower in responding to our request for their mailing addresses had to wait weeks before their copy could be delivered. Even so, we forged ahead with reading one or two chapters per week — and we learned so much about the past that informed our understanding of current events that unfolded throughout the month of June and still to this day.

I feel like the Holy Spirit guided us through the process of choosing and working through this book together. But make no mistake: The Color of Compromise was not a comfortable book to read. Especially not as a white, Christian pastor.

A full fifteen percent of the book is footnotes and endnotes (I know because I read it as an e-book). It’s a rigorous historical analysis. And sadly, the history points to well-documented, systematic, sinful Racism that oppresses people of color. Not just in society at large, but specifically within the Church. It’s an oppression that has permeated my own understanding of church leadership, biblical interpretation, public policy, political affiliation, and economic dynamics from birth until the present. I never understood how the D.A.R.E. (drug abuse awareness) club at my elementary school related to Racism. It never occurred to me that the “Moral Majority” might be immoral, with its roots established in school segregation concerns. These things were just normal parts of my childhood. I thought they were good. After reading this book, however, I can see that they’re more complicated.

One of the things that struck me the most as I read through this book was the way that America’s Racism is so closely linked to America’s Idolatry of Money. People say: “Follow the money.” But it’s not just a truism. It’s true! Economics served as a primary driver in many of the decisions that enslaved, intimidated, and oppressed people of color. The evils of Capitalism were exposed in story after story. And they were sharply juxtaposed — both by Tisby and by my own study of Scripture — with the teachings of Jesus. It felt damning. Convicting.

We’ve strayed from God’s design. But we can also take heart! Jesus offers salvation! The last chapter of the book packs a lot of practical suggestions for how to repent from our Racist past and chart a new course for the future. It won’t be easy. If we choose to take Jesus seriously, our society will face significant disruption. But after finishing this book, I’m more convinced than ever that significant disruption is exactly what we need.

Posted in American Politics, Church, God, H2O Kent, Introspection, Leadership, Ministry, Politics, Recommendations, Recommended Reading, Social Issues, The United States of America | Leave a comment

Mask and You Shall Receive

Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Ohio (as in much of the United States). The City of Kent passed an ordinance last week mandating the use of face coverings in all public spaces. Even President Trump recently shifted his rhetoric. He now suggests that wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is not just wise, but patriotic.

We’re also getting closer to the beginning of a new school year. It seems like something that everyone has been looking forward to as something of a “Reset” button. Consequently, the interplay of these two “forces of nature” are introducing a lot of interesting social dynamics.

Masking for a Goal

Cor’s middle school soccer team started hosting “Open Field” practices last week: Two nights a week. On Monday night, I observed the emphasis on scrimmaging (simulating game conditions). And I also observed a lack of concern about keeping six feet of separation between players. (Though I admit this is very difficult to do while scrimmaging). As a result, on Wednesday, we told Cor that he was going to need to wear a face mask — an athletic neck gaiter — if he wanted to continue practicing with his team. So that night, he was the only person on his team who used a mask. He seemed to be the only person on the field who even brought a mask. But I honestly wasn’t even bothered by the lack of mask usage. I was bothered by the way that Cor took some crap from a number of his teammates about the mask.

Middle-school boys are hard-wired to feel insecurity in the face of outlying behavior. They tend to provoke outliers in an attempt to enforce conformity. So that night of practice was hard for Cor. Still, I was proud of the way that he stood his ground.

I encouraged him by saying that if he can keep up with his teammates with some level of restriction to his breathing, it means that he’s that much more in shape than they are. I reminded him that considering others and protecting others is the mark of a good teammate and a good leader. “What if someone came to practice without knowing he was sick, and then the whole team ended up coming down with COVID-19?” I asked. “That would be a season-killer.” I told him I wanted him to persevere with wearing his face mask because it was the socially responsible thing to do. Still, I wished it was easier for him.

Yesterday evening, Cor returned for his third Open Field. He happened to be the first person to arrive (even before the coaches). This also happened to be the first Open Field after the City of Kent passed its mask ordinance. So I was extra-curious to see how other families and the coaches would handle things. Cor wore his mask, as he had on the preceding Wednesday. And when the second player arrived, he stepped out of his father’s truck with an athletic neck gaiter around his neck. He pulled it up over his mouth and nose and jogged out to join Cor on the field. A third player walked up to the field already wearing a face mask.

I think it was pure coincidence that the first three to arrive were the three most committed to the idea of masking. Regardless, the effect was that the next fifteen people to arrive all jogged out to the field with face coverings. Even the first of the coaches to arrive! I observed that some argued about it with their parents in their cars before getting out to practice. Some individuals wrestled with the idea of the face mask, putting it on, taking it off, stuffing it into their pockets, pulling it back out again.

Right around the time that the Open Field was scheduled to start, one of the team’s best players arrived. He and his father argued, rather loudly, about the usage of a mask — but in the end, the middle-schooler loped onto the field with a grin on his face. No mask. Around that same time, the coach told the boys it was time to start running. He also suggested that they may want to remove their masks for the run. So I was curious to see if masks would be reinstated at some point. But I didn’t stick around to find out. I went home to eat dinner and let the team practice.

By the time I got back to pick Cor up, he was the only one using a mask on the field. But the players seemed to be a bit more spaced apart. And when the coaches gathered the players for their end-of-practice instruction and exhortation, the group was less tightly-packed than it had been at the previous practices.

It’s still an awkward social environment. I honestly have a lot of doubts about the feasibility of interscholastic competition this fall, so it may end up being a moot point. Still, I felt like there was some ground gained in the team’s approach to wearing masks.

Masking for Ministry Partnership

This morning, I was invited to a meeting of some Christian leaders focused on reaching out to international students. It was hosted by one of the Staff couples from a ministry focused primarily on Chinese students. I believe the original idea was to meet in their back yard, outdoors. It ended up being a rainy morning, however, so we were forced inside.

I was already wearing my mask when I rang the doorbell. Five other people had already arrived before I did, however, and none of them were wearing face coverings. They were all seated around a dining room table, perhaps two or three feet from each other. When they saw my mask, though, they scooted apart from each other a little bit. They also offered me a seat on the corner where I could pull away from the table even further. I explained that I felt healthy and had no reason to believe I was sick, but my mask was a matter of personal preference.

The group seemed to accept that explanation. The host even shared a story about a recent rash of sickness in his family. His brother and sister-in-law in North Carolina recently contracted COVID-19 on a cross-country move. They had unknowingly infected their father, as well, and he was now in a hospital. But not on a ventilator. So there was clearly some sensitivity to COVID-19. Just not enough to compel them to take precautions in a gathering of loose acquaintances. I was a little bit uncomfortable with the circumstances, but not enough so to excuse myself.

The seventh person to arrive also happened to be wearing a mask, albeit centered on his chin instead of his mouth. The top of the mask rested just beneath the bottom of his mustache. And just after the eighth (and final) person arrived (without a mask), the other mask-wearer explained that he’s been coughing a bit recently. He thought it was from allergies, though, not COVID-19. He just wanted to be cautious.

At that point, the host got up from the table and walked into another room. He returned with a gallon-sized Ziploc bag full of disposable face-masks. Three of the others accepted the masks he offered and put them on. So there ended up being five of us who wore masks for the rest of the meeting and three who did not. I only stayed about an hour before I had to leave for other obligations, so I quickly calculated — and accepted — the risks of that environment. But again, it felt awkward. It felt awkward to wear masks in a setting where I never would have thought to do so around this time last year. But it also felt awkward to have people in the room who were not wearing masks or staying six feet apart from each other.

I’m hopeful that we all took some incremental steps towards learning how to interact with others in this strange season of pandemic and a wide spectrum of personal preferences. But it still was clumsy progress.

Masking Why

I choose to believe that we’re all on a learning curve. That we’re all growing in our understanding of COVID-19 and the mitigation strategies employed against further transmission. I think it takes awhile to figure out how to navigate the social- and political tensions that have been woven into our national- and global discourse. So I still want to give a lot of grace to others who have different views from me.

At the same time, a lot of evidence seems to point to the fact that masks are going to be a part of our lives for at least the next few months. We need to embrace some level of insecurity and discomfort for the sake of protecting each other (physically and emotionally). Leadership on this issue is not easy, but it’s essential. And my experiences from the past couple of days have made me hopeful that we’ll be able to figure it out, as we go into this new school year.

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Finally Finished (For Now)

We’re finally finished! We’re done with painting the exterior trim on our house (a switch from tan to white). We did it partially to protect the wood, since the old paint had started chipping and peeling in many places. But we also did it to spruce up the look of our house.

It took more courage and perseverance than I originally estimated.

I hung out of windows and climbed to the top of our 40′ extension ladder to reach some pretty tricky spots. I went out early in the morning and stayed out late into the evening to avoid sweltering conditions in the middle of a heat wave that started about a week after we started the project. I worked with a slow, steady hand, when it seemed like things were going nowhere. And finally, after perhaps 70 or 80 hours of labor (not to mention all of the work that Marci added to the project), the job is finished.

At least for now.

We actually still want to paint the exterior trim on the detached shed at the end of our driveway. And we also want to do some more imaginative repainting of our front porch (not just merely covering up all the tan with white). But these can wait until we have some cooler weather. And until we’ve gotten a chance to rest up after the big project.

Marci enjoys home improvement projects. She likes to watch home improvement television shows. She asks for power tools for her birthday. The projects themselves can be tiring and frustrating, of course, but overall it’s fun for her. Not so much for me. Even so, I really enjoyed the feeling that washed over me as I finished the last coat of the last pane of the last window on the west side of our house this morning. It felt surprisingly similar to the feeling that comes with finishing a hard-fought road race, like a 10K or a Marathon.

The race itself was hard. But it feels great to be finished.

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Lessons from the H2O Summer Intensive

We’re getting close to the end of the H2O Network Summer Intensive. And I’m happy to say that I’ve learned a lot this summer. Of course, we designed the program to be educational. We created space to listen and respond to God’s voice in my life (the general theme for the Summer Intensive). We confronted the evils of Racism (through a book discussion coordinated with those of us from Kent who went through the program together).

But I’ve also learned much from the processes and particularities by which this initiative was brought to life.

The Summer Intensive was an improvised solution to the pandemic. We lost Spring Break missions trips. Local church ministry opportunities in the Spring Semester evaporated. We lost our summer Leadership Training projects. So this Summer Intensive helped to redeem and reclaim some strategic ministry opportunities. In spite of — and even through — the dynamics forced upon us by COVID-19. We decided to use broadcasting platforms and video conference platforms to connect students from our churches across the region. They were all home for the summer — yet still available (and even eager) for virtual gatherings. And this created the perfect conditions for learning about ministry in the electronic environment.

Our Experiences

As we’ve approached the end of the Summer Intensive, I’ve been thinking more deeply about questions like:

  • What elements of electronic interaction work well?
  • What elements are more challenging?
  • How do students and staff operate in these environments?
  • How can we maximize ministry effectiveness under these conditions?

There’s still no end to the pandemic in sight. Consequently, I want us to observe and apply lessons from an experimental analysis of the summer. To help provide some context for our summer “laboratory,” the H2O Network Summer Intensive included three primary components:

  1. Thursday Night Main Sessions, with music and teaching provided by one of the churches from the H2O Network. Some churches recorded their session ahead of time. Others produced their content live. Either way, the network posted a synchronized broadcast over YouTube at the appointed time each week. Sessions started with 45-60 minutes of one-way broadcast. Then individual churches hosted interactive video conferences to process some discussion questions. H2O Kent held its discussion groups on Zoom. We started with some brief banter at the whole-group level (about 25 participants). And then we split into randomly-generated discussion groups of 5-8 people.
  2. Sunday Night Workshops, with instruction provided by various staff from across the H2O Network. These sessions were hosted on Zoom. Each facilitator received the log-in credentials for an account with one of the oldest and largest churches in our network. Facilitators were instructed to prepare 45-60 minutes of content plus 30-45 minutes of interaction. (Though I will say there was quite a bit of variance in the way that different staffers approached their workshops). Participants could choose from five or six different workshops every week. And topics ranged from Prayer, to Listening Skills, to Racial Justice, to Dating. Groups size included some sessions with three or four participants and some with 20 or 30 participants.
  3. Tuesday Night Life Groups with H2O Kent People. We centered our discussion around a group reading plan. Each week we worked through one or two chapters from The Color of Compromise, by Jemar Tisby. These sessions were hosted on the H2O Kent Zoom account. We started with whole-group interaction (about 25 participants). And then we split into small groups for discussion, led by student-leaders, with the same three to five group members each week.

Some Observations

I’ve been talking with our staff and students from the Summer Intensive. From these conversations, I can say that almost everyone would list interaction as the most important element of online ministry. More than content. Or aesthetics. Or even video quality or audio quality. The overwhelming consensus is that people come into our online spaces for community.

Thursday Night Main Sessions were the most poorly-attended portions of the Summer Intensive. We usually had about 60% to 75% of the group from H2O Kent on any given Thursday. And there’s some reason to believe that attendance would have been even lower if we didn’t have Discussion Groups immediately following the sessions. Musical worship online felt uncomfortable. Teachers aimed to shorten their messages to 25 minutes or less, and even then they felt long. It’s just a lot to expect, with students isolated — each in their own bedrooms, listening on headphones plugged into laptops — staying in a passive posture for long stretches of time.

Conversely, Tuesday Night Life Groups were the most well-attended portions of the Summer Intensive. We usually had 80% to 90% of the group from H2O Kent on any given Tuesday. People also seemed to talk about our Tuesday night conversations the most: in group text conversations, on their social media, in conversation with others. They liked connecting with the other people from their group, even if they didn’t know each other very well at the beginning of the summer. We talked about some pretty spicy stuff: “The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.” We came into the conversation with some pretty widely-divergent views and experiences. Still, we became closer friends as the summer continued.

On a more technical level, we learned that some sort of Technical Director is a really valuable leadership role in our online group interactions. For most of the summer, a student-leader named Emily took it upon herself to host the Zoom meetings, slot people into Breakout Rooms, and help troubleshoot any issues experienced by any of the participants. She did this while other leaders did the work of building community and framing our discussions. She was pretty competent from the very beginning, but she got better as the summer continued — and the rest of us got better at keeping the group engaged while Emily’s behind-the-scenes action took place.

We also learned that it was helpful to copy the link for our regular Zoom interactions into recurring events on our electronic calendars and directly into our group text interactions, right before the appointed times. In general, we just needed to Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Communication has been a cornerstone of collegiate ministry for years, but it’s even more important in electronic environments. People want to learn. They want to be connected. But they need help to find those spaces for learning and connection.

These are a few of the ways we’ve been learning from our summer experiences. It’s still not ideal, but it’s surprisingly workable. It gives me hope for the coming months. And the coming generations.

Posted in Church, Culture, Culture Shock, H2O Kent, Ministry, Preaching, Small Groups | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Disruption

I’ve been stewing on Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (recorded in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Luke) for several days now. It’s unsettling — but in a good way.

I don’t want to rush to a point of settlement. Instead, I want to invite the Holy Spirit into this space, so He can do some work.

I don’t know if it started with a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit… or perhaps this cultural moment in which we find ourselves… or maybe other factors… But I’ve been noticing lots of economic implications in the first several chapters of Luke’s Gospel. Listen to the Song of Mary! Heed the warnings of John the Baptist (the immediacy of John’s application to economic factors in Luke 3:10-14 is especially notable)! Observe the first words of Jesus’ anointed ministry in Nazareth! Listen to the extended teaching from the Sermon on the Plain! I’m noticing more clearly than ever before how the Kingdom of God disrupts political kingdoms and economic empires.

The message of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, cuts deep into the soul of the United States of America. It calls into question our collective will to elect a President whose name is practically synonymous with money.

I’m struck by the clarion call to love our enemies and bridge the divides in our country (and our world), as I read Luke 6:27-36 today. But it’s explicitly not just a heart thing. It’s a pocketbook thing. “Give to anyone who asks, and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back” (v. 30). “Lend to [your enemies] without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great” (v. 35).

It sounds so radical. It feels so revolutionary. At times I feel like fomenting some sort of Christian Communist Revolution. At other times, I feel like taking a Vow of Poverty. I see needs to restructure our tax codes — much as this might hurt me). Policies need to be rewritten. The question of Reparations to descendants of our country’s enslaved peoples seems reasonable — even if it’s potentially painful.

In any event, I’m increasingly aware of the dangers of unfettered Capitalism, and it seems increasingly crazy to me that I’ve never really examined this system.

I don’t want to go in the direction of the godless, humanistic, Party-centered Communism of Vladimir Lenin or Mao Tse Tung. But I also don’t want to go in the direction of the godless, egotistical, Party-centered Capitalism of Donald Trump. I don’t like disruption purely for the sake of disruption. But the status quo is increasingly uncomfortable for me.

And if that makes me a radical, so be it.

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Eight Years Ago

Uitzwaaigroep 1

Our family left Amsterdam on July 10, 2012. It’s crazy to look back at the group portrait of the friends who came to see us off at the airport.

Welcome Party in Cleveland (6)

We arrived in Cleveland later that same day. And there, too, we took a group portrait with a bunch of friends at the airport.

I’m very grateful for all of the people who helped to make that transition memorable. No matter what else has happened in the intervening years — or is currently happening, or will happen in the years to come — there’s deep love and respect for each individual and appreciation for the time that we got to do life together, either in Amsterdam or in Kent.

Today, though, I am sad.

As I look at the old pictures and remember that significant moment of transition in the life of our family — it feels painful. Not just in the sweet, nostalgic sense, either. It feels sad to realize how many of the friends involved in that day have moved from one place to another. They’ve drifted out of touch with us, with each other, and (in some cases) with God. They’ve expressed anger and disappointment with me, with each other, and (in some cases) with God. We’ve all grown older, to the point that our younger selves are almost unrecognizable.

I don’t know why I’m noticing the sad things today. I guess it’s a sort of grief. Still, a grief observed is better than a grief repressed. Our family’s Amsterdam years will always be a significant period in our lives, even as they get smaller and further in our rear-view mirror.

Posted in Amsterdam, Children, Family, Home, Kent, Nostalgia, Ohio, The Netherlands, The United States of America, Transition | Leave a comment