Thursday, February 24, 2011

What the Blackbird Network could be

Following Jesus is a simple yet difficult proposition. He raised the bar in different ways to many of those who wanted to follow Him. Pick up your cross, don’t even say goodbye to your loved ones, sell all you have etc, etc.
How is following Jesus challenging us personally? What is he asking us to put down and follow Him? How are we resisting? How are we trying to keep one foot in the door of comfort, stability, and “normalcy?”
In my mind Blackbird is nothing more than a group of people wanting to follow Jesus, those of us who currently gather may possibly be a little further along in the journey than others we are discipling.
In that context how are we encouraging, discipling, offering community, resource, and support to fellow Jesus followers?
Is our Blackbird group a rest stop on the journey we all go through during the week? Is this a cold glass of water to replenish us as we are involved in the dirty and difficult work of the Great Commission?
How easy is it for each of us to become discouraged, overwhelmed with life, tempted by giving it up to follow the American dream? It is easy for me to want to give up. I need this group for the inspiration that comes each week as I know there are others out there living for Jesus also. When we want to give up we know that we are not alone. We know that the kingdom of darkness is being attacked.
Blackbird whether it is in Valpo or wherever is attacking, it is a movement of people going after that which was lost. We have left the 99 sheep and are going after the 1.
But with this mindset and mentality we are going to be wounded and hurt along the way. There are going to be those with battle scars, and those who abandon the faith
But we press on, not giving up, and not giving in.
We continue to find others who are on the front lines, we continue to develop oasis’ whether these be locally or globally.
We continue to be a place of temporary safety, comfort, and replenishing of mind and spirit. Always with the thought of not staying in this safe place but moving back into our roles in the Kingdom of God.
We don’t create programs, tasks, or roles for us rather we help them listen to the Spirit and allow the Spirit to lead and guide us into the niche the Spirit have for them.
We do all this with a spirit of humility not valuing any of the gifts, talents, or roles given to us by God as greater or less than anyone elses.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Giving away your network

In a book that greatly influenced me "Love is the Killer app" by Tim Sanders talked quite a bit about sharing.

Jesus spoke of sharing quite a bit also saying things like "if you have two coats give one to the poor" (Luke 3:11). It is easy to quantify giving away money or material items but what about intangible things like a network of people?

Being a networker by nature- I realize how much work and time goes into connecting with people. How much time goes into lunches, coffee, emails, phone calls, and the personal investment put into each relationship. Each relationship is something that is built on trust. I was in meeting a few months ago and the guy I was meeting with said something to the effect of "I want to meet more of your friends because nice guys usually don't introduce me to jerks."

A network of influence can take quite a bit of time building up, but very easily can be ruined in an instant. So it something many hold close to the vest and don't want to share it with others.

A persons network can help find one better jobs, greater opportunities, better board members for non-profits,more chance of success with ideas, or success in fund raising to name a few.

So it is understandable why so many do not share this relationships with others.

Why should I share my network? For me my network belongs to God just as any tangible item does. I feel that I am to be generous with my other items, why would this be any different?

What does sharing look like? Every day we have opportunities to help others by giving names, email address, or numbers of those who could of help. If we know of a car mechanic that does great work for cheap- why wouldn't we share? Because if they are busy working on another car we won't be able to have ours worked on, or if they get to busy they will start charging more, or stop doing my car for a cheaper price.
All of those answers have me as the focal point, and it has a mentality of "scarcity" as Tim Sanders put it. Scarcity is the worry that there won't be enough for me. There will be a shortage, or I will lose out. That could be the same mentality for a donor, a great volunteer, or a great friend- what happens if they like the new thing better and leave me?

There are so many opportunities to get burned with this philosophy. There are so many chances that we will lose what we believe we deserve. There will be those situations were that does happen. But just because we got burned does that still mean that we don't do it?

I really wish my faith was based on Karma- I could say that as we share than others will share with us and it comes back bigger and better than what we first had. Could that happen? Sure Could we be worse off because we shared? That is also a distinct possibility. It is very difficult in my life to do right even if it is going to effect me badly.

But having a generous and giving heart needs to be part of my whole life including this area that could lead to difficulty.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Taking off a mask

"I didn't want to tell you all because people would make fun of me." Were the words from the young 20 something in my prison class this morning.

In talking about hopes, dreams, and goals there were things shared that came through masks that had been put on many years before. In many of these young men's lives a chance to share a different future is not something easily shared.

One young man said "I loved animals but once I recieved my first felony my dream of being a vet was gone." I learn more from young African American males in prison than from anyone else I spend time with currently.

I wonder if I was brought up in the scenerios they were how would I have turned out? How can I help those that are going down the same path?

In a book I am currently reading The New Jim Crow Mass Incarcaration in an age of colorblindess the statistics are stagering for how many african american males have a felony. "The US imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of Apartheid. In Washington DC it estimated 3 out of every 4young black men can expect to serve time in prison."

Withese statistics it is not suprising that many of these young men have a hard time sharing hopes, dreams, that do not involve a life of crime and/or violence. There aren't that many role models for a different path or a different way of life.

But when the masks come of it is amazing, it is a priviledge for these young men to share the person that God created them to be. It is inspiring to hear the stories of hope, naivity, and innoncence as the dream for different tomorrow.

I don't know if it will happen but for that brief moment in a concrete building surrounded by despair both physically and emotionally beauty creaps out.

After the words "everyone will make fun of me... the next words is want to write plays and movies. I already have begun to write. This comes from a late 20 something who escaped his house due to an abusive father and lived on the streets. Immediately there was silence as the guys looked at each other. You write plays they inquired. Yes and don't ask me about it again was his response. "I may joke, keep things light, or not take things seriously but deep down I am hurting."

There was a sense of relief that came from him as he said this. I wondered when the last time if ever he took of the mask? "I want to help out teenagers also, because my life was so horrible." Those were his hopes and dreams.

I don't feel like I do anything for the guys when I go into prison. They do so much for me, they help me see life through a different lense. A lense that sees the inequalities of our country. I don't feel sorry for them, I don't feel they are less of people but yet I feel that they may not have gotten the chances I or many others have gotten.

I believe we only can change this problem when we see and understand those young men who have the courage to take the mask off in front of us.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Road trip-microcosm of life

It had been a while since I got into a vehicle with a group of friends and went on a road trip.

The destination is secondary to the journey, the people that are met outside of the cluster of people that are traveling together are also secondary.

Experiencing all of this together is what the road trip is about. The shared memories, experiences, and conversation last lifetimes.

There was the time my car broke down outside a bar in St Louis on a road trip to St Louis. The four of us who were together experienced friendly bar patrons fiddle with the inner workings of motor with their hands, a golf club, and a hash pipe. Those memories will never be forgotten by the those of us who traveled together.

There was the time when a group of us went to a Red Sox playoff game in Cleveland and were taunted, threatened, and had chest hair thrown at us. We will never forget those mental pictures.

But aside from those times the memories that will last were the wisdom, and conversation that occurred in the cars, vans, and trucks.

My first admission is in my earlier years a road trip was not to be enjoyed but a neccesary evil in going from point a to b. One of the favorite stories my wife tells of our annual trips to Vermont is being 7 months pregnant and the driver (me) only stopping twice in 13 hours for bathroom breaks. Moments like these show that the journey was not being enjoyed (understatement) but endured.

When moments on the journey are enjoyed personalities are unveiled, songs are sung, sayings are entrenched in our minds, and ideas blossom.

One of the saying that is etched in my mind from childhood was my sister complaining of riding in our ford fairmount from Vermont to Florida on the "hump" of the backseat.

A group of us traveled recently a couple of hours and the synergy that took place was remarkable. In between cell phone rings, and text messages conversation took place that brought this group both together and pushed conversations to places they had never gone before. This may be due to the fact that we knew we were going to be together all day with no other place to go and we allowed conversations to meander to places that wouldn't happen in a defined time and space.

Of course not all conversation and ideas are not worthy of ever repeating again. I have been asked questions and subjected to ideas that are ridiculous to say the least. One question asked on a recent road trip was "what if we knew what it felt like to be baby in the womb and then to experience childbirth?" That conversation doesn't normally happen within the context of normal conversation, possibly when someone is drunk but people don't generally allow themselves to be vulnerable in this way. The best answer was "see Looks who is Talking 1 & 2."

One other aspect is the social experiences that have occured during a road trip. When energy drinks first came out I was taking a group of teenagers to Denver Co some 20 hours away and a rather energetic jr high boy had a goal to see how many he could drink. After a few he was out of control and he was banned for those for the rest of the trip. Or the boy who wanted to see how many times he could lightly bang his head against the side of the window. At first it seemed harmless then after an hour it turned into chinese water torture.

Songs have been written, romances blossomed, and friendships forged all while riding together. I have laughed, cried, become very angry, and ever other possible emotion all while sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle and I wouldn't change any of it.

I hope this sparks memories that you have of road trip experiences you have had. Please feel free to share them.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What makes you happy?

As Jill and Ellyse were reading Green Eggs and Ham, Kyle was laying on his bed. The tv was off and he was pretty bored looking at his sleepy dwarf and a smurf. Kyle recieved the dwarf the day of his surgery and has found a new friend in the little stuffed animal with the jowels and the big nose.

Kyle smiled as I walked into the room. He was excited because he had gotten a new frame for his bed (thanks AJ's). Kyle usually states the obvious so he told me "Ellyse is reading a book to mommy." He looked away and I asked him what the matter was? He told me "nothing." I asked if he was sad, he responded with "no." I asked him what makes him happy, he again looked away and stuck his front teeth out. he said "this makes me happy." I said what sticking out your teeth? He laughed with his giddy, it is past my bedtime laugh. I asked being with Mommy and Daddy, Ellyse and Ayden- does that make you happy? He said "yes" very quickly.

Kyle is easy to make happy, which is strange because he has every reason not to be happy. He walks like he has a peg leg, he spends way to much time in doctors offices, hospitals, and a wheelchair. Yet he loves life, and it is contagious. He makes me laugh on a regular basis, he is angry when he has to shower, and is very opinionated about what is on the tv. He gives me advice on my facial hair, the cleanliness of my clothes, and if my "voice stinks" (ie haven't brushed my teeth). But other than those small inconviences he loves life- he enjoys eating, and soon after surgery on Wednesday he was at Mcdonalds eating nuggets.

Kyle's ideal day involves wearing pj's all day, playing with toys, and sharing it with tigger and his family. Ok seriously why don't I embrace life like this?

On a daily basis Kyle helps me keep life in perspective. Do the things I get stressed at really matter? Usually not.

As I layed by Kyle tonight laughing I realized that because of Kyle's disease it has slowed down life and put everything in perspective.

And yes I can say it makes me happy when Kyle sticks out his front teeth also.


Thoughts from The Aspen Group Luncheon- Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford

It was great to spend some time listening and conversing with Hirsch and Lance Ford on Friday. It was interesting to hear questions and see others all over the spectrum on their faith journies.

A couple of comments stood out to me.

The first was a comment I think Mark Willis made- it was in the context of worship and when multiple micro groups come together and different people lead the "worship aspect" Mark said something to the effect "we probably won't enjoy all the different expressions of worship." That was so refreshing and important to hear. In the context of diversity how do we have multiple expressions of people using their gifts to honor God in the form of worship? How easy is it for us to stay in our homogenus groups with all those that look, sound, and worship God like us?

I think it was Hirsch that said it " we want to have churches of the poor not churches for the poor." How do we help facilitate not administer, run, or manage other expressions of what God is doing in certain areas? The bottom line is it so easy to make everything like we like it or what we are comfortable with or what makes us smile.

$88 Billion dollars (something like that number) have been spent on church buildings in the last 10-15 years in America and what have been the results? What a stagering thought.

Someone asked the question where does change start, how can I get "my church" to begin living missionally and making disciples? There were two great answers one was from guys sitting at our table. Their answer was you have to change, and start modeling what you want others to do. It is so easy to be the one on the sideline yelling,coaching, and instructing others what to do but without having any "skin in the game." But as I thought of this and Hirsch talked about the incarnation of Jesus, this isn't the model Jesus showed us. By God sending Jesus in human form he sent the example not of the coach, consultant, book writer but active participant. It is easy to wish for a different model but how are we modeling to others the great commission?

The second answer Hirsch gave was telling a new story. What is the new story of normality? What is normality in our churches now? Is it being a disciple who intentionally disciples others and purposefully engages those that don't know Jesus or is it something different? If it is something different how do we help tell the stories so others will begin seeing that this is what Jesus called us to.

Tension- The Spiritualist and the Strategist

My mind was blasted this week from so many different conversations dealing with God, church, mission, and discipleship.

Tension is a great thing in dealing with all of these conversations.

A couple of weeks ago I was in a lecture with T.J. Addington and one of the tensions he talked about in the Christian realm was the spiritualist and the strategist. The spiritualist high points are listening to God, patience, disernment, wisdom, and thinking before acting. The strategist high points is acting on what God has said in the Bible, planning on how to incorporate what God has said, and doing it.

I had never heard anything like that said before, and it makes sense as I look at people on the polar extremes of this continuum. The easy answer is there are examples of both in the Bible, and there are those that fall all along the line of the extremes. But how are both ends used together to expand God's kingdom?

Jericho and Joshua is an example how both of these work together the spiritualists role was the seven priests who carried the rams horns and the obedience and the patience to march around the city seven times. I can only imagine those who were more on the strategic side thinking this isn't going to work. But Joshua obeyed and when they blew their horns and shouted the walls came down and the Isrealites strategically advanced. It was both working in concert with each other.

It is so easy to think either or in terms of spirituality or strategic thinking. But using Jericho as an example God works through both.

The great commission is generally clear, this is what we are to be doing while we are here on earth, but specifically we get hung up on it because we don't know specifically what our role is in that. The spiritual would advise pray and wait until God says specifically what you need to do. The strategics answer would be God has told you what to do lets go break down some walls. Neither of those answers are sufficient in themselves. it is easy to not do anything for some and it is very easy for the others to be busy for the sake of being busy but how do we work through both sides to find a more complete answer?

I am in awe of the concept of the body of Christ. It is so comforting to know that we are to work together in building the kingdom of God both in our context and through out the world.

The hard part for us as humans is valuing those gifts and personalities that are unlike us. The strategist needs the spiritualist and vice versa. We can see this throughout scripture and the answer isn't to change the other to be like my personal preference but rather how do we all work together? How do we become unified on what Jesus commanded us to be? How do we use the example of Jericho and send the worshippers and prayer first, but not end there? How do we hold back those looking to destroy everything in their path and wait for the worshippers and prayer?

Saturday, February 5, 2011


When my sister was little she would sing a song:

Beautiful, beautiful

Jesus is beautiful

And Jesus makes beautiful

Things of my life.

Carefully touching me

Causing my eyes to see

And Jesus makes beautiful

Things of my life.

Those words came to mind yesterday after talking with Charlie. I wasn't suppose to have a personal conversation with Charlie. I actually wasn't even suppose to leave my house. As I left for my prison class yesterday morning, I got stuck in the snow in my subdivision. After twenty minutes of pushing and pulling my car was freed and I was on my way. When I arrived at the prison there was a miscommunication and all the guys in my class were told that they could go to "rec" because it was canceled. There were only two guys that would be available to come. I was asked if I wanted to do the class with only two people. Sure why not I am here.

So my class consisted of Chris and Charlie. Chris is a rather quite fellow who I didn't know well. Charlie I have had in five classes now and have spent considerable time with. I have written about Charlie in the past. He has become a friend and an inspiration to me. When I first met him he told me there is one thing I can do "I cook meth and I damn good at it."

Well I have found that isn't true Charlie is good at many things. During a field day Charlie led bingo and he earned a nickname from Jon and I. The nickname was "coach." He acted and looked the part of a coach that field day. Charlie was living out the life that he had missed out for so many years.

Charlie told me yesterday he started using drugs when he was 9 some 40 years ago. His life was incomplete and he turned to drugs to deal with pain. Drugs had been a part of his life ever since. He had tried to live a double life and had been successful to some degree but he had always fought with this addiction. The addiction had affected his family in many negative ways.

He had been in and out of prisons for some time, but this time had been different. He shared yesterday that if they tested me now for drugs I would be clean. I haven't been able to say that for quite some time.

Then came the line "I wish my family could the see the person I have become." Charlie is new creation, not only has he developed many new habits, and become disciplined. He has become a follower of Jesus. He is studying the words of Jesus, he is using the gift and passion God has given him. Charlie is a natural counselor and encourager. Charlie is one of the people I thought of when I wanted to quit last year when I ran my 5 mile race. (not long for some, almost killed me).

What a priviledge I have had with my friendship with Charlie. I have seen the person that God has created him to be. All the years of drugs had hidden that person.

What will happen when Charlie gets out? Who knows, he could go back to drugs, but I am not thinking about that. I am thinking about the person Charlie is today. The influence and encouragement he has on the 30+ guys in his unit. The wisdom and bluntness that comes from his mouth.

His family is staying away from Charlie right now, it is somewhat due to fear of what they are doing and who Charlie is becoming.

As I drove home yesterday those words of the song ran through my head. Jesus is doing beautiful things in Charlie.