Seeds

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32

In our public discourse there is a lot of noise, a lot of bombast.

In reaction to the noise some people keep turning up the volume,
while others bury their heads in the sand.

The Kingdom that Jesus speaks of often looks more like the latter,
but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Kingdom comes in hidden,
small,
seemingly insignificant ways,
but it’s far from head burying,
or piously removing oneself from the fray.

The Kingdom operates in an entirely different mode.

With that in mind I would like to briefly tell the story of my friends at 1951 Coffee Company. 1951 (named after the year the UN created the official Refugee status), is the brainchild of Doug and Rachel.

Doug has been a committed member and servant at our church for a while,
and it has been a great pleasure to root him on.

Doug was working for a non-profit serving refugee’s in the East Bay (Oakland has been a sanctuary city for years and is one of the largest refugee resettlement areas on the West Coast). When the job became more about serving the organization than the population, Doug and Rachel started searching for something else to do.

Their idea, of combining their (and the Bay Area’s) love of coffee with job training, started to gain some traction.

The past year plus has been a wild ride of getting established as a 501c3, starting the training program, fundraising, and seeking a permanent space.

Our church cafe has served as the location for the training program. 25+ folks have been through a two week process and graduates have gone on to work in many local shops and cafes.

The organization found a great spot in Berkeley, started work on remodeling, and recently opened their cafe space.

And right after opening, the Executive Order effectively putting a hold on refugee admittance to the US came down. The timing could not have been better for business, and 1951 has been getting all sorts of great press.

I am grateful to have been witness to this journey,
and there are two things I especially love about this story:

  1. They did it. A lot of people (myself included) have great ideas that never come to fruition for a whole bunch of different reasons. It’s hard to see a vision through all the way to the end, and while they are far from done, 1951 crossed a significant finish line in January, a line many great ideas fail to reach.
  2. They haven’t ended persecution, stopped the mass-migration of peoples, or eradicated dictatorships, but they planted a mustard seed, and it is growing. As it’s branches grow, I’ve been amazed at how many people have been involved in the process. Many of these folks are from our church community, but all over the bay area and the world too. That’s the power of the growth of a kingdom seed.

In a world with a lot of noise,
I am, more and more,
looking for mustard seeds.

And I am looking for folks (myself included) willing to do the hard work,
the cultivating work,
for these seeds to grow.

I can find hot takes and big headlines without looking very hard.
But, I want good stories and better art, not more hot takes.

There is a lot of quiet good happening below the surface,
under the radar,
off the big grid.
Do we have the eyes to see it?

Books of the Year

I fell off my normal reading rhythm this past year,
but still read enough to let you know what I enjoyed.
Here we go (in no particular order):

  • The Brothers: Road to an American Tragedy
    • Haunting, but I would argue balanced, account of the Tsarnaev Brothers and the Boston Marathon Bombing (which we lived through during our time in Boston). The most interesting part of the book revolved around the reflections of a Russian gangster who urged people not to rush to try to “figure out why this happened.” His thoughts: maybe they were just angry, and maybe that anger drove them to evil.
  • Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience
    • Mary Sayers is the best going right now when it comes to exegeting Western Culture. Having read a few of his books, the awe factor in this effort was not the same, but his conclusions are still excellent and worth pondering.
  • The Lost World Of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate
    • John Walton’s work is a gift to the church. This (and The Lost World of Adam and Eve) helped shape my teaching on Genesis (summer of 2016).
  • You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
    • If I had to pick the best/favorite of the list, here it is. Smith’s thoughts on worship, liturgy, and desires should change a lot of our thinking and practice when it comes to everything from how we parent to how we craft Sunday services.
  • Strong And Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing
    • Andy Crouch takes a simple 2×2 chart and turns it into a brilliant explanation of what true leadership looks like.
  • The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture
    • This fun read explores how Batman has emerged as the preeminent 21st century super hero and how his rise correlates with the widespread mainstreaming of “nerd culture.” If you like Batman, nerds, or pop culture check this out.
  • Between the World and Me
    • The heaviest of the 2016 reads (but the shortest/smallest book), this book helped me understand the physicality of racism (as opposed to the reality or theory). To understand what I mean by that: read it. It will stay with you for a while.
  • Modern Romance
    • Hilarious and, at times, inappropriate, this book deepened my compassion for my single brothers and sisters. Modern dating is not for the weak of heart.
  • The Tortoise Usually Wins: Biblical Reflections on Quiet Leadership for Reluctant Leaders
    • The most refreshing leadership book I’ve read in years. It’s written by an Aussie, and it’s a bit hard to find, but worth the time and effort to get your hands on a copy. As a quiet/reluctant leader it both (a) confirmed many inner feelings and tensions, and (b) helped me see my strengths in new ways while offering some great guidance and challenge on how to lead in this way.
  • Here I Am
    • Easily the most anticipated book of the year for me. I’ve been waiting 11 years for a new Foer novel. In many ways this is his most ambitious effort to date (which is saying something for a guy who tackled the Holocaust and 9/11 in his first 2 novels). Parts of this book are intended to make you very uncomfortable, and it is not as perfectly brilliant as his other efforts, but the voice is there and at times it can be breathtaking.
  • The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity
    • Speaking of being uncomfortable: this is a confrontational work, but important, and never more timely than now (it was originally published in 2008). Rah’s words are must reading for those doing ministry in a multi-ethnic/multi-cultural context.
  • Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer
    • Finally, it wouldn’t be a reading list from this blog without a Eugene Peterson reference. This is an older work that I had not gotten to yet, but picked up for a series I am doing on the Psalms. Eugene helps us get into the human experience and the language the Psalms use to give voice to that experience.

Happy reading in 2017!

Seasons (Or: Hey, I Still Have This Blog)

It seems blogging has become a once-a-year exercise!
Between two full-time-working parents,
a 4 month sabbatical for our lead pastor,
and long, long list of other circumstances,
here we are: a year between posts.

Which means, let’s talk about seasons.

Life is full of rhythms and patters:
day and night,
school year and summer,
the literal four seasons,
and more metaphorical seasons like “your twenties.”

It just so happens this big season we’ve been in neatly filled the 2016 calendar year. Kind of nice how that worked out.

This season was, probably, the toughest of our lives.
Sure, other seasons have been more intense,
more tragic,
more challenging,
but this was a year of unrelenting demands
and logistical hurdles
unprecedented for our little family.

Another way of saying it: 2016 was the most adult year of my life.
Thusly, I’ve found myself pulled by the two great temptations one faces when in a challenging season.

First, the temptation to go back.
Back to a (perceived) “better,” or “easier” time.

It seems this is the great desire of our age.
Perhaps its information overload.
Perhaps it is fear about a changing world.
I’m sure many others have argued these points more eloquently,
but there is a surge of nostalgia for the past.

Whether that’s a simpler cultural era,
a less tumultuous political environment,
a more pure church,
whatever it might be,
there are powerful voices calling us backwards.

On a personal level, new seasons require a kind of grieving.
A chapter is over, and a new one is beginning,
and it’s okay to mourn the end of that era.

But, you can’t go back.

And even if you could that season changed you
and this one you are in is changing you
and if you could recreate that time
you are not the same you.
It would not be the same experience.

And then there’s the small matter that God is always going before us.
The story of God as revealed in scripture is a story that relentlessly moves forward in time.

I fear for those wanting to go back that they will miss the God who is out in front of them calling them into a better future.

Second, there is the temptation to fast forward.

I have an old friend who always reads the last chapter of a book first,
and then works their way back towards that already known ending.
That is one way to a read book, I suppose,
but it is not possible in life.

Fast forwarding your way through a challenging season may feel like a good idea, but it will short-circuit your growth. There is a reason you are here and there’s something to learn here and the question is will you learn it? Have you woken up to what is happening right here in this place?

Now, I feel the danger of this post slipping into some sappy,
just enjoy the moment, man,
kind of application.

There’s some truth there,
but if this year has taught me anything it is that
the truth is grittier than you might expect.

Per usual, nothing helps me learn and appreciate all of this more than our kids.

We have a four-year old and a two-year old.
One of my struggles in parenting is that when we leap over a hurdle with our oldest, I have a hard time accepting we still have to get over that hurdle with our youngest.

For example, there have been sleep hurdles,
discipline hurdles,
potty training hurdles.

And when we get past one of those (say potty training)
it feels like a huge victory.
That season is over!
Except it isn’t,
I’m still changing diapers.

Sometimes I want my youngest to catch up with the oldest so we can track together and jump these hurdles together (i.e. more efficiently). But that’s the temptation to fast forward and it is an illusion.

The other challenge of parenting is you wake up one day
and all of a sudden your baby can talk back.

Or that kid who you were terrified to drive home from the hospital with
because you realized you had no idea what you were doing,
is now going through the school options process,
and will be in kindergarten before you know it.

And nostalgia creeps in, and you (I) want to go back.

The gritty truth: these challenging adult seasons require a lot from us.

Most of all it requires that we show up,
day after mind-numbing day,
to make the next batch of oatmeal,
and wipe the next round of runny noses,
and purchase the next round of groceries,
and pray,
and punch in at work and do your best job even if you are tired,
and sit with the next round of broken people try to make sense of their lives, and park yourself in front of the computer to type the next sermon,
and point people to bigger truths when no one knows what truth is anymore,
and pray,
and share good news with whoever will listen,
and shake the dust off when they won’t listen,
and make sure the car has enough gas in the tank,
and call the friend you know is hurting,
and pray,
and write the thank you note that needs to be sent,
and read the same Curious George story for the millionth time,
and fold another load of laundry,
and in the middle of all that know that God in that place.

It’s Been A Year

A year ago I dropped Amy and the kids (one of whom was only 4 weeks old) off at the airport. I then turned around and began packing up a yellow Penske truck with all our worldly belongings.

Some sweet friends helped with the packing and the cleaning.

Then there was a pipe to smoke, a meal to eat, a few final goodbyes, and then off to the airport again to pick Dad up and start the drive west.

And so, here we are. A year in California. Almost a year in Oakland.

I’ve been through 3 major transitions in the last 10 years. First, Salinas to Durango. Then Durango to Boston (with the added bonus of bachelor to married man). And then Boston to Oakland.

Each transition involves a loss and a gain.

An embracing and a letting go.

Over the past year, I’ve actually really struggled to know what those things were as I’ve processed this experience and this transition.

It may turn out that as another year comes and goes I discover that what I thought I was embracing and letting go of where not really the thing.

But, this is the best I can say at this point in time, a year out.

Letting go? The thing I was a part of had an aura around it. It was cool. It was new and fresh and moldable and had good graphic design and your pulse moved a little faster when you heard about what we were up to.

There were questions and debates and creative thinking and good books were read and discussed and argued over and the envelope was pushed.

Not so much in the new thing. Now there’s more of a weekliness, a grind, a steady pace, and a walking with brokenness in broken places.

Bottom line: it’s not as cool.

But, the embracing.

The embracing of being wanted, instead if simply needed. Of transformation, not just creation.

Embracing being embraced.

Embracing all the strange and unexpected steps that led to this particular moment in this particular place.

The point is not which is better. The point is living into the moment and opportunity that is present right here, right now.

I’ve never been good at that, so the opportunity to learn how to do this is a gift.

To embrace.

All Joy//No Fun

It has been a while since I’ve posted here. One of my goals for the new year is to get back into a rhythm of blogging.

So we begin with a new reflection on parenting. Since the last time I posted anything both of our kids had birthdays, and so we now have a 3-year old and a 1-year old. Which is crazy. Where did the time go.

Anytime I think about parenting I think about the title from Jennifer Senior’s excellent book.

Some people freak out about this title because it feels sacrilegious to question being a parent at any level. Others roll their eyes in a jaded, sort of, “tell-me-something-I-don’t-know” way.

I find most parents, especially of younger kids, tend to go to one of these extremes. Happy-to-be-doing-this roboticness, or totally unsubtle resentment that these little people have robbed them of their “old life.”

Is there a better way to hold the tension?

Parenting is certainly not “no fun.” I have so much fun with my kids. Especially now that they are able to do a lot more and play and jump and talk (well more so the older than the younger, but they are both very interactive in their own ways).

But it is hard.

Our youngest has had a much more difficult time with teething than the older and I’ve spent a few midnight moments in the kitchen trying to rock him to sleep with the help of the humming refrigerator. Precious moments in some ways, but not exactly fun.

Discipline: incredibly important, but not a hoot!

Parenting is also not “all joyful.” There are some painful moments of recognizing one’s own selfishness and broken patterns of behavior.

There are painful moments of seeing those patterns show up in your kids.

There are painful moments of seeing selfish and broken patterns show up in your kids that you know didn’t come from you. They’re just there.

There’s an incredible potential in these tiny humans to break our hearts and if you have any kind of imagination you can see that potential early on.

And yet, there is so much joy. Dessert Friday. Visiting Grammy and Papa and G. Going to the park. Playing catch. Jumping Jacks. Reading books. Dinner together. When the oldest disobeys and then says to you: “Daddy, I want to be in right relationship.”

Live with that paradox parents. The old life is gone, this is a new stage, a new season. And it’s messy and frustrating and thrilling and boring and good.

And it will be transformative, if you let it.

Scott McKnight on “Mission” #kingdom #church

“Kingdom mission is church mission, church mission is kingdom mission, and there is no kingdom mission that is not church mission…

Many see kingdom exclusively in utopian terms and the church in all its rugged messiness, so they toss dust in the eyes of anyone who gets the two too close. But this fails at the most basic level of exegesis. The kingdom in the New Testament is not just a future glory but a present rugged reality struggling toward that glorious future. That is, the kingdom is only partly realized; it is only inaugurated in the here and now. So the kingdom today is a rugged mess no less than the church is also a utopia…

It is easier to do [good deeds like build a well than get involved in a church] because it feels good, it resolves some social shame for all that we have, it creates a bonded and encapsulated experience, it is a momentary and at times condescending invasion of resources and energy, and it is all ramped up into ultimate legitimation by calling it kingdom work.

Not only that, it is good and right and noble and just. It is more glamorous to do social activism because building a local church is hard.

It [building the church] involves people who struggle with one another, it involves persuading others of the desires of your heart to help the homeless, it means caring for people where they are and not where you want them to be, it involves daily routines, and it only rarely leads to the highs of ‘short-term’ experiences.

But local church is what Jesus came to build, so the local church’s mission shapes kingdom mission.

from Kingdom Conspiracy (p. 96-97)

Trust In the Slow Work

I have a list somewhere of posts waiting to be written, but my list has been sorely neglected in recent times.

In part, this is due to the glorious fact that life is very full right now.
Not overly busy or hectic, but full.

My productivity in the everyday world of work and family has left little margin for musings in the digital realm.

The other part of this writer’s block, though, is due to grief.
There’s been some stuff to grieve on our end.
Personal stuff like grandpa and transitions and the hard work of letting go.

But there’s also been a lot to grieve on a larger scale as well.
Shootings and division in the church (globally) and all sorts of variations of darkness.

I don’t often know how to respond to many of these things in my own daily life, let alone in this space.

So, I’ve sabbaticaled from blogging and really from engaging on-line in anything other than the Warriors and our family adventures. Like Job I felt the need to “proceed no further.”

Which has been quite refreshing actually.

I think the great, evil, seduction of the digital age, and of blogging in particular, is you craft something and you put it out there and there’s an implicit hope/desire/belief in an immediate response.

Whether examining my own life, and my own failings, or lamenting the unceasing darkness pervading our world, I am easily seduced by this immediacy. By action and results.

Things should change. Now!

The Jesuit philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”

To do this, I think, means being connected
(not in the online sense, but in the everyday sense),
to actual work in the real world.

I feel the pressure and the pull, especially as a church leader, to do or say something incredible.

Chardin reminds me that incredible things happen when I eat dinner with my family.
And discipline my kids.
And read the Scriptures on a daily basis.
And listen to and pray with and for hurting people.
And slog through the difficult work of creating a different kind of community.

In the last week or two I’ve seen some pretty amazing glimpses of light,
cracking through these dark times,
and it’s those beautiful,
flickering beams of light that help me keep trusting in the slow work.