Listening to Your Guts and Church

“There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.” ― Malcolm Gladwell, Blink

I strongly believe in the weightiness of the “blink test” when it comes to churches. I know we need to pray and think and not commit lightly to a local community. But, most of the time we walk into a gathering of people and we pick up things at a very deep, gut, intuitive level:

Is this a safe place? Is this a joyful place? Is there life here?

Or

Is this a dangerous place? A cynical place? Will the life get sucked out of me here?

We don’t know everything that will happen in a particular place. We don’t know who might wound us, or who might turn out to be a life-long friend. That’s all part of the adventure of community. But, again, I think we know some things just by walking in the door.

This weekend I got to go to a church and I knew, without really “knowing”, there’s a lot of joy here, a lot of life. And, nothing that happened the rest of the day did anything but encourage that knowing.

Let me say it again: be prayerful and thoughtful about church and choosing community.

I do wonder, though, if our cultural propensity towards making rational decisions has desensitized our ability to be in tune with our guts, with that still, small voice that might actually be speaking more powerfully than pros and cons lists.

So pray and trust your gut.

Tile Floors, Nonsense, and Fighting For Joy

During the past school year, as our family expanded and we entered the adventure of parenthood, we learned the importance of community in a whole new way. Some of our best friends, who also happened to be in the early stages of parenthood, moved back to other parts of the country, leaving us somewhat isolated.

Back in the early spring we started working towards creating a new sense of community, particularly with others who share the burden of life in campus ministry and parenthood. Compadres who understand the unique rhythms and challenges of our lifestyle.

The journey towards proximity with each other took us for a wild ride. We tried to help our friends move into our East Boston neighborhood. We thought about a huge house together in Allston or Brighton. Eventually we settled on Roslindale.

Apartments were secured, checks written, arrangements made and two of our three units made the move, but we were still uncertain. Or, I should say: roadblocked. Places fell through, rejection emails were received, the situation looked bleak. Grace and good fortune allowed us to stay in our place until we actually did find something.

We recruited help, rented a truck, and packed up. The day before the move our new landlord’s called and asked if we could push back the move date in order for them to finish one last project: retiling the kitchen.

No, we said, everything’s set to go and our current landlord’s expect us to be out tomorrow. The tile guys ended up canceling and the move went off unhindered.

But, I should have known something was up.

We’ve now been here for three weeks and the kitchen floor is maybe twenty percent finished.

Yesterday was the straw that broke my spirit’s back. For most of this project a couple of low-totem-pole guys have showed up at our house around noonish (despite promising to be here hours earlier) worked until three and then called it a day. I’m no expert on tile flooring, but I could tell that the work being done was the opposite of high quality.

So, yesterday, the boss shows up, takes one look at the shoddy workmanship and tears the whole thing up. Back to square one.

Meanwhile, our lives have been placed on hold. Ninety percent of our kitchen is still in boxes. Marina has yet to freely play in the living room (I’m certain she’d be walking by now if not confined to her room all the time). The downstairs portion of our home is consistently covered in a not-so-fine layer of dust.

The oh-so-slim silver lining to all of this is that we live in community and proximity to people who love us and care about us. I have no idea what we would do without their help.

This situation has also given me a new, experiential, understanding of the word nonsense. Literally, nothing about the whole process: moving out, moving in, getting settled, has made one bit of sense.

I like to tell stories in this space of things that I have learned, illumination gleaned from the ridiculous and difficult moments of life.

I share this story, not because it is the biggest challenge we have ever faced, but because I have no idea what is being illuminated here. It just feels like nonsense.

I know there are people going through much more difficult times right now. But in life we all run into nonsense at some point, and too often we want to quickly move the nonsense into the category of sense.

Sorry, guys, not there yet.

What I can say is this: few things rob me of joy faster than nonsensical situations like this tile floor. Sometimes you have to fight for joy.

My encouragement, especially if you are stuck in nonsense, is to do just that: fight for joy.

Moving

Yesterday we signed a lease and wrote a check and so, finally, it is official: we are moving to Roslindale. Rozzi, as it is affectionately called by the locals, is one of Boston’s southern neighborhoods. It’s a diverse community with spillover from Dorchester (most of my counselors at Bird Street were from Roslindale), Jamaica Plain (bringing with it the hipster influence), and West Roxbury (with some good old Boston accents). 

This has been quite the journey. About six months ago we began to with the idea of moving out of our current apartment. If you’ve ever been here you know we have these crazy stair cases, which makes life with a baby interesting. We thought there might be a nice first floor place for us in Eastie. At the same time, we were heavily recruiting some friends to move into the neighborhood too.

None of that ended up working out. The rental market in Boston is out of control right now (our current place is being listed for 25% more than what we started at). At one point we were going to Allston, at another point back to Dorchester, at another we thought about giving up and staying put. There were many, many ups and downs and twists and turns and someday, maybe, I’ll write a post about what, if anything, I learned about discernment from all of this. To put it mildly: it was draining.

We’ve loved living in Eastie and a lot of amazing things have happened since we’ve moved here: the transition to full-time ministry, Amy passing her boards and starting work, the launching of a REUNION community group, Marina joined our family, and the Giants won a couple of World Series. It’s been a good run.

But, the one thing we’ve never really had here was sharing life with people who have a similar rhythm. We are excited about Rozzi’s parks and people, its village, and walkability. We are excited to meet new neighbors and enjoy the Arboretum. But mostly we are excited to be within mere blocks of Stacey and Linsey and Bobby and Christina. Friends and family and co-workers. We are excited to share in the birth a new baby and in the patterns of life that only those in campus ministry can really relate to.

I am not excited about putting things into boxes and taking them out, but I am so, so excited to begin creating and forming community with friends whose homes I can get to by walking.

A new adventure begins!   

Drama Camp #sojournboston #collegiateministry

One of the beautiful stories of the summer is unfolding in the Dorchester neighborhood through one of our key neighborhood partners. The Quincy Street crew pulled off a great summer Drama Camp program last year (they did a performance of “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”), but they have taken it to a whole other level this time around. They wrote grants (and received them), they hired neighborhood youth to be Jr Counselors, and they recruited Sojourn students to be interns and volunteers.

This summer the campers are writing their own play, which is very cool. In addition, they are learning all kinds of amazing skills, new games, positive ways to interact and help each other, and getting to see some sites via Friday Field Trips. I love everything about this, but I especially love watching our (college) students invest in this program and this neighborhood. Most of the students volunteering or interning have experience in theater or music and it’s beautiful to see them using their skills and training to bless these kids. I attended the Drama Camp Open House last night and was blown away by what they all have accomplished over the last few weeks. Check out the pics:

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Dedication

Lost in all the craziness of the last week was a beautiful moment we were able to participate in on Sunday (a week ago, which feels like a million years past now). We dedicated Marina at REUNION (our church partner and home church). I’ve always had mixed feelings about these moments, but what I appreciate about it the most is the love shown to us by our community and the reminder (and tangible practice/expression) of the truth that in the church we raise children as a community, not simply as individual parents.

Now for the cute pics:

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SojournBoston Leaders Being Awesome

We held our monthly leadership community gathering on friday night. We ate fajitas prepared with love by the legendary Cuban John. We shared stories from the past month. And, we celebrated what God has done through our community, in the community this year. I am so proud of the ways our students have invested in work that is ongoing all over the city: tutoring and mentoring kids, fighting human trafficking, building relationships with neighbors, serving the least. Beautiful stuff. We committed to finish the year strong and not let these issues become back-burner priorities as we begin thinking about the end of a school year, summer plans, etc. Good stuff!

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Cities of Refuge

In Joshua 20 and Deuteronomy we learn of a lesser  Old Testament idea: Cities of Refuge. Three cities where someone who has killed someone accidentally can go to avoid retribution.

On the surface this might seem odd: why set up a whole city to respond to this one issue? Were there other things you could escape from in a City of Refuge?

For one who found themselves in the predicament of accidentally killing a neighbor I am sure a City of Refuge was a beautiful symbol of grace and rescue.

On a deeper level, I think these cities served another purpose: the performance of alternative story.

Culture dictated vengeance and more violence. Refuge ended the cycle. These cities said: “you don’t have to live like that.”

May our churches, our community groups, our gatherings, our presence in neighborhoods be “cities of refuge.” Reminders that dictates of culture do not apply here…vengeance, hate, cycles of dysfunction…they can end.