December 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
Currently there is a nationally televised Home Depot commercial that has caught my attention. It features people being helped, in every department – by Santa Claus, of all people! If you pay attention to the ad, you will see that at least one of the Santas is named ‘Noel.’ It is written in that black Sharpie kind of way on the apron that adorns every local Home Depot employee. (Chevrolet has a similar ad, but Santa’s nametag is ‘Nick’).
I love this TV spot, not only because of its creativity, though I am shallow enough for that to be sufficient, but also because one of the Santas is a personal friend. In fact, he is a fellow pastor and church planter in South Florida.
Steve Lantz is an amazing guy. He and Lynda, his wife of nearly two years, are expecting their first child in April. Because Lynda was the Campus Crusade for Christ Director for the West Chester University in the Greater Philadelphia area I had the privilege of meeting her soon before they married when she and Steve drove through Maryland. This past year they worshiped with us as well.
Steve has lived with the kind of longing that Advent focuses on. It is the hope of Jesus, and a vision for something that will one day be – something good – that in His coming, what has been empty will once again be to overflowing, and what has been broken will eventually be mended.
Part of how Steve raises funds is through acting. Early in his ministry he took classes in order to supplement his income while he mapped out his dream. For eight years he has served as the Chaplain for the Booker T. Washington High School Football team in Miami (and recently the State Champions), a job that pays little in spite of its own rewards. And he has worked as a short order cook in Downtown Miami.
He is driven by a vision for working among the poor and watching the gospel cause the Overtown neighborhood and community to flourish as a result of the justice, presence and power of Jesus in Miami.
I have found that it isn’t until I am willing to go ‘there,’ that is, to enter into the pain, whether in relationships, personal tragedies, or seasons of sorrow and doubt, that I really begin to connect as an agent of consolation and renewal.
There is something in all of us that is natively resistant to pain and suffering, but the gospel always draws us to enter into our world’s brokenness as Christ did in His Incarnation, so that we may be as tender with its pathos as Jesus is and has been to ours.
His willingness to do so is our Good News.
And that goes for Santa Claus too…
PS Here is a letter Steve put out last month, that describes all he is doing.
November 30, 2012 § 4 Comments
Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again… there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully.
Frederick Buechner – The Hungering Dark
Inertia is defined as ‘a tendency to do nothing, or to remain unchanged.’ In physics it is descriptive of something that exists in a perpetual vacuum of progress in spite of continual motion. But when applied to people, it can simply mean to merely exist.
This past week I was in Miami for three days. My Mom is in the hospital and on a healing path from a fall. While she was in PT, or resting, I met with old friends and drove down familiar streets, freshly reminded that nothing remains the same. If you are anything like me, in spite of the fact that I know this to be true, it is surprising each time it freshly hits home.
It occurred to me twice in Miami, the first when walking through Dadeland Mall, the highest per-capita spending mall in the country, and well-positioned in the southern ‘hemisphere’ of Miami. One evening I noticed construction of a huge new parking garage, and remembered the last time it was redesigned, and the time before that, and before that. Oh, and the time before that too. In fact, I remember the grand opening, and when the big shop to us kids was Cozzoli’s Pizza (also gone), as well as the famous dragon fountain across from Ferris Groves, the Venetian ice stand Jeff Jones, a high school classmate, and I worked at (both gone – actually Jeff and I are too).
But then, while at an intersection of US-1 I noticed a closed-down stand-alone store (pictured above). For those of us who grew up in South Florida few quick-stops were more endearing and convenient, than Farm Stores, those drive-through dairy markets with fresh bread, milk, butter, donuts and ice cream. Gone. Okay, I can understand the 7-Eleven moving across the street. But our Farm Stores? No!
Everything changes. Rowan Williams says that, we must be surprised, ambushed, and carried off by God if we are to be kept from idols. I think he is right, because until I am ambushed, my ‘idols’ tend to maintain a superficial splendor in my mind and heart.
If nothing else, the Christmas story demonstrates that Jesus breaks through the mundane. In His birth, and frankly throughout His entire ministry, once He comes, nothing remains as it was. Everything changes. In fact, it would be fair to say that no one can ever again be the same once they have had a real encounter with Jesus – for the first time, or for the one-millionth time. He constantly challenges the status quo while exposing our idolatries.
Which brings me back to Inertia.
My problems usually aren’t due to mistakes I make moving forward (which are manifold!). More often they are the result of my resistance to the chaos Jesus brings with His constant reentry into my life.
Deep down I want to be a stand-alone store that is never threatened by extinction – It must be part of living in rebellion of my unfinished nature. Even deeper, it is a refusal to acknowledge and let go of my idols. But in this resolve, subtly and unwittingly I become incrementally distanced from Jesus, and my fresh faith is transformed into spiritual inertia.
The cool thing is that He just comes. He is born. He enters. And with each fresh realization of this reality, in spite of my resistance (translation: fear) to His beautifully disturbing presence, along with a simple admission of that fear, comes the reminder that it was worth trusting Him again, for the one-millionth-plus-one time, because Jesus never comes to make my life less – but more.
And this is Good News of Great Joy…
November 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
We may joyfully believe that there was, that there is, one to whom no human suffering and no human sin is strange, and who in the profoundest love has achieved our redemption. It is such joy in Christ, the Redeemer, that alone protects us from the dulling of our senses by the constant experience of human suffering and also from accepting as inevitable the suffering in the spirit of resignation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter to the Brethren at Finkenwalde, 1942
This week, sitting in Starbucks was more than about burrowing in my preferred writing spot. It was also due to the fact that our office was closed and without electricity since Monday, when Hurricane Sandy hit Maryland. Only late yesterday power restored. Fortunately our Staff found creative ways to meet, study and work in spite of the circumstances.
We got off easy. The devastating consequences of Sandy’s wrath in states like New Jersey and New York will yield decades of aftereffects and sorrow. Loss of life has been high, and is climbing. Homes were demolished and entire communities obliterated by water, wind and fire. The sorrow that comes through in news stories and interviews is almost too much for Katherine and I to bear.
Having lived through hurricanes, and having experienced two historic floods in Mississippi during college and grad-school years, I can tell you that there is nothing romantic about going through something like this. Jobs will be lost. Lives will be altered. Families will walk away from their homes, never to return. Relationships will be tested to the brink. Opportunists will exploit desperate people. The world many know will never be the same.
When Hurricane Andrew demolished much of the southern hemisphere of Miami in 1991, a friend (and one of my models for leadership), Ray Goode, the one-time City Manager, along with another city leader, decided to launch a campaign called, ‘We Will Rebuild.’ They rightly resolved that the city was worth restoring, and so as he dealt with the devastation on his own block, Ray led Miami in an effort that was nothing short of Herculean.
Relief is more than a physical dynamic. It is a resolve. And it is something that doesn’t happen effectively in a vacuum and without a larger community of people committed to something greater than themselves. The most enduring and effective relief efforts happen when broken people recognize their own condition in the lives and events of others, and then act on them – together.
A long time ago I discovered something about Jesus that I might not have guessed in my ‘neat’ and ‘responsible’ universe. As you follow Him, and observe how He is constantly confronted by the pathos of people who bear the effects of a fallen world, you discover that He only ever offers relief. What I mean is that He doesn’t ask how something happened, never ascribes blame, and makes no demands – He simply relieves burdens. His response to brokenness is never conditional.
Because the crazy thing is that Brokenness is Jesus’ point of connection with humanity – it is the singular reason for His entrance into our world.
And He wasn’t merely exhibiting His saving power, which would be enough. He was also demonstrating what the Church is called to, and how effective she could be by merely entering into and serving the very broken world Jesus came to save.
Here is the thing: We are connected. All of us. When one person is cut, we all bleed. When one suffers, we grieve together. When a city lies in ruins, we are reacquainted with the reality of our shared condition.
And when there is renewal, as one, we all have cause to celebrate. So we find connection in our shared brokenness. And in relief, together we taste of and share in the good mission of the One who is making all things new.
This is our good news.
If you are looking to help, you can do so directly. Here are two sister church communities that will bring relief where they serve:
1. Brooklyn Presbyterian Church (a community of several congregations):
Brooklyn Presbyterian Church – Mercy Team (make your check payable to this line as well)
174 Prospect Park West
#1L Brooklyn, NY 11215
2. Redeemer Presbyterian Church – Hope for New York