For the next few weeks, The Foundry will be digging into the book of Proverbs. Our staff will take time each week to reflect on how they can see the wisdom presented from Proverbs on Sunday morning playing out in their own lives. This week, Lindsay Ferguson, Director of Outreach & Operations, reflects on the pursuit of happiness from Proverbs 15:13-18
Check out the message from Sunday on happiness.
For the next few weeks, The Foundry will be digging into the book of Proverbs. Our staff will take time each week to reflect on how they can see the wisdom presented from Proverbs on Sunday morning playing out in their own lives. This week, Josie Barton, Director of Worship and Creative Arts, reflects on the fear of the Lord from Proverbs 1:7.
To hear Scott's message from this past week, go to our Messages page.
I want my life to matter.
I spent years after college looking for my purpose and my call. When we first heard about the Foundry, Scott’s passion and clear articulation of The Foundry’s mission was attractive to us for many reasons, but lingering under the surface, whether I wanted to admit it or not, was the feeling that I’d finally be a part of something that was set up to help me succeed.
Let me explain. I graduated college in 2008 after an extremely… er… “challenging” break-up. And by “challenging” I mean, there are still months of my life I don’t recall because I was in so much despair that I just shut down. My plans and dreams with this guy shattered, I moved back to New Jersey, rented a room from my brother, and got an eleventh hour job teaching at a very small Christian school. Though I was very involved in church ministries and the worship team, I never felt like I was really giving everything for the good of my community in New Jersey. I kept longing for something else.
Two years post-graduation, in 2010, I got the opportunity to move to and teach in Honduras, a country I’d already been to and very deeply loved. I could feel it—my life was about to begin.
Little did I know that my apathy and lack of motivation were bilingual and could speak to me even in Honduras. I had been sure moving would be the catalyst for living a life that mattered and making a difference in my sphere of influence, but unfortunately, my weaknesses stowed away in my suitcases and I couldn’t shake them. I spent the next two years living in a constant state of anxiety and insecurity, and though I enjoyed my time, became a better worker, and met my husband while there, I never sold myself out for the good of my neighbors while in Honduras.
But, guys, it was okay, because moving to Annapolis and marrying Trevor was definitely going to be the catalyst I needed. He would inspire and encourage me to action. But what I didn’t know was that 2+ hours of commute a day and adjusting to married life, on top of full time jobs, weren’t a recipe for self-sacrifice. Instead, I found myself retreating ever inward, away from others, away from my husband, away from anyone who would ask anything of me. Like a “good” Christian lady, I served at church, but I was not pouring myself out for Annapolis.
You can see why The Foundry was so appealing to me. In looking back, I can see that part of what I wanted when we joined The Foundry was a plug-and-play life, one in which I could do the least amount of work and make the greatest impact.
But, as He usually does, God had other plans for us.
For primarily financial reasons, Trevor and I settled down in Pigtown. We rented on a quiet, out of the way street, and our first year in Baltimore was calm. If you’d asked me during that time, I would have said that I was living the mission of being ‘for the city.’
Shortly after our first son was born, we moved streets, and it was like we had moved to a different world. Suddenly, my ‘commitment’ to my neighborhood and my grandiose explanations about how I loved the racial and socioeconomic diversity of our neighborhood were put seriously to the test. In the course of a year, from October 2014 to October 2015, we experienced a car break in (which required a replacement window), a house break in (which required an extensive clean up and insurance claim, as well as raising our homeowners’ insurance rates), and, tragically, a drug related shooting death in front of our home.
I realized in that year that I was not as committed to being ‘for the city’ as I thought I was. After each one of these increasingly traumatic events, I railed at Trevor for moving us there. I railed at God for asking this of us. I railed at myself for not being able to control the situation I was living in. I spent much of my time complaining and trying to convince myself it was okay to leave “this” place.
But every time I convinced myself I had every right to move and that no one would blame me, I felt a gentle weight from a gentle God, saying, “You aren’t done here yet.”
So, we’ve stayed, and God has shown us what the mission of being ‘for the city’ can really mean. Over the course of the past year and a half, we’ve begun to build relationships, and I’ve realized that all of the issues I have with my neighbors or neighborhood are reflected in my own heart. When I’m angry because my neighbors don’t care for their property the way I want, what I’m able to ignore are the weeds in front of my own steps, or the ways I neglect to care for the people in my own family. When I feel judgment rising up against the way a neighbor chooses to raise money for their family, what I ignore is the fact that I was able to access a quality higher education and escape without debt. As we’ve committed ourselves to loving our neighbors because God loves our neighbors, and for no other reason, we’ve begun to see that our neighbors need to extend the same love and grace to us – because we are equally flawed, equally broken, and equally loved by God. Suddenly, being ‘for the city’ is nothing more than being ‘for’ someone that God created and loves enough to die for. And that’s a mission that’s easy to get behind.
Things haven’t gotten all that much easier. The issues in our neighborhood didn’t just go away overnight because we feel God’s call to live out His love here. But I believe that God has brought us to Baltimore for more than feeling good and sitting in Tabrizi’s on Sunday mornings. It is time to put rubber to the road and see if I really mean it when I say I want to be ‘for the city.’
Because, let’s be honest, it’s easy to be ‘for’ something that doesn’t require anything of you. What our time at The Foundry has begun to teach us, and what we love about The Foundry’s mission, is the recognition that being ‘for’ something that doesn’t seem to be ‘for’ you is a mission of self-sacrifice. It’s hard work. It asks a lot and it takes a lot and sometimes it can be draining. But knowing we’re in it with other Christ followers – that there are many of us committed to being ‘for’ the city – makes it easier to see how our little families, spread out over this city, can begin to make an actual impact on the lives of people around us. It also reveals us to ourselves and reminds us of the grace others have to extend to us on a day to day basis – it reminds us that all around us, and especially in our home at The Foundry, people are ‘for’ us.
And over all of that hovers the love of a God who is truly for us. Everything we do falls under the umbrella of the One who champions our cause, celebrates our victories, encourages us in our defeats, cries with us in our sorrows, stretches us in our weaknesses, and heals us in our brokenness. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
If God is for us, who can we be against?
Over the next three weeks our church is looking at the DNA of The Foundry. Each week we will talk through one of the key aspects of who we are: our Vision, Mission, and Strategy. In the first week of this series we are talking through “our vision”, which is “To see lives, neighborhoods, the city, and the world transformed by Jesus.
Watching my son, Micah, play with legos is fantastic. He is three years old. So thankfully all of his legos are the large “DUPLO” legos. These connecting blocks are one of only a few things that hold his attention for a decent amount of time. When we hear that sound of him dumping the bucket of legos on the floor, we know that he is busy constructing a “robot”, “airplane”, “restaurant”, or whatever his little creative mind thinks of. As a three year old (who is also incredibly imaginative and creative) he NEVER follows the little 3x5 card telling him how to construct the intended object. Instead he has an idea in his head, and he builds it. He version of “vision” or “plan” is 100% on his imagination (which is incredible to watch, and another conversation for another time).
Could you image an organization that had this approach? There is no plan or direction other than what pops in our brain. This would be catastrophic to customer relationships, business growth, business partner relations, accounting, just to name a few things. Rather it’s important for organizations have a vision. The vision is the written form of “what are we going for”. It provides the direction. For example, in lego building the vision is says “we are building a tower”. It doesn’t answer questions of “what kind of tower” or “what is our strategy for building a tower”. In fact multiple companies can have the same vision, but look extremely different because their strategy is different.
If you were to research Fortune’s or Forbes’ top companies to work for, over the years you’ll see many of the same names pop up. These organizations in large part have very clear vision, mission, and strategy (although they may use different words to describe the same thing). They understand who they are uniquely and what they want to accomplish. One of the organizations that is always on the top ten and is number one in 2017 is Google. Google’s vision is simple, "to provide access to the world’s information in one click”. This is the direction that guides every decision. In essence they are saying, “let’s create a way to synthesize all the information in the world and make it accessible to anyone in the the world in an easy way”. From my perspective they achieve this. I don’t think a day goes by without me searching for some information on Google.
Church should be the same. We should have a vision statement that guides all decisions we make. At The Foundry our vision statement is this, "To see lives, neighborhoods, the city, and the world transformed by Jesus”. This is our 3x5 lego card, helping us know “what we are building”. But what does it look like for these four areas to be transformed?
What does it look like for lives to be transformed? Lives are transformed when we are freed from the weight of sin. When our burdens and stresses are cast aside. Transformation is finding community and common ground with people that our world or society says shouldn’t find common ground with. It’s stepping out in faith to be vulnerable and honest with others. It’s serving everyone. Transformation is putting others before yourself and sharing the hope that you have found. It’s being quick to listen and slow to speak and become angry. It’s laying down your life for someone else. Transformation is restoring lives and forgiving transgressions. And it’s living on mission each and every day in the context you are in. So what is it that you need to do for you life to be transformed? And how can you help transform the lives of others?
How about transformation of neighborhoods. Baltimore is a city of Neighborhoods. Over 250 neighborhoods exist in Baltimore. Each with their own unique attribute and quirks. But the neighborhoods are where we go home each night. They are where we spend our weekends. They are the epicenter of where we live, play, and rest. Transforming neighborhoods starts with transforming lives. And when individuals are on mission where they live they impact a neighborhood. When we are intentional with the people we run into at the local coffee shop or restaurant, by knowing names, taking interest in them, and finding common ground, we build relationships that can ultimately lead to a neighborhood transformed. Transforming neighborhoods means finding community in a densely populated part of a city that is overran with loneliness. Transformation brings beautification and hope to homes, gardens, lots, and streets. Neighborhood transformation digs deep roots. How can you help transform your neighborhood?
As I mentioned before, Baltimore is a city of Neighborhoods. So for our city to be transformed it starts neighborhood by neighborhood. It looks like groups of people gathering in respective neighborhoods. And leads to those groups joining with other nearby groups to impact their region of the city. City transformation happens when we move beyond segregation of all kinds. (Check out this Map the New York Times put out, where you can see the segregation in Baltimore). When we get our of our bubbles and under stand someone different than us. City transformation happens when the poor and the rich rub shoulders and truly care about one another. Transformation in our city can happen when our lives are transformed, and we begin to see our job as a place to share about our transformation in order to impact others. City transformation happens when we step outside our own comforts to care about individuals in are city dealing with homelessness, drug addiction, sex trafficking, and/or loneliness. City transformation happens when we can step in and help reduce murder rates, corruption, and division present in our city. What role will you play in transforming Baltimore?
How does a church in Baltimore, Maryland reach the world? There are nearly 7.4 billion people in the world. First we want to be a people that are marked by generosity. One of the ways we do this is by supporting individuals in other cities in the US and other countries in the world to help provide funding for them to transform the particular city they call home. Second we open our eyes. We send teams of people to see other areas of the world. This helps us gain a global perspective while reminding ourselves to be on mission where we are. Lastly we are in a part of the country and in a particular city for a reason. There are major brands/corporations/hospitals in our city. We have incredible non-profits that are inspiring individuals in different cities to copy models. The reach of one life transformed can have is huge in this perspective. Ask yourself, which of these areas allows you to help transform the world?
If you are in our community, my hope is that your life has been transformed. My second hope is that you see the incredible potential you have to help transform our neighborhoods, city, and world. Allow God to use you and join (or continue to join) us as we aim to transform lives, neighborhoods, Baltimore, and the world through Jesus.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am a teacher. In ways both encouraging and soul crushing, this title tells you almost everything you need to know about who I am.
Recently, I have been teaching through a pair of essays written by two educational theorists about the relationship between teachers and their students. The first, written in 1968 by a devoutly Catholic Brazilian Marxist (!) named Paulo Freire, is called “The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education.” In that essay, Freire argues that education has been poisoned by something he calls the “narrative” approach to teaching. In this approach, the teacher is the real Subject of the classroom, and he or she presents information to students not as a vibrant tool for discovery, but as an exclusive story being generously “shared” with students. The consequence of this approach is that it trains students to play the parts of the patient, listening “objects” of their own education, and as a result, they never actually learn how to become “learners.” Freire suggests that this framework betrays the fundamentally communal nature of education, and strips us of our humanity. To fix this, Freire suggests that we begin to see one another as co-learners and partners in education, exploring the world as a set of “posed problems” rather than as a collection of “facts” or “information.”
The second essay was written by an American named Christopher Ferry in 1996, and it is a response to Freire’s essay, titled “When the Distressed Teach the Oppressed: Towards a Model of Communion and Commitment.” Ferry begins by summarizing the various efforts teachers and schools have made to implement Freire’s recommended changes since 1968, as well as the numerous reasons these efforts have been unsuccessful. Then, Ferry makes the following argument: he says that the reason we haven’t succeeded with Freire’s reforms is because we want them for students and not for ourselves. He says that truly successful teachers must undergo an “Easter experience,” where they kill off the desire for traditional, power-driven models of teaching within themselves, and experience a “true conversion” to a student-focused, cooperative classroom environment. Until teachers have this “conversion,” Ferry argues, they can’t be “preachers”—that is to say, they can’t effectively communicate their own personal, transformational experiences—and instead are merely “performers,” whose acting will never and can never transform the lives of students.
Now, I’m not trying to simply nerd out about pedagogical theory here, but I think these arguments matter for us, as Christians, too. What these texts have taught me is that I can’t convince people to share my beliefs about things unless those beliefs are already deeply and profoundly a part of who I am. My work requires more than knowledge: it requires my entire identity.
Technically, this post was supposed to be about Easter, and more specifically, about Holy Week. And, in some ways, I suppose it is: certainly, Easter is about conversion, and it’s also about the complete commitment of a teacher, in Jesus, to “equality” with his students, or all of humanity.
But even moreso, these readings have gotten me thinking about Holy Week itself. Holy Week is the week leading up to the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. What has long stood out to me about Holy Week is the apparent, rapid change in the public’s perception of who Jesus is: on Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem a redeemer and hero, welcomed with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” But by Friday, he has been abandoned, betrayed, tried, and executed as a common criminal, largely by crowds of those same people who had welcomed him only five days before. Their change of heart seems so sudden, and so aggressive—and so costly—it defies explanation or understanding.
But this week, I’ve started to change my mind about those crowds. I no longer think this is a story about the sudden reversal of public opinion. Instead, I think it’s the story a man who pays a dear price for failing to bring the same message to the citizens of Jerusalem that they had already decided they would be willing to die for. Their hearts don’t change—they still want revolution; they still want power; they still want their anger to be recognized and their voices to be heard. But Jesus doesn’t end up bringing them the message they are looking for. Instead, as soon as Jesus enters Jerusalem, he heads straight to the temple and turns over the tables of the moneylenders, who had been selling animals for sacrifice in the temple courts. He calls them “thieves,” and then condemns the management of the entire religious institution of the nation. More significantly, he did all of this instead of going straight to the palace, as his followers expected he would, to lead the revolution against the Roman governor. The crowds grow angry because Jesus doesn’t seem to be standing up for their beliefs…he seems to be directly confronting them.
This means that they don’t turn on Jesus: Jesus becomes incompatible with them.
To frame that idea within the discussion of Freire and Ferry from earlier, I think what happened in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago anticipates the anxiety we feel within our own hearts. We can’t talk about Jesus from a position of comfort. We can’t approach him (or Easter) honestly without first considering how we are being asked to change. Let’s face it: when Jesus comes into our lives, he heads straight for the temple, and it is his full intention to wreck up the place. If we truly want to understand him—or to effectively invite others into this encounter—we have to begin by accepting that the acts of demolition Jesus is carrying out within us aren’t secondary to his gospel, they are the actual working out of the gospel in praxis, within our lives. We can’t merely be “willing to die” for Christ…we have to have died already, and then been reborn. There is no real gospel, I would argue, otherwise.
I’m learning that Easter can’t be a message until it has been an experience. However, as a message, it can and ought to redefine who we are. I said at the beginning that I am a teacher, and that tells you almost everything you need to know about me. Why is this true? Because I’ve been converted: teaching isn’t just something I “do,” it’s who I am—it directs the way I see the world, it shapes my relationships, it empowers the way I parent. I can’t even shake it when I’m asked to write a guest blog entry! I wouldn’t know how to describe myself without using that word.
And yet being a Christian rarely seems worth that level of internalization. Instead, I often think of faith as something I act or perform…while at the same time imagining myself an evangelist! There is no better time than Easter—no better week than Holy Week—to look more closely at this insufficiency within me, and when I find it, to prayerfully ask not that I be made well, but that my heart be overturned and the moneylenders cast out. It’s time for me to remember: my reflection will only look more like Christ if I do.
Dr. Kenny Camacho
Hey Friends! My name is Andy McNeely and I am a lover of people, and I’m sure if we met, we would become fast friends, so I greet you as a friend. Here’s a little bit about my story so you’ll feel more like a friend. I grew up in Harford County, MD and have done ministry for 6 years in this beautiful state. My wife and I are moving to Baltimore City this summer to plant a new church and we are thrilled to be partnering with The Foundry! In preparation for starting a new church, we have been in a two-year residency at Restore Church in Silver Spring, MD. One of the most formational experiences I had in my residency was leading two trips to Athens, Greece to serve Syrian and Afghan refugees. I’d like to tell you about my experiences, but first let me share with you a prayer I prayed two years ago.
“God, draw me into deep relationship with whoever I have made a “them””.
Allow me to explain. Brian Zahnd concludes his incredible book Farewell to Mars with these profound eight words: “There is no them. There is only us.” You should read the book, but I’ll help you understand what he means. “Them” are the people who look different from you, speak other languages, or worship alternatively. It’s the “other” we separate ourselves from as we surround ourselves with those who look and act like us. As an American, the “them” are Middle Easterners, Mexicans, Democrats/Republicans, the poor, etc. For me, our culture told me that as a middle class white male, the “them” were African-Americans, the homeless, refugees, immigrants, terrorists, Spanish speakers, and Liberals. I didn’t truly love the “them” like I loved my family, but I wanted to. So I prayed that prayer. And for two years God has shocked me by putting the right people in my path at the right time, so that He could chip away at the walls I had created around myself.
Here’s a taste of what God has done: a month ago, my family became the arms our undocumented Salvadorian neighbors fell into after their family was torn apart. Tonight, my Nigerian friend moves in with us again (much to my 5-year olds joy). At the beginning of March, I had the honor of baptizing a long time homeless friend who we eat with weekly. And this evening, we sat in our front yard around a fire pit with folks from four different countries (faiths ranging from atheist to Buddhist to agnostics), sharing s’mores. And twice God sent me to lead teams from Restore to serve refugees across the globe.
My experiences in Greece serving refugees were profound, to say the least. Syrians, refugees, Afghans, and Muslims are now my friends. They are family. I no longer see them as “other” or “them”. And it has radically altered my view of things.
Another lesson I have learned is that we fear what we don’t know. Living lives surrounded by folks who look like us and believe the same things we do, we find ourselves isolated from the “other," which leads us to make assumptions and believe stereotypes. Instead, Jesus calls us to lean into relationship with the very people we see as the “other” and to treat “them” as our neighbor.
In Luke 10, when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” and, "How do we live out the 'love thy neighbor as thyself' commandment?", He responded with the story of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
If you see everyone as your neighbor, and you treat them like yourself, mercy comes easier, and compassion overflows - especially when you realize that Jesus said, “Whatever you have done for the least of these you have done for me.” The refugee is the least of these, friends. Seemingly so different from us, yet sharing our humanity, because we are all made in the image of God.
As an American it was so important for me to know refugees. To hug them and laugh with them. To see them like Jesus does and not as terrorists. Simultaneously, our Syrian and Afghan brothers and sisters were learning that there are Americans who care about them. Friends, 'refugee' and 'terrorist' are NOT synonymous. I’ve been there - literally. I’ve met beautiful people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine who I was told are my enemy. I refuse to believe the lie any longer. I choose to treat the refugee as my neighbor.
In order to show mercy and restore dignity to these broken and lost people, I want to teach you some things I've learned about refugees…
1. The folks who make it to Europe from their war-torn countries of Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq are not uneducated, poor, uncultured peoples. It costs $5,000-$20,000 per person to be smuggled through Syria, Turkey, and into Greece. The refugees who make it to Europe have degrees, own businesses, and speak several languages.
2. When you see boats on TV full of male refugees, remember men aged 10-50 in ISIS controlled territories have two choices: join ISIS or die. You would run, too.
3. All the refugees we encountered said they plan to return to their beautiful homeland when the war is over. They aren’t coming to take anything from you. They are surviving.
4. These are beautiful people who have been broken by the travesties of war. They have all lost family members and friends. They need hope, and who better to give it to them than Christians, who know the hope of Jesus Christ?
A few other thoughts and lessons from the Greeks before I close…
1. SLOW DOWN and enjoy life. Make dinner an event with 7 courses that lasts 3 hours because people are important to you.
2. If you’re late it’s because you had something important come up. We need to stop ourselves from constantly thinking about what’s next on our calendars and simply be present with the people in front of us.
I pray that you are stirred to do something for your neighbor. To invite the “other” to your dinner table. And to see people like Jesus does.
In large part I’m a creature of habit. I frequent the same restaurants and coffee shops, order the same thing(s), and typically have a rhythm for each particular establishment. It’s not that I avoid new experiences, because I do enjoy trying new things. But these establishments have earned my loyalty. Sometimes this is because they have a superior product. Other times it is the price point of that product. It can also be a vibe of an establishment, or an employee who makes it feel like home. Why do I frequent the same establishments? Trust. I trust these establishments. I am confident in the quality of service and product at each of these places.
As I write this, I’m sitting in The Daily Grind, a fairly big coffee shop in Fell’s Point. This is a place I trust. It’s just under a mile from my house, meaning I can get here various ways. In the neighborhood there is two hour parking, but I’ve yet to receive a ticket when I’ve passed that length of time. There are many work stations, some of which have low amounts of traffic (allowing me to get a lot done) and other spots that allow you to overlook a view of the harbor. The coffee is good. I trust their egg and cheese on everything for breakfast. If it’s lunch I order a veggie burger on multigrain (with a spicy ginger beer). The overall vibe is a little punk rock, but not pretentious or overly hipster. There are always seats, but there is a steady flow of people. I trust this place.
Trusting a business or a company is easy. Typically within a time or two of visiting an establishment I know whether or not they are trustworthy. But relationships are harder. Much harder.
Trusting someone means moving beyond the facade we often wear. Trusting someone means exposing our blemishes to someone who has been given the right to remind us of our blemishes. Trusting means opening ourselves up to hurt, dealing with the past, and exposing our own heart. But trusting helps us refine our character, rather than isolating ourselves in a bubble of self-satisfaction or self-deprecation.
Trust is hard.
Often we think of trust being built in grand gestures, but instead it is built in the small things. It’s the coffee being the right temperature. It’s a reliability of knowing when a business is open. It’s the fresh produce. It’s knowing that the money is going to a good cause.
In a relationship trust is honesty. It’s listening. It’s pausing your desires to engage in someone else. It’s knowing a name. Trust is taking time to understand something of value to the other person. It is built slowly, over time, through the small things. And at that point we “choose to make something important to you, vulnerable to the actions of someone else”. (Charles Feltman)
Brené Brown, say there are seven components of trust found in the acronym of BRAVING.
In thinking through the concept of trust, I’m led to three questions...
- Do you trust yourself? Maya Angelou once said, “I don't trust people who don't love themselves and tell me, 'I love you.' ... There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” Sometimes when it comes to trust our first instinct is to point to someone else. But in reality for some of us, we need to consider if we even trust ourselves. Look at the seven components above and ask yourself if you trust yourself. If you can’t count on yourself, it’s unwise and unhealthy to ask other people to give you what you don’t have.
- Are you fostering a space where others trust you? Do you gossip? If so you may miss opportunities to foster this safe space. Creating a space begins with being quick to listen and slow to speak. It’s choosing love over correctness. It’s owning our own sin without the promise of any reciprocity! Cherishing this space allows for others to live in community with you. And to disregard this community we isolate ourselves.
- Do you trust others? We live in a culture that is incredibly self-reliant. We avoid community and insist on having everything together. Trust forces us to be honest and it allows people in. And if we are honest, most of us prefer to be trusted without allowing someone into our own mess. Ernest Hemmingway once said, “the best way you can find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them”. So dive in. Trust someone who has shown trustworthiness in the little things.
Inside all of us is the desire for companionship. And in order to delve into the best derivative of companionship, we must trust. Seek BRAVING with yourself and others and allow to find trust in you. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10).
For further study, check out Brené Brown- The Anatomy of Trust.
About a year ago, I was touring the MD Historical Society, a local favorite of mine here in Baltimore. During the time, there was an exhibit that showcased the Victorian Period and how grief was reflected in the fashion of the time. While a section on fashion would normally be of no interest to me, I was amazed that “grief” had a line of accessories and ways to express tied to it. This was true of both men and women’s attire and accessories. The idea, of course, was death, disease, pain, and suffering were such a prevalent part of Victorian culture that it was necessary to create “fashion” to display them.
Looking at the exhibit, I tried to make a correlation to my culture. I could not, and this concept seemed incredibly strange to my (air quote) modern sensibilities (end air quote). While I have a suit that I often wear to funerals or visitations, it’s also the same suit I wear when I go to a wedding. I wear a lot of black, but that is because I live somewhere between the intersection of “self-conscious schlubby guy” and “aging punk rocker.” I can point to a few ways that specific types of grief are celebrated in our culture (yellow ribbons, balloon memorials on street corners), but I can think of plenty of other ways that our cultural dodges anything that isn’t contempt, temporary outrage, and platitude.
Notice my air quotes above. At first glance, the concept of marketing funeral fashion seemed really morbid to me. Increasingly, though, I wonder if we are the strange ones? More and more, we are a culture that does not know HOW to deal with the things we feel. We are a culture that does not know HOW to express its pain. We are confronted with both indirect and direct exposure to the pain of the world. Some choose to respond by furthering insulating themselves. Others live in a constant state of outrage. We are culturally conditioned to be outraged, react to reactions and sound bytes, and move on. More and more, I see us for what we really are: a trauma-filled people.
Often, the American Church doesn’t make this any easier (at least in my little corner of it). Recently, our staff tried to plan a gathering where the song lyrics didn’t resolve or wrap up with a happy ending. We struggled to find them. I once had a preacher tell me that a church service should feel like a “party, and never a funeral.” He encouraged us to even stay away from song keys that sounded “dark” or “depressing.” When I used to do concerts back in the day, I was sometimes criticized when I brought in bands whose music or lyrics touched on the real pains of the world in a direct way. Thus, it’s not surprising to me why some dismiss our worldview as escapist or driven by denial. After all, even at church, or at the Communion table, we often deny that we are “not ok.”
Let me be clear: I believe in a God who is making “all things new.” I just think that we can’t really appreciate the new thing without acknowledgement how broken, hurting, and cancerous the “old” thing really is.
When I read the Old Testament though, I see a different picture. I see sackcloth and ashes. You see periods of silence and suffering. You see Psalms of Lament. You see open weeping over the sins of others. In short, you see people trying to find God when their sins, the sins of others, or the reality of the fallen world around them seems like too much to bear. Recently, I read how Joseph led the people of Egypt in 40 days of mourning after the death of his father (Gen 50:3). Then, the next day, I read about how Job tore his robe and shaved his head at the news of the death of his family RIGHT BEFORE he went to God in worship (Job 1:20).
We need to grieve. We need lament.
This extends to the New Testament too. Jesus weeps at the death of a friend. He prayed some incredibly bold prayers in the Garden of Gethsemene. Joseph of Arimathea invests in a “proper” burial tomb for Jesus. Take even some of the most triumphant verses of the New Testament: 1 Cor 15:55 and Rev 21:4. When Paul says, “grave, where is your sting,” there is a context. The context: RIGHT HERE! We feel the sting of death right here! When the promised of having every tear wiped from our eyes is something we cling to from Revelation, we will only see the beauty of that truth if we are willing to “feel” long enough to cry.
We need to grieve. We need lament.
Scripture continually calls us to confront our present reality. Scripture begs us to see ourselves and this world with a sober mind. We cannot celebrate the “already’ tension of the Hope of Christ without the acknowledgement of the “not yet.” We need to feel the pain of a fallen world. We need to acknowledge how weary we can become. We need to feel the impact of the sins of others, and the weight that our own sin has on others. Until we acknowledge the wound, and grieve our past and present, we hamper the work of God in our life.
It is the welcome kit and party for a Syrian family that my neighborhood group will not get to be deliver. It is the reality that not only is it unlikely that the family will ever get into refuge of our country, but also the reality that those working for their resettlement have lost their jobs.
It is weeping with a friend that struggles to continue to get pregnant, and is discouraged month after month.
It is another friend who would love to meet the “special someone,” but struggles not to grow short-sighted in poor choices.
It is fighting with other parents for your children’s education while your politicians use your children to further their political “talking points” to their base.
Truly, there is much to lament in this world. When we acknowledge the wounds, and the brokenness, we can begin to find the healing that the gospel truly offers.
Blessed are those who Mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
Austin has been reminding me for several weeks now that he needs this blog post ready to post by tomorrow. Generally, this means I’d like to have it written and edited a few days in advance of tomorrow, but for this phase of my life, writing it 24 hours in advance of the absolute final deadline is making me feel pretty good about myself. That’s because one of the things that’s shaping me is…
Time and a Half
Scott always says that every season in your life feels like the busiest one, and that certainly feels true for our family right now. About two years ago, we made the decision for me to quit working full time and work two less-than-part time jobs from home instead. It was a hard transition for me, as being a work-from-home mom made me feel pulled in a million different directions. But the bright side was I got to be home with Abbott, our somewhat surprise pregnancy with Branch didn’t throw off our financial situation too badly, and our pace of life was significantly calmer than it would have been had I been working a 40-hour week. When Branch spent 24 days in the NICU (but who’s counting?), I was able to be present with him with no pressure. When my husband was off of work, we got to spend family time together with no real worries as to if my work responsibilities were being affected. The last two years have been gloriously unhurried, and it was a gift to have them.
But, even though the pace of life was wonderful, the situation wasn’t a perfect fit for me. I love my kids so much it hurts my heart, but it is hard for me to be home with two babies for what essentially ended up being 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Trevor is always great about letting me get out of the house when he gets home, but my kids were not getting the best parts of me. I was trying to keep the house clean, spend three to four hours a day on the computer, but also engage in creative play and respond to their basic needs and… Well, there are lots of moms who can do all of that seamlessly, but I’m not one of them. Several months ago, Scott offered to add a role to my job at the Foundry as Creative Team Director. I don’t consider myself the world’s most creative person, but I do like to be able to mobilize people who are, so I took the role (and a few extra hours a week) happily. Shortly after that, Stadia began talking to me about the possibility of adding extra hours. Once that ball got rolling, it was a whirlwind until we landed on me as a full-time, 40-hour a week, kids-in-childcare employee, helping to plant churches globally and mobilize US churches to get involved in the work, too. I never imagined my career going down this path, but I literally couldn’t be happier to be fully immersed, in both of my roles, in the work of church planting.
But, when I say fully immersed, I mean fully immersed. If you haven’t done the math, 40 hours a week with Stadia + 15 hours a week with the Foundry = 55 hours a week of work. To be fair, that is spread out over seven days (since Sunday is a church work day!) and there’s a lot of flexibility to meet those hours however I’m able to within a week. Even so, I went from working 25 hours a week in both roles to working 50 or more hours a week in both roles. I am so overwhelmingly happy to be doing the work I’m doing, but there are moments when I’m also just overwhelmed. Trying to figure out these new roles, and how to do them well in a way that glorifies God and honors my employers, is something that is shaping me in huge ways right now.
As you can imagine, a change in jobs means a change in how our family is interacting, as well. For two years, I’ve been home with my kid(s), and as strange as it sounds, the mental work of being present with them made it so that when Trevor got home, I disengaged. I was on my phone, I was going out to engage with grown-ups – I was not always present with my family. With my new career roles, I find that when I get home at the end of the day and unpack the kids from the car, it’s much easier to want to engage than it was before. I want to cook a meal because I haven’t been running to the pantry sixteen times a day to grab snacks or slather “peady budder” on bread for my peanut-butter-tarian. It’s easier to put the phone down because I want to watch Branch take steps or talk about a TV show that Abbott really likes. Working full-time is not a cure-all, obviously – in fact, some people find the opposite to be true. But for me, knowing I’m doing work that has a permanent Gospel-impact each day – and that, when I’m home, that work is on pause until the next morning – helps me to use the time I have more wisely. Now, it’s obviously a process and I’m not saying I’m Mary Poppins all of a sudden, but I like where our family time is headed and I’m excited to be finding a rhythm that works well for all four of us.
This new commitment to our family time is also forcing me to take a really hard look at my own heart, my own resentments, and the depth of sin that I still need to let Jesus touch. It’s so easy to fall into a rut, to stop communicating because it’s just too hard, or to imagine that the problems I have are a result of the shortcomings of my husband or my children. I didn’t think I was doing that, but moving into this new phase of life has shown me that I was not tending to my marriage or my family as well as I told myself I was. Sure, I wasn’t totally neglecting anyone or anything, but I was coasting and “leaving well enough alone.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my family to be doing “well enough.” I want us to thrive and grow, but I wasn’t doing anything to make that happen. I think moving from complacency to thriving is the work of a lifetime (as soon as you stop, you’re complacent, right??), but I’m grateful that God is revealing this part of my heart to myself through the time I’ve been spending with my family in this period of transition.
Awful Top 40 Music
Well, not everything that’s shaping me is as serious, deep, or life-changing as what’s above. As I work from the church office or Starbucks or the comfort of my couch, I need a soundtrack. Music elicits emotion, and though I’m far from the most knowledgeable person about music, I get deep levels of joy from being surrounded by it.
Now, because I’m not a musician – or should I say, not an instrumentalist – I’m less concerned with quality of music than many of my amazingly talented bandmates are. I’m much more concerned with the way the human story is being told, how easy it is to understand the emotion being portrayed – and, honestly, how well I can dance to it.
Top 40 Music, objectively, is terrible. I understand that. It’s all plug and play, and even if musicians are legitimately talented, who could know, because all Top 40 music is surprisingly the same. And yet, there’s something about it that engages me. Part of it is the dance-ability of it all. Some songs are just fun. But if you listen to a lot of Top 40 and are able to ignore some of the less appropriate overtones, what people are singing about is the condition of a human heart whose desire is not set on the Eternal. Many of the songs speak to a longing for something that can’t be obtained, or grief for a loss, or pleading for affirmation. These songs are telling the human story in a way that many humans resonate with. You might not love Zayn and T-Swift, but can you honestly tell me that you’ve never wondered, in some form or fashion, “…if I dodged a bullet or just lost the love of my life?” Have you never pleaded, along with Adele, “If you’re gonna let me down, let me down gently?” Or lamented like Wrabel, “I feel okay in the day, but at nighttime – you know how I get when I’m alone?”
These songs tell the stories of all of us when our minds are not set on things above –and for me, that happens more often than I’d like. It’d be great if my eyes were always, permanently, 100% fixed on Jesus, but they aren’t. I long for things I can’t have, I grieve in ways that don’t reflect the hope of Christ, I search for affirmation. Many of the things Top 40 artists sing about, I seek after, too. It’s easy to listen to the songs and think they’re just about sex, fame, and power, and those themes are certainly present. But if you listen a little deeper, what you’ll really hear are people who are searching for wholeness in a world that can’t provide it – and we’ve all been there. Listening to Top 40 has reminded me that I have Christ’s “hope as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul”, and that I don’t need to run after the things the world runs after to find peace.
And it’s helped me to dance.
Speechless and The Path
Ok, I’ll wrap it up. Part of what I do to relax is watch a few TV shows that I really, really like. Well, okay, I watch many TV shows, but there are two right now that are really resonating with me.
The first is called Speechless. It’s a sitcom about a family whose eldest son has cerebral palsy, and it follows the family through the ups and downs of their normal, day-to-day life. Besides the fact that it’s exactly my type of humor and cracks me up, I absolutely love that this show is throwing aside the stigma of the “poor families” who live life with someone who is differently abled. My sister doesn’t have any physical limitations, but she does have Downs’ Syndrome, and I’ve never for one second understood why people feel the need to lament that fact. I imagine if I got the news as an expectant mother, there would be a period of grieving, as there is anytime an expectation is lost or goes unmet. But I don’t know why people feel bad for us in our everyday lives. My sister is amazing, and she’s happy. Yes, there are problems that arise from her having Downs’ Syndrome, but our lives are not less happy as a result. I love that this show is hitting on that fact. Families can be happy and functional and enjoy life, even if their everyday looks different than yours. People with disabilities are not inherently better (or worse) than anyone else – they’re still people, with the same hopes, dreams, and shortcomings as other people. The show reminds us that people are people are people, and I love that.
Another show that is hitting me right now is a Hulu original called The Path. While not recommended for younger viewers, it’s a fascinating look into the culture of a religious cult. It’s caused me to examine some things that Christians take for granted and ask, “Why do we do those things? How does that look to people who aren’t Christians?” Now, I understand that “the message of the cross is foolishness”, so I’m not saying we need to bow down to culture and water down the message of Christ. But it’s been a great reminder that our traditions and the things we do because we’ve always done them cannot be the central message that people walk away with. The first and most important thing we need to be displaying is the hope, love, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Everything else we do is just a means to achieving that end, and as soon as we hold on to any of those things as “sacred cows”, we are missing the heart of the Gospel and the heart of Jesus. It’s making me ask myself, what do I hold onto doggedly that isn’t actually a part of the Gospel message of Christ? What are things that I just like and feel comfortable with that aren’t really needed for people to understand how much Jesus loves them? It’s good to search my heart and admit to my own idols, and I love that a TV show not intended to make me think more about Jesus has had that effect, anyway.
I’m so grateful to serve a God who can use any old thing to turn me into someone who looks more like Him – and even more grateful that the work isn’t yet done.