All These People

I am sitting in Foxy Loxy, a house-turned coffee shop, just a few steps from my
daughter’s apartment in Savannah. It’s a cool, rainy day. I’ve snagged a table on the enclosed porch. Wooden shutters wrap around me at eye level, and the glow of the apple icon on the computers around me are the only connection between those of us parked in this tiny room, coffee in hand.

All my life, I have loved to travel. I visit places and am captivated not just by the things that stand, the places and markers of history and culture, but by this tantalizing thought that always grabs hold of my imagination:

I could live here.

And I could. Really, anywhere I ever go, it comes, unbidden; this projection of what my life would look life if I lived here, in this place, wherever “here” is at the moment.

I love to imagine. The grass is always greener, it seems; and often, it’s not just the place, but some other version of me that fascinates me. Here, surrounded by Spanish moss dripping from the trees, the bulky Bull Street Library gleaming right across the street, the students carrying portfolios and backpacks dodging puddles on the sidewalk, the constant stream of movement. Cars and people. Cars and people.

Lives, intricate and important. All these people…

I’m rambling a bit, obviously. I’ve spent two full days here with my daughter, not as a tourist but as a traveler. I’ve met her friends over coffee, heard the dreams of artists who are passionate about their faith and their art, who are spending their summers serving others at camps and workshops from North Carolina to East Asia. We exclaim delight over the pastries at Back In the Day Bakery and mull over the challenges of city codes for church ministry coffee shops. I’m watching students spend their free day doing construction work – unpaid – for a church project.

All these people…

I spoke at City Church here in Savannah last night, part of a week-long intensive called Movement. I agonized and worried over what I might possibly have to say and share with anyone. My insecurities rear their heads in mighty ways and do a fine job of distraction; but in the end, after a few days of simple real conversations, real dialogue and incredible food, I stood in front of a room full of people and delivered the message. It was, in a word (or 2,833 words, to be exact), simply what I felt God told me to say. All the structure, all the planning, all the time spent molding and shaping an arc of narrative and context – all so much time and energy, reduced to an open mouth and these are the words God gave me to say to you.

And the thing I discovered is this: I have this thing in me, the truth of my life and the daily working out of my own salvation (with fear and trembling) and the small gifts of confession that I give and receive from the people in my daily coming and going and the things I have seen and felt and heard and lived. I have this thing, grounded in a foundational faith and trust in the workings of something beyond the tangible, something ethereal and spiritual and beyond my understanding or sight.

I have this life. I could live here, in Savannah, or I could live in Raleigh or Seattle or Tolar, Texas, or Chagrin Falls, Ohio, or right where I am. I could live anywhere, but I get to embrace the fullness of the life I have lived regardless of where I sit. Last night, I spoke these words: “I have walked this broken earth for almost 50 years…”

I am embracing this now, surrounded by youth and passion and energy and the incredible working swirl of creative fuel for life and Jesus. I have the privilege of speaking and sharing but far greater is the joy of a shared meal, the glimpse into the life my daughter is forging, the tiny graces of God, the energy of beauty and the lives of all these people, intricate and important.

All these people.

God, I am so blessed.

There Were No Easter Baskets

Time just keeps moving us forward. There’s no greater reminder of this for me, lately, than holidays. What once was a foregone conclusion; holiday, big dinner, everybody home – has morphed into something that requires a lot of mobility and flexibility.

Such was Easter this year. The boys are gone, off on a mission trip with their dad in New York City. Sarah is in Savannah. Shannon and Sydni came home for the weekend. Tony and I are still here, and everything swirls around us. 
No complaints. Just the way it is. And I’m okay with that.
Easter was an amazing celebration at our church. I read this post today and realized that I have moved past the emotions he describes into something that is grounded in joy and optimism, more so than in recent years. It is tangible and it is good, and today was an explosion of grace and goodness that I still find

Connie Kottman’s art

inexplicable; but I accept it for what it is and give thanks for a community of faith that gives us room to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

And a good bit of singing and shouting.
There were no Easter baskets for our family this year, which felt a bit odd. But church and a full table and good conversation made up for the absence of candy, fake grass and chocolate bunnies.
It’s been a busy few weeks around here, but I’ve been taking notes. Here’s some links I highly recommend, from writers all connected with PCC in some way:
You can watch today’s service here

Nobody Is Spared Difficult Days

Thinking about this while I am folding laundry today:

“…if we think God is going to take away our troubles, we assume there is something wrong with us if He doesn’t. We assume we did something bad, or that God doesn’t like us, or perhaps even that God Himself isn’t good. To be sure, some of the hardships in our lives happen because we made bad decisions, but even in that we are given the grace of a God who is willing to discipline us in love and restore us. A careful understanding of Biblical stories reveals that every hero goes through difficult trouble. Nobody is spared.

In an age where we are taught through commercialism that there should be no struggles in life that the purchasing of a product won’t relieve, the Bible is incompatible. But the age of commercialism has let us down. Many have found their stuff has made life more meaningless. What we’ve forgotten is that every great story has to involve a difficult ambition, and must then travel through the land of conflict. The best stories have their protagonist wondering if they are going to make it. What scripture teaches us, then, is that God will be with us in that place, and will give us the strength to endure a hard thing.”

Think about that for a while. Whether you’re in the middle of a hard thing, or on either side of one, you can be sure it’s coming. None of us are exempt.
And there is help.
Read more here. Thanks to Donald Miller for his wisdom and his writing skills.

A Freaking Radical

Sitting in Barnes & Noble with my daughter, in something of a holding pattern.

I read this post, and sorrow or something like it enveloped my chest, crawled up through my throat and leaked out of my eyes.
I don’t know why it struck me so powerfully. Perhaps because I am in a season of walking through a land that is littered with dry bones and carcasses. Maybe because I have a deeper sense of the fragile hold we have on the simplest of things, like just making sense of life. Maybe because I’ve had the painful privilege of holding hands with some friends and family members through a broken, desperate time.
Maybe because walking through my current book study on the crazy, relentless, all-powerful love of God, my eyes are being opened to glory of a magnitude that I have never considered.
Whatever the factors, I know this: the faith I have in God continues to deepen. I do not have to imagine or invent it. Something literally has taken hold in the deepest part of me and is rooted, immovable. It is intrinsic to my life.
It is a mystery to me.
I speak occasionally of the fact that the God we celebrate on Sundays is mysterious and supernatural. There is some definitive power in Jesus that is beyond our understanding and, to some degree, beyond rational thought or reason.
Milton Brasher-Cunningham wrote about the transition from Epiphany to Lent, about “our picture of Jesus moving from the One Who Came to the One Who is Going to the Cross.” And it just shredded me.
Not long ago we celebrated the birth of the baby, the iconic, helpless infant who was somehow part of Creation and key to Redemption. And in the liturgy of the structure of Christian faith, we are quickly swept along through the season, from Christmas to Easter, to the horrific, tortured death of that same baby.
Brasher-Cunningham writes:

“…moving into Lent moves us from rejoicing in the compassion of God in human form to the somber reality of Jesus’ example of what it means to be human calling us to our own more authentic and dangerous existence. Long after Magi and mangers, we are left with a Messiah who is a freaking radical.”

I think this resonates with me today at the core of my maternal heart, which – after five kids and a lifetime impacted by my role as a parent, is the deepest, most definable part of me.
The concept of a baby growing through childhood into her “more authentic and dangerous existence” hits my tender spot today.
Brasher-Cunningham ends his post with welcome anticipation of what kind of “glorious damage an untamed God can do.” It is not without pain, tears, and gut-wrenching sobs. But, in God’s hands, it is glorious indeed, and the violence to our bodies done by the wild mercy of a freaking radical is bearable.
Because in the end, love wins.
By the way, Milton blogs at Don’t Eat Alone. Every year, he writes a disciplined series of posts through Lent. It has been a consistent part of my faith journey for a few years now. I encourage you to read him, daily, from today through Easter. Find him at donteatalone.blogspot.com. You can start today.

What If Jesus Were Attacked By A Polar Bear?

We all have questions.  Some seem a bit more…well, creative…than others.  Still, it is our nature to wonder why, to push back, to look for answers.

What are some of your questions?  Particularly when it comes to religion, and Jesus, and God and creation and the church?  What are you thinking about?
Thanks to Tim Stevens for the video link…

Let Your Name Be Lifted Higher

In light of everything we are experiencing and the way we see God moving in our community in recent weeks, it’s important to remember some important things.

God is stronger.

Christ is risen.

You are saved.

There is hope.

There is a way out.

This song has gripped me since last night. I know it is a message we need to hear, a song we need to sing.


There is Love that came for us
Humbled to a sinner’s cross
You broke my shame and sinfulness
You rose again victorious

Faithfulness none can deny
Through the storm and through the fire
There is truth that sets me free
Jesus Christ who lives in me

You are stronger
Sin is broken
You have saved me
It is written
Christ is risen
Jesus You are Lord of all

No beginning and no end
You’re my hope and my defense
You came to seek and save the lost
You paid it all upon the cross

After Easter…

Wondering how you’re feeling this week…

It’s Tuesday, a little over a week past Easter.  Spring break is a mere memory, and the drudgery of routine has returned.  You’re counting down the days until the end of school; you’re holding out hope for a change in your circumstance; you’re grinding your teeth through the patience required of you in these days.
You’re waiting.  Existing.
Remember this, as you wait.

Doing Church The Way God Called Us To Do It

Home.  Sitting in Panera waiting on results from a local show choir competition.  Here, engaged, but not really here….

Feeling convicted about my “Dear 21st Century Church” post.  Seems like I either didn’t explain myself very well or there was something bitter running through the entire thing experience that leached through.  In spite of three edits, I didn’t see it.  Still not sure what it is.
I don’t want to offend or be a stumbling block.  I took the post down.
And then I read this today, from Perry Noble’s blog, which is far more powerful than anything I could ever dream up to say about any other church experience.

“One of the things that I always teach here at NewSpring Church is that we do not have the corner on the market when it comes to a movement of God. We aren’t doing church “the right way.” We aren’t doing church a better way. We are doing church the way God called us to do it…and if another church is doing what God has called them to do and people are being reached, lives are being changed, sin is being repented of, the excluded are being included, teenagers are discovering their potential in Christ, marriages are being restored and children are learning about Jesus and so on…who in the world would want to criticize that? (Answer – satan…just in case you were curious!)” – Perry Noble

Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?
I’m sorry.

Sunday Setlist 4.5.09 Unity Service

Last summer, a young man in our community was murdered.  Teen-aged sensibilities, cars, drugs, insults and guns; a devastating combination.

The boy who lost his life was black.  The kids who shot the guns were white.
During the trial a few weeks ago, tensions were high.  Folks were looking for justice, for answers.  Tension that has simmered below the surface of the friendly faces in the community began to erupt.  The subsequent jury verdict of involuntary manslaughter caused a great deal of grief for those who felt it unfair, unjust and biased against the African American community.  There were peaceful protests and marches and a lot of media coverage.  The hot story for the media was, of course, the racial tension simmering in Powhatan county.  
Not long after, some idiot planted KuKluxKlan literature throughout the county – surreptitiously, of course; stuck in mailboxes and yards, inviting folks to join their organization.
(Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth, just a little.)
Several pastors got together last week to talk about what the local church community could and should do.  The silence thus far had been deafening; and so, plans were made, and in four short days, we organized a community Unity Service.  And new relationships were formed.
Last night, after worshiping in our own churches on Sunday morning (still, the most segregated place in our community), we came together.  Since we currently worship at the high school, which was to be the host site (thanks to the generosity of the Powhatan School Board), PCC was very involved in most of the practical aspects of the gathering.
We threw out an “all-call” for anyone who wanted to sing in the community choir, and scheduled a 4:00 rehearsal.  We had no idea what to expect, but we’d put together a few song ideas and decided that we’d do what God’s artists do – we’d create something.
We ended up with about 75 folks in the community choir – with huge diversity.  Black, white, Baptist, Pentacostal, Mennonite – it was a jumbled mess of humanity.  And, oh, did we sing…..
I’ve never witnessed anything like this in my life.  We sang loudly and it was glorious, all those voices.  From the stage, we looked out over a crowd that represented every color, tons of churches – and many folks with no church affiliation, who just came in search of peace and unity.  We estimate that around 900 folks were in the room last night, and it was an incredible surge of energy and positive power, reflecting the incredible depth of strength God provides when we humble ourselves to one another, submit to Him and just get together with one simple purpose:  to say that we are His people.
We got news coverage, and it was positive.  The reports did not flash back or focus on the negative – they showed a community commited to grasping hands and declaring that things could and should and would be different.
At the end of the service, all the area pastors were called onto the stage.  Representing black and white churches, all of whom worship and minister in different styles, our leaders stood together to demonstrate something far beyond anything we could have manufactured.  I still have no words for what I witnessed.
But I’ll tell you that what I heard was more magical and beautiful than any music I’ve ever created.  The simple sound of voices singing together – minimal rehearsal, no assignment of parts, just instructions to sing – it was.  absolutely.  stunning.
I’m thinking that an eternity of worship doesn’t sound too bad.
On the practical side, here’s the way the service went:
You Are Good – Most contemporary chuches know this tune.  We rocked the house.  It was a GREAT declaration of the goodness of God, and an incredible way to launch the service.
At the Foot of the Cross (Greg Ferguson/Willow Creek)This song has always been a challenge (for me) in it’s format.  There’s something about it that has never quite held together in a way that’s comfortable.  But the message in the lyric is brilliant and was a perfect fit for the night.  
Five pastors then spoke, each on a different topic:  Love, Forgiveness, Wisdom, Comfort and Unity.  They each had five minutes – and of course they each went over, just a bit.  Hello – they are pastors!  But it was worth it.  Each speaker was followed by another pastor representing a different church or race, whose role it was to pray.  Beautiful stuff.
We showed A Thousand Questions, a film from Willow Creek that is absolutely stellar in quality and content.  If you haven’t seen this, you should.  If you haven’t used it, you should.  (You can purchase the dvd from the WillowCreekAssociation.)
As the video ended, we asked folks in the room to gather round for prayer – to find somebody of another race, from another church, and pray together.  And the choir began to sing I Need You To Survive, directed by the amazing Aleisha from Little Zion Baptist Church.  We moved into a creative version of Jesus Never Fails, with a call and answer from the choir that was stunning and so powerful – and rich for me, because I was able to just stand in the choir and sing.
We closed with Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) and I swear, I felt the heavens break open and the angels sing with us.  
What a night.  There’s little more to say, but my heart is full and will never be the same.
Read one pastor’s perspective on the night here.

Catch some of the media coverage here.

And here’s A Thousand Questions.  Go buy this vid and show it to your church.