Monday, February 26, 2007

A legend pumping gas

So Jen and I were out shopping on Saturday night. We needed to stop for gas, so we pulled into a station in Braintree, MA, just south of Boston. (the Mobil across for South Shore Plaza for the Bostonians reading. Is anyone reading this?) At the pump in front of us was a silver Toyota RAV4. A guy gets out wearing a non-descript winter jacket and a winter hat that was quite silly. It was red, white and blue with a long tassel hanging from the top. I was just about to hop out and pump my gas when Jen, ever the celebrity spotter says, "Drew, that's Bill Belichick." I looked more closely and it certainly seemed to be him. I got out of the car to pump my gas just in time to hear him say "cash" to the attendant over the intercom system. As soon as I heard his voice, I knew it was the legendary coach of the New England Patriots.

I pumped my gas, trying to figure out why he was driving a RAV4, contemplating the fact that he must have to pay cash everywhere he goes so as not to be called out by the person ringing up his purchases with a credit card and trying to figure out what to do in light of the situation. When I finished pumping the gas, we decided Jen would say hi and ask to get a picture with him. She half-chickened out twice and then simply walked up to him and said "Hi, Coach Belichick." He said "hi" nicely enough, but in that way that clearly communicated, "I'm not really looking to be bothered." He wasn't rude at all, but it was clear the picture request was not something he was going to respond to favorably, so we just got back in the car and left the station. Oh and called all of the Patriot fans we could think of who would pick up the phone at 9:45 at night.

I love living in this town.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Duty v. Devotion, Action v. Adoration

There's been a lot of discussion lately somehow related to this topic. I recently heard an excellent sermon on it from Major Linda Jones in Quincy, MA pertaining to the exchange between Martha and Mary in Luke 10 when Jesus was visiting.

Here are some of her thoughts:

We should be careful to live within this tension. The left column represents cultural assumptions or tendencies. The column on the right is what we are expected to do as believers.
Martha Mary
Work v Worship
Duty v. Devotion
Urgent v. Essential
Focus on self & others v. Focus on Jesus - If Jesus needed food, Mary would have gotten it.
Standing & working v. sitting right in front of Jesus

A couple of quotes
"People expect us to be busy." Stephen Covey

"Tension & frustration mount when we are doing the wrong task or trying to cram too many right tasks into one time period" Major Linda Jones

"If we forget God while serving God, we will probably quit God." Mark Collinsworth

I was struck by many of the thoughts she shared and realized that it's a tricky thing. I work hard sometimes to make sure other people know how hard I'm working, how busy I am, how important a given task is that I'm doing. I guess there can be this equal tendency to make our worship something that we want to get credit for. I've been in situations where the Martha-Mary responses are reversed. One person is quietly and faithfully working away at a task wholeheartedly offering it as a sacrifice for the Kingdom, while someone else wants to make a show of their devotion and make it seem like it's more important than the task their peer is doing. But it's a false self-serving kind of devotion.

This is the exception, of course. For the most part, we'd rather be known as hard workers than hard worshipers to coin a phrase. Our culture, even our Christian culture looks down on those who are "So heavenly-minded they're of no earthly good." We have slipped into the trap of glorifying hard work sometimes at the peril of glorifying God. Because our work gives a quick fix of affirmation, we are willing to trade our glory for His.

Apparently, former General Albert Orsborn was living in this tension and had become a bit of a Martha when he suffered an accident and had to recooperate in a nursing home. He realized how far his priorities had shifted and wrote these immortal words to "All My Work is for the Master." Oh that I would live these words every day. When it's all over and I'm welcomed home, I want to be known as a hard worshiper, someone who did everything for God's honor and glory, not a hard worker who was working for my own legacy.

All My Work is For the Master
Albert Orsborn
Saviour, if my feet have faltered
On the pathway of the cross,
If my purposes have altered
Or my gold be mixed with dross,
O forbid me not thy service,
Keep me yet in thy employ.
Pass me through a sterner cleansing
If I may but give thee joy!
All my work is for the Master,
He is all my heart's desire;
O that he may count me faithful
In the day that tries by fire!
Have I worked for hireling wages,
Or as one with vows to keep,
With a heart whose love engages
Life or death, to save the sheep?
All is known to thee, my Master,
All is known, and that is why
I can work and wait the verdict
Of thy kind but searching eye.
I must love thee, love must rule me,
Springing up and flowing forth
From a childlike heart within me,
Or my work is nothing worth.
Love with passion and with patience,
Love with principle and fire,
Love with heart and mind and utterance,
Serving Christ my one desire.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Urban Forum III: a Past Idea

So I know it's now been almost a month since I was at the 614 Network Urban Forum in Atlanta. I am still processing a couple of things I heard there. Thanks to Delta, I arrived exactly 3 hours after I was supposed to. I missed the beginning of a talk given by Bob Lupton who runs FCS Urban Ministries in Atlanta. He also serves on the board of Christian Community Development of America. I walked in just in time to hear him say, " the idea of building a big building in a poor neighborhood is a past idea. We shouldn't be doing that anymore."

This statement shook me as I am occupied entirely right now with a project that is set to build the largest center The Salvation Army has ever built in the Northeast. His point was that gentrification is sweeping the urban landscape in North America. Once blighted neighborhoods are being revitalized largely due to an influx of wealthy professionals returning from their exile in the suburbs. I say that because many of those people returning to cities are actually the children or grandchildren of a generation of wealthy professionals who fled the cities to populate and perfect the suburban landscape following WWII. White flight and the resultant abuse brought on by insurance fraud, municipal negligence and life conditions of the urban poor have destroyed these neighborhoods and now gentrification threatens to reinvent them by vacating the poor, pricing up real estate and "starting over." Lupton's point is that we can not stop this continental trend and so we ought to be careful not to tie ourselves to a new building in a poor neighborhood as it might not be that way for long. We need to be nimble enough as urban ministries to keep up with the geography of the people we're trying to serve.

I should tell you a bit about the 614 crowd if you're unfamiliar with them. The network is made up of a number of courageous people (mostly Salvationists and some Mennonites) who have moved into poor urban neighborhoods to live, work, go to school with the longtime residents of these communities. They are doing incarnational ministry, experiencing a good deal of injustice themselves--cramped grocery stores, no good plumbers, negligent response from city agencies--and a lot of the richness--the cultural mosaic, the interconnected support structures formed by residents, the hope of a brighter day--that is experienced in places like Regent Park in Toronto and downtown Birmingham, Alabama. As a rule, they mistrust bureaucratic authoritarian structures, preferring a streamlined God-inspired ministry model without all of the red tape and politics.

As I spent time there, I found that some people had assumed that we were just going to plop a huge corps (church) community center in the midst of this landscape and not ask anyone's advice about it. One guy even went so far as to tell me that the people in the community don't want the center. As far as I know, he's never been to Dudley. The assumption was that we were going to pump millions of dollars into a changing neighborhood only to end up with egg on our faces when gentrification rolls through and transforms the neighborhood. They were also bothered by what better work could be done with the funds. When I described the process we'd been through to gain trust in the community, listen to the concerns and partner with agencies and residents, very few were hopeful, most were cynical. That same guy wanted to throw out academic terms around community process to make me look foolish for being such a neophyte.

Here's the thing, though. Everything Lupton said was true. Unchecked, gentrification will develop urban neighborhoods by displacing those that stayed when everyone left, leaving them without a place to live and most without any economic advantage for having been displaced. It's true if a community has not stepped up to prevent it from happening. All of that will take place if the residents have not organized to plan a way through this new wave. In Dudley, they are committed to development without displacement. This means they want to preserve it as a mixed-income community, where those with means are living side by side with those living with less. They have strategized around it and done groundbreaking work to ensure permanently affordable housing and to protect the values of the neighborhood they committed not to leave decades ago. And, oh by the way, part of the strategy has included a community center on Dudley Street next to the tracks for 20 years. We have listened to, learned from and engaged that planning process.

Unfortunately, not every neighborhood has this united force to mitigate the coming changes. I fear some of the Kroc Centers will end up being exactly what Lupton and the 614 folks fear most--a monumental waste of resources as wealthy people move into a poor neighborhood and force out the current residents. So isn't it important that the Bob Luptons and Geoff Ryans of the world engage those of us planning Kroc Centers and the communities in which they'll be built?

I guess I'd prefer that to being kicked in the shin and being told that my current calling is a fool's errand.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

No, seriously, I'm back

Gotten a couple of notes from people decrying my declaration of being back on the blog scene. They say things like "well, guess your resolution to blog again didn't work out" or "it was a nice try, maybe next time."

Let me 'splain. I had a 3rd blog post from the Urban Forum all done. It was ready to post, and I made the mistake of previewing it and then in the process of trying to make an edit, I lost it. No number of back button pushes would bring it back to me, so I've been waiting for the opportunity to post it. Let me give you a preview.

It all starts with a quote from Bob Lupton. I walked into the room to hear him say, "The idea of building a big building in a poor neighborhood is a past idea. We should no longer be doing that." You can understand how that threw me since I'm spending roughly 30 hours a day trying to figure out how we are going to get a 90,000 square foot community center erected in the poorest neighborhood in Boston. Anyway, there's more on that topic and it will be coming in a post before Valentine's Day.