Tag Archives: community

Why Neighborhood Relationships Are Sacred

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?” The song plays as a soundtrack in the back of my mind as I scurry around town checking off items on my list: pay the water bill, deposit money at the bank, pick up a few items at the grocery store, and indulge in an iced coffee (well, that wasn’t actually on the list.) The familiar characters from Sesame Street serenade me with their chorus.

I find it amusing and yet profound that those simple lessons from childhood continue to speak into my life today. The voices challenge me to think about the answer to the question. In a culture of fast paced, rapidly impersonal exchanges with humanity, recognizing the faces in my community becomes challenging.

Who are the people in my neighborhood? Some are close friends; people with whom I have shared life for up to two decades. We become extended family; sharing the old fashioned act of borrowing a cup of sugar, watching each others’ children, providing meals in times of adversity, driving kids to school and generally doing life together.

But other people in my sphere are not people with whom I interact daily but are familiar faces in the routines of my life. I think of the cashier at the grocery store with whom I exchange pleasantries and small talk a few times a week as she scans my forgotten items for dinner. We don’t know much about each other but have gained glimpses into each other’s world through finding common humanity as we share a laugh or frustration. The woman who waits on my family as we grab snacks at a fast food restaurant on our way to church also comes to mind. We know her now on a first name basis and when we arrive, she already knows what will be ordered. Though not all these relationships have the same depth, they have one thing in common: “connectedness.”

That commonality has sacred implications.

One morning, as I woke up to the radio station set to my alarm, a woman’s voice convicted me that I also woke up to a new reality. As she spoke, I listened to her happily testify to an app she uses to order food and beverage. No phone call. No waiting in line. Simply show up at the appointed time and pick up the order.

What is happening to our connection to one another? I confess, as someone who is middle aged, it’s tempting to fall into the “when I was growing up…” train of thought. Every generation waxes nostalgically about their past while struggling to embrace changes in culture. However, this particular movement away from human connection really tugs at my heart.

The digital age appears to create an abundant number of ways in which we can increase our connections to one another. Social media allows us to initiate relationships with people across the globe. These relationships can offer opportunities to engage with diverse voices. However, it becomes tempting to quickly gravitate toward others according “categories.” therefore decreasing exposure to others different from ourselves.

I also wonder how many encounters in the “flesh” are being missed by engagement primarily online. If God’s character is revealed through the Imago dei found in all of us, what are the implications if we create barriers to encountering the breadth of human creation? C.S. Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal.”

A few years ago, my 18 year old son was searching for a local job. I was surprised at the impersonal process he encountered. Most applications he submitted were online and involved personality tests, questions with limited options for clarification, and background history. Only a few of the many applications submitted resulted in an interview. Most of them yielded no feedback at all; even with follow up phone calls. After a year, he finally landed a position. Ironically, it was one with a pop up store which interviewed on the spot after he inquired about a position in person.

I am reminded that not so long ago, looking for a first job involved filling out a paper application and then walking into a neighborhood shop inquiring of vacancies. In person. No personality test. No exhaustive background check. Risky? Probably. But a certain amount of risk is always involved in entering a relationship. What do we learn about each other as the relationship builds and more of our stories are disclosed?

Changing our habits does not come easy. Convenience will likely be sacrificed in order to engage in intentional connections. I am mindful of my own struggles yesterday. As I waited in the neighborhood pharmacy drive through, the woman in the other lane engaged in what felt like a lengthy conversation with the employee. The woman’s dog had accompanied her and became the theme of a mutual adoration for pets. At first, I felt frustration bubble below the surface of my skin. My patience was running low as I typically expect a quick turn around in a drive through. However, my own passionate thoughts about the void of human interaction broke through my impatience. I was waiting for a sacred purpose.

Isn’t this where it starts? I asked myself. Simple observations, Impromptu connections. Transformation on a small scale. Yes, I sit longer while they talk. When these connections multiply within my neighborhood, we all benefit. Trust. Education. Understanding, People are more than their names or titles. Imago Dei. A ripple of connections not only strengthens the fabric of a local community but also has implications globally.

I am inspired by Martin Luther King Jr’s words, “I admire the good Samaritan, but I don’t want to be one. I don’t want to spend my life picking up people by the side of the road after they have been beaten up and robbed. I want to change the Jericho road, so that everybody has an opportunity for a job, education, security, health.” By reframing how we view our interactions, we can see them as opportunities for transformation: for others and ourselves.

 

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Five Great Resources for Fostering Faith Conversations With Your Kids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 “You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 1:18-19)

First Ask Why by Shelly Wildman.

Though not an actual “devotional,” this book pushes parents to create a framework for how they can engage in faith growing experiences with their children. In the first pages, she describes her own beginning attempts to nurture her daughters’ faith. Some of those attempts went according to plan. Others ended in the frustration familiar to many parents who encounter the reality of intentional teaching among restless bodies. The story drew me in as I resonated deeply with her desire to reconcile God’s commands for parents and the reality of trying to implement a plan. Wildman proposes that asking “Why” we do what we do as families will lead to organic opportunities to for discipleship. It does not mean intentionality is forgotten but asking “why” pushes us to prioritize the ways a family uses their time, energy, and resources. There are a lot of “how to books” but families have different shapes and no one model can adequately help. As a parent myself, I found the information, grounded in scripture, practical. It felt as if a friend was sharing wisdom gained from experience. The questions at the end of each chapter challenge reflection and implementation.

Pray A to Z by Amelia Rhodes 

This book transforms the way you see others in your community. If you are familiar with a prayer walk, this book takes that concept to the next level. Arranged in alphabetical order, each page offer a brief introduction to a topic of prayer including: alcoholism, cancer, divorce, depression, estranged relationships, law enforcement, Jehovah-Jireh, Truth, and Wisdom. Our family uses each topic as our weekly them of prayer. Something holy happens when you pray for those you randomly see in your daily interactions. God opens up our eyes and the Holy Spirit puts a nudge in our hearts as we encounter those for whom we pray.

No More Fear for Kids by Johanna Reardon 

Finding a family devotional book that speaks in a language that draws kids in is challenging.  “Fear” is a common issues children face. The stories that introduce each lesson contain elements of situations that children will most likely have experienced. Bullying, staying overnight away from home, and fears of earthly disasters are common sources of children’s fears. Rather than dismissing them with a scriptural platitude, the author confronts them head on. Questions are offered at the end of each lesson which help the family members engage with one another and gives them a chance to listen to one another. In addition, the scriptural support and prayer places hope in their hearts. In addition, a characteristic of God becomes the theme woven through the whole lesson. I wish I would have had this book when my children were younger. It’s aimed towards the 8-12 year age group.

The Teenage Prayer Experiment Notebook by Miranda abd Noah Threlfall-Holmes. 

I picked up this little gem at a writing conference. The book stands out from traditional devotional books for kids/teens for two reasons: 1) It is written by a mom and her teen son. 2) Hands on application involves some really creative and culturally relevant methods of prayer. The introduction sets the premise: “This is not a book to teach teenagers about prayer. It is a book to encourage teenagers to try out prayer for themselves.” Each experiment includes an introduction (including its, the experiment itself, space for notes, and comments from other experimenters (including Noah). Ideas include creating a prayer space in a virtual world, bedroom door prayers, coloring the Bible, modelling a Bible passage using legos, and Nerf gun confession. Although this book is intended as an individual devotional book,it can easily be used as a family or youth group resource. http://teenageprayerexperiment.blogspot.com/p/running-prayer-experiment-workshop.html

The Bible Project https://thebibleproject.com/  

The digital age is reality so it makes sense to incorporate Bible teaching venues into it. Founded in 2014 by friends Timothy Mackie and Jonathan Collins, “The Bible Project is a non-profit animation studio that produces short-form, fully animated videos to make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere. ”  The videos fall under five categories: series, themes, word study, old testament and new testament. Compelling story telling and creative animation draws the audience to watch these short clips (most are under five minutes). My family has found this resource to provide a springboard for discussions that normally are challenging to initiate with your kids. (ie: hey, what do you think about praying the Shema? How about those Covenants?). You can watch these videos on the site as well as youtube. I guarantee your kids won’t be the only ones gaining Biblical knowledge.

 

 

Regarding Mental Health: How the Church Can Be Supportive

This piece was originally posted on http://forum.covquarterly.com/ in response to an article published in The Covenant Quarterly http://covquarterly.com/index.php/CQ/article/view/2Amy Simpsons article, “Supporting Families Living With Mental Illness” resonated deeply with me. Her story speaks of a journey that many walk in silence; one with which I am all too familiar.  I am ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church but currently am not serving in a pastoral position. However, I do have a ministry. It is through my own family’s journey with our child, who is being treated for Bipolar Disorder, that my eyes were opened up to the need for educating and equipping the local congregation to care for others walking our journey.   Recently, I had the privilege to lead a workshop at the Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women whose children are affected by Mental Illness/ other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common themes expressed included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community; specifically Christian community. Simpson’s calls to action regarding support for families affected by mental  illness, matches my own experiences; both as a parent and a part of the body of Christ. What I offer here, are specific points to ponder as well as practical ways we have found for the local church to demonstrate support.

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a workshop at the ECC Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women with children affected by mental illness or other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common experiences shared included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community – specifically for Christian community. Simpson’s call to action to the church to support families affected by mental illness matches my own experiences as a parent and as part of the body of Christ. I offer here some practical suggestions for how the local church can support families struggling with mental illness.
Educate: Become aware of organizations that supply information about the condition. For ministry staff, the questions that arise may include: How do I care for this person and their family? How do I help educate the congregation without drawing negative attention to the individual (and family members)? Since the symptoms fall on a large spectrum, the individuals have different needs.  Some churches have a sunday school class that particularly caters to children with special concerns.  We give practical suggestions to teachers when cues such as frustration or anger are presented.
Understand the impact on the entire family:As Simpson notes, “…behind every person with mental illness is a family that has been impacted-perhaps even devastated-by that illness.” Time, energy and resources are often drastically reduced in caring for the affected individual. Siblings may feel neglected.  One idea that has been welcoming to us is the inviting of our other children to play at other families’ homes. It’s a simple act that benefits everyone and reminds the siblings that they are special too. Any gesture that can ease tension is a gift to the family.
A  note on a theology of suffering: Simpson cautions against a theology of suffering that teaches   “that life should be easy and happy.” While I agree with her, I would also admonish against a belief that  medication/treatment provides a diversion from acknowledging the reality of suffering. I know persons with mental illness who have refused medication because they believe that the illness is a “cross to bear.” People facing other illnesses such as diabetes, heart conditions, etc. do not usually see their conditions from that perspective. In particular, parents of children with mental health issues may struggle with embracing the use of medication to help their child. Further complicating the decision by throwing a misguided theology of suffering on them is not helpful.  I believe that God has gifted individuals to develop medications that help restore “normal” processes of the brain and give those affected a better quality of life.The beauty of the Christian community is that we are made better by growing together.  We gain a bigger picture of God’s character through our interactions with each other.  My daughter loves and is effective in helping in certain tasks.  When she was younger, she placed the communion cups in the trays. She also helps prepare the snacks (and I might add enjoys being creative in this task) for our Café’ which follows our Sunday worship service. Children, in general crave purpose. Involvement affirms the truth that they are an important part of the community. . The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)  As Simpson states, “Helping people with mental illness is part of the church’s mission and calling. This is true not only for church leaders, but also every Christian.  We are responsible for our response to people in need.”

 

When the Church IS the Church

What does the Church look like? 

I’m not talking about architecture.  What does it look like?  In my last blog I pondered what it takes for people who don’t follow Christ to begin to take notice of the Church.  I believe that the Old Testament gives us a “pre-christian” understanding of community.  There is a realization that one’s actions benefit or hurt another.
Everyone’s intention is to live in a way that the whole community is built up.

The New Testament paints a broader picture because not only do we see ourselves as part of a community but it’s one that is made up of imperfect/diverse people with the common goal of following Christ and living in the constant grace that is woven through the fabric of their life together.  Acts 2:42:  All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer. 

In 2016, communities of Christians living together do exist.  I know first hand of one and, just like any group of believers, they have their places of strength and areas of struggle.  The book of Acts is not requiring that all Christians must live together everyday. The point is that they share life together: a life guided by Jesus who infuses us with a desire to live in a way that may run counter cultural. 

Verse 47 adds, ” 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.  More and more people were added.  hmmm. 

Was it due to a  high end audio system?

 A hip pastoral staff? 

Good coffee?  

Perhaps, it was watching a group of very different people(different ages, varied abilities, clashing personalities) come together to intentionally become Jesus’ Body on Earth.  Not an easy task at all.  Even the disciples had arguments. 

Not easy, but possible

Not easy, but transformational.  In fact, despite the early persecutions and deaths, Christianity spread rapidly in the early years. 

Here are just three contemporary examples of what happens when the Church IS the Church.

Ravenswood Covenant Church on Chicago’s northside began a ministry to High school mothers.  They began a partnership with a local high school where the church provides resources (daycare to their children, education on various topics and mentoring) to support them.  At a vulnerable time in their lives, these young women receive  the help of Jesus’ hands and feet without judgement or condition.  I’m sure setting this program up involved  many logistics, some concerns (“what about insurance liabilities?” “we’re helping a teen who got pregnant?” ),…..But they did it because Jesus is living in them.

Christ the Servant Church in Olathe, Kansas partnered with a local prison ministry.   The congregation desires to offer “unsuspecting acceptance.” to criminal offenders and their families. Each month, the Sunday worship service is led by a group of former prisoners who travel to different churches to use share their gifts with the greater church community.  Afterwards, the congregation and worship team share in a meal together. A man who attends the church originally came because he supervised some of the offenders.  Following his visit he told the pastor he would be “willing to attend a church that would welcome ‘men like this'” .(www.covchurch.org/news/2013/6/03). He later became a follower of Christ as did his family. 

The Bridge Teen Center in Orland Park (http://thebridgeteencenter.org), Illinois offers a safe  space for teens to explore their identity as well as build relationships with others. My kids love it! Programs are divided into different “buckets” which expand both heart and mind: Community Connections, Mind/Body, Expressive arts, Educational Support. Best of all: the programs are all FREE!  And if that wasn’t enough, bus transportation is provided to pick students up at their school and bring them to the Bridge. Walking into this place, you feel validated in every sense: the decorations and furniture themselves shout “You are worth it!” No 70’s couch and mismatched rugs here. Chic, comforting,  functional for the teens who find refuge here. Want to know what it’s like to be a teacher? meet one and ask questions. Interested in honing culinary skills? cook with a local chef in the commercial grade kitchen. Need to chill after a bad day? Nap in the padded quiet zone nooks Having problems with family? vent to a trained adult leader.  Although it is not promoted as a Christian venue, the center was founded by a former youth pastor-Priscilla Steinmetz.  Biblical principles form the foundation and drive its mission. She and 200 volunteers work to engage the community in every possible angle to ensure that lives can be transformed here. Change lives, impact an entire community.

Acts 2:47:
47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
So…..what would happen if these examples were commonplace in the Church?  What are the implications for our nation; in particular?  What kind of transformation would take place? How would that impact the debates about government based programs to the vulnerable? How would the Church be redefined? 

When have you witnessed “The Church Being the Church?”