Shell or Rock?

Moana was a fantastic movie for so many reasons. The chicken made us laugh. The grandma was one we all wish we had. The usual motif about “someone realizing there was something mystically special about themselves all along” – is something many of us hope to discover.

There are roots in there story with amazing truths, if we will notice.

There is a girl who is taught her entire life, that her value comes from her ability to maintain what has always happened. She is expected to make wise decisions, to rule well, and to navigate the difficulties of island life. That someday she will place her stone on the highest mountain, atop the stones of previous leaders, making her contribution the highest point on their island.  But within her stirs a discontent. A “holy” stirring that not only she, but her people, were created to do more than what they’d done yesterday.  That perhaps even, looking far back in their history, they might find stories of a completely different existence altogether.  They were not a people meant to thrive on how well they could perpetuate status quo. They were wired to thrive on creative discovery, and to craft stories of stepping out into the unknowns, in faith that something greater than themselves held their fate and future. That actually, their fate depended on complete change in what was being done. They were facing struggles no resources could be found to solve. The status quo way of maintaining routine was slowly losing its ability to provide life.

So she set out to discover what else could be done. Sacrificially, she launched a new initiative toward becoming vulnerable – not just for her own sake but for a people who were temporarily without any idea of what might happen next.  Collectively, they looked toward tomorrow with hesitancy, but hopeful faith for what could be. Enlight16

It turned out to be exactly what was needed. As she returned to share this new way of life she’d discovered, it was immediately embraced by the people as being their actual story. No longer were they island people, who valued being able to efficiently stay as they were. Connecting to their ancient roots, they were a people “on the move”. Entrusting themselves to something larger, they collectively were reidentified as New Creations.  There is a brief scene where we simply see a shell placed on a stack of rocks. No longer would success be measured by the highest point on an island that was ultimately no source of life.

From now on – they’d become a people who’s measurement for Life had been altogether transformed.

The wisdom here offers us a moment to contemplate as leaders and servants in the Kindgom of God. Are we willing to let go of our chance to place a stone, if it enables others to actually be transformed toward a New Life altogether? Can we trust God to guide us as we launch out together toward a New Land?

There is, after all, a world out there already placing stones upon stones – waiting for followers of Jesus to show them a better way…

 

“Nalingi Yo/ je t’aime/I Love You”

“Much more could be said, if I thought with my head,

But I only can think with my heart.

I love you.  I love you, and yearn for the day…

The day when you’ll say, “I love you.”

– Irving Berlin, “Just One Way to Say I Love You”

When Sarah and I first were married during our senior year of college, I won a Frank Sinatra cd during a Valentines radio call-in contest.  Sinatra’s cover of the quoted Irving Berlin song above was on the collection of love songs, and immediately became a favorite one for me to sing/hum when we found ourselves dancing and in need of a tune.  It spoke well of the fact that even though my brain is great at coming up with words, my heart continues to want to communicate one simple/complex truth – I love you.

It wasn’t a stretch, then, when 5 years later I found myself singing the same song to our newborn.  It took on new meaning, as I sang the lines “..and yearn for the day…”  As a father, I couldn’t wait for my little girl (and each of her subsequent sisters) to form the words “I love you, dad.”  Still to this day, it warms me in ways I never knew possible.  As each of our girls have moved from crying, to talking, the words come less than when they were 4 or 5.  But when they come now from my 10 year old, the words “I love you, dad.” increase in depth and meaning with every year.

So today marks another year of important measurement, and another layer added to the meaning of “our song”.  One year ago this week, we were stranded in a small hotel in the middle of the DRC, in Africa.  We’d only been to Kinshasa once before, traveling there to provide emergency medical care for our daughter who we’d adopted but weren’t allowed to bring home yet, due to corrupt political situations. Finally now, we were completing final steps to bring her home.  She was with us, in that hotel, as each day we tried to move a bit closer toward uniting her with sisters who waited back in the US.

Weeks, and Easter passed, and we chatted via video with family back home, shared prayer updates, and waited with both tears of joy – and tears of struggle.  This precious little girl, who was still just beginning to know us, was opening up a bit more each day.  But she had IMG_2386been through so much already.  She’d never known a father figure, let alone one that wanted to be loving.  She would let me care for basic needs, like prepare her food.  She would let me be goofy, playing catch at times or offering a horse-ride. Otherwise, she kept her distance…both physically and emotionally.

I would find myself looking forward to the moments she would sleep, and I could come closer.  I would try to hum the same tune I’d sung to her sisters when they were newborns.  “..and yearn for the day, the day when you say – ‘I love you.”  I would pray, as I softly touched her head or shoulders – not daring to wake her.

Finally, we were able to come home.   Days and weeks gave way to months.  French became English, and emotions of “sisterhood” and “family” have taken root.  We are not done with the work of healing what has happened.   But God has brought us so far.  This morning as I left for work, she said once again “I love you, dad” as I said goodbye to each daughter.

“Much more could be said, if I thought with my head, but I only can think with my heart.”

As I let the words sink in – on each level – I realize I have a Father who continues to wait on me to say “I love you”.  Even though I’ve said it before, every time I speak the words, it includes new and deeper experiences that flavor and fill the words to breathe new life into them.  The same way that each year finds my wife & daughters communicating new depths of love as they speak the words.   I realize He continues to “yearn for the day” when humanity will collectively say “I love you.”  For now, I pray to continue guiding my family into a life of speaking those three words well – by our lives.  Both to our neighbors, and to God…

Top Ten

I’d originally posted this on my actual church website.  As it turns out, they actually DO want visitors, and this seemed counter-productive.  Posting it here instead, so that when I die, the historians will have this to laugh at.  Or present Russian hackers.  Or my mom.  You know, whoever reads…

Top Reasons to NOT Visit our church:dontvisit.big_

  1. You’re a long-time attender at another church & discovered something you don’t like. Whether worship style, new pastor, new Bible version, new parking lot, or the latest potluck recipe flop – stick with your family if possible. Community is long-term, and multi-generational. That means there will be seasons, and possibly even generations where things aren’t quite what you’d pick out. But you don’t switch family reunions because the other family is playing a cooler game. (Although you might invite them to teach you.)
  2. You’re completely comfortable w/your life right now, & want everything to stay the way it is. Certainly ANY church can turn into a social club, where we pat each other on the back and go home each week with a smile on our face. But here at Moundford we value transformation, and we invite our people to live missionally in ways that might make you and your “comfort” more vulnerable.
  3. You’re perfect. Seriously? We have a Savior already, and don’t need another one. (Although you might still want to try and come…there’s a good chance you’ve been misinformed.)
  4. You want people to see your new _______. Whether it’s a hairstyle, new car, or giant gold-plated belt-buckle; it might be better to post a picture on social media and let your mom “Like” it. We advocate humility and “freedom from the trappings of wealth”. So whether humility looks like a suit and tie (servant), or blue jeans (simplicity), we invite you to come before God with a humble heart.
  5. You want to be a part of a community where everyone is like you. Sadly, the visual diversity of congregations does often seem homogeneous. But the heart of Jesus stirs a desire within us to reach out across all socioeconomic and culture/racial barriers to build loving community and share life together. We hope to continue looking more and more like the diversity found in a global body of believers.
  6. You’re hoping to move up within a pyramid. We understand the current economy has all sorts of opportunities popping up for investment. Although we certainly welcome anyone here at Moundford, we’d rather “building your financial network” not be your foundational motivation for connecting with us. From another angle, the head of our church is not the local pastor or head of the board – it’s Jesus. We seek His Spirit together, and guidance comes as we are accountable to each other, the greater conference, and our denomination.
  7. You want a church population big enough to hide in. It can be tempting to try and follow Jesus and attend worship one day, and fade quietly away all week/month. Sure, it’s possible to attempt, but you’re missing out on so much. Connect in relationship through a class or small group. We are not formed by attending and consuming a worship service – but by including the means of Grace found in living together as worshiping vulnerable community.
  8. You’re looking for something 100% new. We believe in Revelation 21:5, God says “Behold I am making all things new!” not “Behold, I am making all new things!” We have roots in this community going back to 1880, and understandings of scripture, mission, and God that go back thousands of years. Even as God continues to do new things in and through us, we will always be connected to that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) and the ways God has been active for a long time already.
  9. For the freshly made Mexican cuisine. Okay, so this one’s just for fun. But if you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and visit “Taqueria La Perlita” near 22nd and Eldorado. That’s some good Mexican food right there. Tell Maria we sent you. (Although sidenote: Our potlucks have been known to feature some of Decatur’s finest fresh Chinese food.)
  10. You’re Trying to Escape God. We are a community of God’s children who believe the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ, and revealed the powerful Love of God that seeks us out no matter where we are, and no matter how broken or undeserving we think we might be. When we gather for worship, it is this God we seek and encounter. This Love offers to flood our time together, and does not stay contained in our services. We invite this Spirit to empower us throughout our week, which involves reaching out to others – but also an inward transformation of our hearts as we open ourselves to His Love. So even though it’s not a great place to come if you’re trying to avoid God – now might be a good time for you to recognize – God is with you already in this moment. You cannot make His Love turn away from desiring to be with you.

(If you’ve made it this far into reading, I hope you’ve been stirred. If you’d like to talk more, or for someone to pray with/for you, I hope you’ll connect. Visit, call, or e-mail!)

“Uber” Exciting

This past week, ride-sharing app “Uber” opened up in our city, only to be followed the next day by “Lyft” as well.  Decatur, IL was finally getting “on the map” in a way that seemed to echo finally being included in “Craigslist” a few years before.  Certainly we’re no Chicago, but we are a greater-area population of about 85,000 – and potential for growth as we were also recently identified as #3 most affordable housing market in the WORLD.

uber-redesign-russellwarwickI’m a confessed extrovert, and love meeting new people.  So it wasn’t surprising to my wife when I joked about signing up as an Uber driver, not as a money-making venture, but for fun.  Even after quickly moving through the process, snapping pictures of my documents like insurance and registration, and getting notified I was approved – I didn’t think I’d find myself driving anytime soon.  Although as a pastor there was another layer of appeal.

Fridays are my “day off”, and the rest of my family was occupied at our homeschool co-op.  My wife told me to take the morning to enjoy.  As I sat at Panera, reading the latest edition of Harpers, I flicked the “Online” toggle on my Uber-Driver App, and officially became available.  I figured, it would be fun to give a ride or two, in the midst of my morning coffee.  Ten minutes later, it was obvious Decatur didn’t need many Uber drivers around 9am on a Friday.  Almost an hour in, I realized it wouldn’t be so bad to just spend the morning reading with coffee.

Then it happened.  I don’t even remember much about what the alert looked like. All I could think of was “There might be several Uber drivers getting this same notification, I’d better accept it quickly!”  Boom.  I accepted.  Then I looked at the address.  It wasn’t far, so I loaded up, made sure the radio wasn’t blaring princess music, and began to follow the built-in navigation system within the Uber app.

As I eased my family mini-van into the driveway of a nice quiet neighborhood, a smiling middle-aged man and his wife emerged with two suit-cases.  I quickly asked his name to confirm, though it seemed pretty obvious he was definitely my fare.  I helped load his luggage into my trunk, and opened the door for both he and his wife.  As I started the van, I slid the “Start” button on the Uber app, and asked him where they were headed this morning.  He smiled and said the airport, which I’d kinda anticipated from the luggage.  There was only one issue:

The airport he was talking about was 1.5 hours away in Peoria, IL.

For a brief second, I thought he was joking.  I think he caught my surprise, because he clarified, “You saw that when you agreed, right?”  I looked at my clock, and saw I had just enough time to get there and back before the family came home for lunch.  Why not?  I was honest, however.  Laughing, I confessed I’d not seen it, but it was no problem – let’s go!

He and his wife were very kind, and were in good spirits as they were heading out of town on vacation.  Their flights had been changed last minute, and they decided to try Uber since it had proved useful in previous times of transportation need when they’d visited larger cities.  They even tipped well, although Uber does not require this habit.

Altogether, I enjoyed my coffee and met some new people whom I was able to offer God’s blessings to for their journey ahead, as I dropped them off for their flights.  They’d paid Uber about $75, and I received about $55 of that (plus their gracious tip!).  Probably the most I’ll ever cash in with Uber, since I was just doing it for fun.  I was thankful that their few hours of need happened during my few hours of availability.

I also learned an important lesson: Before you agree to help someone get somewhere, make sure you know where they want to go.  (That’s probably a deep profound truth, eh?)  Next time I’ll make sure I check the request fully, before accepting.  I suppose I could be glad they weren’t heading to an airport in Chicago, or Canada…? lol

Thanks, Uber.  That was fun.  Maybe we’ll do it again someday.

The Connected Child(ren of God)

Years ago, when we began the journey of adoption, it was surprising to read in “The Connected Child” that we would want our daughter to cry.  Reading the explanation, however, seemed to make perfect sense.  For a child who has never known the safe environment of a loving home and parents who cared for her needs, she has to learn the connected-child-cover-web-198x300instinct to cry out.  Previously, crying gained her nothing, or quite possibly the opposite of affection, and so she may have “unlearned” the behavior.  As our child became connected to us, it would become evident through moments like crying out – knowing she could trust a proper and loving response.

Fast forward several years.  We’ve finally brought home a daughter who is about 5 years old, and not only has she “unlearned” many habits of children who grow up in healthy environments – she’s also acquired many habits of children who grow up in unhealthy environments.  She is loved, for the first time as never before, and brought in to being part of a family. At first, she didn’t understand much of anything.  What did “Father” mean?  What did “Mother” mean?  There are certain things, and certain words, that if you were to examine them in the routine of many normal homes it would be confusing.   But in our context, where we’re attempting to purposefully build the connections most children would naturally develop from birth, they make sense.

Now take a step back.  Think about the Old Testament and the actions or words spoken between God and His people.  A common question among people who don’t want to believe in God, or even those who do but are honest with their doubts – “Why would God command ______?  Why would God do ________?”

I can’t pretend to understand the mind or heart of God completely, but I do understand the heart of a Father who wants to connect with the heart of their child. A child who has never known a Father like this before.  A child who has become so separated from the concept of “family” or “parent”, that it is a completely foreign concept.

So we see God calling out His people from among all others.  We see God rescue His people, only to force them into depending on Him through the wilderness for 40 years. We hear words from God about the wrath He’s capable of, even though ultimately He reveals His heart to be powerfully Loving and full of Grace for humanity. (lol, I realize that sounds bad here.  No worries, we’re not threatening wrath or taking our daughters on 40 year wilderness journeys.)

It’s not the kind of relationship we’d have if we were born aware of Him.  But it’s an adoption that impacts us to the very core of our being, for eternity.  Romans 8:15 reminds us, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

One of the most natural ways to build that connection and bond? Simply to hold our daughter, and to allow her to feel our love. To remind her that we are here, and she is here, and she is ours no matter what happens.  To help her feel safe, and loved, and comforted.  To provide for her needs, and help her to see how depending on us to meet those needs is a trustworthy habit to develop.

In this moment – maybe it’s a good reminder for you and I – if this is what I am aware of, can’t we trust that God knows even better how to move His children into a fully connected relationship with Him?  We can trust in these moments, if we allow ourselves to be held by Him, to listen to His words, and to depend on Him to provide – these are habits worth developing in our own lives.

Even as I continue to pray my daughter would know my love deep in her heart, and not just in behavior – I also pray that my heart would deeply come to know the Love of my Father, not just in my behavior.  I pray that God would use this understanding of His Love – to invite even more children into fuller connection with Him…

Puppets & Jellyfish

Last week I sat down to watch “Galaxy Buck: Mission to Sector 9″ with my kids, and I was kinda blown away. Here, condensed into a 40 minute children’s puppet movie (with quite a bit of humor), was a potent message. Not just a good message. I mean – take all the current spiritual living, devotional, God/Christ-centered literature that has come out in recent years – this movie will summarize a large percentage of it.galaxybuck

(spoiler alert)

Buck works in a call center for a large ministry, and is discontent because the poster on his wall constantly reminds him “God wants you to do BIG things!” He feels like he’s not accomplishing what God wants, and gets excited when there seems to be a chance. Things go awry, and he finds himself bummed again. Then, in the subterranean levels of an alien planet, he meets someone who rips his goal apart. Literally. He takes Bucks’ poster, and rips it so that the words left read, “God wants you.” I asked my 10-year-old daughter the next day what the message of the movie was about, and she answered clearly the same thing: “God doesn’t want you to do big things, as much as God wants YOU. You’re not a shark, you’re a jellyfish caught in the flow of God’s Love.”

The obvious push-back to that is: “That sounds like an excuse for laziness, and not trying anything.” Certainly it could be manipulated into that. But when we allow ourselves to exist fully in the flow of God’s Love – we have to trust that WILL call us to be actively offering ourselves fully toward the mission of lives, community and creation transformed.  But our activity doesn’t begin with us setting a goal of “accomplishing great things for Jesus”.  It begins with us relinquishing control of everything in our being, into the great Love of God.  That may mean we accomplish great things by the measures of this world, or that mean we lose everything and all noteriety for His sake.

The first step?  Allowing the truth of that ripped poster to sink in.  “God wants YOU.”  Not because of your gifts or talents.  Not because of your heritage.  Not because you’re specifically poised to accomplish what no one else could ever do.  Not because of your purity.  But because He Loves you.  Fully and completely, and without reserve.  Just as much when you were making horrible decisions as He does today.  Most of us have been loved wrong by a human in our lives, and it messes up the kind of love we even see as possible.  So let the love of God sink in a bit, and then release yourself to it.  There is no greater place to exist, or calling to walk forward with…

For more on covenanting with God to do/be whatever He wants, check out this modern version of the “John Wesley Covenant Service” I’ve written for use in a church setting.

For a few words on God simply desiring/loving you as His child, here’s a Spoken Word I recently recorded.

of bricks and curtain

Calm before storm, softly lit trees in dim living rooms
Like tombs of years gone before but passed, too fast to grab hold,
Scraping off the mold, like flakes of gold left behind by memories stored longterm
Knocking back the worm you’ve finished the glass waiting to be poured,
Ignored by others, your sisters and brothers but left behind for you to wait, to contemplate,
To exist in a state of mind promising not to bind you to what was, and less thrilled by what is
But this – moment that points to what will be. As still framed artwork from empty hotel tells you
This is the same in every room, every womb that carries expectant moments of hope
For those facing end of rope, for those with unpaid bills, unclimbed hills, or scars from falling down
Look around and find you’re not alone, not abandoned to roam as sea foam washed up on
Empty beaches, previously filled, children laughing at will, sun spilling through the shade of clouds
Too weak to intervene – and somewhere in this scene, you recognize the obscene thing
Is not to have hope, to try to cope, nor is it offensive to be burdened or feel uncertain,
behind the curtain, to to be hurting or elated, you are not fated to endure these moments solo,
To know there are plenty just outside, waiting for curtains thrown wide in invitation
Just waiting for relation’s sails to unfold, ship catching old winds
and launching into waters, departed to places uncharted but together, weathering whatever.
If only all would sever the binds toward such endeavors, instead of cleverly arranging
mortar and brick, in order to trick others into staying just outside their reach, impeaching friendship as a sail not worthy of raising, tasing those who try with shock waves of pride and cold shoulders, boulders way too heavy to entertain, strained to points of breaking simply by taking the chance on the uncertain, and trying to know the you behind the curtain.
So rise up from your position, wishing to be known but sitting on a throne surrounded by carefully crafted kingdom of silence and control, take a stroll through the eyes of someone who wants to know The ways you grow, so show the extro-version, the side you’ve tried to hide,
slide back the door, or at least trade brick for fabric,
A trick which allows you privacy but still parts the way
When seasons sway you toward a day where all seems lost, and cost seems too high
Hope embossed on invitations sent to everyone but you, to do that thing that seems with ease,
Locking your knees, pretending all is fine on center stage,
but with age those dog-eared pages of behavior lose their truth
The proof discovered on the shoulders of others you’ve allowed behind the curtain
I knowing thou, world seeing just how there might be hope for them as well
As swells of hope the waves crashing on shores around, surrounding and flooding
Where you live, the best gifts to give come unwrapped and ready, a steady flow
Of willingness to know and be known, your light shone and self shown
Pulling back covers, recognizing sisters and brothers where previously called “others”,
Remember that knowing a name is not the same as knowing person,
Clicking like is not making a connection, on deeper inspection we find souls thirsty
To interact, to shed the laugh tracks of hundreds to hear one genuine response,
And you – can be a first responder, the first to ponder,
On the scene, showing just what it means to be less obscene in our culture of obscenity,
To not accept the serenity of status quo, simply adding to the flow of what it means to know.
Pull back the curtain, but first your own, letting it be known, we are all wizards on tender thrones
Groaning beneath the weight of creating an image we know can easily shatter
So do something that matters, unfolding sails meant for winds of change,
No matter how strange it may seem, engines filled with steam gleam with polished potential
Powers elemental to our being, much more freeing than scrolling down with feigned elation,
Soften your heart, and set sail your ship to true relation.

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