Friday, August 27, 2010

The power of friendship

Today, I'm sitting in one of my new favorite places, Three Layers in Springfield (an urban neighborhood in Jacksonville). Some of you know that Springfield has surfaced as one of the communities I am exploring as I start a new faith community. Three Layers is a coffee shop/cafe/bar that draws a variety of people, some of whom live in the community and some who are just passing through. (By the way, they have great coffee, wonderful chicken salad and good music!) As I sit here reading and preparing for Sunday's sermon at Church in the Meadows, I can't stop looking out the window and noting the changes that have taken place in this neighborhood.

Growing up, Springfield had a reputation for being overrun with drugs, violence and prostitution. In fact, the only time I remember visiting Springfield was when I attended the funeral of a friend's dad who had pastored a church in the neighborhood. Today, incredible work is being done to revitalize community and to maintain the economic diversity that contributes to its rich heritage. There are new businesses moving in, non-profits enabling people to care for themselves and their neighborhood, and residents restoring beautiful old Victorian homes. If you want to read more about historic Springfield, check out

Even with all the new life that is emerging, there are still many residents who struggle in poverty, joblessness, lack of education, mental illness and addiction. Conversation with community leaders has revealed that many churches have moved into the neighborhood to offer charity to those in need. Charity, however, does not typically generate self-sufficiency and has done little to contribute to long-term quality of life. Charity often creates a one-way relationship in which the giver says, "I have what you need and you have nothing to offer me". Sometimes charity is not the appropriate response, yet it's how we as Christians have been taught to offer care (and I believe our motivations are not ill-intentioned at all!). We are comfortable giving, but have much more difficulty engaging in the difficult and long-term work of friendship and empowerment.

As I consider fostering a faith community in Springfield, I wonder how inviting people into "friendship" instead of extending charity might make a difference. According to Robert Lupton in Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life, "Friends are people who know each other, who care, respect, struggle, and are committed through time." Friends look one another in the eye and see not only their differences, but their similarities. While this sounds wonderful, you and I both know that friendship is not easy, particularly when we each carry with us a set of ideas and experiences that impact the way we perceive the other.

How might church be different if it began with friendship? What would it look like to have rich, poor, white, black, straight, gay gathered together to worship the God who created us all and invites us all to participate in God's kingdom? What would it look like if we could unite around our common faith in God and our common desire to transform a neighborhood? My prayer is that these kinds of communities will continue to take root all around us, and that they will allow us to see and experience God's kingdom in our midst.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Being still and moving

The past couple of weeks have been all about moving into our new home in Jax. and trying to get settled before our girls started back to school. I have been reminded of how much I dislike packing, unpacking, moving furniture and redecorating. It seems like the work is never done.

Unfortunately, moving is not a one time event. Our culture invites us into a life of constant activity and motion. We are invited to respond to work, family, friendship, church, and a host of other commitments. At times, our movement becomes chaotic and purposeless and we find ourselves achieving little more than driving ourselves crazy.

Jesus models another way. He models for us a way of both moving and being still. He not only found solace away from activity, but he demonstrated a way of being present and connected to the Divine in a variety of interactions. Others have modeled this to me as well; despite constantly moving, their spirits are still and ready to receive the graces of God that nourish, guide and compel us. It may be only a shift in perspective or attitude, but we can move and not be hurried and we can travel and still be at home.

This is so important for me to remember as I go about the work of planting a new faith community. I am learning that the work is never done - there are always more phone calls, emails, books, meetings, and details that need my attention. Truthfully, I need to keep moving, learning and accomplishing; yet, I also desperately need to be still. I need to be still in my spirit, and to stay connected to the God who called me into this ministry.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Keep dreaming

Today I had the awesome privilege of participating in the summer youth employment celebration at Fresh Ministries. I was graciously invited to this event when I told one of the staff members that I wanted to learn more about some of the needs of the community and how local non-profits are already addressing those needs. I can't tell you how impressed I was by what they are doing to bring hope to the East Jacksonville and Springfield communities. The Beaver Street Enterprise Center houses the Jacksonville Hospitality Institute, which trains students (including international refugees) in job skills. It also houses numerous entrepreneurs seeking to start new businesses, providing them with the necessary support to improve their likelihood of success. They are investing in the lives of people, helping to build a stronger community and creatively redesigning their ministry to address the shifting needs of their neighbors.

I believe this is the type of ministry Jesus modeled during his life and ministry. Jesus was all about people, relationships and responding to needs. He was led by God to many different people and places, and he responded to each need with wisdom and care. I dream of leading a church to be on mission in this way - a church that is about people, relationships and responding to need; a church that not only cares for souls, but for lives; a church that listens and goes where they sense God leading them.

The ceremony today was closed by the youth being challenged to "keep dreaming!" They were told they can do anything they dream of doing. What a great message for any of us ... whether it be dreams of a new church movement or a new job opportunity, we must not lose hope as we continue life's journey.