Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Eleven Examples of My Ego (minus 1)

"Can I ask you a question?" a fellow pastor asked me. "I know you don't do Facebook, but you're on Twitter and all the other social media. But by now, is it simply a matter of pride?"

"No," I answered quickly. I made a side remark about fantasy football, and then paused to consider the question. Did pride keep me from Facebook?

What an ironic question. If we are honest, ego is the driving force of the social media empire. Pride drives us all to Facebook. And pride keeps me off. Some day this empire will crumble; pride always falls. Sadly, my life has no shortage of egotism. Below are eleven examples:

  1. This blog: My posts are often responses to something I observe, think, or overhear. In the response I may overstate my reaction or exaggerate the observation to spin a more compelling narrative. My topics ramble. My target audience roams.Nevertheless, I publish weekly because I think I have something good to say, or at least a good way to say something.
  2. Public Speaking Pro: I read Aristotle's book Rhetoric, and I understand the public speaker's trifecta: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. I am a stranger to none. I can punch a line, provoke a thought, and garner trust with a smile. While I'm a few hours short of Outlier (10,000), another decade of homilies is sure to earn me stage time at Catalyst.
  3. People-skills: I can't handle power tools or computer programs, but I can hold a conversation. Here's my favorite ice-breaker: "If you could be any county fair food, what would you be?"
  4. Psychoanalysis: After several cycles through the TV series The Wonder Years, I've become an expert on interpersonal problems. They all stem from bad relationships between children and their fathers. Problem: Struggling in your marriage. Question: What was your relationship with your father like? Problem: Can't keep a job. Question: What was your relationship to your father like? Problem: Halitosis. Question: What was your relationship with your father like?
  5. Dad of the Year: Speaking of fathers, I happen to be a pretty good one. I read to my kids and take them parks. I involve them in ministry and encourage their uniqueness. I pray for their future husband and have purchased a compound bow I can sling around my should when they bring potential boyfriends over.
  6. Model Husband: When I say "model husband," I'm not talking about my body (although that's the next point); rather, I pride myself in the amount of quality time I spend with my wife. Furthermore, I speak to the other four love languages she is so fluent in -- words of encouragement, acts of service, gifts, and touch. Indeed, Liz makes it easy by being so lovable.
  7. Fuel Points: Nike+ has inspired a resurgence in my running career. I pine for the automated voice and feedback loops telling me how fast and how far I ran. The graphical comparisons with others in the Nike+ Community double my pride: my average mile trounces other men my age. My calf muscles are beginning to look chiseled again.
  8. Self-discipline: In college I wrestled with being duty-driven. Love compelled me to do little; duty held me steady. School performance: duty-driven. Spiritual performance: duty-driven. Relationships: duty-driven. After some counseling and a few years of post-collegiate rehab, I realized duty could morph into self-discipline--a fading quality in the Instant Age. I'm a regimented reader, regular writer, routine runner, and avid advocate for alliteration. I've been touting my self-discipline horn ever since.
  9. Shiny, bald head: I chose baldness as a matter of vanity. One summer day after a sweltering scooter ride, I removed my helmet and noted something horrible. My hair had been matted in just the wrong way to expose a patch near the front where baldness had taken my roots. Literally, it took them and removed them and left a gaping whole dead center. I tried sculpting my hair to cover the hole, but it remained. Every time I looked in the mirror, I stared directly at it. I would never be able to hide it. A few days later, I did the only sensible thing a twenty-nine year old man would do: I owned my baldness. I shaved my head.
  10. Bible awareness: One time I lay on my bed and asked Liz to pick a random chapter from the New Testament. I proceeded to tell her details from the chapter. My success rate exceeded ninety-five percent. My recall for Bibles and books (and actors' names) is a source of pride. I lament the day my eyes go bad or memory diminishes.
  11. Now back to social media: I tweet, therefore I am. I Instagram, therefore I was. I YouTube, therefore, I will become...famous. Social MEdia is the great MEgaphone for ME. The lure of fame and the hope of connection underscore its success. Nonetheless, most people are lonely and disconnected. I am no stranger to this fact. I'm playing the game like everyone else. I've simply chosen to drop the "social" aspect from the media: I use it to broadcast, not network. Twitter, YouTube, and Blogger are platforms that push my message and promote my thoughts. Pure pride says: "My digital voice is worth your time." If I want to be social, I'll meet you at a coffee shop, write you a note, send you a text, join you for a small group discussion, or sit with you at a bonfire. Pride does not keep me from Facebook, but drives me to every other platform.
I could go on and on about my pride. Examples abound. I won't bore you, though. I have too much self-respect for that.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Literacy Gang Fights Summer-Setback in the Name of Jesus

My wife and I read to our children regularly. They have recently begun to read to us. Their voices convey the magic of early literacy. For children without books or an adult to read to them, I feel great pity. I've often wanted to counter this problem.

I first encountered the concept of a literacy gap when working in a Denver public high school. I grew up in the suburbs. Minorities were few and mostly Asian. Their school performance put mine to shame.

The kids at George Washington High School lived a different story. Many of them rode the bus an hour to attend their school of choice. Many associated with gangs--solid red tees and over-sized blues tainted the hallways. The White and Asian students secured their own wing of the school in the International Baccalaureate program. The remaining students pushed and shoved and meandered through the rest of the building. Fights broke out regularly. Class participation happened on occasion.

Perhaps my memory has dramatized the sights and sounds of inner city education. Nonetheless, I perfectly recall the impoverished sense of literacy and grammar. The epidemic has spread to Warsaw, Indiana.

Sociologists, politicians, and educators alike have tried finding ways to eliminate the achievement gap. Individualized education plans, full-day kindergarten, block scheduling, tutors, mentors, and after-school programing top the list.

But these solutions don't account for one major issue: summer break. For the student who comes from a home where reading is not valued, literacy will take last place to soccer camps, cartoons, and water play. This phenomenon has been deemed the "summer-setback theory."

The theory is straight-forward: Gains made in reading during the school year fade during the summer. Like any muscle suffering atrophy, the mental muscle grows from repeated practice. Daily reading groups help students learn to read; two months of video games, camping trips, daytime TV, and bike rides do not.

The problem continued to gnaw at me. I began to envision myself riding a golf cart through a nearby trailer park. I'd fill the vehicle with books, bags of candy, and a giant blanket to sprawl out on. I'd announce my visits with a PA system and ditty that put the ice cream truck's to shame. I'd ask other adults from my church to go with me. We'd be a band of readers: the Literacy Gang.

Perhaps my imagination exaggerated the sights and sounds of a mobile library ministry. Nonetheless, the Literacy Gang took flight today. Fifteen kids, twenty-five books, and one hundred Tootsie Rolls later, I believe we're on to something. A simple ministry is born.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Gleanings from My Trip to Urban Hope (Philly)

Eleven people crammed into a twelve-passenger van. We were under strict orders to shower and wear clean shoes. Nothing puts a damper on a road trip like foot and body odor. We left shortly after six AM on a Friday. Desintation: Urban Hope (UH) Training Center and Church in Philadelphia.

UH comprises a full block in the Kensington neighborhood of North Philadelphia. It is a city set on a hill. We intended to bask in their light.

Three married couples, two teens, and three college-aged students took their seats. We smelled fresh, looked forward, and set out to have God teach us something about His mission and compassion. We were not disappointed.

The majority of residents surrounding UH are Puerto Rican. Drug dealers stand on the corners next to men washing cars and kids playing in the spray of fire hydrants. Latin beats scream from passing cars; trash dances on the sidewalks as people walk by.  The need for Jesus is palpable.

Our team arrived on Friday night, in time to participate in the outreach program for teenagers (R.O.C.K.). Saturday 's events included prayer walks, service projects, a visit to little Cambodia, and feeding the homeless at Love Park. On Sunday we worshiped with the church family before beginning our long return trip.

All in all, the trip was memorable, enjoyable, and stretching. Like any ministry experience, it opened my eyes to needs beyond my typical range of vision and deepened my connected to my teammates.

In addition, several unlikely gleanings from Philly stand out. 
I like Christian rap. The small sampling of Lecrae and Toby Mac I heard on the trip led me to bob my head and pump my fist. But the KB's song "Church Clap" may have started a revolution, not only for me, but for our entire church.

Matching shirts are a blessing and a curse. For our prayer walk, the UH staff sent us out in matching green tee-shirts. If our pasty skin was not conspicuous enough, the clans of four clad in bright green sent off a signal: Prayer is coming. The first guy to see us headed in his direction, jumped from his stood, darted in his door, and turned the lock before we could say hello. The neighbors new the drill. It's why a guy named Josh hid his join and a kid named Christian invited into his home to pray for his cancer.
Water Ice tastes so good. Philly's homegrown product is a cross between Italian ice and sorbet. It comes in a variety of flavors--pina colada, lime, lemon, blueberry, and cherry, to name a few. And anyone with a cooler, chain, and padlock can sell it from her front porch. A kid named Nasir brought me to the porch where he purchases his Water Ice for fifty cents. I gladly indulged.

Not everyone has heard of Jesus. The guys on Ella Street had. Of course, their information didn't line up with Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. They told me Jesus smoked pot. They must've been reading the Gnostic gospels. Sadder yet, when our team visited a Buddhist Temple in little Cambodia, the lady who gave us a crash course on how to pray to Buddah, admitted she had never heard of Jesus Christ. Twenty years in the US had not afforded her a single mention of the name above all names.

Church people and services need to loosen up. The kids ran circles in the basement before the service began. One lady drank a Mountain Dew and smoked a cigarette on the street before the opening song. Nothing started on time. One song switched from English to Spanish mid-chorus. Seven people took the microphone at various points to lead various elements. More than ten others walked up front to request prayer--for incarcerated family members, job needs, health needs, salvation needs. Toward the end of the morning, one girl committed her life to following Jesus. Neat and orderly worship services do not always produce life change.

Nicknames are crazy good. One of our team members was a quiet, college student. I personally invited him to join us a few months ago. He'd already returned home for the summer, but seemed eager to go with us to Philly. He started with the weakest connection to the rest of our team. Then he received his nickname. K-J-C. (The 'C' is drawn out). Twelve hours in a van and a few nasty dunks on basketball court brought him into the fold.

We never fully grow up. The amount of farting, dancing, teasing, and wrestling that took place on our trip underscore the fact that we never really grow up. Some of us less than others. The prime example of this child-likeness came at Love Park. After feeding and praying with several homeless people, we approached the fountain at the center of the park. The background of illuminated buildings created a magnetic glow to the water. It drew two of our team members in. Followed by six others. Within minutes, they were sopping wet and trying to dunk one another.

There is no Plan B. God uses people to reach the lost. It begins with prayer and moves to the streets. There is no perfect sales pitch for Jesus. Many of the lives that have been transformed in Philly were the spoils of weeks, months, and years of conversation. The decision to follow Him takes time when people realize what repentance truly means. Some folks don't want to or know how to turn from their misery, suffering, or selfish ways. But when Christ-followers model the Christian life and speak about it freely, it gives unbelievers a picture of God's love and patience.

White boards are good for praying. We wrote the name of every person we met on a white board. It quickly filled up. This is how they pray for people at UH. Learn a name. Pray for the person until they decide to follow Jesus. Time and time again, the staff encouraged us to pray for people in our sphere of influence. We were not expected to go home and pray for twenty names from Philly, but to find twenty names from Leesburg, Warsaw, and Winona Lake. Pray for my neighbors. Pray on my streets.