PC or Mac?

Disclaimer:  I am not a technological expert.  If you are looking for the opinion of someone who knows all the “ins” and “outs” of computers then you are reading the wrong blog. A week ago I purchased a brand new 11-inch MacBook Air.  I have been a PC guy since college, but for the past two years I have been thinking about switching.  Quite often I write these blogs in coffee shops.  There is one particular coffee shop in Denver where all the” cool urban” pastors come to work.  They write blogs, prepare sermons and network.  All of them use the computer with the half-eaten apple.  On June 24, 2013 I made the first step towards ministry coolness.  I not only bought an Air, I purchased the upgraded version - a 512 hard drive with and 4th generation I7 Haswell chip.  I must admit this was the most elegant computer I have ever owned.  It looked good and worked even better.  I am a car guy and compared to my old computer this MacBook was like upgrading from a 20 year old rusted Ford Bronco to a brand new 5 Series BMW.

So what was I thinking when on Thursday, June 27 I returned the MacBook Air to the Apple store for a full refund?  It turns out I don’t need a BMW.  What I really need is an off-road capable computer.  For these purposes a PC just works better.

I cannot help but wonder if this is also true for ministry folks, especially those who feel the call to urban work.  I want ministry to be elegant and cool.  This isn’t a realistic expectation.  Urban work requires leaders to be open to the unexpected and the different, which is rarely elegant.  It demands that I admit when I am wrong, which happens on a regular basis.  Working with different cultural, gender and orientation expectations can be frustrating and confusing.  Urban work needs people with more of a blue collar mentality.  In this context BMW’s and Macs just can’t cut it.

Remembering

One of the habphotoits I have picked up over the last few years is running. Initially it was a way to lose weight and get in shape. In this sense running has been good for me; I have lost weight and my physical stamina is much improved. Running has become so much more than a way to stay physically active. There is something spiritual about running along Hollywood Boulevard at 7 AM before the tourists emerge or being stopped by the police in West Garfield Park, a neighborhood in Chicago, to find out if I really intended to be out and about in that particular part of town. Running in my particular neighborhood, East Denver, helps me notice things that go unnoticed when I am rushing about in my car. Roadside memorials are one such thing. The memorials along my running routes are remembrances of people, mostly teens and young adults who were shot and killed as a result of gang activity.

This coming Saturday Edward Armijo, also known as East Side Eddie, is hosting “A Day to Remember Lost Lives Slain to Violence.” This event will take place at Sunken Gardens Park; this park is right across the street from my office. It is also a place where 1,000’s of DOOR participants have played soccer, ultimate Frisbee or escaped to for a few moments of silence.photo4

On Saturday over 1,000 names of young people who have died unnecessarily on the streets in Denver will be read. In some cases parents will share stories of lost loved ones. Tears will flow.

Since the late 90’s our family has lived in a community affected by violence. We know the difference between a fire cracker and a gun shot. By the way these are skills that were never taught in seminary. I know of no easy or quick fixes for urban violence. Serious solutions will demand that parents, schools, churches, the police and politicians work together.

Wednesday

Wednesday has become one of my favorite days of the week.  A little over a year ago, I was invited to start attending the weekly pastoral staff meeting at the church my family attends.  Pastor Phil felt that I had a unique “urban perspective,” given the amount of travelling I do.  It is true that my job provides me with the opportunity to visit with many different urban pastors and church leaders every year. To be perfectly honest I went to that first meeting thinking that I had something to contribute.  Within 10 minutes those thoughts disappeared.

(Before I go further, I need to tell you about the church our family attends - His Love Fellowship.   It is a Hispanic congregation of about 450 attendees with multi-cultural tendencies.  It is located on Denver’s West Side and by every definition is an urban church.  So it should come as no surprise that my Anglo family is in the minority.) 

Before arriving at the first staff meeting I was feeling confident.  After all I wasn’t new to the West Side.  15 years of working with DOOR had taught me a thing or two about the urban reality.  My experience wasn’t just in Denver; I was (am) the National Director of an urban education program. In addition to Denver, DOOR also works in Hollywood, San Antonio, Chicago, Atlanta and Miami.

It was the 11 minute mark of my first staff meeting when it began to dawn on me.  I wasn’t the one who was going to offer perspective but rather it was my pastors who were going to offer me perspective.

One of my most significant realizations in the past year has to do with a trap Anglos easily fall into - thinking we understand urban reality.  In my case I thought that 15 years of urban ministry had transformed me into a “real” urban person.  In some ways this is true.  But in many other ways it isn’t.  I will never know the pain of being looked down upon because of my skin color.  I have never had to live with other folks thinking that I am needy, poor or uneducated simply because I am not white.

My reflections could go for quite a while. However, today I want to talk to other Anglos who have felt a call to urban ministry.  One of the biggest temptations you will face is to start your own thing.  We couch these temptations in all kinds of spiritual language.

“God has called me to plant an inner city church.”

“I have been lead to work among the urban poor.” 

It is not my purpose to challenge that call.  However, I want to offer some advice.  I wish I could claim to have learned this the easy way.  Before you can bring Jesus to the city, you first need to figure out where Jesus is working.  One of the best ways that you can do this is to resist the temptation to start your own thing.  Spend time getting to know the pastors and leaders who are already on the ground working and ministering.  My guess is that they will not be doing things your way, but that is OK.  Don’t even consider planting a new church until you have spent at least five years in a church that is already in the neighborhood.

Blame

November tends to be a time of introspection for me.  I started my current job in November of 1994. This week I start my 17th year at DOOR. One of the people who sparked my interest in coming to DOOR was John Perkins.  I doubt he knows who I am, but I heard him speak at a CCDA event in Denver.  He spoke passionately of “Three R’s” for successful urban ministry – Relocation, Reconciliation and Redistribution.  For John, when the people of God embodied and lived these values the poor and the oppressed would be set free.

I heard this sermon at a very dark time in my life.  I had recently resigned from a pastoral position.  My prayer to God at that time was rather simple; “get real or get out.”  I was tired of pretending that my faith meant something to me.

Hearing about the “Three R’s” was the breath of fresh air I needed.  I had never really thought that where I lived was also a moral issue.  Hearing that reconciliation was more than a God and me concern was transformative.  Reconciliation also included my relationship with humanity, in all its forms.  I grew up believing in the tithe, but I had never really considered that how and where I spent the rest of the money was also an important concern.

This sermon started our family on what has become a 16-year journey.  Sixteen years ago, my faith was mostly a Sunday morning event; today my faith is a 24 hour, 7 day a week celebration.  As a family, we have relocated, have struggled with issues of reconciliation and think about where we spend our money.

I blame you John Perkins for speaking from your heart and sending our family on a crazy, wild, exciting, enriching and life-giving journey.

Relationship or meeting?

It is almost funny how my comfortable world can be shaken at the most unexpected times. Last week, while visiting with a pastor in Washington, D.C., he made the following observation:

“You Mennonites are good at getting together and having meetings and you tend to think that having a meeting equals building a relationship. Simply put, this isn’t true.  As a black pastor, I have been part of the Mennonite church for over 20 years.  I am tired of going to meetings.  Don’t get me wrong, you people run good meetings,” he said, then continued.

“I wish folks would take the time to get to know me.”

Here I was, visiting with him, asking questions—so I could be better prepared for a meeting.

This pastor, elder and bishop had lovingly and gently rebuked me.

Is it possible that we use meetings and consultations as substitutes for building healthy, trusting relationships?

Meetings allow us to be professional.   They provide a stage to strut our stuff.  Meetings allow us to connect without getting too personal.  If the church was a business, this would be appropriate.

The church isn’t a business.

The church is that place where a new family is being birthed – the family of God.   Families are not defined by well-ordered professional relationships.  Families, when they work well, are messy and wonderful, intimate and accepting.  They are safe places where warts and bad habits are tolerated, and sometimes even celebrated.  Once you’re a part of a family you’re in, no matter what.

Maybe it is time to have fewer meetings and more family reunions – family of God reunions.  We might not get much business accomplished, but we might start looking and acting like a family.

Listening

(Author’s Note: This entry will appear in an upcoming issue of Mennonite Weekly Review. It does contain a paragraph from an earlier blog…)

Chicago is one of my favorite cities. I especially like its public transit system. It’s easy to use and gets me everywhere I need to go and I don’t have to deal with the traffic.

A few years ago while riding the Red Line, a man came up to me and asked if I had a personal relationship with Jesus. It was late at night, I was tired and not really interested in talking to anyone, but this guy wanted to know something about my eternal status. I was the only person in the train car. I turn and acknowledged his presence.

Before I had a chance to tell this man about my status with Jesus, he launched into a creative rendition of the four spiritual laws.

By the time he came to the end of his speech, I wasn’t sure how to respond or, to put it more accurately, I had not been given the opportunity to respond. It was clear that his goal was to have me pray the sinner’s prayer. From what I could tell, he wasn’t interested in anything else I had to say.

On that evening, this Mennonite pastor prayed the sinner’s prayer just to get rid of the messenger.

On that evening, I learned a valuable lesson.

If you are going to ask a question, wait for a response. Assumptions are demeaning and belittling.

Most of us have been guilty of asking questions and thinking we already know the answers.

For the next 14 months, Hugo Saucedo and I have been asked to lead a nation-wide urban listening tour for Mennonite Church USA. It is the expressed desire of Mennonite Church USA leadership to have urban pastors and church workers shape the urban Mennonite agenda.

Listening is not always comfortable or easy. People say unexpected things. Conversations go in unanticipated directions.

Listening is not easy, but it is fruitful.

The first words Patricia Running-Bear said to me during my first week at DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection), were, “Don’t tell us how to do anything until you have been here 10 years.” Patricia was the administrative assistant to the director of the Denver Inner City Parish. To her, I was the latest in a series of white men who had come to Denver’s west side to try to do some good.Being told to hang around for 10 years seemed like a waste of time. After all, I had been to seminary, was well-read on urban issues and had a natural inclination to fix things. I wanted to work for justice and be a voice for the voiceless.

But vital, significant ministry is not instant or quick. Mutual trust takes time and a willingness to listen. Open, honest conversations become the bedrock for mutual trusting relationships. Mutuality, in turn, leads to shared vision. Shared vision creates ownership.

Urban centers are the growing edge of the church. They are both the present and future of Mennonite Church USA.

Allowing the urban church to shape its own agenda means the center of power and decision-making will begin to shift from rural to urban. This will not always be comfortable or easy, but it is necessary and inevitable.

I am looking forward to the next 14 months. I am curious about commonalities that will be shared across the urban centers. I am looking forward to understanding the unique challenges faced in the various cities, so that we as Mennonite Church USA might support one another in all types of ministry.