For anyone who’s interested and whose email address I might not have had, below is our 2007 Christmas letter (just written)….
Below you’ll find our 2007 Christmas letter, just a tad late obviously. Many of you who are used to getting this letter over the years have gotten it in paper form, complete with pictures and a number of different articles, etc. Well, some of you probably got our Christmas picture this year in the mail and a note saying we’d be sending this out electronically. We thought we’d save a few trees, not to mention the ink, etc. As far as pictures go, at the bottom you’ll find a link to our Google picture site with hundreds of pictures (and more coming soon), if you’re interested. Having said that, here’s the letter:
Well, it’s not quite “Christmas in July,” but it is nearly June and we’re just now getting our Christmas letter out. I think my inability thus far to sit down and type this letter, aside from any tendencies toward procrastination on my part, has much to do with avoiding the critical self-reflection regarding the year past that is a necessary part of this exercise. Interestingly, it’s not that 2007 was unusually difficult, either. Many of our 11+ years of marriage thus far have been hard, and while last year was too, (like I said) it wasn’t any harder than most of them. So it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what has motivated my avoidance of this task. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that engaging in this introspection requires me to assess where we’re at in light of where we would like to be and begin imagining a way to get there. On second thought, I think that might very well be it, as it’s been hard for me to have that kind of imagination of late.
So, then, where are we? 2007 marked our second full calendar year in NE Ohio, which in some ways brought some unprecedented stability to our lives. As the year came to a close we had been homeowners for over 2 years, and interestingly had been living at one address continuously for longer than we ever had before. Kirsten and I also had been at our respective places of employment for about a year-and-a-half each (and are each still there today). Relationally, at the beginning of the year we started getting to know our dear friends Jared and Tina Coleman, and our weekly dinner gatherings with them for all of 2007- and the budding friendship those gatherings symbolized- proved to be an integral part of our life here. Jared and Tina, lifelong NE Ohio residents, of course came with their own network of friends and acquaintances here, and as we got to know Jared and Tina we also got to know some of their friends as well, including Jared’s close friend Tony and the folks who host their house church, Trevor and Angie. Other friendships here in NE Ohio that we also hold dear include those with Dean Van Farowe and his family (a pastor in Cleveland that I did Kingdomworks with in ’95) and Rand and Angela Huber (Rand was a part of House of Mercy in MN at the same time we were).
Yet, for all that stability, 2007 brought much change as well. Of course, “the more things change….” One of the biggest changes was the decision by Kirsten’s mom to return to MN in early June. She had been living with us for over 2 years at that point- including for the last little bit of our time in Philadelphia- and had been extremely helpful to us in caring for Samuel, especially early on when he came home from his NICU stay. So, while we certainly welcomed the opportunity to have some time in which it was just “us” (Kirsten, Samuel, and I) again, we will look back on the time Kirsten’s mom lived with us as one in which there was mutual love and care, and we are very grateful for the many ways she contributed to our life together.
Those who have been getting this yearly letter for any period of time know that being invested in a local faith community is something that is very important to us, and for good or ill there was much change in 2007 in that area too. We started the year joining our new friends Tim and Christy Hill in helping them with their church plant, Sanctuary. We found Sanctuary on the web and were very hopeful that it would prove to be the kind of faith community that we could really give ourselves to, and for a good long while, it was. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons first we took a break from our work in helping to get Sanctuary going, and then Tim and Christy decided that Sanctuary itself should “take a break” before they left NE Ohio for better economic prospects in North Texas, where I’m from. After Sanctuary dissolved we started spending our Sundays with the house church that our friends Jared and Tina helped start before finally committing to “be the Church” with South Street Ministries in Akron.
We actually came across South Street very early in our time here in NE Ohio as it was recommended by a friend who used to live here, but I guess it took us a while for our ideals (what we hope to be true about ourselves) to more closely align with our values (the choices we make every day that demonstrate what actually is true about ourselves). I say that because South Street very much embodies the kind of faith community that we aspire to be a part of. South Street is led by Duane and Lisa Crabbs, for whom the principles of Christian Community Development have been very formative. The “three R’s” of Christian Community Development are Relocation, Redistribution, and Reconciliation. Regarding “Relocation,” proponents of CCD (or CCDA, as the Christian Community Development Association is known) like to say that “Jesus didn’t commute from heaven every day” when he walked the earth. Rather, he “relocated” so that he could live among the folks he wanted to love and serve. Today’s Christ-followers, it is argued, should do likewise, especially as this pertains to relatively affluent white suburban-dwellers relocating to live among and serve the “least of these” in the city.
As those relatively affluent (usually white) folks relocate, “Redistribution” comes into play as resources move from those who have more than they truly need to those who lack even the most basic resources to meet their needs. As I’ve often heard this concept described, the problem of schools in poor neighborhoods is usually something that many well-meaning folks from more affluent neighborhoods want to help out with, but real change is most likely to come only when this problem becomes my problem because I live in the neighborhood and those are the schools that my kids will be going to. It is only at that point that I really become motivated to work for the kind of change that is needed. Likewise, as I get to know and love my neighbors in the “ ’hood” I will share all that I can to help them meet their needs, and in so doing redistribution occurs.
Finally, “Reconciliation” takes place as the divisions that American society so insidiously maintains through a host of well-entrenched institutional means begin to break down. As a relatively affluent white family, when we choose to downgrade and downsize our house, our car, and all the other entrapments of the American “way of life,” the dividing line between those who “have” (us) and those who “have not” (our poorer neighbors) begins to blur. Likewise, because race and class are so closely intertwined, racial divisions begin to break down too, and we may even have the unique opportunity of experiencing what it feels like to be a minority- again since many poor neighborhoods are minority neighborhoods. This is not to say there are no poor white neighborhoods, since obviously there are. My point is that even at the lowest economic strata racial divisions tend to be maintained.
Anyway, Duane and Lisa Crabbs took these principles to heart and moved into the “second worst” neighborhood in Akron over a decade ago. They made a twenty year commitment to live among and serve the less fortunate. They didn’t set out to start a congregation, but found that as they loved and served their neighbors a congregation grew up around them. South Street doesn’t own a building and doesn’t desire to, preferring instead to focus on serving the community in which they are planted. South Street meets weekly in a run-down community center, and many of the folks who come for worship are struggling with addiction, poverty, and the like. That being said, the congregation is pretty diverse with a good mix of black and white folks, the disadvantaged and those who want to help them. They do regular outreach to a local prison and run a “street seminary” where folks are trained to meet and love people on the street. In short, their ministry looks a lot like Jesus’, and the community is mostly comprised of the folks that he seemed most interested in spending time with- “the sick, not the healthy.” I mention all of this because South Street embodies the kind of community that we very much want to be a part of, and the life that Duane and Lisa now live is something that we aspire to. It’s a big part of “where we want to go.”
Speaking of “where we want to go,” another big influence in challenging us to re-cast the vision for what our life together as a family will be like was the writing of an acquaintance from Circle of Hope, our former church community in Philly. Shane Claiborne is very much a rising star these days, and his book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical is a big part of the reason why. Shane founded an “intentional community” in Philadelphia a good while ago where he and his community members have practiced many of the principles of Christian Community Development that I talked about above, plus much more. In the book Shane poses the simple question of “What if Jesus really meant it?” regarding many of his statements, stories, and questions in the gospels. Shane talks a lot about life in the way of Jesus in contradistinction to life in the “Empire”- be it the Roman one so many years ago or the Western/American one that we’re a part of today. Shane challenges those of us who would follow Jesus to be truly/distinctly Christ-ian, to live lives that really look like the one Jesus modeled, preached about, and died and rose again to make possible. Such a life will be a far cry from that which so many would-be Christ-followers get swept into as part of the status quo in the United States. As I like to say, while following Jesus will impact whether you smoke, drink, or cuss and how you dress and vote, such things are just the tip of the iceberg and frankly I think Jesus cares little about them in light of the bigger challenges his “way” brings into light. I believe that Jesus is far more concerned about how well we love and serve our neighbors and about who we choose for neighbors (since as relatively affluent white folks we have the privilege of choice in regard to where we live and who we live by). I think Jesus is far more concerned about our identity- about who we are- than just about what we do or do not do. Anyway, the follow-up book Shane wrote with Chris Haw, Jesus for President, takes these ideas even further and I highly recommend both.
Of course, like so many worthwhile endeavors, living as an “ordinary radical” is hard, especially in the United States, which these days is driven by entrenched individualism and an unmitigated consumer capitalism that has no regard for people or place. This (individualistic, consumeristic) way of life has even crept into the church as folks “shop” for congregations and pick and choose their religious goods and services as if at an “all-you-can-eat” buffet. This reminds me of the story of a conversation between a Christian in the U.S. and one who lived in a disadvantaged South American nation. The South American Christian expressed near pity for his brother from the U.S. as he talked about how hard it must be to follow Jesus in the States when there are so many other choices, so many idols constantly clamoring for one’s time and attention.
Following Jesus as we believe we should challenges us to think about where we live, where we work, and how far we have to travel (and by what means) to get there. We have to think about our carbon footprint, because “the earth is the Lord’s” after all. We have to think about who and what we “pledge” our “allegiance” to because “God is a jealous god.” Since consumption is so much a part of life here in the U.S., we have to think about how we get our groceries and where we get them from, about the clothes we wear and how we acquire them, not to mention being mindful of the folks that made them and the conditions under which they were made. This is why “intentional community” of the sort Shane Claiborne is a part of (and like we were ever so briefly a part of before Samuel was born in Philadelphia) is so important, because you can’t “opt out of” the American dream by yourself, and that’s why we aspire to be a part of such a community again as soon as we can- which is another big part of “where we want to go” as a family. Unfortunately, many of the choices we made in coming here and shortly thereafter were motivated by fear, hurt, and greed and so like so many others like us, we are now trapped in our one-time pursuit of the American dream, which in some ways more closely resembles a nightmare. As Bill Mallonee said during his “Vigilantes of Love” days:
Sold me a wealth of pleasure
It was a dime store full of pain
The stuff I thought was jewelry
Turns out to be chains
I really appreciate those lyrics because they so accurately represent the experience of so many in pursuing the ultimately empty promises of the American dream, and they certainly represent our experience as we are now working hard to extricate ourselves from debt which now keeps us from having the time, resources, and energy to fully love Jesus- as we meet him in the “least of these”- as we ought.
To begin to bring this to a close, let me go back to why I think I’ve avoided writing this letter for so long. For a while now I’ve been keenly aware of the major disconnect between how we want to live and how we actually are living day-to-day, and quite simply we thus far have lacked the imagination to begin more fully living into who we want to be. This is another of the major challenges of Shane Claiborne’s writing, for he really suggests that- for relatively affluent white folks in the U.S. like us- such a lack of imagination is likely the biggest obstacle to following Jesus that we face. It’s not that we can’t be Christians in the United States, it’s that doing so requires significant sacrifice and imagination. Well, we want to make those sacrifices, and we’re working to live more imaginatively.
For starters, by the time you get this letter, we will be very close to having expanded our family as we take in our first foster child. We know that the “stuff” we possess is not our own, and we’re trying to be good stewards of it, perhaps for the first time ever. Our house currently has two unused rooms upstairs- but not for long! We have space for a couple of kids, perhaps even a teen mom and baby, and we pray for the opportunity to see this space put to use. We’re being certified as foster-to-adoptive parents; so Lord willing at some point this addition to our family may become permanent. We’ll definitely keep you posted as things progress. Beyond that, we do hope to move out of our (relatively modest, but that’s still justifying things) house in our de facto suburb of Akron, but that may realistically be up to 4 years away still, our personal financial and market conditions being what they are. We’ll keep you posted about that too.
Of course, as many of you know I’m a “big picture” kind of guy, as perhaps you can tell, and I like to write, which largely leaves to me the task of producing this letter every year. So having spent the length of this letter so far describing that “big picture” stuff, of course I have to talk for just a bit about Samuel, about whom Kirsten and I are extremely proud. At the end of ’07 Samuel turned three, and if such a thing is possible, we love him more and more each day. Samuel is precocious, full of energy, and very much loves life. These days he is extremely talkative and insatiably curious. He’s always asking, “Daddy/Momma, what that?” or “Where going?” or “What Samuel want?” He even gets quite specific, say when asking about a smoke detector, “Daddy, what that- the round, on the ceiling?” Samuel is a truly hilarious kid and he cracks us up every day. Every night that I put him to bed I sing to him, usually a song about God, faith, etc. One of them I regularly sing closes with a reference to “the peace of Christ.” Samuel will often make a comment about “the peace of Christ” after I’m done, and one day in particular stands out. I don’t know if he thought it sounded like “pizza crust” or even if he knew what pizza crust was at the time, but one night I finished and he remarked “peace of Christ on the floor. Icky peace of Christ.”
Samuel is really into “choo-choos” and especially “yellow signs” (the railroad crossing sign), such that we usually have to go out of our way when driving so that he can see one. He loves music and knows all about instruments, especially guitars (he’s an expert at playing his “air guitar”). He really enjoys reading and is quite content to have multiple stories read to him every night and will sometimes even take a book or two to bed. He knows most of his letters and can recite the alphabet in order about halfway through. He knows lots of numbers and can count, though he’ll get out of order before he reaches ten usually.
Developmentally, he’s doing pretty well. We usually don’t refer to him as a “former micropreemie” any more, except when telling his story. He’s still a little behind on many things- including potty training, but that seems to be mostly a battle of wills at this point; it’s not that he isn’t aware of the process. He did receive a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy in 2007, but it’s very minor and has to do with the tightness in his lower legs. He has leg braces that cover his calves that he wears most days to help with this.
Samuel is extremely “cute,” and he knows it, as he will often flash his cutest smile when doing something he knows he shouldn’t just to see if he can charm his way out of any consequences. In short, he’s a wonderful kid and we are very, very proud of him. As we did in those first days and nights of his life when we he wasn’t expected to make it, each day we still work to remember that he belongs to God- not us- as we express our trust in God’s care for him, and for us. This is an act of both faith and necessity, for we know not how to do otherwise.
Oh, by the way, our family did grow a bit already in 2007 as we adopted a dog from the Humane Society (“Coho”) and we got a fish as well (“Fishie”). Coho is a lot of fun to have around, though she’s pretty excitable. She’s been great with Samuel, though; so that’s good. Fishie is pretty fun to have around too, and is incredibly resilient given the frequency of her tank cleaning, etc. J.
So, as Garrison Keilor likes to say, “Well, that’s all the news from…” the Buck family.
Here are a few links for your reference:
- Samuel’s blog that we started shortly after he was born: www.godhearssam.blogspot.com
- The blog that I currently share with my friend Jared: www.canonfodder.org
- My seldom used personal blog: www.samhearstoo.spaces.msn.com
- The blog I’m currently maintaining for South Street Ministries: www.southstreetministries.blogspot.com
- Our Google Pictures site, with many family photos: www.picasaweb.google.com/robfredbuck
- The Simple Way, the “intentional community” founded by Shane Claiborne: www.thesimpleway.org
- Speaking of Shane, here’s the site for his latest book: www.jesusforpresident.org
- The Christian Community Development Association: www.ccda.org
Wishing you and yours a year in which your values match up with your ideals,
Robert, Kirsten, and Samuel