Living as if Hostility Has Been Put To Death On the Cross with Jesus, Because It Has, or the Buck Family 2016 Christmas Newsletter

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This is the online version of our 2016 Christmas letter, which includes our Christmas picture this year, which looks something like the one above. The letter’s a bit long but I hope you’ll find it to be worth the read, and so I shared it here too. Here it is:

It happened again. In the midst of a worship experience that was deeply meaningful this morning among our family, the people of Mill City Church, I found myself repeatedly unable to sing. I was just too choked up. I knew this was likely to happen when I realized that Nathan, who would be joining the other elementary school kids on stage to sing with the band today, would be singing “All the Poor and Powerless” by All Sons and Daughters. This song is frequently in the worship rotation among Mill City, as are many of All Sons and Daughters’ songs, and their live album is on heavy rotation whenever I’m in the car (my total commute is at least an hour every day) or at home, writing as I am now. I’ve written, in part anyway while talking about other things, about “All the Poor and Powerless” recently on my blog, but some of the lyrics are:

 

All the poor and powerless
And all the lost and lonely
All the thieves will come confess
And know that You are holy
Will know that You are holy

And all will sing out
Hallelujah
And we will cry out
Hallelujah

And all the hearts that are content
And all who feel unworthy
And all who hurt with nothing left
Will know that You are holy

And all will sing out
Hallelujah
And we will cry out
Hallelujah
[x2]

Shout it
Go on and scream it from the mountains
Go on and tell it to the masses
That He is God
[x5]

 

There’s a little more to the song as it repeats some of the words above, but you get the idea. Here’s Nathan practicing with the band today while singing this song:

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That’s him to the far right on the second row. This song has been something of an anthem of mine of late.

It’s had particular resonance because for some time continuing to declare that “he is God” has been a painful duty that I’ve performed instead of a joyous cry. It’s also been resonant because of the context in which this song has gained its currency for me. As I’ve said, we’ve sung it quite a bit during Mill City Church worship gatherings and this song and All Sons and Daughters’ whole “Live” album has been the soundtrack for our entrance into a faith community that, for the first time in a long time, feels like the family we were meant to be a part of, the people with whom we were meant to be on a mission together. If you’re interested in knowing more about the long journey that led us to become covenant members of Mill City Church, there’s a 6 part(!) series on this blog that culminates with the post: “Why I’ve Started Talking About Mill City Church.”

Speaking of my blog, lately I’ve been writing here about my summer in 1995 doing Kingdomworks, the life changing experience in which I and 8 other (relatively) rich white college students lived in an inner-city church building in SW Philly where we ran a day camp, Sunday School, and youth group for the neighborhood kids, hoping to empower that congregation to do ministry that it couldn’t do otherwise. Here are some pictures from Kingdomworks that maybe give you a little bit of the flavor of the experience:

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I’ve written a fair bit about Kingdomworks on my blog; so I won’t repeat it here other than to say what I usually say about it, that during that summer I was able to “build a bridge between my own personal suffering and the suffering that’s out there, in the world.” This realization I had about suffering was connected to the larger awakening that was occurring in me at the time during my Gordon College days as I also realized (as I’ve also long said) that “God isn’t a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male that lives in the ‘burbs, shops at the mall, and spends his days pursuing the ‘American dream’ like most other people I knew at the time.” I’ve been writing again about Kingdomworks because of a recent sequence of events that included me learning something about one of my Kingdomworks’ teammates, someone that I was close to during that summer. This teammate, Holly, afterward wrote me that she longed to be back out there, “on the streets where our feet are always dirty and the tears sting, where each drop of sweat has a purpose and every smile is a slice of heaven.” She knew that I felt called to be back in the city serving however I could (and indeed as soon as Kirsten and I got married that’s just where we went), and Holly wrote that she felt a similar calling and that when she and I both went back to serve in the city we’d do it “for them this time,” for the kids. This was a telling sentiment, as perhaps not surprisingly as an experience that was only about two months long Kingdomworks was far more effective at bringing lasting change for we (relatively) rich white college students than for the (relatively) poor, mostly black kids we had served in the inner-city. Perhaps this was the point. Anyway, I recently learned that while Holly is now doing amazing work that is very meaningful to her, it doesn’t have much to do with serving kids in the city, but more to the point she no longer calls herself a person who follows Jesus.

Bart Campolo, the son of Tony Campolo, started Kingdomworks all those years ago, and then not long after I did the program, he transitioned it from a summer program in one city to a year long program in multiple cities and renamed it Mission Year. Mission Year is still going strong today under new leadership. Like Holly, Bart no longer calls himself a Jesus follower these days and has some notoriety as the first humanist chaplain at USC. I love Bart and still consider him a friend (though I’m not claiming to be a close personal one). His impact on my life has been huge, and I think he’s doing great work at USC that’s not unlike the work he’s always done. He’s always been about building community and inspiring people to love and serve those around them. He’s just not doing it in Jesus’ name anymore, and his journey to reach that point is a story he’s told very publicly and continues to do so.

I bring all this up, though, in a Christmas letter no less, for a couple of reasons. I do so in the first place because the struggle to follow Jesus and the temptation not to, for lots of good reasons, is one that I can relate to. As I said above, for some time now declaring that “he is God” has been a painful duty that I’ve performed rather than a joyous cry. There are lots of reasons for that which I’ve explored in depth again on my blog if you’re interested. The other reason I’m bringing all this up in this letter is because of a dream I recently had. I should mention that during my Kingdomworks experience I had a couple of opportunities to get away for a night over the weekend. During one such opportunity I took the train from SW Philly way out into the ‘burbs where I stayed at a Gordon College friend’s house. She and I weren’t particularly close but she knew that I was in the midst of an intense experience and she graciously offered me a momentary reprieve from it. I was grateful. So in my dream, I was back at her house, searching in her basement for something I had been storing there. I woke up before finding it, but when I recounted the dream to Kirsten I realized how symbolic it was.

Something happened to me during Kingdomworks that fundamentally changed me. That much is clear as I’ve spent the better part of 21 years trying myself to get back out there “where we belong,” as Holly put it, in the city, serving kids, but “for them this time.” I suspect that part of what my dream may be telling me is that I left something there in SW Philly in the hot summer of 1995, and I’ve spent a long time trying to go back and find it.

What exactly did I leave in Philly 21 years ago, perhaps in my college friend’s basement, at least metaphorically speaking? There were probably a number of things, to be sure, and some of them for the good. For example, I left behind, I hope, a childish faith that in its individualistic and consumeristic nature was likely as “American” as it might have been Christian. I left behind, I hope, a selfish faith that was all about me getting my “fire insurance” so that I could avoid hell and enjoy God’s heavenly retirement plan instead. I left behind, I hope, a narrow-minded worldview that only ever took into account myself and people who look and think like me. I left behind, I hope, selfish regard for my “own personal suffering” that I experienced in my abusive childhood home, and as I’ve said, in exchange I hope I gained empathy for the suffering that’s “out there, in the world.” In exchange for all those things I left behind during that summer, I hope I also gained an at least slightly more mature faith that is communal, not individualistic and consumeristic; that is about allegiance to Christ and his kingdom, not “America;” that is about living as if God’s kingdom of love, justice, and (especially) peace is already here, even when it so often feels so far away and not yet fully realized; and I hope I gained a faith that recognizes that if the inbreaking of such a good, loving, just, and peaceful kingdom into our troubled and tired world is to be good news, it must be good news for us all, especially those who suffer daily so that we rich white Westerners can enjoy our “great” way of life.

When I came back from Kingdomworks, I found myself experiencing culture shock as I went from a brief but intense experience in inner city Philly among folks who didn’t look much like I did and who lived very different lives than I had ever imagined possible, back to the serene, pastoral environment of Gordon College where I was again among (relatively) rich white young people like myself. I always said it was hard to be back there when I knew that “kids were dying on the streets of Philadelphia.” What I didn’t know then, but certainly do now and have for some time, is that however hard but beautiful the lives of black kids in SW Philly might be, it hardly compares to the lives far too many people, especially and including kids, still experience in the developing world in places like Africa and India, for example. And it’s again worth noting that, as I keep saying, there’s a direct relationship, a causal link, between the grinding poverty of the poorest of the poor, the 11% of the world that in 2013 lived on less than $2/day, and the “great” way of life we in the U.S. and other rich Western countries enjoy, where, for example, in the U.S. the average person lives on $140/day. Though some in this country are unwilling to face this fact, our comfort comes at their expense. The world simply cannot support everyone living like we do. If all of God’s children are to live sustainably, our way of life must change; our standard of living must come down so that theirs can rise.  

So back at Gordon College after Kingdomworks, I found myself questioning everything, starting with God and his alleged goodness. Thus began a project I’ve worked on for more than two decades, and will likely continue to do so. As a young person I had a deeply meaningful and vital relationship with Jesus as I learned to rely on God in the absence of reliable parents. The home of my youth was nominally “Christian,” but also terribly abusive. After Kingdomworks I found my childhood, child-like faith gone. I desperately wanted to trust and believe that Jesus loved me as I always had. I wanted to believe in a loving God that was actively loving the world just as I always had, despite the unloving home I had grown up in. Yet I found those beliefs impossible to reconcile with the brokenness I had witnessed in the inner-city and the abject poverty I came to know was the reality for far too many around the world. If I dared to believe that Jesus loved me and was looking out for me and even “working things out” for my good, what did that say about the lives of folks who seemed utterly abandoned, utterly bereft of such care and provision?

This is a question I still struggle to make sense of. Of course, underneath that question is another one: “Why doesn’t God just fix everything?” One of the reasons I suspect Bart Campolo eventually decided not to follow Jesus anymore is because of the way he struggled with a similar question about evil in the world. He famously wrote a piece when he still called himself a Jesus-follower that got him into some trouble for reasons I’ve again explored on my blog, but in the piece he wrestles with a horrific act of evil that occurred and the question of why God didn’t intervene to stop it. Bart concluded then that the essential relationship between love and freedom required a world in which God would allow such an evil to occur, but because Bart could only believe in a god “at least as good as he was,” it therefore also had to be true that God would somehow redeem that act of evil and every other one throughout human history, a project which Bart said “apparently was a long and difficult task,” considering all the evil that keeps happening in the world. Such logic is cold comfort for those who face such evil in the here and now, and still we wonder why God doesn’t just fix everything. If God is good and loving and powerful, how long must we wait for a peaceable kingdom in which the lion lays down with the lamb and swords are beaten into ploughshares and enemies experience reconciliation and friendship at a common table?

Into this yearning, in the midst of this groaning and conflict, God gives us Jesus.  Jesus is the fullest and final revelation of who God is. He is the “lens” through which we must view the rest of scripture, and he is the answer to the question of if or when God will ever do anything. By putting on flesh and moving into the neighborhood, God chose to join us in our place of suffering and experience the worst of it himself all the way up to death, “even death on a cross.” As Michael Binder of Mill City Church said this past Sunday, Jesus not only offers us peace, but is our peace. Michael preached on Ephesians 2:14-18, which dealt with divisions between Jews and Gentiles. Jews were considered, or at least considered themselves, to be “near” to God because they were sons and daughters of Abraham, with whom God had first made a covenant and to whom God had first promised a blessing. It was to Israel that God had given the law “with its commands and regulations” that pointed the way toward right relationship with God, one another, and the world. Of course, this law was impossible to keep and broken relationships were the result. Meanwhile, Gentiles or non-Jewish people were considered (by Jews) to be “far” from God basically because they weren’t Jews. They weren’t natural sons and daughters of Abraham and so weren’t heirs to the promises given to him and his descendents. Sadly, these categories and the divisions that came from them ignored the fact that God originally blessed Abraham in order to be a blessing to all the world. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus addresses this and urges peace among the two camps, those Jews and Gentiles who had both decided to follow Jesus, because as we read in the text:

14 …he himself (Jesus) is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Thus, as Michael reminded us, the cross acts to “level the playing field” not just between Jews and Gentiles but among all the groups we find ourselves categorized and divided into today. As I also said recently in a blog post, God didn’t kill his son on the cross in an act of “cosmic child abuse” in order to arbitrarily satisfy rules God established that we could never follow in the first place. Instead, God’s willingness to be “God with us” means that God was willing to be with us even in the place of our deepest conflict, where we experience the final separation from God and one another that our sin causes. Sin, after all, is “missing the mark.” It’s not living into and up to the ideal of right, loving relationship that we were made for. This failure to love each other as we ought (“sin”) causes brokenness in our relationships (separation), and the end result of that brokenness especially in our relationship with God is death, because it is in Jesus that “all things hold together,” and to be cut off from God is to be cut off from the very source of ongoing life itself. We cannot bridge this gap ourselves, but God can, and God did. In his willingness to be put to death on the cross in order to break into the place where we were ultimately separated from God and one another, Jesus put to death the brokenness in our relationship not only with God but with one another and with God’s good world.

Reflecting again on the Ephesians passage above, we obviously could not and cannot follow all the “commands and regulations” of the law that pointed us in the direction of the right relationships we were made for; so God again put skin on, moved into the neighborhood, and “set the law aside” in that very skin, in his flesh that was pierced and bloodied and put to death on the cross. In so doing, God begins creating a new humanity, a unified humanity that no longer is bound to experience separation. In Christ then there not only is no longer Jew or Greek or male or female (inasmuch as we are divided from one another by these categories), but there is also no longer rich or poor, or white or black, or Republican or Democrat. Conservatives and liberals and Trump supporters and Clinton supporters no longer need to be separated from one another. Our hostility has been put to death on the cross with Jesus, and we all have access to the same Father through his Spirit.

If we who used to be Republicans or Democrats or “Americans” or Russians or Somalis instead lived solely as part of the new humanity God is making and citizens of God’s peaceable kingdom that is upon us, then we finally would be the ones we’ve been waiting for; we would be the change we hope to see in the world. God did do something about all the evil and injustice in the world. He put skin on, moved into the neighborhood, and absorbed the worst violence, the worst evil, that we in our brokenness had set loose in the world. He allowed himself to be put to death to break into our place of separation and so put to death also the hostility between us. He began making a new humanity by preaching peace to those who were near to God and those who were far from God, and then he unleashed these redeemed and reconciled people to be a people who live as if that’s who they are, to be reconcilers and peace-makers in the world. God sent the world Jesus, and Jesus keeps sending himself into the world through us.

As I keep saying, I respect and love my friend Bart, but all the reasons I too might have for not following Jesus- all the brokenness and suffering and evil in the world- aren’t evidence that God has abandoned us and isn’t worth following or that there is no god after all. Rather, it turns out these are all reasons to follow Jesus. The world needs supporters of Black Lives Matter (and indeed black lives do!) and Trump voters to live as if the hostility between them has been put to death on the cross with Jesus, because it has. Children in Aleppo desperately need those who support Assad and those who don’t to live as if the hostility between them has been put to death on the cross with Jesus, because it has. Jews and Palestinians desperately need to live as if the hostility between them has been put to death on the cross with Jesus, because it has. By following Jesus, together, we become the new humanity God is making and thus the peace the world so desperately needs, which once seemed so far away, suddenly comes near.

It is true and lasting peace that in some ways I think I was metaphorically looking for in my friend’s basement in greater Philly in my dream, perhaps because I felt like maybe I lost it in the hot summer of ’95 as I did Kingdomworks. Certainly I “lost” something that summer, but I hope what I left behind was an immature faith that is even now giving way to a more mature one. That said, if it really is true and lasting peace that I yearn for both in the world and in my own broken heart, there is only one place to find it. True and lasting peace was born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. It is Immanuel, God with us. Thus as we wait in this season of Advent for Jesus to come to us again in a few days, I am filled with hope, and I pray that you will be too. I am filled with hope because for the first time in a long time I can joyously cry that “he is God,” especially for “all the poor and powerless.” For too long this was instead a painful duty, but no longer. Peace has come, and continues to do so. Let’s join Jesus in making it a lived reality for us all. Amen.

Family Update: Now, here’s a little update about each of us over the past year. Sam has a mentor through Mill City Church that he’s just about to start meeting with. He’s a middle schooler now and has been making that transition with a few bumps in the road here and there but mostly with great success. He’s on target developmentally to have the right level of teenage snark and angst ready to go when needed, but remains at heart an incredibly sweet, compassionate, and kind-hearted young man. We’re very grateful for him! Sam is in orchestra as a 6th grader this year and just had his first viola concert the other night. Here are some pictures from that:

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Nathan also had a big transition this year, into all-day Kindergarten. He’s a young Kindergartner but is doing great so far, and we’re also very, very proud of him. He remains the attention-seeking entertainer in the family and is always cracking us up with his witty zingers and antics. For example, it wasn’t long into his elementary school career that he got in trouble at school not once in a day, but twice, including having to go to the principal’s office, because he thought it would be funny to sit (clothed, thankfully) in the urinal in the boys’ room. We can get him to eat all of whatever healthy thing he’s being picky about at dinner by convincing him that he can beat me at arm-wrestling, but only if he eats it all. He always “wins” when he does, but I still beat him handily when he doesn’t. So he keeps asking when he’ll be the same age as I am, thinking once he “catches up” to me he’ll be able to defeat me. Also, noting their relative sizes and that he’s growing all the time, he assumed Kirsten is growing just like he is and asked her if she would be a giant some day. That’s Nathan, in a nutshell. Here he is for ya:
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Kirsten continues working at Gillette Children’s Hospital, though in March of 2016 she transitioned out of direct care and began working in their phone triage department. Telehealth has been an interesting transition for her that has brought new challenges each day. She’s enjoyed most importantly being off night shift and hopefully is adding back the years working overnight for so long had quite possibly taken from her life. Being in an office environment has also hopefully been a positive move. It remains challenging work, though, as the nursing shortage reaches all the way into her little office, which is chronically short-staffed, leaving she and her colleagues stressed and constantly risking burnout as a result. Kirsten says she dreams of opening a used bookstore/coffee shop with me some day. Maybe someone will magically pay off our debt and fund that. Meanwhile, the boys and I continue to be blessed beyond what we deserve by Kirsten’s other, more than full-time, around the clock work as a wife and mother. Here are some pictures of Kirsten being wonderful as usual:
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As for myself, I continue serving disabled individuals who choose to live in their own home rather than a nursing home through a case management role vocationally. That (sort of) pays the bills so that I can pursue my avocation, which is writing. I do that mostly on my blog, but I’ve also written a little for Mill City Church’s website and may do so again, if they’ll have me, and when I can make time I “blog for books” too. A former pastor once told me I might get “discovered” for my writing posthumously. I should be so lucky. In the meantime, if you know a good publisher and want to put in a good word for me this side of the grave, please do! Here I am recently with my “bundle of boys:”  

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Merry Christmas 2016 and Happy New Year 2017 from Robert, Kirsten, Sam, and Nathan

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Advent Hope for All the Poor and Powerless, Especially You and I

I want to start this post with one of the songs that started my morning, All the Poor and Powerless by All Sons and Daughters, which we sang as Mill City Church this morning, ending with Go Tell It On The Mountain as we marked the beginning of Advent. Below is All Sons and Daughters’ version of the song, along with the lyrics. Hit play and give it a listen as you read what I have to say below.

All the poor and powerless
And all the lost and lonely
All the thieves will come confess
And know that You are holy
Will know that You are holy

And all will sing out
Hallelujah
And we will cry out
Hallelujah

And all the hearts that are content
And all who feel unworthy
And all who hurt with nothing left
Will know that You are holy

And all will sing out
Hallelujah
And we will cry out
Hallelujah
[x2]

Shout it
Go on and scream it from the mountains
Go on and tell it to the masses
That He is God
[x5]

We will sing out
Hallelujah
And we will cry out
Hallelujah
We will sing out
Hallelujah

Shout it
Go on and scream it from the mountains
Go on and tell it to the masses
That He is God

This song marked the culmination of worship this morning at Sheridan Elementary School in NE Minneapolis, as Mill City Church gathered to begin the season of Advent. We lit the first of our Advent candles, symbolizing hope, and Pastor Michael Binder spoke about just that- hope. There’s a lot to unpack in what he had to say, but he started by recounting what he had heard in his various conversations throughout the week, including during Thanksgiving, sometimes while talking with folks he fundamentally disagrees with politically. No doubt this happened for many of us over the past week. He said that as he spoke to his friends and loved ones he asked them to say what they hoped for in the wake of the election. Some hoped for a better economy and more and better jobs. Some hoped for better schools and more peace in the world and so on, and so on. He reminded us of the hopes of many of the people alive when Jesus was born. Some were hoping for a Messiah, and so they got one, but he did not come as they expected and certainly didn’t do and live as they thought he would. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries hoped for a political messiah that would overthrow Rome and “make Israel great again.” They wanted a warrior king that would cast off Roman oppression and once again make Israel a power among the nations. Some simply hoped for better lives for themselves and especially their children. Some wanted to be healed, and many, in fact, were.

Perhaps many of us can relate today. Michael spoke of the now accepted idea that many generations of USAmericans grew up believing that their children would have it just a little better than they did, but this is no longer the case. Some of you think Trump will change that. You’ll likely be disappointed, but I digress. Meanwhile, there are whole generations of would-be Jesus followers who think the whole point of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was to give us a ticket to a blissful life in heaven once we die. Remember that this sermon, the first in Advent, was about hope. Michael reminded us that what we hope for in the future shapes our actions today. If we hope for inexorable progress with just a little more justice perhaps, along with a slightly better standard of living for each successive generation, than events like the Great Recession and the apparent election of Trump can prove devastating because we’ve given them the power to rob us of our hope. If we think there will be less love and justice, not to mention less affluence for “the 99%” under a Trump administration, than we may have been devastated over the past couple of weeks. Similarly, if all we hope for from Jesus is an escape plan, some “fire insurance” for when we die, than we may not care much what happens in the here and now to our neighbors around the world, let alone what happens to the world itself in the meantime. Michael challenged us by reminding us that what Jesus had to say to his disciples then, and continues to say to us now, is that all those hopes are far too small.

 Michael said that some of Jesus’ followers hoped he would bless and restore Israel, failing to realize that Jesus came to bless and restore everyone. Jesus was not the political revolutionary some of his followers hoped for. He was something much bigger, and far more dangerous. By launching his ministry of reconciliation and inviting his followers to join him in it, Jesus set in motion the restoration of the entire world, even the very earth, which itself yearns for its own redemption and restoration. Michael referenced Romans 8:21-23, which tells us that:

“…creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to son(-and daughter-)ship, the redemption of our bodies.”

Jesus didn’t come, live, die, and be resurrected to make Israel great again. He certainly didn’t do so to make USAmerica great again. Neither did he do so merely to give us some heavenly hope while the world goes to hell in a hand-basket in the meantime. Look again at the lyrics to the song above. It’s for “all the poor and powerless” and “all the lost and lonely,” for all the “thieves,” like the one who died next to Jesus, who confess that “he is God.” The “he,” of course, is Jesus.

Jesus is God.

This isn’t some Sunday school slogan, some bumper sticker platitude. It’s a declaration of an inimitable truth. The baby born in the manger as a first century Palestinian commoner, who would soon be forced to flee as a refugee to another land because of a genocide committed to get rid of him, this same Jesus would grow up and would one day read from Isaiah’s scroll the famous passage about “the Spirit of the Lord” being upon him because he was anointed “to proclaim good news to the poor,” “freedom for…prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Astoundingly, he would then proclaim that this scripture was fulfilled in the hearing of those he read it to. 

The story of Jesus, the good news both of and about him, that is, the good news he himself proclaimed and that which has been proclaimed about him for over 2,000 years since he walked the earth among us, is good precisely because it is the news that God himself is among us.

God-is-with-us.

The very one by whom we and all things were made, the one in whom all things still hold together, has chosen not to end us all, all over again, because we can’t seem to stop hurting one another and destroying the good world God made for us. He didn’t come as a conquering king to overthrow us. He doesn’t look at outward appearances, choosing the best and brightest and strongest among us to set up a meritocracy. Haven’t we had enough of meritocracy on our own? No, Jesus came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Recognizing that because of the many ways we fall short of the best of what we were made for, the many ways we sin and shame and hurt and oppress ourselves and one another, for all these reasons we could never bring ourselves to face our creator as our full and present and unashamed selves. For all these reasons we are seldom able to even face ourselves, to say nothing of God. For all these reasons, then, Jesus came to rescue us.

Sin is separation, and separation from the one in whom all things hold together is death. So Jesus not only came in the most vulnerable way possible, but while we were yet sinners, while we were separated from God and one another, Jesus not only came but endured the death that our separation from him brings about, thereby robbing it of its power, thereby setting us free. Because Jesus not only came, and not only died, but was also resurrected, we are now free to live into the fullness of who God made us to be. We can be reconciled with God and so reconciled with one another and with God’s good world. Because of this, we can hope for a future in which our own groaning and that of creation itself will come to an end because all has been restored, redeemed, and reconciled.

Jesus didn’t come to save some people. He didn’t come just to save Jews, or Christians, or men, or straight people, or white people. “It is God’s will that none should perish,” scripture declares, and so I declare that he is God.  “Shout it, go on and scream it from the mountains. Go on and tell it to the masses, that he is God.”

 

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As you can see from the mess in the picture above, I’ve been working with Kirsten to get our Christmas decorations out and then to get all the boxes put back away. As I did so, I found some things in some memorabilia boxes I consolidated. I found this, for example:

 

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These are note cards I made years and years ago, as a teenager if not before, of verses I wanted to memorize so that God’s word was not only written implicitly on my heart but also explicitly on my mind. I wanted to remember that a good God, because of Jesus, remembers me not according to my rebellious ways, but according to his love. I wanted to know that trials bring perseverance, and perseverance matures my faith. I wanted to know that I could see hardship as God’s discipline of me, and that by disciplining me God was teaching me, treating me as a son. I wanted to know that I could run this race, this life of faith, with perseverance in no small part because I’m surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses both living and long ago gone to be with Jesus. I also found these:

 

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These were given to me by my Kingdomworks team, which if you read this blog much you’ve heard me talk about before. These are words of encouragement from fellow college students that I spent two months in the hot summer of 1995 living and serving with in an inner-city Philly congregation. It was a tumultuous, life changing summer, and I’ve long remembered and recorded my teammate Holly’s words, part of which you can see above in the second note up from the bottom on the right, but I thought I had lost the rest of them. It was life-giving to find them, to hear how others saw me, to know that maybe they saw a little of Jesus in me as we hung out with and desperately tried to love kids like Nate, Braheem, and Willie:

 

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Then I found this:

 

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This was a note that Rod White, Circle of Hope‘s first pastor, sent Kirsten and I after we showed up for one of their first public meetings in their old space in the upstairs of a storefront in Center City Philadelphia:

 

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Again, if you follow this blog, you know well “Why I Keep Talking About Circle of Hope.” It was with no small measure of wistful sentimentality that I discovered again Rod’s note, which mentioned that Bart Campolo is the one who had recommended Circle of Hope to Kirsten and I as we started our life together in Philly. Bart, of course, was the founder of Kingdomworks and someone I still consider a friend, and his little nudge in Circle of Hope’s direction changed the course of our lives, just as my life had been changed by doing Kingdomworks the summer before.

I mention all this because there is a through-line in all these experiences. From the earliest time that I learned to depend on God in the absence of dependable parents, in part through memorizing scripture, to that momentous summer in Philadelphia when my heart broke again and again and again over the suffering of some of God’s people there- usually people who looked a lot different than I do- to our joyful discovery that the church is a people, not a place, as we were immersed in real Christian community for the first time among Circle of Hope in Philly, through it all I met Jesus over and over again among the poor and powerless, the lost and lonely. My heart broke time and again and breaks still today, but I meet Jesus in that broken place inside of me too, and there too I know that he is God.

I pray this Advent that you will know it too. Jesus is coming. God-with-us will soon be here. Won’t you wait for him with me?

Let’s Not Be Afraid of Refugees Because There Might Be Terrorists Among Them. Let’s Welcome Strangers Because There Might Be Angels Among Them.

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I’m so very grateful for Mill City Church today, for a variety of reasons. When the pastors charted out the current sermon series we’ve been working through, Going Public, they decided to end it this week and next with a service of Lament today, the first Sunday after the election, and a service of Thanksgiving next week (which just happens to the Sunday before Thanksgiving). As Pastor Stephanie described it on Instagram when she posted the photo above:

This has been a heavy week to be a human in America. It’s also a heavy week to be a leader and to figure out how we move forward and make changes. Many of the problems many face in our country I know I’ve contributed to. Every story I hear this week has been breaking my heart. For thousands of years, the followers of Yahweh have followed an ancient tradition in times like these… it’s called Lament-Todah. Lament is best translated as complaint and todah can be best translated as thanksgiving. So for the next two weeks at @millcitychurchmpls I am going to lead our church through Lament this weekend and Todah next weekend as we respond to the division, confusion and pain erupting in our country over the last few months. The Kingdom of God is our aim, but we must not neglect the need to stop and engage the pain and suffering and bring it to a God who loves us and who knows the deepest depths of human suffering. Jesus chose to know this first hand. Join us for worship at Sheridan School at 10am. #kingdomcome

Obviously, this was planned long before the election results were known, but long after the rhetoric in this election season had devolved in a way that few of us had ever seen. I was so very grateful when I found out that this was the plan, as my heart has been so very heavy of late, but especially since Tuesday. It should come as no surprise that I did not vote for Trump. His hateful rhetoric and actions made this a bit of a no-brainer, for me at least. Look, I know well-meaning Christians disagree about the proper role and size of government. Well-meaning Christians disagree about economic policy and even economic systems. Well-meaning Christians even disagree about political systems, as some of us suspect that something like democratic socialism might work a little better, and better serve the needs of all, than what we in the U.S. have now. Well-meaning Christians disagree about many things in the sphere of secular politics.

What we should not disagree about, though, is that the primary, fundamental responsibility in our public lives is to love and serve our neighbor, whether we find them on our street or in Syria, in our neighborhood mosque or desperately trying to cross the U.S.’ southern border. We ought not disagree that there are two kinds of people in the world, according to Jesus, and they’re not conservatives and liberals, not Republicans and Democrats, not globalists and nationalists. Rather, the two types of people in the world, according to Jesus, are our neighbors, whom we are to love, and our enemies, whom we are to love. These are Jesus’ actual words in Mark 12:31 and Mark 5:43-48. Sure, we can disagree about how to do this, but never that we should. We are not called to protect ourselves. We are not called to store up treasures for ourselves here on earth whether within our home or within our “country,” and then shut out, exclude, and marginalize anyone we think might possibly be a thief who could break in and steal our stuff. In fact, quite the opposite is true. So what has been most painful about this election season is the overwhelming number of self-identified “Christians” who seem to have forgotten this. It’s jarring to hear large crowds of mostly European descendants chant “build a wall” around land they have no right to control because their ancestors stole it from one people group and committed genocide against them while kidnapping another whole people group from another continent and enslaving them in their ill-gotten country. For those in such crowds who claim to be “Christian,” though, it’s especially jarring, for this runs so very counter to the clear thrust of the gospel. There are many, many verses in Scripture that tell us to love our neighbor and specifically to welcome strangers. Here’s one such passage from Hebrews 13:

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.[a]

It’s almost as if someone in the Trump campaign leaked his platform to the writer of Hebrews!

Trump says we should either stop all Muslim immigration or engage in (even more) “extreme vetting” out of fear that there might be terrorists among the strangers. Scripture tells us to welcome strangers, because there might be angels among them.

For profit prison company stocks soared after Trump’s election because he “has called for increased deportation of undocumented immigrants. Implementing that plan would heighten prison demand by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).” But that’s not all, his call for a national “stop and frisk” policy would likely increase the disproportionate arrest and mass incarceration of people of color (if they survived increased interaction with law enforcement at all). Meanwhile, Scripture tells us to “remember those who are in prison” as if we were there with them.

Trump has said he wants to “bring back water-boarding,” and even worse! Scripture tells us to remember those who are being tortured as if we were.

I can’t help but think that somehow all of this was lost on all those “Christians” who voted for Trump. As Brian Zahnd said in the wake of the election:

It will, indeed. Don’t get me wrong, please. I can imagine a scenario in which I’m sitting here writing a post calling President-Elect Clinton to task for her lack of openness and accountability and for her lack of being consistently pro-life (to her credit, she wants to increase the social safety net and provide healthcare for all, factors which are known to reduce abortion; on the downside, she’s for war, and, to the best of my knowledge, has not called for a repeal of the death penalty). That said, for too long Christians have been more interested in their Christianity than in actually following Jesus. For too long white “Christians” in the U.S. have been more interested in a very comfortable civil religion that has much more to do with ‘Merica, Mom, and apple pie than with the good news of the gospel. As Rod White of Circle of Hope recently said, “we (would be Jesus-followers) need (to be) evangelized!

I see this tendency to settle for a “Christian” (civil) religion that is all too accommodating to/conflated with USAmerican (white) culture in ways too numerous to count, and I’ve written about this many times. Take, for example, this worship song by Rend Collective that I’ve previously written about. Here are the lyrics:

Come, set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come, set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your church
We need Your power in us

We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You’re our joy and prize
To see the captive hearts released
The hurt, the sick, the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for Heaven’s cause

We are Your church
We pray: revive this earth

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

Unleash Your kingdoms power
Reaching the near and far
No force of Hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ

We are Your church
We are the hope on earth

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

As I said when I wrote about this song before:

Talking about winning the nation back sounds a lot like winning “our” country “back,” for starters. And when you say you’re winning it back, even if you mean for Jesus, you imply that somehow he once had it, and now doesn’t. Is this what we really mean?

Readers of this blog may recall that my family and I were part of a church plant in OH that I’ve alluded to before, the one that we were so very hopeful about at first, that seemed to really get that the church is a people, not a place, and that even was trying out some fledgling missional communities. I think in their first public worship service, they sang this song, and I couldn’t help but ask questions about it after the fact. I just knew in my heart, in my spirit, that while the overall gist of the song was good there was something amiss in “building God’s kingdom here” by “winning this nation back.” Perhaps if that church had launched in the midst of this election season with all the talk of “making America great again” and “taking our country back” the mixed message of winning “our nation” back would have been more obvious. I don’t know. At the time, in that OH church, my concern was shrugged off and the song stayed in the worship rotation as is. I don’t know what exactly I expected them to do; I just know I didn’t feel very heard or understood. As I’ve also said, our experience with that faith community ended badly, with much, much pain, and sadly quite similarly to another traumatic ending there not long before then as I left my long-time job under similarly painful circumstances. There’s no small degree to which I’ve been trying to figure out “what God is up to” in those circumstances ever since, even as they played no small part in our move back to MN.

You see my confusion about those lyrics, right? Not only do they imply that ‘Merica used to be “Christian” in a way that it isn’t now and that we need to get it back to being that way, but they also imply, I think, that the U.S. even can be “Christian” in the first place. Again, this is well-trod ground for me, but I do not believe this to be so. If we really pray, as the song suggests, that God’s kingdom is unleashed to the point that there is healing in the streets and in “the land,” there would be little room for the “American dream” in the hearts of our fellow citizens any longer. If folks were gettin’ healed in the street there’d be no need for Obamacare or for the profit hungry capitalist medical industry. If we started living like the Church is supposed to, and were known for our love in the transformative ways that we might be, many of the institutions of U.S. society would collapse not because of unrest and rioting in the streets but because there’d be no need for them. There’d be no need for our criminal justice system if we loved our enemies and turned the other cheek when confronted with violence (of course, there wouldn’t be much violence in the first place). Capitalism, so dependent on self-interest, whether “enlightened” or not, would collapse if we starting sharing all the possessions we had, knowing they were God’s, not ours. I could go on. The point is that to the extent that we really start living as if God’s kingdom has already come among us we represent a grave threat to the powers and principalities that be, including the U.S. and all other secular governments. That’s why I struggle with that line in that song.

So you might imagine my consternation when Mill City Church sang the same song not all that long into our experience with them. Gratefully, there was enough grace and goodness in what we were discovering in this faith community that I felt I had the capacity to overlook it. It grieved me, just a little, and as I already mentioned I couldn’t sing those words when they come up in the song, but I considered it adiaphora. I was able to do so hopefully because I’ve grown a little but mostly because of all the other clear evidence of God’s work in these people and this community. It was just so clear to me that they were working extra hard to discern what God might be already doing in the community they felt called to serve and then respond faithfully as best they could to join him in that work. And the ways that they were responding, the things that they were doing, deeply resonated with me. My spirit could wholeheartedly say “yes” to what I saw God up to in them.

So, in the wake of this terrible election season and the election itself, my spirit again said yes! when I learned that today’s worship service would be one of lament. We gathered for it today and Pastor Steph led us in a powerful exercise, following the pattern in most of the psalms of lament:

-The Address – usually directly to God

-The Lament Proper – a description of the occurrences for which the people are requesting assistance or rescue

-Confession of Trust – a statement showing belief that God will hear their prayers

-The Petition Proper and Motivation – a usually very specific statement of what the people want God to do

-Vow of Praise – portion of the lament where the people promise to offer thanksgiving once seeing God’s intervention

After each part, we sang. The liturgy was heartfelt and captured our collective yearning that God draw near, that he hear the cry of those suffering from oppression- that he see all the ways they are being oppressed and may be even more so in the days to come- that he hear our cry on their behalf, and that he act. The liturgy should be posted on her blog soon. I encourage you to check it out when that happens. During the “petition” part, I believe, we had a chance to come forward and place our own handwritten petitions in a glass jar:

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This was mine:

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I lament not just over the hateful rhetoric in this election season and the danger that a President Trump poses not just for the “least of these” here and around the world but in a host of many other ways. That is lamentable, to be sure. It shouldn’t be all that surprising, though. ‘Merica is not the Church, after all. It does not represent God’s kingdom come. ‘Merica, especially these days and in the days to come, is basically Rome in Jesus’ day. It is the empire that God’s actual kingdom of love and peace and justice stands in stark relief against. Why should I be surprised when Rome does “Roman” things? Why should I be surprised when a worldly empire pursues its own gain and good to the detriment of its people and those around the world? No, what is most lamentable is that we would-be Jesus followers who live in that empire look no different than its most selfish, power-hungry denizens. What is most lamentable is that our lives look so little like that of our leader, Jesus, who was executed as an enemy of the state for showing the state to be the sham that it is, for showing that God’s kingdom was worthy of our sole and true allegiance.

The service this morning was thus a very emotional experience for many of us, and many tears were shed throughout. Near the end of the service in the auditorium of that elementary school that Mill City Church has had such an amazing relationship with for all these years now, we stood to sing a few last songs:

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Can you guess what song we sang next? It was “Build Your Kingdom Here,” of course. I had been very moved throughout the service as I alluded to above. I felt like I had connected with God as I, as we, cried out to him on behalf of the least of these, on behalf of his children, and asked him to intervene, to move to save them. We had declared our trust that somehow, in spite of it all, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, he would act. Rightly, then, we were moved to praise him, to declare that he is our King, he is our President; it is to his kingdom that we pledge allegiance. Some of that sentiment is present in “Build Your Kingdom Here;” so we sang, but I braced myself for those words I knew I could not sing (“win this nation back”).

You know what?

They never came.

Here are the lyrics as we sang them this morning:

Come, set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come, set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your church
We need Your power in us

We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You’re our joy and prize
To see the captive hearts released
The hurt, the sick, the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for Heaven’s cause

We are Your church
We pray: revive this earth

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Bring revival back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

Unleash Your kingdoms power
Reaching the near and far
No force of Hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ

We are Your church
We are the hope on earth

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Bring revival back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Bring revival back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

We sang “Bring revival back,” not “win this nation back,” and in that moment I was broken yet again this morning. That’s a sentiment I can get behind. The spirit of God within me yearns for revival, not merely the Billy Sunday altar call variety, but the kind in which “Christians” give up their religion and start living like Jesus followers. If that happens, I have no doubt that we’ll see healing of many varieties in the streets. Lives will be changed. Swords will be beaten into plowshares. Racial reconciliation will occur. Lord, let it be so.

In that moment this morning when I realized the lyrics had been changed, not only did I feel broken, I felt healed. I don’t know why they changed the words. Maybe someone read my post that touched on those words and they heard me and agreed that the lyrics sent a mixed message. Maybe not. Maybe they changed them because they’re always working so hard to listen to God’s spirit anyway and as a result they discerned that the words could be better. I’d like to think at least in some small way it is God’s spirit in me that leads to my discomfort with those lyrics. Either way, I felt heard, and more importantly, I felt healed. I felt as if all that baggage I’ve been carrying around since leaving that OH church was suddenly gone. I was and am grateful.

Therefore it will be with a glad heart that I gather with my Mill City Church family next week for a worship service of Thanksgiving. Prior to that we’ll gather for Mill City Church’s annual “Thanks. Give. Serve” event. Then once the (vegan/faux) turkey is eaten on Thanksgiving, it will be with joyful expectation that I move into the season of Advent. I am hopeful that Christ will come. Again. I am hopeful that God-with-us will be born, that God’s “secret rescue plan” for his children will be started anew. I am hopeful that Jesus will be born, again, that we, his hands and feet, his body, will be made new as we redouble our efforts and rededicate ourselves to being the church in the most profound ways. I pray that we will gain notoriety not for our political power but for our willingness to give it up so that we can better serve those who don’t have it. I pray that our zealous pursuit of love, of God’s peace-with-justice, of God’s shalom, will quite simply make us dangerous. Jesus promised us persecution, and most white “Christians” in this country have never seen it, not really. We aren’t persecuted, after all, when we are criticized for refusing to serve a gay person in our place of business or government office. We might be, though, if we do serve them, if we refuse to see them in terms of their sexual identity but simply as fellow children of God. We aren’t persecuted when we get called out for harassing women entering abortion clinics. We might be, though, if we relentlessly pursued living wage ordinances and robust healthcare for all and more importantly if we so thoroughly and scandalously loved and mentored and supported all the vulnerable and at-risk young women in our lives (and if we actually had them in our lives!) that there was seldom any need for abortion.

Lord, let your kingdom come, in us. Bring revival back. As advent approaches, let us watch and wait expectantly for you to come. Be born into the world anew, through us. Amen.

Buck Family Christmas Letter 2015

For those who might not have gotten our Christmas letter this year, the first in many, many years, here it is:

Greetings to you all from snowy, cold Minnesota. After a near perfect summer here and then one of the warmest fall seasons on record, winter arrived with a wimper and was also unseasonably warm, until today. It’s about 12 degrees outside as I write and the temperature at kickoff for tomorrow’s outdoor Vikings-Seahawks game should be about 0. We embrace winter, here, though, such that with temps in the balmy 30’s over the past week a local news anchor, anticipating this “arctic plunge,” told local denizens that they had a few more days to wear shorts before it got “really” cold. The Winter Carnival is coming up, which is always a lot of fun. It features ice sculpting and lots of winter-themed family activities. We’re looking forward to it. I’ve been thinking of late about our arrival back to the Twin Cities in late April of last year, just as the most beautiful time of year began and that perfect summer we enjoyed. As overnight actual temps dip below zero over the next week I’ve been thinking that as much as we enjoyed the past spring, summer, and fall, we didn’t really earn them. This coming year we will have.

So, for those who didn’t know before now, we’ve obviously moved back to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul). We left here over 12 years ago to move back to Philly where Samuel would be born as most of you know. We spent 2+ years during our second stint in Philly before moving to Northeast Ohio, where we spent the better part of the past ten years (minus a year-and-a-half in Texas as my dad died and where Nathan was born).  We made the painful decision to sell our house north of Akron (losing quite a bit of money) and came here to be near Kirsten’s family of origin again. Her mom’s health is declining and we knew it was important to be here for whatever comes next in that process. Though we’ve said this before, we don’t anticipate relocating again. We’ve done this just a few too many times. We’re excited to settle here, though. The Twin Cities have much to offer and we continue to be amazed by what a truly progressive community that engages in regional planning and cooperation can do. The infrastructure here is remarkable from the burgeoning light and commuter rail system…

North Star

to the many trails, parks, and lakes in this “cit(ies) of parks and lakes.”

Minneapolis- Skyline

 

Over the summer we met up with an old college friend of Kirsten’s and her family who live here now and got a chance to take their kayak out on a lake:

Kayak

We also went to a Twins…

Twins

…and St. Paul Saints game:  where we participated in setting the record according to the Guiness Book of World Records for the “world’s largest pillow fight.”

CHS Field 2

We’ve also seen Lego sculptures

Arboretum Lego Butterfly

at the beautiful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum .

The Twin Cities also have a thriving, unique arts scene and a host of amazing local museums, including an incredible Children’s Museum. Among the museum treasures is the Walker Arts Center. The first Saturday of every month they offer free admittance and lots of great kids’ activities. We’ve been to the Walker twice so far since coming back and have been treated to amazing experiences such as this:

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You can see Kirsten and the boys (Nathan next to Kirsten with their backs to the camera and Sam turned around with a blue Star Wars t-shirt on) in this amazing mural which highlights the Walker’s history and its relationship to the local community). Anyway, we’ve done all these things and so very much more. We’ve been to Ikea and the Mall of America multiple times. We’ve enjoyed local festivals and seasonal events. In short, we’re really trying to be present here both to loved ones and to our local community itself.

Speaking of community, we’ve re-engaged, though in limited fashion still, with House of Mercy (www.houseofmercy.org), the faith community we were a part of here for five years when we lived here before. House of Mercy is a church that focuses on “recovering the good news of the gospel” and that embraces the notion that “doubt is not the enemy of faith, but its partner.” Among the many ways we feel fortunate and blessed to be able to participate in this faith community, for example, is the simple fact that they give us resources (in this case, for Advent) like this:

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So we’re excited to be able to be part of this faith community again, and hope to deepen our relationships there in the new year.

These days Kirsten works for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, a very small local children’s hospital (there are several in the cities) that is attached to Regions Hospital in downtown St. Paul. Kirsten says she likes Gillette and it’s good just to be established in a local hospital. She works on the “float” team and is still doing overnights, which is very, very hard and taxing on her body. Despite this, she still manages to be the most amazing wife to Robert and mom to our boys, whom she teaches to read

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…does art projects with…

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…and tromps through the snow with.

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She does all this while doing mountains of laundry and making the most amazing, homemade vegan food including…

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a vegan take on Hoppin’ John for New Year’s and…

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home-made cinnamon rolls, a favorite of the kids, of course.

In short, Kirsten remains amazing.

Speaking of food, after losing 100 pounds through running starting in 2009 and then gaining 67 of them back and then losing about 47 more while doing a couple of half-marathons along the way, I (Robert) broke two toes and tore my meniscus a few years ago and found running too painful to continue in the short term. The result is that I gained every bit of my original weight back and more, much to my shame and chagrin. The good news, though, is that since moving here I finally had surgery on my meniscus and have successfully recovered, thanks be to God. It’s not pain free, but I’ve accepted the pain I know I’ll just have to live with now, and am grateful I’m not doing any further damage to my knee. Kirsten and I got Fitbits for Christmas, and I’ve found this new wealth of data I now have about my weight, sleep, and activity to be just the jolt I needed. Since the Fitbits arrive November 29th, I’ve lost about 21 pounds and have been walking nearly 3 miles most days thanks to Kirsten’s unwavering support. I’m so grateful and am hopeful that once a little more of the weight comes off and I’m putting less strain on my knee, I may be able to run again, Lord willing. Time will tell. These days I work for Rescare, for whom I am a Case Manager for clients who are disabled but choose to live in their own homes rather than a nursing home. I help to manage the waiver by which their services are funded. It’s interesting work that seems to suit me, at least for now. I’m grateful.

Samuel is now 11 and in 5th grade, and Nathan 4 and will be entering Kindergarten next year. The boys are doing well. For those who don’t know, Samuel was diagnosed a few years back as being on the Autism Spectrum (Asperger’s was his official diagnosis while that diagnosis was still in use). This and some speech issues and the very mild Cerebral Palsy that makes his heel cords tight are the only lingering effects from his extremely early birth. We are very grateful. Samuel is very smart and is a precocious reader. He finishes many hundred page books in a day and loves legos and Star Wars. He’s kind and loving and has a gentle soul. He’s amazing. This is Sam on his birthday, holding his newly completed Star Wars First Order TIE Fighter and wearing his Flash-themed S.T.A.R. Labs hoodie:

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Nathan is doing well too. Nathan is a fearless adventurer who has mastered sarcasm and finds trouble wherever he can. He’s mischevious and hilarious and knows how to work his adorable charm. Here’s Nathan showing off some of his Christmas haul:

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This apparently is how Nathan rings in the new year:

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This is how he chills on Christmas morning:

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…and this is how he felt about being an angel in the House of Mercy Youngsters Christmas pageant:

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As you can see, he’s a ton of fun, and we delight in both our boys. We pray that 2016 finds you delighting in those you love, and most of all that you know that you are the object of God’s delight. Best wishes and love from Robert, Kirsten, Samuel, and Nathan. Merry Christmas!

Time. Fully. Come.

I really appreciated the following word today from Rod White, one of the pastors of Circle of Hope, which was originally posted over at the Circle of Hope blog:

 

Time
Counting today, there are eight days left of Advent. Our discipline says that on 12:00:01am on the 25th, Jesus is born. And who cares if he was really born in December 25th, or if early Christ-followers co-opted Saturnalia celebrations for the Lord’s birthday? We’re not reconstituting Jesus’ birth in the laboratory; we are being reconstituted by it! If anything, we’re the laboratory and Advent is the experimental period to see if Jesus is, indeed, going to keep coming to us.

Fully
I’ve heard a little bit about Jesus coming when I’ve heard about what has been happening during this season. But I think I’ve noted a lot more people waiting to get out of school so they can rush around and shop and get to Mom and Dad’s for whatever they have cooked up this year. I was at a nice cheerful party and wondered why I wasn’t invited to a couple of others – I’ve been hearing other people ponder parties, too. We collected a boatload of coats for refugees and presents for the children of prisoners, which, I’m sure, made the real St. Nicholas proud. We’re very nice people in a nice community who are full of nice things — and I know that has to do with Jesus.

But I’m wondering if enough of us are learning to welcome the living God into our daily schedule by using this disciplined time of the year to welcome Jesus to the world. I wonder, in general, because there are many reasons not to do any intentional thing bent on getting or improving a relationship with God. I was thinking this morning that a good reason not to meditate, or pray, or set any time apart to spend with God (instead of merely allowing him to hover over us benignly or expecting him to chase us until we need him during our next disaster) would go something like this: “If I pray, my addiction will get brought up – why pray if I am a nicotine addict, or porn addict, or sin addict, etc? Of course, I know that is foolish since Jesus died for me when I was an addict; but if I pray stuff will come up. Since I don’t like feeling what I feel when I am confronted with my issues or with being foolish about how I react to being confronted with my issues, I think I’ll put off praying.” Prayer = Sin + Foolishness. Avoidance follows. Maybe people are learning that formula from the Advent season! Que lastima.

Come
That last part was kind of negative. (And, believe me, I like the “Ho Ho Ho” stuff in almost all its forms, so don’t take on a bunch of negative, here). I’m just trying to be honest, in order to help whoever reads this to start out the last eight days with some hope. I’m afraid that anyone who missed the first part, might either feel like a sinner or a fool and skip the rest, too! But there is plenty of time. Maybe right now, as you read this note you can experience a “time fully come.“ Since you are already came here, why not try meditating on the following sentences that give some meaning to what the season is bringing to us, and see what gets born.

We were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of [children – everyone like a first-born son!]. Because you are [such children], God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” Galatians 4:3-6

Being Conspirational

With Advent upon us and Christmas little more than a week away, this is a natural time to reflect upon the meaning of the season. As is usually the case, I yearn to spend the season of Advent and Christmas being very purposeful about watching and waiting with and for Jesus, but as is usually the case, I find myself so busy that all those good intentions are being stifled. Of course, all is not lost (yet), and soon things will slow down for me at least in regard to work; so I yet hope. In the meantime, I’m glad to support and benefit all the great work of many other Christians and non-Christians alike who likewise would like to see the holiday season be less about consumption and more about love and service to others. For more, check out: