Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Concrete Girl

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write about another Switchfoot song from their first album, The Legend of Chin. This is more of a personal project for me, going through each album from their first to the last. Switchfoot has represented to me a band that stays rooted over many years of change and adversity. They also represent a band who hasn’t been, nor is, afraid to address real issues in life, writing about the beauty of life, relationships, God, creation, and the battle of life in the midst of the beauty. They continually live in the tension of pain and joy, loss and gain, beauty and ashes, and gives hope to the hopeless. This particular songs is addressing the coldness of life at times, and how the modern view of architecture (mass concrete al over the place) presents a coldness to life, a life that values sameness at the cost of people faking who they are. Here are the lyrics:

Bleeding thoughts
Cracking boulder
Don’t fall over

Fake your laughter
Burn the tear
Sing it louder
Twist and shout

Way up here
We stand on shoulders
Growing colder

Laugh or cry
I won’t mind
Sing it louder
Twist and shout

Immovable shadows
The concrete girl
They’ll rock your world to nothing

And they’re swimming around again, again
And they’re swimming around
The concrete girl

Catch your breath like four-leaf clover
Hand it over

Scream to no one
Take your time
Sing it louder
Twist and shout

Nothing to run from is worse than something
And all your fears of nothing

And they’re swimming around again, again
And they’re swimming around
The concrete girl

Concrete girl don’t fall down
In this broken world around you
Concrete girl don’t fall down
Don’t fall down my concrete girl

Don’t stop thinking
Don’t stop feeling now

One step away from where we were
And one step back to nothing

And we’re standing on top of our hopes and fears
And we’re fighting for words now concrete girl
And we’re swimming around again, again
And we’re swimming around now
Concrete girl

Concrete girl don’t fall down in this broken world around you
Concrete girl don’t fall down
Don’t fall down my concrete girl

Concrete girl don’t fall down in this concrete world around you
Concrete girl don’t fall down
Don’t break down my concrete girl

Now I am well aware if that when you read these lyrics, you can feel lost and might not get what they’re trying to say. On one of their websites, they describe the context for these lyrics that, I think, speak to the way we think about urban development of buildings: “Here at the University of California San Diego, concrete reigns supreme. I love my school and wouldn’t go anywhere else, but the contemporary buildings here are noticeably different from the stately facades of the Ivy League schools. The sterile modernity here is cold and impersonal, the concrete corners immovable and severe.”

Sterile and cold. The modern architects of the “Urban Renewal” Act of 1949 thought that they could clear the slums of major cities across the country by designing multiple housing units in the slum that all look the same, sterile and cold, and simple some would say. Build it and they will come some thought. Well this “urban renewal” act was what created all of the projects in the inner city that we know of today. Sterile and cold, with no personality and no thought of the cultures of the people who would live there.

Some of the urban development that has taken place across our country is void of character, with mass track housing, no personality, the sameness of model homes, the loss of true neighborhoods when subdivisions were created, and before you know it, we have a concrete world around us, that takes a car to get you from one place to the next. The concrete world around is built to cater to the car more than the person; the development than the neighborhood; the marketing than the connecting. Concrete worlds tempt us to stop thinking and feeling, and conform to the world of technology and advancement.

So here’s a plea for those who are struggling in the concrete world around us: change happens when we chose to live differently. Walk more. Drive less. Shop locally. Plant a garden. Start a farmer’s market in your neighborhood. Advocate for development in your town that caters to the pedestrian. Help design neighborhoods where the poor have equal access to goods and services as those who have cars do. Don’t buy into “bigger is better” or success means growth. Cancerous growths are not successful, nor are growths of urban concrete sprawls that kill creativity and culture. The change starts one life change at a time. We can help our cities and neighborhoods be truly better places of justice and righteousness. Concrete girl, don’t stop thinking; don’t stop feeling.

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Might Have Ben Hur

This Switchfoot song title seems to be a play-on-words, talking primarily about a relationship, but is seemingly referring to the old 1959 film, Ben-Hur. Here’s the lyrics:

Everything I know
Tells me she’s everything
That I could hope for
Everything I know
Tells me I can’t let her walk away

[bridge:]
I took my time to find the words
I hope she’d feel the same

[chorus:]
‘Cause I want someone to share my smile
To share the pain
To be there when the sea turns gray
To share the joy
For better or worse
And I thought that it might have been her
I thought that it might have been her

Wonder if she knows
The way I saw her soul
Light up my life
Wonder if she knows
of the pain I feel tonight

The setting of the movie is in AD 26, where Judah Ben-Hur (played by none other than Charlton Heston) is a wealthy prince and merchant in Jerusalem. His childhood friend, the Roman citizen Messala, is now a tribune. After several years away from Jerusalem, Messala returns as the new commander of the Roman garrison. Messala believes in the “glory of Rome” and its imperial power, while Ben-Hur is devoted to his faith and the freedom of the Jewish people, at any cost, even by the sword. Messala asks Ben-Hur for the names of Jews who criticize the Romans, but Ben-Hur refuses, angering Messala.

As the plot of the movie goes on, Ben-Hur falls in love with a woman named Esther who has been following a man named Jesus, and as love has it, Ben-hur is curious about him because of his love for Esther. Ben-Hur’s mother and sister are sick and he takes them to see Jesus, but by this time, Jesus has been arrested on his way to be crucified. Ben-Hur witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus, and during the rain storm, Miriam and Tirzah are healed. Ben-Hur tells Esther that he heard Jesus talk of forgiveness while on the cross, and says “I felt His voice take the sword out of my hand.” He let go of his hatred for Rome, put his sword away, and was relationally/emotionally reunited with his mother and sister.

What’s love got to do with it? Well, this song speaks to the reality of love, which in this context, is someone to come along side of you and share the joy and the pain of life. It’s having someone to share life with, especially when loneliness sets in, skies turn gray, and the need to have companionship and feel heard, understood; this is a human need.

For Ben-Hur, it was Esther, the woman who lit up his soul, who opened his heart to a new way of being human. It was the love of a woman who allowed his heart to be opened to the suffering savior. It was ultimately a soft heart that allowed Ben-Hur to receive the love and forgiveness from Jesus. This is the power of love, compassion (to suffer with), friendship, companionship. This is what Jesus offers, but he often uses relationships to prime our hearts to receive the beauty and worth of His great love. I want to take my time today with my words to share with those whom I love that I’m thankful for them.

I took great liberty to interpret this song the way I did, but the title allowed my imagination to consider the old film’s plot and see what the power of love and relationship can have over us. I’m considering all those who love me and have loved me this morning, and am thankful for everyone who has walked by my side when the pain has been unbearable. I’m thankful for my wife who has displayed the love and compassion of our suffering savior, and has been a patient counselor in the midst of my anger. My heart is softer because of her and many others.

A Short Update

This past January I began raising financial support as an urban missionary in Phoenix through a non-profit (5o1c3) organization called Ambassadors AZ. Two really good guys (and good friends) started Ambassadors years ago as a non-profit that is committed to promote the joy of the gospel. Ambassadors exists to help leaders like us who serve in communities that generally have a transitional nature, and where sustainability is harder to come by. They provide a service that administrates and manages the finances we raise for support.

Recently, they just put up a new website and a new way to give financially in support of our family. The website is http://ambassadorsaz.com/Donate.html. To give, click on “Donate” and it will take you to a PayPal site where you can set up monthly donations or give a one time gift. If you donate through this site, you will need to write on the memo of the PayPal donation that it is for “Fund # 17” which is assigned to our family. If you have any questions or difficulties setting up a payment, email me at kineourbanrenewal@gmail.com. Have a great summer!

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Slow Church

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Last September I was in New Orleans with my wife (Amy) at a CCDA conference (Christian Community Development Association), and one of the small break out groups was called “Slow Church”, where Amy and I heard a short interactive presentation by Chris Smith on “church conversations” that serve to build up and unite the body of Christ. The brief presentation affirmed many thoughts in our own hearts, thoughts and questions we have been wrestling with for years as Young Life and church leaders, namely, the question: “What does it look like to be successful as a church?”

Chris Smith and John Pattison are co-authors of the book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. This book indirectly answers the question of what it looks like to be successful as a church, as Chris and John unfold a new kingdom ethos for being the church, present and rooted in a particular place. Jean Vanier has said, “A Christian community should do as Jesus did: propose and not impose. Its attraction must lie in the radiance cast by the love of brothers.” This is what Chris and John have done; proposed a new theological vision for church with ‘on-the-ground’ examples.

The “slow church way” is a necessary correction in the life of the American church. As someone who loves the bride of Christ and in no way desires to tear her down with criticism, Slow Church eloquently points out glaring weaknesses in the consumer-driven, church-growth model, Western church that views success in quantifiable numbers (butts, budgets, and buildings), which makes church something we consume, rather than being consumed by Christ. But after the critique, Chris and John offer refreshing and life-giving alternatives for the Western church today to be a display community, showing off kingdom values through everyday life.

The framework they build their book on (ethics, ecology, and economy) provides a broad holistic base with which to help the reader re-imagine what the church was meant to be in culture. Jesus’ slow way of life shines through these pages as the reader is invited into the patient way of the kingdom that bears fruit only after the proper season and the proper work has been done. Chris and John speak of sabbath, place, patience, work, reconciliation, sharing, gratitude, hospitality, sharing meals, and sustainability all re-imagined within the story of God.

We need more slow church parishoners and leaders who are committed to being a truly alternative community in the midst of unchecked capitalism, out-of-control consumerism, self-serving individualism, and the growing number of “nones” who do not identify with any religion at all. So here’s to those living in light of the true story of the universe, as ones who know how it all ends, and are co-actors/laborers with Christ, offering a foretaste today of the kingdom to come when the King comes. Chris and John, thanks for creating space for conversation, critique, grace, forgiveness, messiness, responsibility, and much needed correction.

La Querencia of Sabbath

Our family of 6 just embarked on a two month trip in a 26′ RV and we are traveling around country chasing good weather, family, and friends who are intentionally living out the mission of God in diverse contexts. This is a trip of a lifetime for us, especially since I just graduated from grad school, have no job, and no home to live in until the end of July (thus the RV). Leading up to this trip, God has prompted many thoughts and topics in my heart and mind that won’t leave me alone, and I have found myself reflecting a lot about: patience, pace of life, food and how/what we eat, being present with my wife/kids/family/friends (in the moment), and sabbath (rest).

This morning I was reading a copy of a book called Slow Church (I will write a short book review about it in the next couple weeks) and there is a chapter talking about sabbath rest and they quote the American author Barry Lopez writing about the Spanish word querencia which is sometimes translated as the “haunt of wild hearts”:

“[He] describes la querencia as a place on the ground from which one draws strength of character.”

It is clear to me already on day two of our trip, that sabbath rest was meant to be our querencia. In a world full of busyness that drives us to live at a pace that is not based on a biblical worldview; and culture that “forces” us to eat whatever is placed before us (or is cheapest and easiest to get); and a society that has placed work and money at a level that turns people and places into commodities to be consumed… we are in desperate need of alternative lifestyles that display a different kind of pace, a different kind of patience, a different kind of work ethic… all of which are not possible if we are not a people who know how to rest and trust during the “unproductive” days of rest.

Time. Time reminds us that God is not in a hurry and rest is a way of trusting God in the midst of world that feels like there’s not enough time in the day. Time reminds us that we are living in eternity now before God. Time reminds us that God shows up in the now; he dispenses grace, mercy, forgiveness, reveals beauty, and matures us in the “now”. Learning to live in the present, pacing myself, eating slower and being more aware of what I am eating are all being sharpened and awakened as I slow down, rest and trust God in the seemingly “unproductive” now.

This trip is the beginning of a new kind of sabbath for me, a sabbath that leads me to places of querencia that I believe God wants his people to inhabit with him daily. A querencia that charges up God’s people to live holistically productive lives which means a healthier pace, more responsible eating, divine rest, and a holy patience with work, people, and life in general.

¡Quince Años!

For the Spanish impaired, that’s 15 years! That’s how long I’ve been to my beautiful wife (May 29th, 1999) who doesn’t age. She’s as beautiful as ever in more ways than we understand beauty to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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15 years is a long time to make a lot of terrible mistakes and to feel like there’s ample reasons to not stay with someone. I’ve had many friends and colleagues over the years never make it to 15 years of marriage… many marriages in America never make it past 7 years. For those who have been married for 20(+) years, keep going, stay in the game, you’re modeling for those of us who care about marital faithfulness and joy; we need you!

As I’ve been reflecting about marriage over the last few weeks, the word covenant has stolen my thoughts. In the New Testament, the Greek word for covenant is diathḗkē (διαθήκη), and within the storyline of scripture, diathḗkē refers to the declaration of God’s unconditional promise to make Abraham and his future offsprings the recipients of certain blessings (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:14–17; 15:18; 17:7–8, 19–21; 21:12, 14; 22:2, 12).

Through diathḗkē, God stays with (and loves) Israel in spite of the fact that Israel has been an unfaithful diathḗkē partner. This is extraordinary, especially if you know the nuances of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Then, Jesus arrives midway through God’s story of redemption (of his wayward bride), and God is executing his faithfulness to his bride through making himself become one of us, and taking onto himself what we deserve for our marital unfaithfulness towards him. So to continue in marriage terms, Jesus sacrifices for his undeserving bride, and wins her back, washes her clean from her years of cheating, and brings her back home, loves her, serves her, blesses her, provides for her, and stays with her, no matter what.

Now, the biblical language says that Jesus is the groom and we (followers of Jesus) are the brides… sorry dudes! So in our marriages, husbands and wives are called to enter into a diathḗkē with one another that is meant to model to the watching world the kind of diathḗkē God made with Abraham (you and I) and fulfilled through Jesus, who is the ultimate blessing. Jesus stayed on the cross when we mocked, spit, cursed, hated, and eventually killed him. This means marriage is not only to be a commitment of two lovers who care for another and enjoy the fruit’s of all forms of love, but it is a diathḗkē that was meant to drive one another towards staying when it was easier to leave. And this is so because Jesus stayed.

The marriage covenant was instituted to model to the watching world the kind of love that God has for humanity. When marriages break down, especially among Jesus followers, it is sending a message to the watching world that Jesus is good and loving, but he might not stay if I show all my junk to him… he may leave me. Marriage is a big deal, and it has a huge role in God’s story. The story of God begins with a marriage (Adam and Eve; Gen 1-2) and it ends with a marriage (Christ and the church; Rev. 19). All the marriages in between those historical moments matter, because they display the beauty and worth of Jesus to a world who has distorted beauty and has placed worth on short-lived items.

Marriage with Amy has been amazingly beautiful with many hard days mixed in between, mostly because of my stubborn heart. High highs, and low lows. There are many days I don’t even think about the covenant I made to her before God and man, but then there are other days where we both fall back on the covenant we made to each other and reflect on the reality that our marriage isn’t just about us, our happiness, and our desires. Marriage is about God, and it is meant to display his radical plan to prodigally love humanity. This is what keeps married partners in the game. If there’s anything else that takes priority over this, it won’t stand the test of time and suffering and sin. There are unfortunately times when leaving is necessary and I know many godly people who have left marriages for just and holy reasons (abuse, unfaithfulness, etc), but this post isn’t about the exceptions and this was not God’s plan in his story.

I’m in love with my wife and have loved being married for 15 years with her, and having her be my lady for the past 18 years. I have been sharpened and blessed by her in ways that are unexplainable, and feel like we are only now at the starting line of life together. Holding fast to the covenant God made with us and to the covenant Amy and I made to each other is a way of adding grace to our marriage and produces more love, more joy, and more years together without the devastation of splintered relationships.

If you have been divorced, this post is not to put you down or to make feel less than, I simply wanted to honor the true meaning of a marriage covenant. God is a God of grace and redemption, and divorce isn’t the unforgivable sin as some fanatics make it out to be, but it does matter and we need to continue to pray for marriages and the display they have in our culture.

Here’s the another quince años Amy Skeens!

Hating God

The book of 1 John is a book written not from the hand of a systematic theologian, but from a seeming creative artist with words who knew Jesus intimately and lived out his passion to teach others to encounter the same Lord he did. One verse in particular sticks out to me in 1 John that always ruffles my feathers is 4:20-21:

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

What is Johnny saying here? This is a strong sentence. At first glance I sense that Johnny is saying, “Love for your brother has no bounds because it is not driven or tainted by fear of man, or what man thinks. It is a pure love that can’t be contained… love unleashed… explosive love!”

So I ask myself, “How do we get to that place of unleashed, explosive love?” Many of us have experienced the new birth in Christ and yet we are struggling to love one another (we are not doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly among our enemies). We are often times fake, we gossip, we hold grudges, we judge, we build up walls to dodge, we dismiss, and we elevate ourselves over each other and over other beliefs, we fear being found out, we run from intimacy and protect ourselves from good people.

Dan Allender in his book Bold Love (1992) writes this: “Is it possible to love and hate at the same moment? Even more important, is it possible to hate someone so deeply that love is obscured–to a point of being a functional non-entity (existence)? If that is possible in our relationships with one another, could a regenerate heart have even love for God crowded out by self-interest, fear of others, anger, rebellion, and hatred? I believe that it is not only possible, but the very reason why most of us love so poorly.”

Allender is leading us to think more deeply and critically of ourselves and stop defending our goodness. Believer, Jesus defends your goodness! We must ask ourselves questions like this: Why am I an amateur lover? Why does forgiveness at times mean so little to me? Why do I harbor negative feelings towards someone and never seek reconciliation with them? How can I see brokenness and not give my life to helping those I know who are broken?

We do these things not because we are wicked people who love to hate, but because we are humans who still struggle with sin, and will always battle with this until we are with the new creation is a reality. For now, this is our reality. We need not try to seek our defense.
As sinners, even re-born ones, our hearts are either directed towards God in a loving, thankful, and worshipful way, or we are directed towards God in an angry, self-justifying, and self-loving way. Paul understands the battle of the believer to be one of a desire to do good (submit to the Spirit), and a desire to do evil (gratify the flesh) (Rom. 8:5-8). This war takes place in the same heart, often times at the same time, in every person!

This hatred in our hearts is often quiet, dormant, and masked. “How could I hate God? I mean come on, I love and follow Jesus!” But what we neglect to see at times because of our fear of judgement, is that we make decisions daily that show our neglect of God, and if we treated a friend that way, it would be hateful behavior.

Hatred of God and others in our lives is usually labeled as something more digestible to  our senses. We often dumb down the reality of our depravity and our sin against God and others, which makes the good news of Jesus seem only mildly pleasant to us, and the effects aren’t fully experienced either. We must be honest with where and who we are and allow the new birth to take it’s full effect.

And this honesty begins with being silenced by the gravity of our condition. God is love, we are not! Silence, not defense, is required for deep change to occur. When we become silent, and stop defending and fighting for our own goodness, we can look God in His eyes and discover His response, which 1 John 4:20-21 teaches us, that God’s response to His honest children is one of love, acceptance, and presence, not fear, torment and loneliness. It is at the place brokenness and honesty where we catch a glimpse of the love that the Father has for us.

To the degree that the view of Jesus dying for your sins stuns you into silence, will be the degree that you will be able to love God and love people. This is because God’s disruptive and scandalous response to our sin and hatred transforms rage into gratitude, deadness into life, ashes into beauty, dried up steams into rivers of living water. You were made to love, but to love the way you were created to, you must encounter the love of the Father.