From Slavery to Worship

The exodus of the Israelites is the great defining display of God’s (YaHWeH’s) power, love, and faithfulness. In the exodus, we learn more about God’s character and present and future plans than most stories throughout Scripture.

The song (or poem) found in Exodus 15, immediately after God delivered the Israelites from being crushed by Pharaoh’s army at the edge of the great sea, is acknowledged by most scholars to be one of the earliest poetic texts in the Old Testament. It celebrates YHWH bringing his people out of slavery and freeing them through the waters of the sea (a form of baptism if you will). This Song of Moses, and Miriam’s song at the end, show us YHWH’s character and mission that speak to the actual realities of the exodus, and foretell in a cryptic kind of way, the justice of YHWH in the end:

YHWH’s character and mission revealed through worship (Ex. 15:1-21):
YHWH is a warrior God (1-10; 14-16a) He exacts justice. He does not let the wicked go without punishment. He fights for the oppressed. He makes a mockery of world powers. He’s fierce towards his enemies, and gentle towards his people.

YHWH is an incomparable God (11-12) He keeps his promises. He has supreme power and wisdom. He leads the heavenly assemblies. He rules over the nations. He forgives sin and sets free sinners. There are no gods who oppose him.

YHWH is a redeeming God (13, 16b-17) His love (hesed) sacrificially buys his people back. YHWH is a redeemer: go’el; a Hb. word that refers to any member within a wider family who had the responsibility to protect the interests of the family or a specific member of the family who was in particular need. What’s unique about YHWH being referred at the go’el of his people, was that the go’el had the role to: 1) Avenge shed blood of family members (Numbers 35:12), 2) Buy back any land or slaves to keep them in the family (Leviticus 25), and 3) Provide an heir to preserve each family’s name (Story of Ruth and Boaz). Notice that YHWH as go’el is concerned with a home for his people.

v. 13b: you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
v. 17: You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.

The holy abode (sanctuary) and the mountain. The tabernacle and the promised land. The temple and Jerusalem. Jesus and the holy city. This is the progressive importance of the holy abode and the mountain. YHWH makes a home for his people where he is present with them, and he is preparing a home that will one day get rid of all that opposes him.

YHWH sees the homelessness of his people. Their ecological homelessness. Their social homelessness. Their physical homelessness. Their spiritual homelessness. He sees all the forms of homelessness, and through the exodus is shouting out loud to us, I’m bringing you HOME!!!

YHWH is the king (18) His throne, his kingdom, his home, will be the only ones that last forever. YHWH is king, and his rule will never end, which means what he builds will never end either.

YHWH is to be worshipped (21) The glory and beauty of his acts of redemption demand worship to him alone. He is the only one who can bear the glorious weight of worship. This is why man or other created things are not to be worshipped… they weren’t created to bear the weight of glory that comes with worship. We fold under the pressure of worship, YHWH shines!

As we have seen, the unique element about this story of the exodus is that it shows us God’s mission through his righteous character. Our mission as followers of Jesus is first God’s mission that he has invited us into, and the exodus depicts God’s mission in a way that makes our gospel much bigger and comprehensive than we could ever imagine.

But something else this song portrays is the justice that is to come. The question that rings in my ears and many other people’s ears as we read this is, “Does this kind of justice really exist? And if it did, maybe I should be the one who is drowned.”

This justice is real and at the cross, Jesus drowned all that opposes him, so that all who believe in him would stop opposing him and be freed from the waters of chaos and destruction. But not all will call on Jesus and be delivered, so there will be a day when all of Babylon (a metaphor in the book of Revelations for all that opposes God) will also be thrown into the sea and be destroyed forever (Revelation 18:1-21).

The great exodus and the crushing of the mightiest nation in the ancient days (Egypt) is a depiction and a promissory note to all of us who are longing for justice, that there will be a day, with no more tears, no more pain, where evil gets what it deserves, and we are delivered once and for all, safe and sound, HOME, with Jesus as our King and with bodies that will no longer sin or perish.

This great baptism in Exodus is a promise to you and I that evil and injustice never gets the last word. Take heart today in the midst of injustices everywhere, that your fight for justice today is not in vain, and is never going to go unnoticed, ultimately. In a day where systems are protected over people, governments oppress the masses, and terrorists threaten peace and safety, don’t forget that love alone is worth the fight.

Israel went from slavery to worship as justice rolled down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. This day is fully coming, but it has also already, but not yet fully, come in Christ. Jesus took what we deserved and gave us what he deserved. Today, justice in the courts of heaven can be a reality for you, as we wait for and fight for complete justice on earth.

So what does it mean for us today? It may mean something different to each of us, but I want to close with an excerpt from two friends who I am in fellowship with and do life with. I emailed them and asked them to give me their insight into the Song of Moses in Exodus 15, and here’s what they said this text means to them (us) today:

Philip: “I think it is a picture of how we should praise Jesus for his sacrifice. For his winning the fight for us, it means we no longer need to battle, if we lean on Jesus and put our faith in him the battle has already been won. The only thing left for us to do is to take out our tambourines and sing his praise and do this in a manner that everybody will join us. This seems so simple, too simple, but if we show our joy it will become infectious and others will want to know what is so awesome. This gives us the chance to share the good news.”

Annette: “We are to tell stories where we’ve doubted God and where we know He has rescued us.  We are to sing songs and dance all over the head of evil as we sing of God’s loving, victorious salvation.  We are to tell the stories we so often avoid telling because they are bloody and ugly and because there is no victory without loss.  War leaves behind causalities which breaks the heart of God and too ought to break our hearts.  We have to wear clothes of sorrow and desire for justice as we put on our dancing shoes and play our tambourines as we sing songs that tell the stories where even though we deserved death we have been given the gift of life.”

Praise Jesus.

Sing with tambourines.

Tell stories of our rescue.

Sing and dance over evils head.

Wear clothes of sorrow (don’t brush over our pain and loss in the midst of the battle)

Desire and fight for justice, because it’s coming, it will not delay.

A Night of Prayer and Worship

Nov 2 flyer. J17M For many centuries now there have been men and women praying for, weeping for, fighting for, even dying for the hope that one day, Christians who fill Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical churches across the globe would takes seriously again Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that those who call on the name of Jesus would be one, as much as we are able to on this side of redemption. This local movement is, I believe, a move of God that is happening worldwide as believers are responding to this prayer in a fresh new way.

There is much timidity for many believers on both sides to consider coming together with the “other side”. I invite all of those who are timid and fearful to come November 2nd, even with reservation and caution, to worship Jesus, and to pray with others who have the same mind and heart, to exalt Christ, and experience the reality that there is no “other side” with the body of Christ. The desire is to display the beauty and unity of Christ’s body and blood, as those who in the past, killed one another, are now praying and worshiping together. If you love the gospel, then you have to love reconciliation which is at the heart of the good news of Jesus. Consider joining many of us Sunday night, November 2nd, at the South Phoenix Kroc Center, 1375 E. Broadway Rd. Phoenix, AZ 85040; and please help us by getting the word out across the valley of the sun!

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: New Way to Be Human

IMG_0194

After Switchfoot’s first album, there was more attention around this young band, and another album was going to be only the beginning for this talented group of guys. In 1999 they came out with their second album “New Way To Be Human.” Their first song was the one that gave more meaning to the album title. Check it out here:

Everyday it’s the same thing
Another trend has begun
Hey kids, this might be the one

It’s a race to be noticed
And it’s leaving us numb
Hey kids, we can’t be the ones

With all of our fashion
We’re still incomplete
The God of redemption
Could break our routine

There’s a new way to be human
It’s nothing we’ve ever been
There’s a new way to be human
New way to be human

And where is our inspiration?
When all the heroes are gone
Hey kids, could we be the ones?

‘Cause nobody’s famous
And nobody’s fine
We all need forgiveness
We’re longing inside

There’s a new way to be human
It’s nothing we’ve ever been
There’s a new way to be human
It’s spreading under my skin
There’s a new way to be human
Where divinity blends
With a new way to be human
New way to be human

You’re throwing your love across
my impossible space
You’ve created me
Take me out of me into…

A new way to be human
To a new way to be human

You’re a new way to be human
Where my humanity bends
To a new way to be human
Redemption begins

You’re a new way to be human
You’re the only way to be human

This is a reset song for humanity. When life seems to be out control in so many ways, we need songs like this to confront our lifestyles; the way we seek comfort, the way we show concern for injustices but end up being handcuffed by fear and lack of passion to do anything about it, the way we naturalize the supernatural by trusting in science, medicine, and professionals more than the divine. We need a new way to be human, a new way of rediscovering the supernatural in our lives.

Every day it’s the same thing, another trend has begun; a trend that will change your life forever! What’s the next fad that will come and convince us we need it or else life will be dull and not worth living. Google Play seems to have done a great job, with their advertising video at least, as they have captured the heart of humanity through story and adventure:

I have to admit… I love this ad. The video was written and put together so well, it tugged at my heart strings and dipped into my passions and made me want to join those little girls shooting arrows at injustice; it’s portraying a new way to be human; passion, courage, fearlessness, love, hate, cry, feel pain. This Google Play ad teaches us about our humanity in such a beautiful way, that we long to feel and remember the good and fight against the bad, to make life count, to be on the side of justice and joy.

This is indeed what we were created for: life, beauty, adventure, justice, sacrifice, generosity, love, but many of us just like to watch the movie, read the book, or play the game. Allowing that passion and courage to manifest into action… a radically changed life… well, that’s just to radical and weird for most of us.

The end of Google’s ad gives us a glimpse into their ‘profit-driven-answer’ as to how the new way to be human ought to be: Go to “Google Play, and play your heart out.” “Get more apps and games. Watch more movies and listen to more music. This is truly living!”

Now, I’m not against good music and movies, I love them, A LOT… but they are not the way to life, and beauty, and adventure, and a new way to be human. They ultimately leave us empty and void of life. Try it… Play games all day, or look at Facebook and watch everyone else’s life that is better and happier than yours, and see how you feel after wards… it feels like one big race to be noticed as being happy, socially connected, with the best kids, the best church, the best life. When we see advertisement like this in our household, Mike Goheen has led us to repeat a family liturgy that responds to these bids of the good life by saying, “Who are you kidding!”

The digital social world looks so good, buying the next thing that advertisement says you need is disappointing when the newer fad comes out after it… the fall from the “high” is a big let down. This type of numbing so that we can live a happy life looks even better when the way to real life, at least what history has shown us is found in sacrifice, suffering, and courage. It’s much easier to feel good by watching a movie or buying a new app, but Jesus’ answer is radically different.

Allow me to speak on behalf of God for a moment, because Jesus demands to be heard in this conversation, for many reasons, but one especially from the gospel of Mark. In the opening chapter of Mark’s letter, Jesus utters the most spectacular announcement of all time: the kingdom of God is here! (Mark 1:15). But what’s even more spectacular is what happens after Jesus announces this spectacular statement, He displays what this statement means and looks like.

If we read through Mark’s letter about Jesus, we would see that He lives and teaches like no other religious leader ever has. Each miracle, every sermon, and all of his movements toward the poor and marginalized is calculated to beat back evil and restore creation to its Maker. The blind see. The deaf hear. The lame walk. The sick are healed. The social outcasts are socially restored. The untouchable are touched. The oppressed are freed. The oppressors are condemned.

Then at the end of Mark’s letter, we see that Jesus’ plan all along was to take all that was broken in the world, and absorb into himself. This means sin done against us, and sin we’ve done against others (and ourselves) is consumed by Christ, but it came at a high cost for Jesus. He became cursed by our cursings, and was rejected because of our reputation. Thankfully, Jesus being God made into a man, died, but death was like sleeping for Jesus, so he woke up after a few days, and when He did, he put to death the death of death and has now offered us, through his sacrifice, suffering, and courage, the greatest gift of all… the “Way” to true life, true beauty, true adventure, true justice, true generosity, true love; he created a new way to be human!

The point isn’t to hate on Google play or apps or movies. Buy them, have fun with them, watch them, enjoy them with friends and family, “play your heart out”, but don’t run to them to answer questions about life, or look to them to define beauty and sacrifice, or allow them to create a new way to be human. The cyber world wasn’t meant to be more real than your neighbor next to you, or your wife or kids.

By Jesus’ words and works of power, He is bringing the kingdom, the ultimate and most satisfying app on the market! You can’t buy it though… you must believe Him and then share Him with others, because He’s the ultimate flesh-satisfying and soul-defining gift to the world. Don’t play without Him! He’s the one who makes you a winner through losing your life.

This post is best summed up by the words of Mother Teresa and Gandalf:

not-all-of-us-can-do-great-things_-but-we-can-do-small-things-with-great-love_-mother-teresa

And the words of Gandalf encourage the same as he responds in Rivendale to Lorien’s question, “Why the halfling?”

“Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found it is the small things… everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I’m afraid and he gives me courage.” (From The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)

Stories and Disordered Sexual Passion

A World of Stories.001

Stories move us, especially when the body gets the deeper meaning of powerful stories. Stories hold deep meanings that can’t be explained, only caught at the gut level, and when you catch it, it changes you, body and mind. Nathan D. Mitchell says that “our bodies make our prayers” Meeting Mystery, 224). I believe that, because I can say whatever I want to you, I can pray the fanciest of prayers, and make it believable to you, but my body can’t lie like that. When I eat terrible food that friend has made, I can say to them, “Oh man, this is so good!”, but my body is screaming at me, “Get this out of me!”

In James K. A. Smith’s Volume 2 of Cultural Liturgies, Imagining the Kingdom, he introduces the word praktognosia (56), meaning “know-how,” or to get something intuitively, at the gut level. This is how passions and desires work. Our bodies desire things passionately, usually at non-cognitive levels, and they feel things in the same manner. “I understand in ways I don’t know, and it is my body that understands” (58). We get things many times because our body responds to it before our minds conceive of the meaning. Stories have that kind of power to affect (move emotionally) our desires and actions, intersecting our bodies and minds.

In many ways, we have become so accustomed to analytical, systematic, scientific methods of learning and communicating, that we have lost the art of telling stories that “move” us into action or necessary change. This is especially true in the Christian culture, when desires are disordered and destructive. Many times, our answer to someone whose desires have gone whack (insert all of humanity here!), we respond with an answer that is behavioral and does not address the heart of the desire. For example, when a young man confesses looking at pornography, we say, “Hey dude, you gotta be in Word more”, or “How’s your prayer life”, or “Call me each time you struggle with this and I’ll help hold you accountable.”

Now, I admit that those are not bad things to do, but the issue I take with many “Christianese” responses to sinful desires (particularly sexual desires) is our lack of addressing the desire, and redirecting our imaginations to greater desires, desires that actually give life, not destroy life. Some of my greatest triumphs over sexual temptations are because I’ve had friends redirect my desires, rather than trying to shut down my desires. Trying to shut down our passions and desires by starving them out is not what we were meant to do as humans. There is a time for abstinence, but it’s not the long term solution. Our desire must be changed.

When we shut down desires and passions, we are bound to break eventually, because God gave us strong desires and passions, but they have been disordered. Sexual desires are inherently good, when they are order properly and directed towards the right person. We need holy imaginations to consider that our desires for things we can’t have are actually not desires that will bring us the joy and “fun” we wanted to have. In this case, our desires are weak desires. C.S. Lewis puts it best on the first page of his short excerpt entitled, Weight of Glory:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We are indeed half-hearted creatures, with weak desires and imaginations that have been lost. We need a divine awakening of imagination. We need to be better story tellers, more transparent in our story telling, offering our passions through story, and imagining the good life through story. It is the story that captures our bodies, and our bodies know-how passions and desires work. When we capture our imaginations for goodness, our bodies know and our actions follow suit.

The body gets what the body wants. When we feed the body with corrupt desires and illicit imaginings, corruption and illicitness follows. When we feed the body with good desires and holy imaginings, goodness and holiness follows. Maybe our disordered culture of sexuality needs better story tellers of what the good life really is. It seems as if our pop culture has told better, more convincing stories than anyone else, using sex to sell, and making millions off of disordered desires.

It’s time we tell better stories. We should know (and deeply believe) after all these years, that pop-culture isn’t fooling anyone, as we can clearly see how it’s stories have contributed to miserable marriages, lonely people, and confused children, who continue to cope by jumping into and living out of the destructive story of pop-culture. Imagine with me for moment, that the good life is faithfulness to one spouse, great sex in the context of a committed marriage, staying when it was easier to leave (kind of like Jesus did on the cross for us), the joy of being true to yourself, and the dignity we can all offer men and women by not objectifying them. Wouldn’t that be a sweet world to live in!

Our desires don’t need to be ignored or buried, they need to be re-storied with the true story of the universe, the only story that holds the answer to the pitiful place we are in as humans; the story that we all praktognosia when properly heard or seen. The story of God re-gathering his family together and reordering this world to the way it was supposed to be. Imagine stories that were birthed from this story. Imagine stories that give contextual witness to the goodness of God’s plan. Imagine stories that re-framed respecting women as economically profitable, and giving dignity to our bodies a virtue more desired.

What stories or imaginations have captured you either negatively or positively? Which stories have you believe in that are producing death in you? What stories are you telling to yourself? To others? It’s time we pay attention to the stories we are listening to and telling, and be better stewards of humanity and our sexuality, before we lose another generation to disordered sexual passions.

A Path Towards Urban Renewal: Wisdom

Peaceableness, justice, compassion, hospitality, simplicity, and community. Urban renewal can’t happen without these virtues, but there’s one last virtue that just may be what makes these other virtues stand out in a neighborhood or city. Wisdom. I am not talking about high IQ’s, scholasticism, or technological know-how. Instead, what I mean by wisdom is the ability to discern when and where peace, justice, compassion, hospitality, simplicity, and community are most needed and how to go about modeling these virtues without a patriarchal, paternalistic mindset.

The proverbs teach us that wisdom is a gift from God (Prov. 2:6), and I do agree with that, but I also believe that it’s something that is learned by those who are humble and teachable. Wisdom is also is known in the proverbs as insight, or understanding (Prov. 3:13, 19), and understanding comes when one is willing to listen and learn in a posture of humility, especially when God speaks, for respect and reverence of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). People who revere God will soon understand justice, compassion, etc.

In the book, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh state that “wisdom… is the ability to discern compassionate paths of justice and peace” (222). They conclude this because wisdom comes from God, and through wisdom God has created all things, and even worked out redemption for the brokenness of His creation, which as we learned in an earlier post, Jesus is the ultimate picture of compassion and justice wrapped up into one.

It’s God’s wisdom which is referred to as the master workman of creation (Prov. 8:30), and it was this same craftsman that saw the path towards renewal for creation as sacrificial and costly, something only His wisdom could know and understand. It’s God’s wisdom that understands the deep recesses of the human heart and the fragmented realities of the earth. It’s God’s wisdom that can restore bodies and souls, and it’s His wisdom that offers paths back towards God after we have burned all of our supposed bridges.

It is at this starting point that one can begin to possess the ability to be for all of creation in the fullest sense possible. Wisdom is needed to live an alternative life in the midst of a culture that rarely considers healthy limits. Wisdom is needed to stand against habits that have been acceptable to society, but destructive to the earth and humans. Wisdom is needed to navigate right living in the midst of competing philosophies and conflicting interests. It will also be wisdom that holds back unhelpful anger for those who are destructive towards shalom.

What wisdom can do for our generation is to begin teaching our leaders, policy makers, pastors, professors, bosses, and parents, how to think about what’s best not just for today, but for the next seven generations. Considering prosperity for the long-haul, even if we are not going to be immediately benefited by our decisions, is birthed out of wisdom, not folly.

We need more wise stewards of the earth and of people. We need an awakening of wise men and women who critically think through the issues of our day, and live in light of the next seven generations, and begin to live differently today. Wisdom gives us holy imaginations to consider what a city or neighborhood could look like if we took seriously the story we are called to live in; God’s story of redemption and renewal, for humans and for the whole earth.

Dr. Michael Goheen, a missiologist from Vancouver, Canada, whom I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with over the last few years, comprised an unpublished list (from a personal lecture/powerpoint) of what a community of faith could look if it took seriously it’s call to live in light of God’s redemptive and renewal narrative. I find this a fitting way to wrap up this series of posts about urban renewal with an imagination of what kingdom life could look like on earth, as it is in heaven:

It could be…
– a community of self-control and marital fidelity in a world saturated by sex.
– a community of truth (humble, bold, and loving) in world of uncertainty and suspicion.
– a community that knows God’s presence in a secular world.
– a community of generosity and “enough” in world of consumption.
– a community of forgiveness in a world of hatred, competition, violence, grudges, and revenge.
– a community of thankfulness in a world of entitlement.
– a community of God-worship in a world of narcissism.
– a community of sacrificial love in a world of selfishness and self-gratification.
– a community of wisdom in a world of proliferating knowledge and information technology.
– a community of humility in a world of arrogant self-interest.
– a community of patience in a world of immediate gratification.
– a community of compassion in a world numbed by overexposure to violence, tragedy and abuse.
– a community that uses language positively in a world of destructive communication.
– a community of joy in a world dominated by a frantic and hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.
– a community of depth in a culture of superficiality.
– a community of cheerful seriousness in a culture of triviality.
– a community committed to the important issues of our globe in a culture of apathy and indifference.
– a community of selflessness in a culture of self-absorption and entitlement.
– a community of joyful purpose in a culture “amusing ourselves to death.”
– a community of ecological and economic stewardship in a world that has been raped ecologically and economically.

A Path Towards Urban Renewal: Community

Urban renewal takes community. Now that’s a loaded phrase! The first question that comes to mind when I hear that is, “What in the world do you mean when you say ‘community’?” Everyone has a different idea of what community is, and for every idea of what community is, there are hundreds of different ways that each idea could be lived out.

So I am not going to give my opinion of my ideas of what community is supposed to look like; that task is impossible because of all the various contexts and cultures that exist. What I hope to do though, is to paint a mental ethos of community and lay a foundation of some of the earmarks of healthy communities.

Jean Vanier, a Catholic philosopher turned theologian, in 1964 founded a community called L’Arche in France. L’Arche communities are intentional places of living where those with intellectual disabilities are able to have a safe place to live and share life with others who have intellectual disabilities as well as those who do not.

A core ethos of L’Arche communities is for each community to display the “reality that persons with intellectual disabilities possess inherent qualities of welcome, wonderment, spirituality, and friendship.” They desire to explicitly display “the dignity of every human being by building inclusive communities of faith and friendship where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.” (from the web: http://www.larcheusa.org/)

So as to not reinvent the wheel, I want to use the inherent qualities L’Arche values as a means to lay a foundation or a framework for healthy communities which is a vital element of urban renewal.

Welcome: an instance or manner of greeting someone with pleasure and approval.

Greeting someone with love and warmth is an acquired gift, especially when we’re greeting someone who is radically different than we are, and possibly offensive in the way they live. Community takes a welcoming spirit. I was a Young Life leader for 10 years and have been associated with Young Life at an intimate level since 1994.

Young Life leaders (in my area at least) are some of the best welcomers I know. The spirit that Young Life exudes to kids in jr. and sr. high is one that is opposite of our every day culture. Mainstream culture (Christian and non-Christian) typically says, “You can belong to our group once you behave a certain way and believe what we believe.” Young Life flips that cultural script and says, “You belong with us regardless of your behavior and beliefs.” This is risky business, but I believe it’s the right kind of business to be about.

For community to work and be healthy, it must start with a welcoming spirit that says, “You belong here, even though there are big difference between us.” Belonging precedes behavior and belief.

Wonderment: a state of awed admiration or respect.

In the Christian, Judaic, and Sufi Islam worldviews, all humans have inherent value and worth because of the belief that we are all created in God’s image, which was later coined in it’s Latin form as the “Imago Dei.” When this doctrine is properly understood and fully believed, self-righteousness, biases, judgements, and racism will eventually all fade away, and we will begin celebrating the beauty of our differences.

Being thrilled about the gifts we bring to one another and respecting and valuing the differences of ourselves and other people is an essential element of healthy community. It is easy for us to be in a state of judgement and criticalness of each other, but to begin to be awed and amazed at the uniqueness and diversity of humanity is a part of every thriving community. Wonderment ought to follow welcoming.

Spirituality: matters concerning the human soul (heart, mind).

To respect and admire someone and not care about the deeper parts of the heart and mind (the soul), are to not fully love and respect someone. As much as we can talk about being a community of welcoming and wonderment, we must not neglect being a community who cares for souls. With that said, welcoming people and finding wonder in our diversity is not an invitation to turn a blind eye to unhealthy living and destructive behavior.

It is in caring for the spirituality of a person and a community where the deep parts of our hearts and minds are changed in the midst of a welcoming community of wonder. It is in this context where behaviors are not coerced to get in proper formation, but challenged to promote peace and welfare for the individual and the whole. Caring for someone’s healing (body and soul) begins to be a natural corrective part of healthy communities, but this is also where many offenses come in to play.

Healthy communities labor towards minds being renewed, which leads to destructive habits and thoughts being challenged in love, and proper accountability that seeks the welfare of souls, individually and corporately. This might be the hardest value to embody in community, but we must labor towards this end, as spiritual realities always affects material realities. Indeed, God has made the body and soul a beautiful unity.

Friendship: a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people.

There are many forms of friendship that we could talk about, but at the most basic level, I take friendship to be a place where relationships are rooted, meaning, they do not run away after conflict and disappointments ensue, and they always will. In our culture, where cars can take us far away from our neighborhoods and friendships, we have lost the sense of being rooted and sticking it out with friends when trials comes.

In the local church context, it is easy with the advent of cars to find a new church community when friends and leaders stop giving us what we want, or stop serving our needs seen only through the lens of what’s best for me. Friendship inside neighborhoods seem to be difficult as well, since walking to stores and appointments isn’t part of our culture either. We get into our hollow metal shells and drive past neighbors daily, and most of our friends live a cars drive away.

A lack of rootedness in a particular place has made many friendships a shallow, social media type friendship that can cut you off if you offend me, rather than a friendship that stays when things blow up. Friendship in healthy communities ought to include affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, selflessness, mutual submission, compassion, confrontation, and the ability to royally blow it without losing the friendship. Friendships both give and receive.

I believe urban renewal depends on healthy expressions of communities in particular places and neighborhoods. This is how fabrics of care can be created inside blighted hoods, as neighbors form communities to band together to care for one another and for the needs of the underserved. Renewal happens holistically, and until people know that there is a community to belong to, programs and organizations will not be able to have a sustainable impact in the urban core.

A Path Towards Urban Renewal: Simplicity

Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) is usually known for being one of the most powerful and influential Pope’s in Catholic church history, known for promoting and organizing crusades against Muslim rulers in Spain and in the Holy Land, and against heretics in southern France. This is not a great feat to be known for, but something about this Pope goes mostly unspoken of, is that he once had a vision.

During a meeting Pope Innocent III had with John Bernadone, he recounted this vision where the Lateran basilica (a basilica dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist) was almost ready to fall down. It is then that he saw this little poor man, small and scorned, who was holding up the church with his own back bent underneath it, so that it would not fall. “I’m sure,” said Pope Innocent III, “he is the one who will hold up Christ’s Church by what he does and what he teaches.”

This little man, dressed in rags, who lived a simple life, was the model of reform Christ had for His church in the 13th century, who was also known as St. Francis of Assisi. This simple man who lived a very simple and unassuming life style, established the Order of Friar’s Minor, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the 3rd Order of Saint Francis for men and women who weren’t able to live lives of being itinerant preachers, which was later followed by the Poor Clares. All of these orders serve Christ’s body in simple ways, devoting their lives to serving the poor, the sick, and the dying.

Now fast forward with me over 700 years, and meet a women named Agnes Bojaxhiu, who joined a Catholic order for women that was birthed because of the simple work St. Francis committed himself to. In 1928 Agnes left her home at the age of 18, and joined the Sisters of Loreto, never again to see her mother or sisters.

Agnes was a teacher, and a good one at that, but she became more and more disturbed by the poverty that surrounded her in new home town. When a famine came to her city, death and misery ensued, and violence broke out between Hindu’s and Muslim’s, leaving her city destitute, along with the people who lived there. This was the beginning of her next “calling within a call” to live simply, care for the sick, feed the poor, and befriend the dying as they await their last breath. All this was done in the name of Christ.

Years later, and throughout more than 120 countries, her work is living and active, and lives beyond her life. Agnes is also known as Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, and leaves a legacy of simplicity, with a passion to be Christ to the vulnerable, the sick, and the marginalized. Mother Teresa inspires us all to find a way to translate our spiritual beliefs into action in the world. How has one woman accomplished so much?

The Christian answer is “the power of God,” of course, but God’s power allowed this woman to live a simple, unassuming life, stripped of ego and desire for worldly gain, with a posture of humility and listening as she serve the poor, the sick, and the dying.

Simplicity. Through a very brief observation of two very popular Catholic saints whose legacy’s go far beyond their lives lived on earth, we learn that simplicity of life is a powerful tool in the hand of God to bring about great change in any generation. Names of men and women who had great power but used it for sordid gain, are men and women who you and I have likely never heard of. But saints who have lived simple lives, serving others and caring not about material gain, are known and spoken of worldwide as a model of Christ-likeness.

In this post, I am not advocating a movement towards poverty, and I know some will only see that in this post. What I am advocating is a life that is committed to living simply in the midst of some much ‘stuff’. The age of global advancement is among us with opportunities of great wealth and power, as well as the technology age that gives us access to so much information and opportunities to fill your time in front of a cyber-world-lit-screen.

Consumption is over the top in the West. The good economics of Capitalism has been exploited and used for selfish and evil purposes with seemingly no boundaries. In this unchecked system, life has become complicated and the power and wealth that was given to bless, has been turned inward. I see the simple life as a means for Christ to be truly seen and known in an increasingly complex life.

For urban renewal to be a reality in the midst of out-of-control globalization, lives of simplicity must rise up all over the world. In our cities, there must be those who commit to living simply; those who are committed to slow and patient discipleship that helps lead and develop men and women to be a holistically alternative community; those who are stepping out of the mainstream view of success, advancement, consumption, and individuality; those who take seriously Jesus’ call to follow him.

We must challenge our Western notion of what it looks like to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. To follow Jesus in a culture committed to over-consumption, individualism, financial success, and fast-paced everything, I believe it’s imperative for the simple life to be mainstream again, as people begin planting roots in particular neighborhoods, living radically different lives that are alternative to the Western story, and more in line with God’s story.