CCDA and the Ethos of Love


CCDA. It stands for Christian Community Development Association. It’s a one-of-a-kind association, at least from what I’m aware of. It’s odd how you can be one member among thousands and yet feel a sense of being at home, a sense of belonging. It’s an association birthed from pain, struggle, injustice, and a desire for Jesus to show up in the midst of it all, which is Jesus’ specialty. 

Maybe the feeling of being at home and belonging is real because there is solidarity in the struggle, or at least for those willing to be honest with the struggle. It’s like folks who are in war together, taking cover in the trenches, knowing that they are radically different in many ways, yet family, willing to take the next bullet if it means protecting them as they run across the battlefield to tend to a dying sister. When you’re in the trenches, you don’t have time to ask your comrade whether or not they see the Bible as inerrant, inspired, authoritative, or not. It’s in the trenches where you don’t have time to make sure your convictions line up exactly so that you can be sure your tribe would approve of your partnership. No. When there’s war, we partner with everyone who’s pointing towards the end goal.  

I’ve been a part of other associations where partners would be in the trenches together and would start arguing about the gifts of the spirit: “I can’t cover you bro if you believe in speaking in tongues,” or “Get out of my trench with your Arminianism!” Believe me, I understand the importance of right belief and how that can shape a culture or a people group. But I also believe that there is a higher law within the Christian doctrine, that supersedes all other laws, and it’s the law of love. The command to love one another is soaked with messages of acceptance and patience and long-suffering. The command of love is saturated with an ethos of belonging that precedes right belief or acceptable behavior. 

It’s precisely this higher law of love that has permeated the CCDA culture, which creates an ethos of radical love, that looks to many within various Christian tribes like a move away from the gospel and “good doctrine.” I believe it is the willingness to associate with the margins that makes one become labeled by another tribe as “on the slippery slope” or “walking the line of orthodoxy,” but are we called to make our tribe feel at ease with our doctrine, or to love without abandon? Love trumps all (no pun intended), and I don’t believe this is a cop out answer, even as I know the understanding of love has been watered down and chopped up as something that is overly sentimental or an acceptance of anything regardless the consequence. I’ll camp out in the “Love trumps all” camp and let the power and culture of love defend itself. 

I say all this because it’s been three years since I’ve been to a CCDA conference and joining my friends from Phoenix and from around the nation was a homecoming again, a homecoming of radical love and acceptance of a diverse people who have given their lives to presence themselves among brokenness. Even though many were strangers and new friends to me, I still felt at home. I was encouraged, I wept with others who wept, and wept for the pain of my family and others. I felt completely full in some ways, and completely poured out in other ways, and it was still good.

Isn’t this what we are all longing for, to go home, maybe for some of us to find home for the first time, ever! But once we’re home, we are received and valued and honored and loved for who we are. Men and women and children working and partnering together, sharing gifts, not holding title or rank over another, and when it does happen, there is confession and tears and forgiveness. This is a picture of a healthy family. It’s what Jesus offers us when we were far from home and lost. He comes to us, as homeless strangers, and says, ” You belong with me… this is your home. I see you. I see your pain and loss. I understand you sense of homelessness. I know your longing and see your shortcomings, and I want to be with you.” 

Belonging! Belonging precedes right belief or behavior. This is Our God, and this is our call to love one another as well. It’s diversity not for diversity’s sake, but for loves sake. It’s a messy call that will make you a heretic to many, but a saint in God’s eyes. This is what family is like at CCDA. This ethos will be part of the change we truly are longing for, which also means it’s the ethos that will birth in its people a divine patience for others who would disagree with this way of life. We truly all need each other, more than we’ll ever fully know. 

The Tension

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Life is full of irony. Sometimes it’s a light-hearted, funny irony, and at others times it’s an irony that causes you to enter the tension. We want to be successful in business, but for many it comes at the cost of a healthy family life. We long and fight for justice, yet many products we buy are unjustly produced. We long to eat healthy, yet most of the “good” tasting food is full of sugar, fat, and grease (at least for my taste buds!). We want to be unified, yet we have this pull to label, box in, and identity on a certain side. We want to serve the poor, but when we do, we often realize it’s we who are being served. We pray for answers, but when the answers come, they aren’t what we’re looking for, so we miss it. We hate racism, but when we truly address it we can’t deny the small (or large) seeds of racism in ourselves. Our children are living in relative comfort, while other children are rocked by a bomb, sitting alone and bloody, scared, confused (I guess this isn’t irony as much as tragic disparity). As Christians we brag about being servants of Christ, but when we’re treated like a servant, we become angry and feel entitled to better treatment (again, this is at least true with me…) Irony, yes. Irony that produces tension.
Tension: the state of being stretched tight. These issues, when exposed to us, seem to stretch us tight, create discomfort, and the tension sets in. “What do we do with this?” Most of the time, the easiest answer is to find a way to relieve the tension, so we run to one side of the issue and neglect the other side. Problem solved. Until the next issue arises, and if we’re honest with ourselves, these tense issues rear their ugly heads every day. We can’t run from the tension, but we can deny it, numb ourselves from it, remain ignorant. We can… but could it be that these are the very things that destroy our souls. 
This is why Jesus constantly drove people into the tension. Time and time again when asked questions like, “What’s the greatest commandment?” “Who’s my neighbor?” “Do we pay taxes or not?” “How do you inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answers created tension. He didn’t give a pass to those looking for a quick way out or a quick answer through a doctrinal loophole. He pressed them to be honest, to live in to the tension of honesty, self-reflection, humility, sacrifice; to die to the habits that were killing them, and oppressing others. 
Most of the answers we are looking for in life, aren’t easy ones, or else we would’ve found answers already. And most of the time, the partial answer is mysterious and left open ended. It’s in this place of tension, where we can’t fall back on programmed responses. It’s here that we are thrown into the depths of our desires, our beliefs, and we are left to wrestle with who we truly are. Are we going to live in to the mystery, the tension, and trust that we aren’t the ones holding all things/all beliefs together? Are we going to allow the process of unknowing to shape us into a people who truly know the one who does hold it all together, at the cost (or risk) of being labeled by your own tribe as “going off the deep end,” according to your tribe’s standard, or are we going to settle, run to one side of the camp, and stake our flag on the “right” side. 
It’s in the tension where we have the opportunity to become properly tuned. Jon Foreman gives a great metaphor for tension, likening it to guitar strings that are strung tight enough to hold a tune. It’s in the tension where we play on tune. Strung too tight, we bust. Not strung tight enough, we make awful noises. If you have honest friends around you who aren’t just a fan of yours, they’ll tell you when you’re  about to bust, or if you sound horrible. When you are offended by a friend or acquaintance, you are then offered the gift of tension. Who are you going to choose to be? Are you going to run to one side and stake your flag, or will you live in to the tension of teachableness, humility? This is all too convicting for me, even as I write this. 
Right now, in this season, we have a great opportunity to live in to the tension of life without running to one side or the other, claiming the other side as demons, or wrong, or lost. I confess, I’ve done plenty of flag staking, and I am not proud of it, and neither has it produced any beautiful lovely sounding music. It won’t, because it’s not tuned. Today, we have opportunities to embrace the beauty of mystery and unknowing. To admit we’re not the ones holding it all together (or to admit that our country or tribe isn’t the one holding all things together). 
Jesus constantly broke the mold of what was right, and I’m convinced followers of Jesus are called to live in to the same ethos, to passionately stand in the middle, confidently living in mystery and certainty. Embracing the tension in our own lives first, then embracing others who are struggling to find the confidence to stand where it hurts as well.
The glory of God is revealed through a broken man. Tension. 
The cross, the greatest act of love. Tension. 
The tomb becomes a womb. Tension. 
Beauty is found in death. Tension. 
Ashes produce life. Tension. 
The way up is down. Tension. 
The way to access power is to give up power. Tension. 
To become the greatest, you must become a servant of all. Tension. 
Gain life by losing your life. Tension. 
“With that in mind, I feel like dying to myself is a daily task necessary for true abundant life.” Jon Foreman

For Revolutionaries and Visionaries Only

One of the gifts I’ve been given from the construction world is that I understand it takes time to create something beautiful. And that ‘time’ includes lots hard work, sweat, many mistakes, sometimes broken bones, blood, busted budgets, mental toughness to keep the vision in mind when all you see is a mess, and the willingness to keep at it, to do it the right when things get difficult, and not cut corners. I have many terrible stories of what cutting corners does in the construction world… just go out to a new housing suburb and ask a homeowner what issues they have with their “new” home. Good work, beautiful work, takes time and commitment to do things right.

With many jobs I work on, there is demolition that has to happen before we can start actually ‘building.’ Whether it’s digging the footer for a stem wall that is going to hold the bearing load of a building, jackhammering out old concrete and rebar to build something more functional or more aesthetically pleasing, or tearing out walls, ceiling or floors for a remodel. The homes or buildings where demo takes place becomes a dusty mess, full of hazards and is in need of strong labors to tear out and haul off all the junk that is no longer necessary.

It takes this…

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To get to this…

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Or this…

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To get this…

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In life, this struggle is the same. We all want the beauty without the work. We want the resurrected life without the death. We want healing but not the pain. We want the finished product, but not the long journey of demolition and clean up to get to the point where you can actually start building again. We want to live in peace, and run from disorder. We want to ignore what’s broken. We want to cut corners. This is a human desire. I don’t know anyone, who in their right mind, loves pain and waiting a long time for things to become whole. But not loving these things does not mean we can dodge them and expect the beauty we long for.

You see, this work is hard because if forces us to deal with that which we are afraid of: exposure of our shame, ignored trauma and loss, an invitation to grieve, asking others to help us haul off the junk that’s been demolished… This work is hard because it invites us into the truth of the way things really are, and to ‘willingly’ move into our shame and grief seems like a death wish at worst, and stupid at best.

But it is precisely the digging into the shame and moving into the grief that is what creates the beauty. It’s the asking for help and recruiting strong laborers to help with the heavy lifting. But remember, it’s the ashes covered over the forest floor that brings about a plush forest in years to come. It’s the work of sitting in your pain long enough to die to the old ways that have kept you numb isolated, and without passion and intimacy for years. Death must be at work within us for beauty to ever surface in the purest sense.

So here’s to the hard work of creating beauty when there is no clear vision of what it will look like once we get there. Here’s to sitting in our pain (not completely on our own though) long enough to die, and in the tomb of grief, in time, it will turn into a womb. And once again, you will be invited into the pain as you will labor to give birth to the hidden beauty waiting to be revealed.

This is an invitation for the revolutionary, the visionary, the one who is not happy with the way things have been, for those who are not willing to cut corners, and move past the comments that are meant to keep you from feeling and dealing with what’s really going on under the slab. May this encourage you today to stay the course, and as Mumford and Sons puts it, to not succumb when the world is wrapping round your neck. Find your broad-shouldered beasts and invite them in to your shame and grief to share to weight and pain of this journey towards beauty.

Deaths and Resurrections

The narratives of life are many and messy most of the time and they follow certain story lines. Two of the most dominant parts of any narrative are the deaths that take place and then the resurrections that happen thereafter. This is what we pay for when we go see movies, these plot lines that ultimately take us to the point of death or near death, and then we get to see the story turn and a type of resurrection happens. Deaths and resurrections.

From a Christian worldview (at least ‘Christian’ in the sense of those who actually follow Jesus) we know that this theme is birthed from within us, that is, we all have this longing to be resurrected from a death, a loss, from pain. And within this same worldview we know that this longing is actualized in what Christ Jesus did for all of us, when we were still his enemies. Jesus’ death and resurrection secure reconciliation for those who trust in Christ, but it also gives purpose and meaning to various forms a sufferings, deaths, as the ultimate purpose in life isn’t to dodge pain, but to be resurrected and reconciled to the truest source of life out of our pain, the life of life, Jesus.

But on this side of redemption, it seems that there too few resurrections and too many deaths. Yes, I can hear the cliche Christianese response say, “But death where is your victory, death where is your sting!” And to that I’d say, that phrase isn’t completely true until the final days when Christ returns and the final resurrection of the dead takes place. This Christianese response has pervaded Christian religious mumbo jumbo so much that we live in a culture that has numbed ourselves from truly dying (or feeling the sting of death, or at least giving acknowledgement to it) that our resurrections are weak and fabrcarted with emotions and words, false lights, void of power and transformation that comes from the life of life.

Today, I feel death all around me and I’m grateful for friends who know how to face the reality of death and grieve properly so when the resurrection actually comes, it’s real and tangible, and Jesus’ life and presence are more beautiful than they were before. Life sucks at times and brings you to the point of death, indeed it will even kill us in more ways that just physical death. But when the life of life shows up, the life that didn’t just shine light into our darkness, but the life that shined light out from the darkness our darkness. It’s then that we realized that Jesus sits with us in our pain and loss and deaths, and offers a life that life is really all about.

The life of life, shining the light of all lights out of dark backgrounds so that we can actually see him, because when fabricated lights are always around us, we lose the dark backdrop that allows us to see Jesus on this side of redemtpion. Deaths are many today, and resurrections are few and far between, but I live in the hope of the true resurrection that it will not always be that way. That good will win, evil will be destroyed forever, Satan and all those who prey on the weak will reap their pay in full, and that all that has been lost will be recovered through the resurrection. This narrative I so utterly believe in and long for when it’s complete.

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Edge of My Seat

Track four on the Legend of Chin album is entitled, “Edge of My Seat”. Are you sitting on the edge of yours? If not, sit down, get on the edge, and read on:

Nothing more
That there’s nothing more
Nothing more
That there’s nothing more

Nothing here’s the same, it’s all a dream
Life on the movie screen
And I’m sitting on the edge of my seat

I can’t tell what happens next,
Just what I’ve seen
I don’t know what it means
But I’m holding on the edge of my seat

‘Cause I can’t forget your name,
Forget your name
Yeah I can’t forget you now
I know I can’t forget you, girl

I promise
Sit back buckle in and hold on tight
A roller coaster ride
And I’m holding on the edge of my seat

And I can’t know for sure
‘Cause I just landed on your shore
But I think you got nothing but another thing coming
If you think there’s nothing more
That there’s nothing more

At first glance, this seems to be an aimless song about being in love with a girl, and being excited about what happens next. And indeed, it may be, but we have to read (and listen) to the song in the context it was written (Jon was 20ish and dropping out of first year of college or so…). In this stage of life, there’s always much excitement mixed with other intense feelings and questions about life.

In the ripe young age of 20, the idealistic life (for most Westerners) seems promising and exciting. The chance to make of yourself what you’ve always longed to be, whether it be totally opposite of the way you were raised. The chance to establish you’re own values, pursue your own dreams and not some other adults dreams. The adventure of figuring out what it’s like to love and live. It’s a season of living on the edge of your seat. What’s next? Will it be like “life on the movie screen”? Will it be better, or worse?

I take from this song, especially at the end of it when it says, “And I can’t know for sure, ‘Cause I just landed on your shore, But I think you got nothing but another thing coming, If you think there’s nothing more, That there’s nothing more”, that there’s a cry out to those who think, at a young age, that there’s nothing more; not much to live for. To me, it’s a plea for the young apathetic guy/gal to hang in there, to realize that no matter what their story has been up to this point, that they just arrived on the shore of life, and there’s much more to be found in life.

So I say to the one who’s giving up, or is on the verge of giving up, “Keep hope alive, don’t give up, I promise, there’s more to this life. Stay on the edge of your seat!”

The Hope of HopeFest

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This is Danielle. She was the first person in line for dental assistance at Hope Fest this past weekend. Hope Fest opened it’s doors at 9am on Saturday morning, and Danielle came at 3pm Friday afternoon. She was so excited to have made it on time to be able to get help; it was advertised as “first come, first serve”. I had a chance to sit with her for a while and she began to share with me about her pains and anxieties of life that make her feel that there isn’t much hope. I was able to share with her some of my pains and anxieties of life as well. She shed some tears of pain and joy, joy of being heard and understood, feelings of solidarity. When I took this picture, she told me she hated her smile, but I said, “Non-sense, you have a beautiful smile. I’m glad you’re here Danielle. It’s not a coincidence that you’re feeling hopeless and you’re in line at Hope Fest.” She smiled, cried, and said, “I guess you’re right. I didn’t think about that.”

The next day, I was walking around the plaza area in front of Chase Field and she tapped me on my shoulder and said, “Hey, thanks for everything”, then she gave me a big hug. I didn’t do anything other than share with her that there’s hope and that she’s valuable. It was very cool to see her physical countenance be so drastically different than the day before. She got the dental help she needed, pain has subsided, she got a haircut, and some pretty cool face painting. Here’s Danielle after experiencing hope in the midst of hopelessness.

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This is what Hope Fest is all about. Thousands of Danielle’s experienced a glimpse of hope, and for at least a day, they felt that life wasn’t too heavy to keep moving forward. Today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next… we will all continue to have opportunities that Hope Fest afforded us to offer friendship, resources, affirmation, loving words that battle shameful thoughts, etc… Hope Fest inspires us to live a life that offers hope in the midst of hopelessness, and not wait for once a year events to offer what Christ offers us every day.

 

A Functional Mess

That day when you get up and you move past the memories of reality for the day, telling yourself, “I’m okay. I’ve just got to get some coffee and I’ll feel better.” Or the day when anxiety sets in and you aren’t sure how you are going to get through the day with all the people who “need” things from you, be it small children, people at work, or close friends and family. Yah, that kind of day. I’m not sure what to call those days, but it seems that, if you were to “sit” in those feelings of pain and anxiety, you may not make it, so you move on, functionally at least, but like all the popular shows these days with zombies, you’re a walking dead person, numb to life, with limbs (figuratively speaking) falling off your body, “But you’re okay, because you’re functional, not like that one person from church who has fallen a part and needs a support group to survive.” You’re a functional mess.

I’ve been a pastor for almost 7 years, and I was a Young Life leader for 10 years in central Phoenix. Most of the years that I have served in ministry, I have been a functional mess, feeling like “I’m okay”, because “I’m not like that guy who I just met with. Poor guy, he’s really got to get his act together.” But inside the whole time, I knew I was just as messy, I was just better at playing the “I’m okay script” than he was.

I am very aware that this observation may just be mine, from my small world of experiences, and I know full well that there are totally different experiences, but indulge with me for a moment in this observation from life. There’s seems to be an unwritten code in many “Christian” circles that having seasons of honesty about the complete mess you’re in, often results in a Christian responding in one of these ways:

Panic and fear over what you’re going through, because you’ve been the “strong one”;
Words of encouragement to pull you “out of the pit” and left with an Old Testament verse that claims a promise that was given to exiles in Israel, then a follow up call the next day or two to see if the verse worked;

Being dodged and not addressing the pain or suffering that has caused the messy season;
Superficial engagement that acts like you never mentioned anything messy, and many people wanting you to just move on and get better. I know there are more, but these seem to be what I’ve observed in over 17 years of ministry alongside other Christians.

Now, I say these without a harsh tone, but still with an honest one, with an honest pursuit of wanting unpack the reason why it seems that many Christians (myself included on many points over the last 17 years) seem to be worse at walking through deep pain and suffering than friends that many people have who aren’t Christians. I say that comment, because it has been true many times in my experience, as well as having heard this from many a people from the inside. There seems to be confusion on what it means to truly grieve and feel pain so that you can process it, work through your junk, and really get healthy, and what it means to claim the promises of God that you are a new creation.

Maybe it’s that many of us feel that if we let on that we are really the mess that we feel we are on the inside, then our peers and those we lead might “think” we don’t believe God’s promises, or that we might be giving room for the enemy to come in and deceive us, after all, “We are children of God, brothers in the line of Jesus, co-heirs to the kingdom of heaven. With that title, I’m not supposed to feel this way.” This is all true, so in fear of acting like we don’t believe it, we pretend, we numb, we quote Scripture, but the functional mess continues and we never seem to get over the messy hump.

I guess the purpose of this blog is two-fold. One is confessional. I am confessing that I’m a functional mess and am cutting back all areas of life. I’ve gone too hard, trying to build God’s kingdom, and although I believe God has used me in many ways, I often try to build more than God’s given me the grace to build. My wife and I have also had an usually difficult season of life circumstances that have happened, and we are making changes in our life to cope, grieve, and heal in a healthy way, one of those ways, being this blog; transparency about where we are.

The second purpose of this post is to give someone who may read this, the freedom to feel again. My wife and I have been given the freedom by some friends to feel, even to the point of being uglier than we wanted to be, but none the less, we didn’t run from the reality. We didn’t anesthetize ourselves from the reality of our pain or suffering. This has brought much freedom and healing into our lives.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” This means yes, freedom to be free from sin, shame, condemnation, but free from pain and suffering? I don’t think that’s what Paul was saying here. Freedom to feel. Freedom to confess sin. Freedom to say, “I’m a mess!”, yet know that you’re radically accepted and loved. Freedom to sit with others in their pain and agony. Freedom to trip and fall. Freedom to doubt and ask questions. Freedom to say, “I don’t know what I’m doing or who I am.”

It’s my conviction that it’s at this place of honesty, when the Lord shows up in real, tangible ways, and Scripture goes from memorized, therapeutic verses that we hope work, to life changing truths that bring the presence of God Himself into the situation that we are in. This is the hope; “the presence of God in the face of Jesus”. I pray that some of you may receive this kind freedom and joy that comes from this kind of honesty. Until then, I am in the struggle with you, learning to find joy and peace in the midst of the mess.