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. 

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Hope Fest… this Saturday!

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Hope Fest is among us. I wanted to take the time in this post to let you know about this city wide event if you don’t already. Now, if you know me, you know that I’m not a fan of “big Christian events”, but let me tell you why I love this event.

Hope Fest Phoenix (brought to us by CityServeAZ) connects our city, in my opinion, more than any other event out there. The passion and commitment of Hope Fest is this:

“To meet the immediate needs of our uninsured, underinsured and underserved neighbors, and then connect them to resources that facilitate long-term solutions, independence and stability. Through a collaboration of helping agencies, organizations and individuals thousands of people receive FREE medical, dental, vision, food, housing, haircuts, clothing, personal care products, employment services, child safety needs and so much more.”

This happens on one day, but impacts lives forever. The personal testimonies I’ve seen and heard first hand from those who have had life changes and opportunities from this event is one big reason why I love this event. I also love this event because it brings together major institutions, businesses, civic leaders, non-profits, and churches who work together, collaborate, and share resources for the sake of the poor… have you ever seen such city-wide collaboration for the poor?

This smells like good news. The poor are served and given opportunities for advancement, they get connected to local churches and other resources to help them on their journey, and fresh new look at the body of Christ in Phoenix is seen and experienced… and the good part of it is this; it’s not done in the traditional American Christianese kind-of-way. They don’t have to sit and listen to sermon before they are fed or receive services. The sermon is experienced. Christ becomes tangible, and believe Christ is overjoyed because of it.

I want to put in the spotlight two people who have committed and sacrificed time and resources to make this happen year after year so we can be sure to pray for them this week as they carry the weight of this event (and to be sure, there are many others to be honored as well who carry a huge load for this event):

Meet Terrilyn Miller and Billy Thrall:

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To help support them and their ministry at City Serve, click here!

Thanks Terrilyn and Billy for all you do and thanks to the over 2400 volunteers, 150 service providers, the Department of Economic Security in AZ for your huge partnership and commitment to this event, and to all those who financially and relationally help make this happen.

Why World Vision Is Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages

Before you read on, read the original article here: Christianity Today News. Please read it before you point the finger, and understand that I am not endorsing same-sex marriages, but I am fighting for Christians to think beyond a single issue and think and live holistically according to the gospel.

Whether you agree with their decision or not, you can’t say their heart isn’t for the gospel to be known among the poor around the world. If you indeed read the whole article, and didn’t spot read it to try and prove why they’re wrong, you will hear World Vision clearly hold their convictions of being a Christian non-profit organization who is willing to partner with many people they disagree with for the sake of caring for the poor, and unity among the body of Christ. If World Vision’s stance makes us more angry than the Western church’s lack of financial generosity (American Christian giving adds up to around 2% of our incomes), then maybe we have been pointing fingers too long and have forgotten the weightier things of the Lord:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.” Isaiah 58:6–12

God, take away from among us the pointing of the finger; make us strong watered gardens as we rebuild ancient ruins and raise up generations who have been forgotten and neglected. To you oh Lord be the glory, and to the earth shalom (peace with justice), to the church courage, and to our cities hope!

The Refuge Coffee and Wine Bar (a place of justice!)

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The Refuge Café is a Catholic Charities business venture that is providing much-needed funding to nonprofit organizations throughout the Valley. Catholic Charities is committed to the poor, and over the years state funding has dwindled, so they took the initiative to be creative and find more ways of funding justice. They’re a neighborhood coffee shop and wine bar at 4727 N 7th Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85013 (On 7th Ave. just south of Camelback). Inside The Refuge Café you’ll see hand-crafted art made mostly by refugees from around the world, as well as handmade purses, jewelry, artwork, and sculptures for sale for the antiquers out there. For the “coffee-shop-office-type”, they do have free WiFi and sofa chairs!

But the real sale of this place is that with every cup of coffee, every plate of food, every late night drink, or hand-crafted item you by, you’re helping local charities serve the poor. Good food, private label coffee (“Café Esperanza”) and end of the day drinks, for the sake of benefiting the poor in the community… what are you waiting for? Go there today, don’t complain about how much it costs you consumer you, and let your friends know about this justice spot!

Rich Christians

The controversial and overly criticized Ron Sider, author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger says in his book, “Do you know how long it would take to improve the lot of the poorest one billion by 50%–using just 1% of global ‘Christians’ income? Less than one year!” He goes on to say, “In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people living in the richest nations had 30 times more than the poorest 20%. B 1997, the richest had 74 times as much. But the percentage of their giving had dropped dramatically.”

This always ruffles feathers, and it always gets a few voices stirring that begin to say, “This is not helping the church to bring up shortcoming this large”; or “Stop being so critical”, etc. This is not intended to be a divisive or mean spirited post, it’s simply to continue putting out in front of us what is going on everywhere, we just don’t always see it or acknowledge it. The reality we are in is that Christian and non-Christian financial giving towards charity is very similar, around 2% of gross income.

Just saying, we need to be challenged a little bit and continue to ask what we are called to in this journey of doing justice and loving mercy. I’m certainly always challenged when confronted with realities like these, especially because I am one of the rich Christians in an age of hunger. Who’s up for being challenged this year to live radically different for the sake of displaying our great King?

 

 

 

 

 

An Invitation to Suffering

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“An Invitation to Suffering” is a short essay by Bob Lupton from his book, Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America. Bob has had a profound impact on my life as he freely shares his woes and joys of inner-city life and ministry for over 40 years in a very challenging and transparent way:

I do not like pain. Not in any form. Loneliness, sickness (my own or another’s), anxiety, frustration, disappointment, hurt–these are not the companions with which I choose to share my life. I actively avoid them. I buy drugs from the pharmacist to shield me from physical pain. I surround myself with people like myself who dispel my loneliness and reassure me that I am OK. I control my contacts with people who take more than they can give. I schedule my days to eliminate disruptions and to accomplish the things I think significant or pleasurable. A theology of abundance,  peace, and health has enormous appeal for me.

Recently, I witnessed a small act in the drama of city live that both moved and troubled me deeply. It was a familiar situation. A family with three small children was evicted again for nonpayment of rent.  Their ritual “put me up for just tonight” had been used too often. With no money for bargaining, the only place they could find to stay was a front porch. The father slept under a bush. Although I was quite unwilling to give them any more, I wondered what would become of them

Then an unbelievable but predictable event occurred. An unemployed brother whose own family was barely surviving took his evicted relatives in. Once again, it was those who could least afford extra mouths to feed and were already crowded to the point of eviction who found it in their hearts to help. Even more disturbing to me was the cost of caring: increased hunger; hot sleepless nights made even more uncomfortable by crying babies and wall-to-wall bodies; the stench of inadequate sanitation; short tempers; constant confusion.

This picture still burns in my mind. It is a haunting reminder of the energy I spend avoiding the cost of loving others. I establish an emergency fund instead of inviting hungry families to eat at my table.  I develop a housing program to avoid the turmoil of displaced families living in my home. I create employment projects that distance me from the aggravation of working with undisciplined people. As a counselor, I maintain detachment with a fifty-minute hour and an emphasis on client self-responsibility. And even as I share the gospel with the needy, I secretly hope that God will handle their problems.

Of course I don’t allow myself to think this way very often. I choose rather to concentrate on the positive things I am doing for people, the helpful things, right things. But when I am honest with myself, I must admit that I cannot fully care for one who is suffering without entering into his pain. The sick must be touched if they are to be healed. The weak myst be nourished, the wounded embraced. Care is the bigger part of the cure.

Yet I fear contagion. I fear my life will get out of control and I will be overshadowed by the urgent affairs of others. I fear for my family. I resist the Christ who beckons His followers to lay down their lives for each other. His talk of a yoke, a cross, of bearing one another’s burdens and giving one’s self away is not attractive to me. The implications of entering the world of suffering as a “Christ-one”, as yeast absorbed into the loaf of human need, are as terrifying as death itself. Yet this is the only way to life. The question is, will I choose life?”