Friday, December 17, 2010

Thank you Michael J Scott

I love the television show The Office.  Don't you?  So witty, so clever, so stink'n funny.
While watching, there's one thing I bet we can all agree on...don't take seriously or emulate anything Michael Scott ever says or does.  Right?  He's one of the most hilariously selfish, self-centered, prideful, insecure, and clueless characters on television.

Well, you might be surprised to hear...

I found myself in a situation a few weeks ago where I decided the right thing to do was to be like Michael Scott.  It was a WWMSD (what would michael scott do) moment.

Steve has been a member of our church for many years.  Throughout that entire time he has been a committed member of our Friendship Sunday school class (our class for families and individuals who are homeless, wrestling with addictions, in poverty, etc.  I call it our "church as it should be" class.)
Anyway, Steve had a climbing accident when he was in his early twenties that left the right side of his body paralyzed.  Talk about an inspirational story.  He still manages to drive, walk, and yes, even paint!

This is where I took advice from Michael Scott.  Remember the episode a few seasons back where Pam had her first art show?  Michael barely makes it in time and reacts to Pam's paintings like someone seeing a Picasso or Van Gogh for the first time.  He is floored and sincerely can't believe Pam is so talented. He then looks at the painting of their office building and with utmost sincerity asks her, "How much."  And Pam is equally as floored at thinking that anyone would pay money for her paintings.  She is filled with dignity, encouragement, and love as she reaches out to hug Michael (perhaps the only time she's ever initiated a hug with Michael).  Is the episode coming back to you?

A few weeks ago Steve came to class on Sunday morning with a painting in his hand.  I said, "What did you bring to class today, Steve?"  He said, "It's my latest oil painting.  It's our classroom."  Yes, he had painted a beautiful oil painting of the Sunday school room from the perspective of where he sits every Sunday.  Simply magnificent.  I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of the moment that of course I asked, "How much?"  I was disappointed when He said it was not for sale.  I then asked, "Well, can we put it up in our room?"  He smiled his incredibly sweet half-smile and said, "Yes, of course."

That week I framed it, and it is now hanging high in our classroom so all can see it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

FBC Norman Advent Devotional

Yes, one more.  I had the privilege of contributing to our church's advent devotional guide this year.  Today's thought is based on the well known Christmas song O Come, O Come Immanuel.
I hope it finds you where you are today.

Click here to read it

Thanks, everyone.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Popcorn and Nostalgia

I have said it before, and I'll say it again, "I love the people my work allows me to interact with."

A few Monday's ago a homeless man shows up at our church early in the afternoon.  He was about 6 feet tall, african american, in his late 40's, and as meek as anyone can be.  After a while we learned bits of each other's stories and I discovered he needed some warm clothes (being that he is sleeping outside).  We went to the clothing rooms in our church and he picked out a warm jacket and a long sleeve shirt.  I asked if he needed any food as well, and he stopped shuffling through the clothing rack and said, "no, but do you all have any popcorn?"  Out of all the things he could have responded with I thought it unlikely that he would a) turn down free food and b) instead, ask if we had popcorn.

I said, "No, I don't think so.  You a big fan of popcorn?"  He said, "Yeah, it's one of those feel-good foods for me.  My mom used to make the best popcorn over the stove."  He and I continued to chat about popcorn, how much we both loved it, and fond memories of family.

Everyone has a story.  Everyone.  Next time you see someone you think might be homeless say to yourself, "That person has a story just like me.  They have memories of popcorn and nostalgia just like me."  That is the first step in making the invisible of our society visible.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Buckner Advent Devotional

Many people have access to a devotional guide for the advent season.  Buckner (the non-profit out of Texas that collaborates with our church. publishes one every year and asks staff from every branch of the company and involved patrons to contribute writings.  I was impressed by how well it was designed and pulled-off this year.  I was given the opportunity to contribute to the selections and thought I would share it with everyone.

Click the title link below to read the advent devotional for November 29, 2010.

May we include the unincluded this holiday season.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Basket Building Party

Last night was a huge success!  And this is how I measure success for an event like our Thanksgiving Basket Building Party...

1) When people of different backgrounds, economic situations, and cultural upbringings come together and laugh, conversate, and smile.  That's success.

2) When everyone who comes leaves with something they did not have before (e.g. a Thanksgiving basket of food, a memory of joy, a heart that is warm from doing something unselfish for someone else).  That's success.

3) When the local body of believers in Christ comes together to offer two of the most valuable things in our society, money and time, freely to exemplify the free gift of grace that God offers his creation.  That's success.

Thanks to all who came, helped, gave food, gave time, gave money, gave smiles, etc. etc. etc.

Here are the beautiful and grateful words from our Community Ministry Committee chair, Lisa.

Dear Wonderful Volunteers,

Thank you for your hospitality and work on behalf of the First Thanksgiving Basket Building Party.  Many, many individuals left First Baptist Church last night with food and love for this holiday.  I talked to several individuals who wanted to know if FBC members were always this nice and gracious.  Isn't this one of the benefits we hoped would come from this event?   

If the children are happy, the adults will be happy.  North Hallock Hall was transformed into an exciting children's playroom.  I always believe if we can give the children a few hours of attention, fun, and relaxation, we have followed Jesus' directions to  minister to the most vulnerable.  The Beanie Babies were a huge success and unexpected treat.   What a sweet gift and reminder of this special evening for the children!

Joey, we appreciate your leadership and planning.  The evening was a big success and I hope that you are pleased with the results.  I can see it growing in the future. 

I hope your family has a blessed and safe Thanksgiving!  


To see pictures from the event click Pictures of the TBBP

Monday, November 22, 2010

All before 9am...

When I arrived to work at 7:45 this morning things were slow.  I turned on the lights, disarmed the alarm, and took a few deep breaths as I decided to keep a dim ambiance in my office by only turning on the lamp.

All before 9am...

A local crack-dealer came by to use the restroom of the church and with the utmost of sincerity confessed that the voices in his head have been tempting him towards violence.  To which I responded, "Well, we all have voices in our heads.  The hard part is knowing which ones to listen to.  Be patient and smart.  Don't let anyone try to make you do things you don't want to do."

A friend of mine who's homeless came by to receive a bicycle.  He has been diligently looking for jobs, but has been limited by his range due to a lack of transportation.  Until now.  I look forward most to the conversations I have with people who come in.  Everyone has their own obstacle whether it comes from within themselves or from someone around them.  Today we discussed the "drama" of the streets.  "It's like being back in High School" he said.  I laughed.

A woman came by to pick up some sheets because she's been stretching (and ripping) a full set over her queen mattress.  She just moved into an apartment, she goes into work early at a fastfood restaurant to prove to her boss that she's a hard worker, and she has a few sons (one of which won't make it out of jail before Thanksgiving).  I asked if she would like a painting in my office (one was donated last week).  Upon seeing it she gasped and said, "That matches the comforter my sister gave me for Christmas!"

What a morning.  I love the people my job allows me to come in contact with.  I hope Christ's love is seen in all we do here at FBC Norman as we continue to grow into our missional identity.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Never did pay to run from mom couse ya had to come home sometime."

I've learned so much from the homeless community of Norman.

For instance, the other day I was talking with a friend of mine who hasn't had anything stable in his life since his dad's expectations of perfection for him as teenager.  His story is riddled with drugs, broken relationships, and heartbreak.  And, this gentleman is incredibly spiritual.  He does not quite have the full picture of the hope, love, and freedom of Christ, but he ignites in my heart an awareness to spirituality.  I have learned to be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit because of the way my friend sees reality.
I hurt for many believers (like myself) who have lost that spiritual way of living.

This friend recently began writing down the story of his life.  He is letting me read it as he works on it.  The title of this blog entry, "Never did pay to run from mom couse ya had to come home sometime", I came across as he wrote of his childhood.  It is so profoundly hilarious and true.  I think we can all relate to this timeless adage.

I've learned so much from the homeless community of Norman.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The movement

You can't deny that there is a movement underway.

It seems like every generation of Christians tries to do the best with what they know.  I'll go ahead and use some obnoxiously broad generalizations.  The generations before our's pioneered the way for the modern Western idea of evangelism (Roman Road, pray a prayer, walk an isle, etc.).  Many lives have been and still are being changed through these means.  It seems such an appropriate gift to come out of a generation that excelled in making things certain and defined.  I am thankful.

And now there is another movement arising.  This new movement is not counter to the old, but complementary.  This movement does not see as much in black and white, but mixtures of gray with dabs of color, things are not static as they once were, but dynamic and in flux, and relationships determine involvement, because we are starving for real and vulnerable community.  Christ is being made known in mysterious new ways.  We have been taught the belief aspect of faith from our predecessors and now let us swing back to the balance of faith and action, belief and justice, personal piety and a lifestyle of righteousness.

The stories found in this blog came about because of this new movement.  I simply was tired of sitting in Sunday School.  I am proud to be a part of this generational movement, knowing full well that I will need those who come next to swing back the misbalance that I create.  

And remember, we are simply trying to do the best with what we know.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Something to Offer

Robert Lupton in Theirs is the Kingdom says, "The deepest poverty is to have nothing of value to offer."

It was one of those moments when you see things more clearly.  After reading Lupton's words on my own and discussing it in our "Church and Poverty" class at FBC, a portion of the haze lifted.  When a group of people becomes poor they begin to look and act poor.  They ask for help, dress differently, and even walk or hold their head differently.  When society and the church sees these changes begin our first reactions are to ask what we can give that person, or family.

And after a while we continue to give, give, give, and the warmth we felt on the honeymoon of philanthropy dwindles while wondering why nothing's changed.

Sure, a large part of someone's situation in poverty is the lack of resources, but what if we provided an opportunity for an individual to give and contribute to a larger ideal/cause?  Showing those on the fringes that they do have something to offer, and we desperately need it.
To not just feel included, but to be included.

I think I saw Jesus do this a time or two in the gospels.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The love is in the delivery

We have a weekly meal at our church.  You've read about it before, the Sunday lunch.  All people from the community are invited to come.  The demographic is made up of about 60% families and individuals below the poverty line, 30% homeless families and individuals, and 10% other/church volunteers.  The meal is an embodiment of the coming Kingdom of God.  It is a place where all are welcome, faults/sins/failings are overlooked, and a true selfless community is taught.

A few Sundays ago we had quite the adventure.  Two homeless gentlemen who have been coming to the lunch for quite sometime showed up inebriated.  Our environment has become a safe place for an increasing number of families to show up to eat, so the use, possession, or influence of substances is strictly prohibited.  Upon discovering these two guys state, I approached one of them and said, "You are welcome here, but your alcohol is not.  You have to leave."  It was the first time I have had to escort someone away from our lunch and church.  A few minutes later I returned to see our police officer escorting the other gentleman out as well.

I realized that love looks different in different situations.  Was I still showing love to those guys, having to escort them out of our church?  I think so.  Was I also showing love to the 148 other people who were trying to eat lunch?  I think so.

The love is in the delivery.  People can tell when the things we say come from a cold heart or when they are birthed out of compassion.  I made sure to tell them that I loved them as Christ does.  And now, almost more importantly, they will see love and redemption in future encounters I have with them.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Birthday Party

Roger fainted one Friday morning outside of a seven-eleven and that sent him to the hospital for a week.  Immediately, another one of Norman's homeless guys (who is the closest thing to a friend for Roger) came to the church to tell me what had happened.  Vickie (our senior adult minister who has known Roger for quite some time) and myself hurried up to the hospital.  We found a man who had been weathered by nearly a decade of homelessness.  

There were six of us in that room.  If you were to label us economically, we would be all over the scale.  But we came together as equals, as messed-up people who recognize that life is painful.

Roger got out of the hospital on his birthday.  So, of course, we threw him a party.  He turned 60 and his body has aged to the point that he would pass for a good twenty years more.The same six of us who gathered at the hospital were sitting around the table on the second floor of the FLC.  Who knows when the last time was that Roger sat down around a table with people that honestly cared about him, laughed, and ate ice cream.  The simplest, kind and gentle small talk is so good for people.

I believe Christ was there that day.  At first I felt him in Roger's loneliness, and then again in his laughter.

We even all signed a "thank you" card for the nurses that took care of Roger.  He said he wouldn't mind going back and letting them take care of him again.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cross-cultural experiences

Cross-cultural experiences happen to us everyday.  And really, if my missions professor taught me anything in seminary it was that "cross-cultural" in most basic form means cross-perspective/worldview.  I interact with someone of a different perspective/worldview...well...every time I talk to someone other than myself (we all talk to ourselves, embrace it).
Begin side note: I've always thought that the most brilliant people in the world are probably the ones with the most involved, active, and witty inner dialogue. End side note.

Over the past few months I have developed a friendship with Steve, a semi-homeless, wholly-jobless, and thoroughly kind-hearted man.

Steve and his cousin came to our Sunday lunch two months ago in need of some groceries.  Being new to town, they needed a little assistance until they acquired their bearings.  We gave them a grocery sack and after dropping the groceries off at their car, they both came back into the church.  With a seriousness in their eyes, Steve's cousin said, "if there is ever anything you or this church needs, anything, give me a call."  And he handed me a slip of paper with their cell numbers.

A few weeks go by, and I receive a call from Steve saying his cousin died unexpectedly during the night.

After walking alongside him in his grief for the past week, discussing his native american religious beliefs, and sharing what we'll miss about his cousin, he tells me that his cousin has been cremated and he's going to spread his ashes in the region where he grew up.  But before he does this he will separate the ashes into separate vials and give them to people who meant a lot in his cousin's life.  I was humbled and a little uneasy as I tried to figure out how to respond to him wanting to give me a vial.  The more I sought to see the world through his culture and perspective, the more I appropriately knew how to interpret this gesture.

So now, I have this little capsule of Steve's cousin's ashes at work.  Is it weird? Nah.  It's a humbling gift from another culture, perspective, and worldview.  And I am honored to receive it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dentures and dignity

There is a friend of mine who inspires me.
6 months ago he was living in a tent down by the river (Chris Farley should be ringing in your ears).  Through a slow, difficult, and patient process he now has a steady job, roof over his head, and plans for his future.
Be careful not to think that I am glad he has a job, a roof, and plans.  Those are simply the signs in his life that something deeper is going on; the costume that a new creation has decided to don.  I'm inspired because he found something inside of himself strong enough to push through 20 years of addiction, 2 marriages, and 4 months of homelessness.
If you are anything like me you bring to this story an element of skepticism to the validity or longevity of his change.  Shame on us for hiding behind the cynical veneer of "being a realist".  Christ's first and only response is one of compassion and hope, and so should ours be.  Right?

Well, I have never seen this same friend of mine glow as much as he did this past Sunday.  His new set of teeth came in.  At first, I didn't recognize him.  Seriously, I thought he looked familiar but could not think of who he was.  And then I realized, it was my old friend with a new smile!  It showed me the intimate connection between physical and spiritual things.  His spirit found new dignity in a set of dentures.

He looked like a million bucks; you should have seen him.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The old man and the porch

A week ago news was buzzing in our poor community that an older lady, who is like a grandmother to everyone, fell and broke her hip.  You actually have heard a story about her before.  She is the woman in the story called "The Tithe" written a few weeks back. The news of this tragedy traveled fast through the community, and she was mentioned by several people at our weekly time for prayer concerns before the Sunday lunch.

There's hardly any need to know last names in this particular culture/community.  In some cases simply getting assigned a nickname suffices especially if you have a defining characteristic (I have not been assigned one yet, but perhaps maybe one day).  Being that absolutely no one knew Shirley's last name, we had no way of finding her in the hospital.  The good news was Shirley gets picked up on our Sunday Shuttle (a church van that travels around Norman picking up people without transportation), so we had an idea of where her "home"was.  

I had our staff sign a card for her, and I ventured out to deliver it with a small grocery sack.

What I found was her husband sitting on the covered porch in a rocking chair.  We talked about cigarettes, family history, and God for what had to have been an hour in the shade of his porch on a hot Norman afternoon.

I learned three things that day:
(1) You don't have to go to a different country to find people who are starving physically and socially.
(2) Fear keeps us from having so many life-changing encounters.
(3) Hope draws people together

Thanks for reading, everyone! (Shirley is recovering on schedule by the way)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Giving Back

Our goal is never to enable people to become leaches on the systems that are meant to help, but it will always happen.
Our goal is always to love and empower people to the point where they are overflowing with self-worth and respect, and this sometimes happens.

A few weeks ago a lady came to our food pantry and received a family sack of groceries.  As we talked I learned that she was a single mother of two and unemployed.  The next week she returns and says that she wants to give pack to our food pantry. "What are some needed items?"she asks.  I tell her some staples but insist that she doesn't need to do that.  She returns forty-five minutes later with peanut butter, canned vegetables, and crackers that she bought using her food stamps.
Since then she has offered her time as a volunteer in other areas of the Community Ministry.

I am learning how much harder it is to receive than give.
I am learning how invaluable true gratefulness is.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The little things

You never know what little things you choose to do throughout a day will end up making big ripples in the water of life.

Last week a kid (around 19 years old) came by the church because he got himself pulled over for speeding, arrested for drug possession, car impounded, driven 40 miles south of where he lived by the police, and making bail that day he found himself 40 miles from home without a car, stranded in Norman.

So here he comes, up the steps to the church office, buzzes in and says, "I need some help".  He was one of those teenagers that you can see past the actual events/consequences of some bad choices and know that he's really, actually, a good kid.

He mentioned that his phone needed to be charged so that he could call someone, get a ride back up north to his hometown, and not have to be homeless in Norman for the night (or next couple of nights).

Sure enough, we had the same brand of phone, and that meant that I had a charger he could use.  After spending about 15 minutes talking, I handed him the charger and suggested he go rest somewhere, charge his phone, make his calls, then bring it back when he was finished.  He looked at me with one of those you-are-actually-going-to-trust-me-to-bring-this-back expressions.  I said, "Here's your chance to make a good decision.  It's up to you."

I walked him out the front doors of the church; he kind of smirked and looked back a few times.  About three hours later I get a call from the office saying I have a visitor and he's coming down to see me (normally, a "visitor" is supposed to wait in our lobby area for me to come to them.  So, I didn't know what was up).  I stepped outside of my door and loe and behold, it was him, charger in hand, and a big smile on his face.  He had the look of someone who despite getting pulled over, despite being arrested, knew he could still make a good choice.

I know it might seem like a really insignificant situation, but I guarantee we underestimate the little acts of grace we could be showing people everyday.

And guess what.  A week later, he shows up again at the church, wanting to say thanks for what we had done.  He showed me his new haircut, shave, and nice attire (because he had to appear before the judge that day).  To top it all off, this time he brought his mom.  I met her and told her what a good son she had, how he had brought back my charger, and as if she was beginning to doubt it, tears welled up in her eyes.

If you're waiting around for something big to be a part of, remember, the big things are made up of a million little things.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Applause

This past Sunday, as every Sunday, we had our Sunday Luncheon.  This is a time when 150 people from the community come to our church to enjoy a free hot meal together (between the two main feeding agencies in Norman a hungry person can eat every meal of the week except for Sunday lunch; that is why we do it.) This past Sunday was a little odd. After realizing that one of the components to the meal had not finished cooking, yet 150 people had already lined up to be served, we knew we had an issue.

Our solution, the only thing we could do at that point, was to send everyone through the line receiving a plate of mashed potatoes, green beans and corn, and a roll. We apologetically announced that we would bring out the not-quite-done component when it was finished and serve it around to the tables.

What follows is the typical thing to happen when you worship and recognize a god who is as creative and opportunistic as Yahweh.

Realizing that we had an extra twenty minutes to kill, I quickly thought through different "activities" that would provide some fun and intermingling amongst the crowd.  After failed attempts to have a group scavenger hunt (yes, I considered it) and a sing-a-long led by one of our homeless regulars, I thought that I might have to settle for plan C which was everyone getting fidgety and just waiting around.

And then as I was walking back to the kitchen to check on the food, "Steve", pulled me aside and said, "If you can pull the piano away from the wall, I'll play it to pass the time."  My eyes lit up with excitement at his offering.

(A side note about Steve.  Steve has been homeless and around FBC for a while now.  The reason he is homeless/poor is medical related, like many people.)

I helped Steve's frail, AIDS ridden body to the stage, and he sat down at the piano.  What followed was a blanket of peace and calm over the lunch crowd.  His fingers persuaded that piano to produce beautiful music.

In the end the food finished cooking, people's bellies were filled, and when Steve had to stop playing after 15 minutes because of exhaustion the entire room erupted in applause.

It really was beautiful.

Monday, May 24, 2010


First off, I am so thankful that you have taken the time to read these stories brought forth out of the Community Ministry.  I realize that many of them, especially when they involve specific instances and individuals, may seem so outrageously heart melting that you wonder if in some way they have been embellished.  Well let me asure you, aside from people's names, all of these stories are told in truth.

Stories are interesting things, aren't they?  True stories remind us of the reality in which we live with real, factual, historical occurrences.  While fictitious stories, although perhaps not recounting actual events, do abide by and give light to the same overarching principles, themes, and feelings that are real, factual, and historical.

At our Community Ministry Committee last night someone mentioned how much physical need there is in our city.  Then someone compared it to experiences they had in Africa with believers who were swimming in poverty.  You don't have to go to Africa to find "deserving" poor.  I don't believe that pity disguised as compassion is the appropriate response in the first place, but why do we fly thousands of miles away from home to help someone in need when all of us have a neighbor somewhere on the path of our week who is in just as much need?

The great commission does not tell us to go somewhere particular, it tells us to be someone particular as we go, live, work, etc.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Tithe

There is an older lady who comes to our church very regularly.  She is probably around 75 years old and extremely poor. I'm pretty sure she wears the same green sweatshirt, light blue pants, topped off with a navy blue billed stocking cap every time I see her.  Shirley and I have become good friends over the past few months.  Recently, she mentioned that her and her husband both have terminal cancer.

She might be an angel; I can't be for certain.  Don't get me wrong, she's not the easiest person to get along with, nor the prettiest, but I think it is completely possible that God sends angels to us especially in personalities and appearances that are not to our liking.  As a matter of fact, somedays I feel like I am completely surrounded by angels.

This particular lady, Shirley, for the past two Sundays has shaken my hand at church in an extremely sneaky way.  Both times now, after we shake hands I have noticed something is left in my hand that was not there before.  On both occasions there is a tightly folded one dollar bill, followed with her words, "put this where it is needed."
I'm overwhelmed.
I could give a few hundred dollars of tithe, but until I give to the brink of my very existence I don't think it would come close to Shirley's dollar.

We're all very familiar with the story in the gospels about the widow who gave a penny.  After seeing her drop her coin(s) in Jesus says something incredibly irrational.  He says that she gave more than everyone else that day.  If you do the math, that is clearly a lie.
But sometimes the truths of the Kingdom look like lies to us.

Look for someone in need around you today!  Seek to help them if you can, but more importantly learn from them.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Way, the Truth, and the Life (of the party).

Have you ever had one of those friends around whom you were able to be completely yourself?  Scott has been that friend for me.  Scott reminded me how there is complexity in the simple things, and that Christ welcomes all people to his table for the party that will end all parties.  The title of this blog entry is one of the many quotes from my friend Scott.

As I work with people who are down and out, homeless and addicted, sad and hopeless, I like to remember that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life of the party.  Think back to his first miracle in John, turning the water into wine.  That wedding party (which were bigger than our wedding parties today) was in serious danger of becoming a family embarrassment.  However, Jesus steps up (really, without taking any recognition for the miracle except from the disciples) and restores hope to the party, takes away potential embarrassment, and brings forth the best wine that party had yet to see.  

Not only does this fly in the face of the Dionysian stories that were circulating around Greek culture, but it showed that Jesus is Lord of the party and the feast, and the wine (blood) that he provides is what we experience at that party.  He provided the wine for us.  
How incredible it is that John starts out his gospel by telling everyone that there is a new life of the party in town.  No one goes away hungry or thirsty from this feast.

In our journey to discover how to help people around us, let us remind those who are hungry and poor that theirs is the kingdom, theirs is the feast. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

The calm after the storm

Did anyone else experience 48 hours of constant rain last weekend?
That didn't stop To Norman With Love!  Sure we had to cancel our service in the park and the picnic of 425 lunches that followed, and postpone 3 of the 28 projects, and prepare to be cold and wet, but that did not put a damper on the weekend.  
All in all, the estimate was that 320 people from the congregation were involved in To Norman With Love.  And in 28 different ways the city of Norman was loved by the people at FBC.
If you participated, thank you.  If you volunteered during the preparation, thank you.  If you donated resources, THANK YOU.

I think the most powerful part of the weekend for me was being able to introduce and interview a fellow follower of Christ on stage during our Classic service on Sunday morning.  "steve" and I have been developing our friendship over the past few months and we have challenged each other's faith with new perspectives.  

In my life steve is challenging me to look at Christ through a different lens.  As Jurgen Moltmann says, "Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with a full belly.  If it is read in light of the experience and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible's revolutionary themes--promise, exodus, resurrection and spirit--come alive."

I think I need to make sure I'm not completely surrounded with people who are just like me.  I want to see Christ from all perspectives, so that maybe I will see more of him.  There is way more to Christ than meets just my eye alone.

Does anyone who reads this have stories from being involved this weekend?

One of the community vegetable gardens planted over the weekend.

Our college group taking supplies to the homeless community living at the river.

A handicapped gentleman's apartment was adopted by a Sunday school class and completely fumigated, remodeled, and made over. This was amazing and took many days of preparation.

These last pictures are of a group of women who gave manicures at the Veteren's Center.  I think our pastor chose to play dominoes while he waited for his turn.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Urban Gardens + Alfalfa Pellets = To Norman With Love

About ten minutes ago, I was carrying a paint bucket full of water to my office.  "Why?" you might ask.  Well, I needed the water because there is a fifty pound bag of alfalfa pellets in my office, of course.  "Why is there a fifty pound bag of Alfafa pellets in your office?"  Great question.  I am going to pour the pellets into the water and make an organic fertilizing tea to drink later as I doze off in my office...
Okay, here's the truth.  I am making a fertilizing tea, but not for my exhaustion.  It will be used on the two urban vegetable gardens our church will plant for two local agencies this weekend.  There you have it!

Today we (FBC Norman) moved 2,000 bottles of donated water into the church, got a local outdoors store to donate biodegradable toilet paper for a homeless community living by the river, and convinced an apartment complex manager that they needed to bug-bomb a handicapped resident's roach-infested apartment.

A day in the life of Community Ministry.

This weekend is our first annual To Norman With Love event at FBC Norman.  Similar events have been done by other churches around the country long before us.  What kind of message would the Church be sending here in America if went out of our way to provide just as many local expressions of mercy (missions) as we do foreign?  Wouldn't it be a neat thing if the Church was known for absolute servanthood?

I will write again with some good stories from this upcoming weekend.  Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, April 3, 2010

How does God give out his resources?

The local church has a lot of resources at it's disposal. Really, for the amount of need in our communities think of the impact if the church maximized it's effectiveness.
I was reflecting on my work the other day while sitting at a local coffee shop (the typical place I go searching for divine inspiration).  Specifically, trying to pinpoint the limitations/barriers I felt were keeping FBC from fully releasing the year of Jubilee on the Norman community.  My mind wandered to motives.

It is a popular thing among the American Church to want to make sure we are "good stewards" of our resources.  I completely agree.  When this concept, however, drifts into a benevolence (distributing of basic needs) environment the majority of us might run the risk of giving our resources with strings attached.  I have found myself thinking, "I will give out this food only this many times to this same person because surely after 2-4 months they should be able to find a job." or "I will only give out this bicycle to them if I know they will be responsible with it/not pawn it for money the first chance they get."

To me, this sounds a lot like the parable of the slave who was forgiven his debt then turned around and demanded that his be payed to him.

God gave me grace freely, without looking into the future to make sure I would be responsible with it.  I know he did this because I have taken his grace many times and sold it at the local pawn shop for money.  Maybe, the pure way to give to the poor will look irresponsible to our Western minds.  Yeah, I think it will.  Can a slave who has been set free turn around and give grace with strings attached?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spilled Milk

I just got done walking up and down the street in front of the church trying to give away 5 gallons of fresh (not expired) 2% milk. It's a lot harder than you might think. Not only are people suspicious of anything free, but I was giving away free milk. I must admit, I'm not a big milk fan already, and if some younger-looking white male came up to me on the street with a cart of 5 gallons of 2% milk I'm not sure I'd take any either.
However, I did find one guy. We'll call him steve. I know steve because he is a regular visitor at our church on Sundays. He talks like there's always someone with him, is super nice, and an amazing artist.
I saw steve twice today.  Once early this morning I said hello to him as I walked into Homeland to get a loaf of bread and some jelly, and the second time sitting outside a local soup kitchen.  After talking for a while he told me he was organizing all his papers and asked if he could have one of the jugs of milk on my cart. I, obviously, said "sure!", gave it to him, and continued on my quest. The journey was not without its casualties, however. On my way back to the church with 4 out of the 5 jugs of milk I snagged a crack in the sidewalk and one of the 4 toppled to the ground and busted.

Isn't it interesting how the few cases of people (we hear about from the news or word of mouth) who have abused, or taken advantage of, people's kindness/the system have ruined it for everyone? I'm mean, c'mon, what kind of society do we live in where a guy can't walk up and down the street successfully giving out 2% milk? Thanks, steve, for allowing me to give you a jug of milk, because I know someway or somehow that this little act is helping me to transform into the likeness of Christ.
Maybe next time I'll try orange juice, or perhaps vitamin D.

Monday, March 8, 2010

You know, the church is not a building

Three "walk-ins" have come to the church today. (As you recall, "walk-ins" are people who visit the church needing assistance of some kind.) The third and final person was a late thirties man from Nigeria. He had used up his stay at the Salvation Army, was interviewing at OU tomorrow for a custodial position, and came to the church seeking a place to stay. We talked for about 20 minutes together. With a wonderfully thick African accent he told me about his family who were staying in OKC with his wife's sister until he could get on his feet down here, hopefully, through this job at OU. FBC is not set up for any kind of housing, yet.
(That is actually one of the biggest needs in Norman right now, emergency/temporary housing. Their are agencies that are providing this service, there is simply more demand than there is provision.)
I asked if he needed anything that this church was set up to give (food and clothes), and he said "yes, that would be helpful." As we were walking out of the church doors he turned to me and said, "You know, the church is not a building." My eyes got bigger in agreement as he continued, "We are the church. The people of faith. And the purpose of the church is to help the poor like this (he motioned to his food and clothes bag). Thank you." We then prayed together and parted ways. I want to be a life long learner from people I cross paths with.

I know that there are many ways people of faith can "be the church", but I am very humbled to be on the front lines of a church people that give to the poor of the community.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

To Norman With Love

I'm going to take a break from the stories of individuals I see throughout the week. There are many sides to "Community Ministry" and being a part of people's continual transformation. One of which is trying to connect the local church body with the people of whom I have been writing these stories. It is paramount that believers expand their concept of what "church" is. You can't contain the Church within any walls, programs, or cultures. We are in the age of the Holy Spirit. God's mystery is continually being unfolded; we don't have the full picture.
One of the ways we are providing an opportunity for relational bridgebuilding to occur is through an upcoming event called "To Norman With Love". It will be a two day church-wide to city-wide service project. Currently, I am calling as many local agencies as possible to provide projects that will expose the FBC body to the civic context within which we find ourselves.
Churches are not islands. We either choose to help the needy around and within us or not.
The vision extends from Luke chapter 10 (the good samaritan story). The interesting thing about that story is that Jesus tells it in response to the question "Who is my neighbor?". As Jesus so often does, he turns the teaching moment back on us and tells us how to be a good neighbor.
So, the statement is not, "Tell me who my neighbor is so that I can know who to help." Instead, it's "I need to be the right kind of neighbor who goes out of my way for others."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

From prejudice to solidarity

On Wednesdays I setup appointments with people who have signed up on our church bike list. These are people who don't have cars. Some might have a bus pass, but all lack efficient mobility in a society that demands it. In 30 minute increments from 9-11:30am I visit with people every Wednesday. The people range from all ages, races, and genders (yes, all genders). Yesterday, 5 bikes were given out, 5 bibles, 2 family bags of food from our pantry, 1 pair of pants, 4 pairs of socks, and 2 laundry vouchers for a low-income mother of two. It was a good day of Christ loving people through the body of believers at FBC Norman.

It was time for my 10am appointment. This gentleman (Steve, of course), had been extremely cordial, punctual, and, honestly, a delight to interact with. I got the call from the office that he arrived, so I began walking down the hallway to meet him. Before I could even get to him, the reception ladies had put a cup of hot coffee in his hand. What follows is an example of my own subconscious stereotyping.
I saw a 56 year old white man, clean cut, wearing regular blue jeans, belt, an OU sweatshirt, wool jacket, good teeth, glasses, and an OU ball cap. I shook his hand and we introduced each other (putting faces to the voices on the phone). We went to my office and began sharing our stories with each other. My first thought when seeing this man was, "He dosen't need a bike. I better check and make sure he is really in need before giving him one." Besides the fact that my initial thought reeked of paternalism, it was in that instance I realized I have prejudices against people on both ends of the spectrum.
He told me that after working in a successful job for many years his wife got sick. She has two diseases that compounded the other's symptoms. She could not work for many years and it came to a point when Steve had to quit his job to take care of her and their daughter with down-syndrome. The bulk of the money he had was/is being spent on medical bills (of course). They foreclosed on their old home, moved to a place temporarily, and now have applied for housing assistance. His story was sprinkled with comments like, "I never thought I would be poor," and "I'm so embarrassed to ask for help in these ways." Steve is a follower of Christ and a member at a church nearby FBC, so I asked him if his thoughts about God had changed since the recent change in his lifestyle. He said, "I only know now how much God blesses us."
Amazing. When we have nothing is when we are able to see how much we really have.

My meeting with steve left me realizing how close we all are to being homeless and poor. Most of us are simply one paycheck away from being homeless. Perhaps, really, we're all just a bunch of homeless people, who happen to be living in houses.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The coffee accident

I spilled coffee on my shoe today. It wasn't a simple "oops, I dropped a few drops to the ground and some splattered on my foot." No, I was driving with my panera bread coffee cup on the floor board of the car, directly under the stereo console (trust me, it was a great place). As I was making the final right turn of my journey to work, the centrifugal force propelled the cup directly into the inside of my left foot. Even though I had the lid on, at least 5 oz of coffee injected itself through the mouth hole into my foot. My sock is saturated.

At church yesterday, I came to the Classic service a little late. I came in the very back and intended to sit by myself on the back pew. As I walked in I noticed a homeless man (in his late 40's), whom I knew from previous encounters, sitting on the pew I was heading for. Dressed in a heavy camo jacket he had his backpack on his right (which contained everything he owned), so I sat on his left. "Hey steve (steve will be the generic name I use throughout my stories)" I said. He replied, "Hey man, where've you been?"
We proceeded to casually and quietly carry out small talk and pleasantries. Eventually I said, "hey, where do you sleep when its this cold at night?" He told me about a floor in a bathroom at a local park that he stays at when it gets really cold. I said, "And the other nights?" He told me about a tent that he has and a forest area that he and some guys camp out on "nicer" nights.

My first reaction (which is usually the most primal and irrational) was anger when I injected my shoe with coffee this morning. I keep forgetting how easy my life is. And I suppose the question for most believers is, "How grateful of a life are we going to live?" There is always someone worse off than you. Even for this steve. There is someone worse off than he. We are all, from our own unique perspective, faced with the life-style altering question, "How grateful of a life am I going to live?"

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Who knew helping people could get so political?

It was a day like any other day. The snow was falling here in Norman, I was in and out of the office frequently, and a man came to the church door asking for assistance. I was on my way out of the office, so I met him at the door and said, "can we walk and talk together?" He said "sure". Now, from my extensive and vast experience...I've noticed that people approaching other people for assistance are typically well accustomed to the formalities of conversation. There are the cordial phrases like "good afternoon", "how are you", sometimes even a "you look nice today." This man was no different. I asked him his story and eventually made it around to what he needed.
He was living out of his van, and he needed gas vouchers to sustain the temperature throughout the night. I let him know that we don't have money for vouchers or other financial forms of assistance, but I asked him if some blankets would help. His face lit up and he said that would be great! By this time in the conversation we were beginning to really connect with each other. We managed to cut-up a little as we both walked down to FBC's clothes storage room where we kept some blanket donations.
This is where the story gets interesting. I pulled out a few options and he was really grateful and sincere in his acceptance of the blankets. As we were leaving the storage room I said "so, (we'll call him steve)...So, Steve, how did you come to be living in your van." And his response was typical..."the anti-christ has been attacking me lately." Huh. Okay. I looked at him, and my initial response to something that catches me off-guard is laughter. But as I began to chuckle I noticed he was more serious than he had been since we first met 20 minutes ago.
As we picked up the pace heading for the exit, I figured the next best question would be, of course, "who's the anti-christ, steve?" I hadn't read the paper that day yet, so I thought maybe I had missed something. He continued in the most serious tone, "President Obama." Oh boy. I couldn't help but try to keep the conversation light so I had to continue to smile and chuckle a little bit. I wanted him to think that I thought he was kidding, when in reality I knew that he meant every word.
And just when you thought that was it, he said, "Don't tell him you helped me. Be careful what you say on the phone. They're listening to every word." I think an entire episode of the X-Files unfolded before my eyes.
I let him know that he was welcome to come to our Sunday lunches and Food Pantry/Clothes Closet. He really was a nice guy, and represents one of the so very many people who are living out of their vehicles these days.
See, the people whom society is trying to forget can be the most political. God loves us all.

Friday, February 5, 2010

One of the guys

This afternoon, as I was eating my lunch consisting of a dry Panera breadbowl with two turkey hotdogs inside of it, I was reflecting on the day. My first thought was, "I would never eat such an insulting concoction if Ashley was around. Oh, bachelorhood." My second wave of thoughts took me back to the morning...

It was FBC's turn to serve lunch at a local "soup kitchen". I met the volunteers down there around 11am. As I approached the location on foot, I recognized several of the homeless guys standing out front. I stopped to have a smoke with them (and by "smoke" I mean small talk and smoke from the second hand). After the initial pleasantries, I began to feel included as "one of the guys".
Let me tell you some key signs that you have been accepted in this way. First, when a homeless man offers you a cigarette (I repeat, a homeless man). Second, when they speak candidly in front of you about how upset they were that they had been thrown in jail for the last week. And third, when one of them asks you, specifically you, to help him go over to the 65 year drunk-as-a-skunk old man sitting against the fence and get him up into the building where he can get warm and fed.

Man, we all have stereotypes don't we? No one is immune to that disease. I was offered a sacrificial portion of this man's comfort (in the form of a cigarette). I was allowed to be one of two people that picked an old man up off his sleeping bag and through the fumes of cheap alcohol found him a seat and a plate of food.

I think there is a lot more good out there than fear will allow us to see.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I knew this would be a part of my job, but I did not know how much of a part it would be. On an average I would say FBC Norman gets visited by 10-20 "walk-ins" a week. These can range anywhere from people who need money for utilities, actual clothes and food, or just a calm presence of someone to speak with. The following is the first of many stories of people that have already come by.

My first week here I received a call from one of the church members who works at a local middle school. She informed me that a member of their custodial staff's house burnt to the ground the day before. This lady, her two children, and her mom, all were left with nothing. No clothes, no food, no _______(fill in the blank with whatever you keep in your house).
Luckily, she had homeowner's insurance. And even still, with that insurance, I am reminded that the system is not perfect. Her family was provided a hotel room to stay in the first night from the fire department, however, the insurance company said they needed a week to process her claim. A week?! Surely (don't call me shirley; Airplane), not every insurance company says "ok, can you be homeless for a week while we process your request?"
Anyway, the school let her off of work early that day so she could come by FBC. We were able to give her food and clothes to get through the immediate emergency situation. What a spiritual experience it was to welcome and hug someone who had just been through one of the many unthinkable situations to which we are all vulnerable. What a joy it was to take her into our clothes closet and food pantry and say "take whatever you need."

One of the dilemmas that providing this service from within a church inevitably raises is the issue of helping those who are not within our congregation. How far should resources be used to aid those of the community who are not a member of the church, or even a Christian?
If this tragedy had happened to a church member, of course we would have helped. But I think I've heard someone say something about how easy it is to love people who love you back, or who are on the "inside", or "saved", or...etc. Why would we ever want to take the easy way out!?

Stay tuned for more.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Explanation and Introduction

Day 1
Since beginning my job at FBC Norman at the beginning of this year, I've realized something. There are going to be way too many thoughts in my head and stories in my week not to write about them. So here it is.
Most of all, I hope that this blog finds people that can relate to it. I am the "community minister" here, however, in some sense followers of Christ everywhere are doing exactly what I'm trying to do; which is building relationships with the people around me in hopes of meeting needs, showing the love of Christ, and being an agent of people's liberation.
Only time will tell how this will play itself out. Everyday, as I've already found, brings a unique set of situations. And my struggle will be to make the appropriate choices to bring about the kingdom of servants that Jesus told us about.

When this blog is finished, the world should have a cooky-cutter picture of what community ministry really is. All the answers, and all the formulas. Won't that be nice.

This should be fun. Thinking that it is fun, might be the only way I will be able to stay committed to it. If nothing else, it's probably therapeutic for me.