Monday, February 28, 2005

Oh no - part II

I just want to clarify something I wrote earlier regarding my reaction to someone having the "nerve" to question Brian McLaren, who just happens to be our pastor. Please believe me when I say that I am not going to blindly cheer Brian on based on the facts that he is a "great guy" and because I have certain biases against certain churches due to my experience growing up. No. What I am defending is the right to think beyond the church rules I was taught (that does not mean to ignore them!). It's the same feeling I had back during the elections. I hated the feeling that if I was really a Christian, I would be voting for Bush. Well, sometimes I feel like if I were really a Christian, I would dress a certain way for church, or worship a certain way, or pray a certain way... the list goes on. If my relationship with Christ is truly personal, as I was always taught, then it really should be personal. No one knows me like my own creator.

I "Googled" Brian's name and the term "Emergent" hoping to get a better understanding of the whole conflict over all. And, to be honest, to also double check my opinions on the book against scripture. I don't want to stray from Christ, regardless of who may be doing the talking. Yes, I like Brian, but I like Christ more. And in all honesty, I still stand by my opinion that Brian isn't trying to lead Christians into a murky land where there is "no right and no wrong". But then, I'm capable of reading his books and making my own decisions and forming my own opinions. Maybe that's the key? I don't know.

I'm sure that for every Christian book out there, there is someone who will read it and take it the wrong way, or use it as an excuse to act out their personal agendas or as evidence that their way of thinking is the right way. It's the price we pay as humans trying to come to understand the Divine. Will I blindly read and believe everything I read that comes from Brian McLaren? No. But I will read it. We don't attend Cedar Ridge because Brian's the pastor. We attend Cedar Ridge and Brian happens to be our pastor.

I don't want to be a part of some new movement, a cool new group, whatever. I want to serve Christ by serving others. I want to show someone the love of God instead of just telling them about it. I want to show others how much they are loved by doing something they think no one would bother to care about. I don't want "Christian" to be a dirty word. Will someone help me out here, please?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Missing my church - Part II

So I miss my Vineyard. Or as my grandma calls it, "The Winery". She can never remember the name. And she is hard-core Catholic so she thinks we are a bunch of loons.

I know where this feeling of homesickness for my church started, and when. Last summer. That's when I met Cruz Estaban.

Because of the hurricane that hit here in the DC area the year before last, BGE had tree trimming crews out all over the area trimming back from the power lines. We had tree guys in our neighborhood for a few weeks. One day, I came home to find 11 or so Latino guys sitting in our front yard - under one squatty little tree - eating their lunch. It was 90+ degrees and I noticed that none of them had anything to drink. We had a bunch of pop (no "soda" for me, thanks) left over from a picnic the week before so Liam and I gathered it up and took it outside. Ha! You couldn't get much more "Vineyard" than giving away free pop (unless you clean toilets. But that wasn't an option.) Anyway, I'm not sure if the guys were more shocked by the free drinks or the fact that we were talking to them. We got a round of "Gracias" and then the crew leader came up. He asked, with a heavy accent, if I spoke Spanish. **Insert laughter here**

**Not only do I not speak Spanish, I dropped it three times at the University of Maryland. I considered it a gift from God when the university gave me a diploma without me having completed my language requirements. Now, being the honest person that I am, I took the diploma into the school office, told them they'd made a mistake and showed them my most recent transcripts. They thanked me for my honesty. Then proceeded to send me another diploma two weeks later. My knowledge of Spanish is limited to anything I've ever heard on Sesame Street or Dora. And "The Song of the Cucumber" by Veggie Tales. I can say "like butter on a bald monkey" with the most authentic accent imaginable.** Back to the post.

Anyway, the crew leader asked if I spoke Spanish and I had to reply that no, I didn't, silently cursing my collegiate self. He pointed to the American flag tangled up on itself outside the house -- tangled in just the right way so that it looked like the Puerto Rican flag. He had thought we shared a common language. Regardless of the language barrier, he introduced himself -- his name was Cruz. He gave me a business card for his landscaping service. He asked how old the boys were and said Liam was a very good boy. Then he thanked us again and he and the crew climbed back up into the trees.

The next day was just as hot as the day before, so late morning I took out some bottles of water in the cooler and a big pitcher of lemonade. I told Cruz that his guys could sit at the patio table under the umbrella in the shade of the house to eat if they wanted and ten minutes later the lemonade was gone. When I went out to get the pitcher to refill it, I was greeted with a few "Hola" and "Gracias" from the tree tops and some head nods or waves as well. We kept the water and lemonade flowing for the next few days as the crew worked up and down the street.

One morning I caught Cruz as they passed through the backyard from the school where they were parking the truck. I let him know that I was going to church to do some painting and that the guys could feel free to use the backyard for lunch. I had set out the cooler again and when it was empty, they could refill their water from the hose if they wanted. The word "church" seemed to strike a chord with him, and I ended up learning that he went to a Spanish speaking church in Annapolis, where he lived with his family which included boys Liam and Sean's age. The heavy accent and lack of language on both sides made the conversation hard, but he was very interested in where we went to church, what kind of church it was, what they taught. That's when it hit me.

I started to say, "My church has all kinds of things they do, and they do it in Spanish..." when I realized my church didn't have all of that. I realized that I had been taking in all of what the Vineyard had to teach about service and showing God's love in a practical way... and now felt like I was left alone with no way to further that small relationship that had started. I wanted to ask if Cruz's family needed anything. If they had good friends to help them in their walk with Christ. If they had a walk with Christ. If they missed their home. If they had a place here where they felt at home. But I was afraid of the answer. What if they did need a church home? Or resources for language classes? I had nothing. I didn't know where to point him, so I didn't ask.

I'm not faulting our current church here in Maryland for not being "The Vineyard". But I want to know what I'm supposed to do with these convictions that I carry. Like I admitted above, I have never been good with foreign languages. Never really had an interest in the Latin American culture. But lately, I feel like there is an invisible sub-culture that is largely ignored by many of us. The people who clean the floors where we shop, bus the tables where we dine, and trim the trees where we live... many of them have left their homes, their families, everything that is familiar to them. And have come here and live in many of the places that we don't think are good enough for us to raise our families.

For now, I smile and wave to Cruz and his tree guys when we see them in the neighborhood. I try to buy flowers from the guys at the intersection near our house when it's raining or snowing. They don't speak any English except "Five dollars" but I hope looking them in the eye while I say "Thank you" makes some little impact (and if it snows, I'm taking hot chocolate down there tomorrow!). My heart hurts that I feel so inadequate when there is so much need. And for more than stupid things like a "Thank you" or a wave or hot chocolate. But I don't know what else to do with it. So I'm still praying.

Oh no.

" a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size was an elephant's; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes, like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world, even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert. Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou are welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost though understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yes, I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek." - The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis

Today, I had my first experience with someone accusing our pastor of being a nutjob. They based their opinion on Brian's book. A book they haven't read (there seems to be a lot of that going around -- this particular book being reviewed without having been read). This person's opinion, and the people backing that opinion, focused solely on who was right and who was wrong rather than what was right and what was wrong.

When I was seven or eight, I received The Chronicles of Narnia for my birthday. Even at that age, I had the slightest notion that some of the things in the books would have been slightly controversial if the wrong people chose to pick up on them. Being in a Christian school, where kids asked questions such as "what about the natives in the deepest jungle, who have never even heard of Jesus... will they go to heaven?" made this particular passage extremely important to me. For some reason, I seem to have made a connection between the ideology put forth in this passage and Brian's book. I'm just not eloquent enough to put the link down in writing.

I'm sorry if that makes little sense. The boys are having a "Mighty Beanz" race in the other room.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Church (again)

Please let me tell you about my church. Not the church we attend now, here in Maryland. I really like our church here, honestly. But when I think of "my church", I will probably always think of the church where I became a believer. The Springdale Vineyard, in Cincinnati. NOTE: this is often called the "Cincinnati Vineyard" because it's the largest one in the city. But there is a Cincinnati Vineyard. Not the same church, though part of the same group.

At the age of 21, after 12 years of Christian schooling, I decided that there might actually be people who didn't care that I was a mess, they just cared. Sitting next to my oldest friend (Hi, Jenny Hoop!) on a Big Wednesday night at the Vineyard, I sat and cried to myself as I realized that all of those altar calls in chapel had meant nothing to me. I quietly realized that Christ loved me. But even more important? I realized he liked me too. And thought I was someone worth spending time on. I was hooked. Every Sunday I went and listened to Steve Sjogren talk about his struggles as another regular person who just happened to be a pastor. He sounded remarkabley real to me. Dave Workman was the music leader at the time and made you forget you were in church. His hair was a running joke. People at church didn't make jokes as far as I'd ever known (or at least, didn't make jokes I actually thought were funny).

Obviously, I have an emotional attachment to the church where I came to know Christ. I made a lot of decisions -- hard decisions for a 21 -year-old -- based on convictions that developed over my time at the Vineyard. When it was announced that we would be building a new building, I got a little nervous. I had been in churches in the past where money took over when new buildings were in the works. Sermons about love and compassion were replaced with talks on tithing, giving more, stretching yourself so that God could bless you because you gave more, and how you were a terrible person if you didn't give more, dammit. I hated new buildings. That changed quickly. Someone at the Vineyard must have realized that the money had a way of taking over. So they gave the money away. Gave the building fund to another church so that church could buy their own church building outright. Invited the pastor to one of the services and handed him a big ol' Price Is Right sized check (you know, the big cardboard ones -- Vineyard loves the cheese). I was floored. And the new building still got built. How? I don't know, exactly. I'm thinking that if God needs a new house, he can build himself one. So He did.

Fast forward five years. The Springdale Vineyard has been in their new home for over four or five years now. It is immense. "Why do churches need to be so big?" My answer to that initially is "why do you care?". There is usually a disdainful attitude attached to the "Big church" question and I feel defensive when I hear it. I say, shut your mouth and go watch and learn. Then get back to me (NOTE: I don't think churches have to be big. But I also don't think it's a sin if it's over a certain size).

Carved on the side of the immense Springdale Vineyard is this sentence -- "Small things done with great love will change the world". That simple prhase is the backbone of the Vineyard. They walk the talk. Why do they need a big building? Because they do small things. A lot of small things.

"Servant Evangelism" is what it's called there. "Showing God's love in a practical way". Showing up at Target with a bunch of people and umbrellas to walk shoppers to their cars in the rain. Going to stores and restaurants offering to clean toilets so the employees don't have to, and to give them a break so they can get home a little quicker (NOTE: cleaning toilets makes people FREAK. Why would you do that? I don't get it. Yes... I have to clean the bathroom before I can clock out. Why do you want to do it for me? I don't get it. Seriously. Sure God loves me, but you're telling me He cares if I have to clean the bathroom every night? Nuh uh.) One Sunday, there was a video of Steve (the pastor) and Dave Workman (music leader at the time) on a moped in Downtown Cincinnati racing around putting quarters into expired parking meters. The background music was Mission Impossible. That was one of the more sane videos (Click here for another one - it's a take off on the identity theft commercials on tv. It's funny. And that guy is Robbie Reider, the worship leader).

Anyway, the Vineyard is fun and funny. But also very important to the local community in which it exists. MercyWorks offers services from oil changes for single mothers to medical care to English classes for Spanish speaking immigrants who would otherwise be without. Run, for the most part, by volunteers. One service is translated in sign language (there is nothing quite like seeing the large hearing-impaired community at the Vineyard collectively signing the worship songs during a service). Another service is translated into Spanish and one section of the church has the translation piped into headphones (the kind you often see offered for the hearing impaired). Vineyard gives away at least 80% of the money it takes in. And the investment is obvious in the lives of those who are touched.

This post is in danger of becoming too long. There are reasons why I've been homesick for my church lately. I'm hoping to post more on it. Mostly so I can figure out what I want to do about it. I feel a need but not sure how to fulfill it. I'll keep praying, and probably typing, and I'd love to get your feedback (if there actually are any of you out there reading this). I've added links to the things that had links. Please feel free to check them out and hopefully you'll see what it is that I think is so important.

Monday, February 21, 2005

My Life - The Past Month.

Holy poop. It's been a long year so far and it's only February! What the crap?!

So far, for our little family, our last month has included the following:

- Pink eye (Liam)
- Virus (Rusty, two work days missed)
- Strep throat (Sean)
- Ear infections in both ears (Sean, accompanying the strep. Because, hey. Strep itself just isn't bad enough to deal with when you're three.)
- Sinus infection (Me. Twice. Within four weeks. Or possibly the 1st infection just never went away.)
- Bronchitis (Also me. Also twice. Or same, again. Along with the sinus infection. Good times.)

Yeah. All of that has been within the last two-three weeks. I'm spent. Oh, I almost forgot. And along with the sickness? A hole. A gigantic hole. In one wall. Well, that's not accurate. "Hole" implies that the wall is still present. This wall is halfway gone. It's a good thing. A very good thing, actually. But taking down half of a wall - a LOAD BEARING wall - well, that takes time. And two huge steel beams to distribute the weight. Let me show you...


The drywall is down. This is the frame of the wall that existed between our dining room and kitchen. Notice the massive MESS. The kitchen is getting totally redone next, and we still have packed boxes from our move out of the storage unit in Ohio over Thanksgiving.


The braces have been put in both sides, so the framing can come down to counter top level. Still a massive mess. Also? Notice the ugly chandelier up on the right sticking in the photo. It had hanging crystals (plastic crystals) and lots of bright brassy gold. It made my head hurt therefore I removed them.


Countertop is starting to take shape overall. Lots of drywall work to be done.


Looks a bit better, and you can see the steel beam on the left side inside the wood frame-up. Also, new chandelier. It's brushed silver/pewter and has the glass with "bubbles" it in, like old fashioned imperfect glass. It also has a glass detail in the center of the bottom, but you can't see it from here. And? That white paneled wall used to be brown. Two coats of primer and five coats of paint cleaned it up.


Ahhhhh. The lovely wallpaper in the kitchen. Can you believe we want to get rid of that?

So the work is almost done. We've hung two pendant lights over the countertop, the drywall is almost finished and we can start priming and painting the dining room side soon. Next up? Cabinets have to come out and wood laminate flooring in kitchen has to go down so we can get the appliances and new cabinets in. I'm really really thankful we're able to do this. don't let my frustration and impatience fool you. It's making the house our own. And we're doing most of it ourselves (A contractor did the load bearing wall framing and drywall up to now. We've done/are doing all the rest on our own.) It's just a long road a head as far as getting things finished and being able to really clean up the house and have a place for everything. And be rid of the drywall dust. And this is aside from the family room where we removed paneling, re-insulated and drywalled and now have to prime and paint as well. Yee HAW! It's a good thing I like doing this stuff more than I mind the mess! Pray for us.
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