Street Theology

By John Harrell, Riverbend wRiters

homelessWho comes to mind when you hear the word, “radical?” When used as a noun, a radical is someone advocating complete political and social change. As an adjective, a radical describes someone who “affects change.” The greatest radical ever was Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to bring us more religion. He came to show us the true character of God, and He shook things up a bit while doing so. The change He affected remains over 2000 years later.

What??? Wasn’t Jesus the pacifist who told us to pray for those who persecuted us, and to turn the other cheek? Hey, He didn’t even stand up for Himself when He was on trial for His life. Jesus doesn’t sound like much of a radical.

When teaching the crowds and disciples, Jesus called the religious leaders, the Pharisees, hypocrites! The Pharisees were the guys, above criticism and reproach. It was unthinkable, even risky, to challenge them or their authority. While some may have been critical of them in private, Jesus called them out publicly. Sounds pretty rad to me.

When Jesus went to the Temple, He found it overrun with thieves and disreputable traders. Jesus made a whip and drove out the sheep, cattle and crooks, thereby returning the Temple into a true place of worship. Again, Jesus sounds pretty rad!

Most of Jesus’ teaching took place in public. He went to people’s homes, orated the famous Sermon on the Mount and He even had dinner with despised tax-collectors. Jesus went where the people were, reaching out compassionately, offering hope, redemption and restoration. Jesus’ method of teaching was different from the Pharisees, and the people responded.

Street theology is getting away from the safety net of the church. We go where the people are, serving their needs, offering hope as best we can while not being concerned if the population we serve ever goes to church or not. We meet them where they are. The heartbeat of any faith is its people, not the building, rituals or beautiful stained glass. We must think and act differently to effectively reach and impact others.

We can continue playing it safe. We go to church on Sunday, hear some music, throw money into a collection plate followed by a message from our spiritual leader. We go home. Live our lives. Rinse. Repeat.

 

Let’s be risky. Let’s hit the streets…jesus-saves-mural-1

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Emptying the Garage of Our Past

By Dan Naden, Riverbend wRiters

I often wonder what I’ll be like as I endure (God willing) a few more decades under my belt. My father, who is about twice my age, is struggling with his future of fading eyesight and limited mobility. When I converse with my elderly father, he longs for the way it used to be: a garage brimming with tools and trinkets – all with a story behind their acquisition and use.

Sig, my Dad’s old dear friend, gave him a screwdriver that took him back to his fix-it days in the 80s. If my Dad didn’t have three projects in flight, something was wrong, something off-kilter. ‘Pick up a job and do it.’ was his ‘can do’ motto. In a dusty corner of the garage sits a manual scoreboard that he built with his bare hands to help keep score during the many games he supervised as a public school PE teacher. Stuffed in a bin is a set of baseball bases and some worn and tattered Rawlings baseball gloves. The same bases and gloves used in my memorable 10th birthday party at Sunrise Park when I had the biggest baseball game the town had ever seen. And countless drawers, overflowing with screws and nails of every imaginable shape and size. Parting with even one nail or screw means he can’t do it anymore. It’s harrowing for him to admit there are projects to be done, yet he struggles to come to grips with the reality that he can’t be ‘Mr. Fix-It’, ‘old reliable Bob’, anymore.

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My Dad also laments the loss of his garden. Dutifully planting the tulips like clockwork under the resplendent canopy of trees in the fall to push up colorful splashes of beauty each spring became part of the yearly rhythm, an appointment that was never to be missed. And keeping the pesky rabbits away from the petunias was always challenging. And there were purple and pink roses, towering over the fence by the front sidewalk. If a visitor didn’t see the roses on their walk towards the front door, my Dad was quick to show them nature’s brilliance.

His favorite neighbor, out the front door to the left, was the friendly, jovial Stan Baron. Stan’s long gone, yet he wistfully recounts him teaching my brother and me how to catch a baseball and cut the grass. In his early golden years, my Dad and Stan went toe-to-toe around the Mt. Prospect and Hilldale golf courses, two quality tracks in suburban Chicago. On a few occasions, my Dad invited me out to the course. I felt like I’d received the golden ticket. Watching those two men battle it out on the 18th fairway for bragging rights (one adult beverage was always the wager) was like witnessing Arnie and Jack dueling in their prime.

How will I be when I can’t do my projects and it’s time to clear out my garage? How will I be when I can no longer clear my head by writing on a piece of paper or hammering out a few power chords at full volume on my guitar? How will I be when kicking a soccer ball seems too risky to even consider?

Cherish our days. They are numbered and burn away faster than lightning. Be free and generous in loving your friends and family.

What It Really Means to Be Fearless

December 30, 2018 · Maddie Schulte– Riverbend wRiters

 Every year, I adopt a word that will be my “word of the year.” I began the “word of the year” practice a few years ago in lieu of New Years’ resolutions. I’ve since found it to be one of the most powerful forces of change in my life. I commit to my word for twelve full months. Whatever that may look like. Whatever that year may bring.

Those who know me well know this is pretty much a sacred practice for me. By this point, I really should have some sort of initiation ritual to christen my word as it assumes its duty for the new year. (But, I’m already odd enough as it is, so I’ll probably just keep it as more of a low-key inauguration.)

I make lots of lists and pray and talk to friends and mentors when I choose my word. It’s not a flippant decision. “Fearless” was confirmed for me in early December 2017 on a flight from Seattle to Austin. I was watching the scene in Beauty and the Beast when Belle asks her father, Maurice, about her mother. “Fearless,” Maurice replies. “She was fearless.”

I started crying right there in my airplane seat. That was how I knew.

When I thought about a fearless year — sitting in that airplane seat in December 2017 — a wave of triumphant imagery crossed my mind. I had just been promoted at work after a hard year in a position that wasn’t a good fit and I was convinced that the promotion was a turning point, a sign that good things were on their way. A new job? Bring it on. A boyfriend? I’d love that. The magical ability to not be nervous walking into a room full of people by myself when I don’t know a soul? Where. Do. I. Sign. Up.

A dear friend gave me a framed picture of the “Fearless Girl” statue in New York City to commemorate my word choice. If you’re not familiar with the statue, the short description is it’s a statue of a young girl with her hands on her hips, shoulders back, and the wind to her face as she stares directly into the face of a charging bull. (The longer description is much more complicated — the statue actually has deeper symbolism tied to promoting gender diversity and women in leadership on Wall Street. The initial installation’s proximity to the pre-existing “Charging Bull” sculpture created quite a bit of controversy, so it was relocated a few months ago.) However you choose to look at it, the photograph I have is a picture of fearlessness…literally.

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That was going to be me. Staring into the faces of my fears with my hands on my hips, face to the wind, and gaze fixed upon whatever came my way.

Or so I thought.

How often do things in life ever go as we originally planned, though? Maybe like, 2% of the time. You can kick up the percentage a few notches if you’re particularly psychic.

As it turns out, my picture of fearlessness didn’t look a thing like the statue because here’s the thing about being fearless: The fear doesn’t go away just because you decided on a flight from Seattle to Austin that it was time for you to be more fearless.

In fact, I’m not entirely convinced it ever goes away. As I’ve leaned into fearlessness and what it looks like over the last year, I’ve discovered that fearlessness isn’t so much a stubborn adherence to appearing brave as it is an inner shift in how you approach the challenges that stand in your path.

Fearless means showing up. It means acknowledging that you might fail, but continuing on anyway. It means being vulnerable and brave and sharing your heart despite the fear of what others may think of you. It means falling, but then finding your wings to rise. It means extending others grace and compassion, but also extending that same grace and compassion towards yourself.

It’s having faith that everything will work out, as it should, when it should. It’s knowing your heart and going after the dreams that God has placed on it. It’s feeling the fear — all of the scary, messy, nerve-wracking parts of it — and carrying on anyway.

If I’m being honest, there were moments when I wish I’d have picked a different word. If I were to place myself in the position of the girl in the New York statue, I have been in the path of tremendous metaphorical bulls over the last twelve months. I lost my grandmother and my job (in the same week). I was unemployed for months. Somebody I dearly love was diagnosed with cancer, and others I love almost lost their lives to a freak accident. I promise you — nothing about my year has naturally leant itself to being fearless.

It would have been far easier to have written myself an exemption from being fearless in those especially difficult moments. Umm, you know what? I’d rather not be in the direct path of this charging bull. I didn’t know my year would bring all of these tremendous challenges. So, I have changed my mind. Fearlessness just isn’t for me! LET’S PICK A NEW WORD.

But, you know what? You don’t get to pick a new word in life.

Fearlessness is faithfulness displayed over and over. It’s not stepping aside when the fear crosses your path — it’s a commitment to living a life led by grace, compassion, tenacity, and courage regardless of what may come your way.

I can’t speak for the bronze “fearless girl” in New York, with her hands on her hips and her shoulders back. That’s not my picture of fearlessness. But, I can speak for myself, a “fearless girl” with a different picture of fearlessness — a picture of a girl whose heart is rooted in a faith that is bigger than any fear that may come her way.

Fearlessness takes a different form in each of our lives, depending upon the challenges we face. When Maurice told Belle that her mother was fearless, I think that’s really what he meant — Belle’s mother wasn’t stubbornly fearless for the sake of appearance, but she was fearless as she faithfully followed her own path, in her own way.

To bring us back to the title question: What does it truly mean to be fearless? To be “fearless” means following your path, and all that path may bring, with the confidence and assurance that every step is bringing you closer to who you were created to be.

 

Are You Busy Yet?

By John Harrell, Riverbend wRitersbusy Cmas 1

What happened? December is already here? It’s ironic how we save the busiest month of the year until the end. All year long we have proudly worked for the title of being the “busiest person around.” Shouldn’t December be a time to relax a little? Yet we work so hard to buy the perfect gifts, select and decorate the perfect tree, plan a festive Christmas Day celebration with family and friends, stress ourselves to the point of overload while smiling for the cameras that all is well. When Christmas finally arrives, we might make it to church if we aren’t too exhausted from all the “fun” December brings.

In our quietest moments, when we take time to reflect, we realize all the busyness doesn’t bring us joy or self-worth. I would suggest it robs us of inner peace and leaves us feeling empty. So how do we get to the true spirit of the season, and how do we remain connected to it all year? It certainly doesn’t come from more gifts, brighter tinsel or a bigger tree. Our greatest sustainable joy comes from giving. Giving of ourselves impacts us in a way that can’t be bought. Author Leo Buscaglia wrote, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” All of us, every one of us, want our lives to matter. We matter most when we make it about others and not ourselves. Our natural tendency to be selfish throws up roadblocks at every turn. I know it’s a battle for me.

Our greatest moments of happiness and joy come from doing something for someone who can never do anything to repay us. There’s something magical about it. This universal law reminds me of something Jesus said (paraphrased), “What you did for the least among you, you did for Me.” This year, and all year long, let’s take time for others. And most important, let’s do it quietly with humility. The One whose approval we need is watching, and that’s good enough…

A Basin of Mercy

By Maddie Schulte, Riverbend wRiters

 

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A few Sundays ago, I sang Natalie Grant’s song, “Clean,” during the 9:45am service at Riverbend Church. One of the lyrics of the song is: “He washed me in mercy.”  Without fail, every time I sing those words, I picture myself standing next to a big basin filled with mercy as God splashes my face – like a commercial for a face wash product.

I also picture the basin scene happening in a log cabin, because in my mind I associate large basins of water with prairie-style log cabins.

This imagery, while simple, begs the question:  What does it look like to be washed in mercy?

Mercy, by definition, is: compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

Compassion.

Forgiveness.

Those are powerful words.

Have you ever tried to show compassion towards someone who wronged you? Or, another step further, have you ever tried to forgive them for wronging you?  To pardon them for hurting you or for causing you pain, while simultaneously showing them genuine grace and kindness?

It is certainly no easy feat.  Yet God washes us in mercy.  He doesn’t sprinkle us with droplets of mercy.  He doesn’t say, “Here’s the basin of mercy and there’s a towel…wash up and I’ll meet you outside.”  He actively washes us in mercy, scrubbing away all of our sins and missteps.

If you think your water bill is high, imagine the price of mercy.  Imagine sitting next to the person who wronged you, picking up a loofah, and washing them in mercy.

In that moment, it would be easy to let pride sneak in.  It would be easy to say, “You owe me.”  It would be easy to be bitter and angry, withholding forgiveness until they made it known that they were sorry.

In today’s social and political climate, compassion and forgiveness aren’t popular terms.  Fitting mercy into the context of heated arguments and a divided, partisan society can feel a little like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole: it simply won’t work unless you lob off the corners, thus distorting the meaning of true mercy.

I can’t speak for society, nor do I want to.  I think there is beauty in differences, for we all see the world through the lens of our own experiences, beliefs, and opinions that have shaped our lives until this point.

I can, however, speak for myself, and it is my desire to show as much compassion and forgiveness—and thus, mercy—to others as my imperfect self is able.  I still believe there are consequences to our actions, whether positive or negative, but it is not my job to “teach somebody a lesson.”  Rather, it is God who will shape their heart.  If I can show a little glimmer of His mercy and His grace to “someone whom it is within my power to punish,” I don’t think it’s excusing their behavior, but rather showing them the immense love of God.

Natalie Grant’s song continues with the lyrics, “There’s nothing too dirty that You can’t make worthy.  You wash me in mercy.  I am clean.” Who will you invite into your little log cabin today and offer a basin of mercy?

Your Flight Is Now Boarding…

By John Harrell, Riverbend wRiters

Where does fear come from? We weren’t born with fear, doubt and worry. We have allowed ourselves to believe life is a treacherous mine field, causing us to seek safety and security rather than living fully. What’s worse, we allowed fear to control our thinking, and ended up settling for a life less than what we truly desire in our hearts. It’s time to change that.

Helen Keller wrote, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Keller was blind and deaf from the age of nineteen months, yet became a woman of great accomplishment. If you are reading this, you aren’t blind, so you begin where you are with a huge advantage over author, activist and lecturer Helen Keller.

Think back to your childhood for a moment. You had unlimited, even outrageous, dreams for your life. You were going to conquer the world, and nothing would stop you. What happened to the dreams of that child? Life happened. Hardships, hurts, listening to the wrong voices,  feeding our own insecurities numbed us into rationalizing why we should abandon our life goals.  We settled rather than taking flight.

It isn’t too late. We were made to fly; to soar. Our spirits are imbued with a higher purpose than most of us are living. We want our lives to count; to matter. Fear of failure and doubt stop us from taking that brave, first step. But take heart, you were created to make a difference.

Stop hiding from the child with huge dreams. Reconnect! It’s time to live again, and live with purpose, drive and fulfillment. When doubts surface, and they will, kick them to the curb. Be audacious.

Are you ready and willing to live again? To fly? To soar? I hope you answered yes, because your flight is now boarding…

Conversations…

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By John Harrell, Riverbend wRiters

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas, mediocre minds discuss events, small minds discuss other people.”

What kind of conversations are you having? Is your life focused on gossiping about your co-worker, or does J. Lo’s advice on the trendiest dating APP got your attention? I will suggest there might be a bigger world out there.

We have numbed ourselves to what’s really important. Our focus has become small. People get cut off in traffic and immediately blast this indiscretion on social media. If you have a political opinion different from others you get multitudes weighing in, oftentimes hurling insults, telling you why your beliefs are wrong and you must see things their way. How’s that going?

In recent years, politicians have launched “listening tours,” whatever those are. In theory, the politico wants to be portrayed as genuinely concerned about the issues of the day. Entertaining his/her constituent’s voices, the politician seemingly wants to engage in conversation; to listen. There’s no honest dialogue, and the great portrayal becomes the big betrayal. Nothing changes.

I will offer there is another way…

When you rearrange the letters in the word ‘listen,’ you get silent. I don’t believe it’s accidental.

What might happen if we put our personal differences and insecurities aside, engaged with each other in meaningful conversation, and listened to each other?

How many times have you been talking to someone, yet while they are speaking you are ready with your reply before they even finish their sentence? We all do it. That’s called hearing, not listening. Active listening requires real effort, and it can be exhausting.

The human spirit is designed for growth. Think of your brain like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it becomes. Reading check-out line magazines and watching hours of television diminishes your capacity to think. At the very least it changes what you are thinking about, and impacts your conversations. Garbage in, garbage out, so-to-speak. Fortunately, the entropy of your brain I’m describing can be reversed.

Deeper, mind-stretching conversation expands your thinking while possibly reshaping your worldview. Be fearless when considering others’ opinions and beliefs. It’s not a threat to your convictions to see the world through different eyes. Be open-minded.

Our differences can make us better, stronger and more connected. They do not have to divide us. See through to the hearts of others, and let them see you for who you are. We can accomplish this, if we’re willing…