In the middle of a busy week….WHAM!! In came the flood, literally a flood!
Besides my regular routine I had film night with Rob and the guys from the Half-way house. I had a budget meeting scheduled. I had an exciting meeting with a group to plan new incarnational mission activities. I had a meeting with volunteers and staff of Out Flow ministries to help them become equipped to help people in ‘recovery’ with their 5th Step and beyond. I had work to do on the session I will be teaching at Crandall University in March and I had my last sermon to prepare for my friends in Pennfield. I want to make my farewell sermon count!
Into this week came a flood. After a series of major rain events my basement could keep the water out no longer. At 4:30 AM my wife woke me to tell me something was amiss. I got up to investigate and stepped off the last basement step into 2 inches of cold cold water. The heavy rains were compounded by the breakdown of my sump pump and a random shoe which had plugged the floor drain. What a mess! Cardboard boxes full of a lifetime of photos were water logged.
I usually take pride in only taking one bag of trash to the curb every two weeks but the next time we will increase that exponentially. My schedule was going to be impacted. My physical stamina was going to be tested! Yet Linda and I were thankful it was not worse. We are thankful for the health to physically cope and the spiritual resources to be thankful. “In everything give thanks.” Were among the first words from Linda’s mouth. (I must confess mine were less holy. I think I first complained about how cold this water was on my bare feet.)
Scripture says that when floods come we will not be overwhelmed. The word “when” conveys the inevitability of floods. When temporary setbacks happen my mind is drawn to think about my son David and his bride Victoria. They suffer setback after seemingly endless setback and they persevere. It is wonderful when your children become your role models! They are not overwhelmed and I will not be either. The ache in my back from my spate of recent activities has only made me more homesick for the time when floods and sickness, sorrow and sighing will be but distant memories.
My ego may have to accept that my sermon may not be stellar this Sunday or it may be despite me. Either way we will choose to be thankful.
I was chatting with a friend after writing last week’s blog. She noted how many memorial or funeral services were a part of the conversation. Linda and I were given a picture frame which is to hold a collage of 21 pictures. It was suggested we might want to document some of the people and events that have been a part of our time with Street Hope. These two events got me thinking about the people that have blessed us and are no longer with us.
Donna was one of the first to become a regular at our Drop In. She was a ‘gate keeper’ and without her presence it might have been tough getting this ministry going. She told me the first day that she was praying for a pool table. It took me several month but we did manage to get a second hand table. Several years ago Donna passed away from an ailment that would not be at all fatal for someone not caught in the web of poverty. At her funeral service they had a slide show of her life. This slide show had two pictures! That summer we gave cameras to all our Deer Island participants so they could capture those memories. Since then Linda makes a point of making copies of photos for people so they may have something to remember and be remembered by.
Ron was the first to come to our “Healing Clinic” and he credited our prayers as the reason he got a new kidney. That kidney kept Ron alive to share his bad puns for several years before he too died.
Mark was estranged from his daughter. He arranged with his ex for his daughter to accompany us to Deer Island. They went together two years and experienced reconciliation and healing. Just hours after returning from their last trip together, Mark was murdered. We were all shaken. The murder remains unsolved.
Doug was ‘our evangelist’. He brought several people to our community. Many of these folks remain as core members. Doug was in the first intrepid group to join our Deer Island vacation. He did not like the dirt! Camp life was not for fastidious Douglas. When he was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently died I was not able to do his funeral or memorial but I was able to attend. I was hurt when the minister referred to him over and over again as “Dougie”. Only his older sister was allowed to call him that. Doug was a man of extreme dignity! Though he suffered with bi-polar he was always dressed to the nines and insisted on being called Doug or Douglas.
John was a fellow with a notorious reputation. He could not live down his bad past deeds nor could he live with his reputation. Though I spoke to him several times about the hope we can find in Jesus, he, in despair took his life.
Shortly after John’s death Larry, who was a gifted cook and musician, impulsively took his life. This saddened and shocked us.
Sean and Donnie were both central to our mission and each died recently.
None of these people were as old as I am. Poverty contributed to the death of most. Each death has been a setback but each life is a legacy. We move forward as a better community enriched by the lives of those we see no longer. But one day ….
One thing I really enjoy about my life in Street Hope is the unpredictability. I cannot say “No two days are the same.” but there is always the potential lurking for something surprising. Not all surprises seem good, but time and reflection reveal the lessons and the blessing in even the most difficult of surprises. Not all surprises come disguised as difficulties some arrive as welcome and pleasant gifts.
Such a gift came into our community in the person of Shelbee (I asked Shelbee’s permission to use her name). My first distinct memory of Shelbee was meeting at a memorial service for John. John had killed himself. He saw no way out of the sad circumstances that engulfed him. Shelbee and I had a talk there and had weekly chats after that. Then we started seeing each other at our Study and Prayer times. It was obvious that Shelbee didn’t know much about the Bible or the Good News, but slowly changes began to happen. Shelbee became a kinder and less selfish person. Later we spent time at another memorial for Larry, another suicide victim. I think Shelbee determined that no matter how tough things got this was not an option for her.
What I haven’t said yet is that when I first met Shelbee she was Sheldon. She would describe to me the hormones she was taking and their effects. I learned a lot! I never pictured myself with a “trans” friend but surprisingly here I was. I could have judged him in those early days and lost all chance of sharing the love of God. I chose not to do that. I felt like God was more interested in transforming Shelbee from the inside, and much less concerned about what was happening in bodily transformation.
That inner transformation is happening. Shelbee has a ministry of kindness. She has a whole new circle of positive friends. God has used Shelbee in breaking through to a reclusive woman who had closed herself off from the world. She is the most faithful waterer of our garden though she doesn’t care for flowers. While most people might bring food to a barbecue (and she has done this) Shelbee brought a barbecue and a lawn table, as gifts! She regularly brings a car load of friends to our Drop In where she has discovered a positive and accepting community.
Don’t get the idea she is a saint! She can still swear like a trooper. But it has been surprising in the best of ways to see the positive changes, the transformation happening in her life.
We have, together, experienced some firsts. I helped with paperwork to change her name. I never saw myself doing anything like that. Just before our memorial service for our dear friend Donnie, Shelbee asked if it was okay to wear a dress to the service. Without thinking I said “Of course!” This was not a question my theological training had ever equipped me for but in the context of our growing friendship it was the most natural of replies.
I don’t have a firm theological idea of how this kind of ‘gender mix up’ occurs in our fallen and broken world, but I do have a theology that understands that temporal things are temporary. My advice to others is “When in doubt, love! You may be delightfully surprised at the results.”
I was at a service this week where the speaker used the analogy of D-day as a picture of the ‘already but not yet’ nature of the Kingdom of God. He spoke of the cross as D-Day. The victory was truly won but the complete apprehension of that victory was still a future event. Like all analogies of God’s activity this has shortcomings but it conveys that we live in a period of time where His Kingdom is not fully realised. We are to pray “thy Kingdom come thy will be done”, and then we are to, in the words of the famous Nike slogan “Just do it”.
While the D-Day analogy pictures this liminal nature of existence, I want to contend that the ‘water shed moment’ the time when victory was sure was the incarnation. The angelic announcement was one of salvation. The Kingdom began effectually with the arrival of the King! The mission of God to rescue a lost humanity is launched from a manger! Christmas changes everything.
I so often find the Church’s celebration of the Incarnation so inadequate. We move from a doctrine lite celebration to accommodate the visitors to a children’s pageant full of shepherds in bathrobes. One is important for its evangelistic opportunity and the other is an important family tradition. But other than the hymns we get little of the importance of the incarnation. We are soon off on the topics of the massacre of the innocents and the arrival of the magi. These too are important topics but we leave the incarnation too soon and too shallow.
As I was stewing about this I got an email requesting me to teach a class on “Incarnational Mission” at Crandall University. It seemed like the Lord was challenging me to put my ‘money where my mouth is’. The one who mildly laid his glory by is our great example. God is still with us. Immanuel promised not to leave us as we engage in the great mission. That mission is to proclaim the humble King who brought salvation to the world. God’s great gift was himself. He became sin though he knew no sin so we might find ourselves in a right relationship with God. It is this ‘becoming’ which is the incarnation. As we proclaim his Kingdom we also live out the great principles of that Kingdom, those of justice and peace.
Perhaps the Church is so weary of the secular celebration of Christmas that we don’t have the energy or attention span to sit long with this powerful doctrine. It informs our understanding of Jesus life and teachings, and it will inform our life lived in accord with those teachings. If the organized Church does not fully explicate this truth then it becomes the task of each mature or maturing Christian to dig into this theme for themselves. I guarantee you won’t be poorer for the effort.