Jenna poses behind bars in a memorial to Auschwitz

i need a church

IMGP1268It is early morning. Too early. The February freeze won’t loosen its grip and it creeps into this dark, before-the-sunrise home. Its cold, sharp fingers burn as I kiss Jay goodbye. He’s got a plane to catch. Bulgaria. More than half of my heart explodes as he closes the door.

Into the emptiness of the sleeping room, I tap out Ed Sheeran i see fire ukraine revolution and he sings me a song for this generation. A song that seems a prophetic voice for the revolution that is Ukraine right now. There are images of Maidan caressing his smooth voice –

honest, raw. war. our reality. pain. blood and death. fire. ice

This is the global neighborhood that I call home. Continue reading

something we all need

IMG_0084The unheard melody of honesty dies like the last breath between now and eternity. I open my mouth, but the words will not dance, they will not perform their pretty pirouettes. They are ill-behaved, ill-timed, irreverent. Because nobody likes to admit their need.

I am sitting in a neutral coffee zone and meeting with a woman who directs a Hungarian ministry to prostituted girls. ‘We ask all of our volunteers to go through vulnerability counseling. You open up and share your weaknesses – in front of everyone. You go through the course with the girls who have left the life of trafficking. Almost every one has an addiction that they must beat.’

She pauses as if to gauge my reaction. She has done this before – met for coffee with a pseudo-interested do-gooder and watched them exit at this very point.

Admit my vulnerability? Talk about my addictions? Lay my shadow in the peering, probing, bright sunshine of observation? No thank you. I just came to offer my time. Volunteer. Do my part for the social fabric, you know? I’m here to rescue and rehabilitate girls who have been abused, sold, beaten, raped – administer the medicine of healing.

Because, that is what the Church does.  We are the hospital where the lives get patched and the wounds are soothed. We give. They receive. That’s the system. The hierarchy is happy.

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But sometimes, the world beyond our walls is relatively untouched, unimpressed, or un-impacted by what we have to offer. It is a head-scratching puzzle.

Why don’t they fill our pews on Sunday morning?

Why don’t they drink our small-group coffee in our cozy homes?

Why do public officials, and school administrators, and teachers seem ultra-wary when we offer our help?

There is a sweet group of faithful women in my community who meet every Thursday to pray over the items that needy folk post on the Facebook page. Normally, I don’t share prayer concerns, mostly because I have my act together – at least, that is what I tell myself. The truth is, I do not want to air my proverbial dirty laundry. Nobody does.

But, my stress levels were so high on Wednesday, I threw my prayer request into cyber-service before my sweet friend, Katy Beth, had even opened up the prayer chain.

I worded it nicely, acceptably, like Christians should do. But what I really could have said, if I were being vulnerably honest:

Help! Today kicked my but and if something doesn’t change, tomorrow will do the same. I am hanging onto a ledge by a little finger. I’m cracking up here.

Have you been there too? Ever feel like,

My ‘to do’ list is out of control.

My house is a trash heap.

My refrigerator is empty and the bank account is flirting with zero.

My kids are sick with 6 different maladies.

My dog ripped open the trash and it is all over the yard.

I forgot an important meeting and let someone down.

No matter what decision I make, it will be wrong.

I am the worst mom, the worst wife, the worst friend, the worst preacher, the worst student, the worst husband, the worst son, the worst missionary, the worst Christian that ever walked the planet.

And, I have a nasty headache.

And the company arrives in 36 minutes.

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Or, to be even more vulnerable …any one of us could be honest and say:

I do not like to lose control so I uber-organize every day and obsess about details.

Or,

I struggle with jealousy and it manifests itself in materialism.

Or,

I am afraid of growing old and irrelevant.

Or,

I am afraid of getting cancer, ebola, or a thousand other diseases that might change my comfortable existence.

Or,

And the list just keeps going because all of us struggle with baggage. But, we in the church rarely talk about the true vulnerability that builds a stage in our hearts and directs the production that the world sees.

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…

said our dear Mr. Shakespeare.

IMGP1268So, I am sitting here, backstage, wondering if the most powerful, world-changing, soul-purifying, healing, response to a world on the brink of war, and societies that are cracking up, and neighborhoods that are imploding, and marriages that are gasping, and teenagers that are using, and sexing, and pimping, is for the Church to be like this,

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross

A vulnerable Jesus, who wept, and bled, and felt pain for us, so that we might see God.

We know how to entertain, and tell stories, and dialogue, and welcome, and host, and play, and forgive, and preach, but do we remember how to lament?

To mourn.

To cry.

To weep.

To suffer with.

To raise our puny fists of fury to the doors of heaven and pummel it with ‘why?’

To flood the feet that brought us Good News with the tears of ‘when?’

To own our own vulnerability with one honest expression of, ‘This is how I prostitute my soul to the world, so that I can wear the mask that gets me through today’s performance.’

My best guess?

If We, the Church, the Body, were able to admit our vulnerability in a world that knows the dirty side of the night, they would join us on our journey to a Savior.

#flattenthehierarchy

#bevulnerable

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when we doubt that God is powerful enough

budapest

Budapest Lonely

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Viscri, Romania

Budapest

Budapest

It is a difficult thing to see a place laid to waste. Where there was once life and laughter and activity, now there is nothing but a hollow chasm and the whistle of the wind chills the bones and the soul. It is a desolate thing, this place that once held such promise, but now offers nothing in the way of comfort or protection. The memories of what once was beautiful make the ruins more difficult to bare.

I have seen that place – in Kosova after the war – in Moscow after the fall of the Berlin Wall – on the road to IKEA in the movements of prostituted women who freeze their bare flesh by tire fires.

In the story of Isaiah (58:12) we are told that after 70 years of decay, the people of Israel now faced the ruins left behind by past generations.  Not only the ruins of a city with buildings and streets and life, but the ruins of a culture, of a religion, of a way of life, of a lineage and a promise.

Who could carry such a heart break and stay the course of the journey? Who could look past the destruction and see a city in the future? Who had the strength of soul to see hope in the midst of decay?

For the heartbroken, for the weary, for the resourceless, Isaiah spoke of a beautiful hope that was hard to embrace as a reality. A someday hope, when the foundations would be raised up, not replaced. Rebuilt. Repaired. Restored. The old made new.

We read the prophesy of Isaiah from a 21st century cushion and recognize the Savior, who came to make all things new. He came to restore broken hearts, decaying souls, destroyed cities and families and dreams. We see the fulfillment of the prophesy in the incarnated Christ. Looking back, we see Jesus as the answer, the only possible answer, to the brokenness of Israel. There is no question of his faithfulness, his power, his love, his able-ness to restore his people.

But, let us be honest: Sometimes we struggle to believe God’s restoration power for our future.

200_9905194487_9823_nCan he repair our broken relationships? Can he restore our cultures, societies and governments? Can he raise up the foundations of Christian ethics and holy hearts? Can he cure the decay of sin that is an everyday, uncontrollable predator of all that we love and hold dear?

The reality of our ruins sends a chill of fear into our bones and into our soul. The future can seem, well, hopeless unless we let Isaiah’s prophesy be true for our us as well.

Our story begins in a beautiful garden. It ends there too – in a garden; restored, repaired, raised up, healed from the bondage of decay. John writes of a new Earth restored from the old. He writes of a new Jerusalem. He meshes and blends and echoes the voice of the Prophet Isaiah with a promise for our future.

Today, will you believe Isaiah’s prophesy for your future?

Dear Jesus, 

It is true that we recognize your faithfulness in the past. Not only your faithfulness to us, but to those who came before us throughout history. Still, our human nature makes it difficult to leave our futures in your hands. We struggle to believe that you can restore, repair, rebuild that which has been destroyed. Help us, please, to give you our unbelief. Help us to submit to your restorative power in our lives, in our hearts, and in our world. 

We give you the glory. Amen.

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third space

IMGP1505There is a pink cherub skip-jumping a merry jig down Tkalciceva Ulica. She is anchored to her mum by one chubby hand while the other bounces a fall bouquet. The bounty is no doubt intended for a luncheon with friends but sans anchor, both cherub and flowers would be quickly lost in Zagreb’s sea this Saturday morning.

Buzzing voices marinate with the tinkle of spoons on coffee cups. The smell of expresso is in the street. It all pulls you toward a paradoxical space of intimacy amidst the crowd, if you can find a spot to sit and sip.

And, it seems like Jesus can’t find a seat.

IMGP1498 - Version 2IMGP1507IMGP1556This is not a crowd of tourists having a weekend go in Zagreb. They are locals who have rolled out of their Saturday bed, made an effort to look nice, and trekked to the centre from wherever they live. It’s like a Sunday morning scene that makes a church pastor salivate.

Come and get your Jesus fix here.

IMGP1413 Get rest for your merry souls. Forgiveness for your dirty deeds. Relief for your addictions, and your depression and your loneliness.

But, they don’t.

And the Church can’t figure out why we are empty. In Europe. In North America.

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They don’t come. Get fixed. We are empty.

I wonder if it has anything to do with our people projects?

Because fixing people for heaven is a task that you designate and delegate and execute.

I don’t think people want to be executed.

They want to be wanted.

They want to open the door and be greeted with a kiss on both cheeks as the cherub passes the bouquet and linger over coffee because they are important to you. If you want a picture of the quintessential Europe, that’s it, right there.

Simple like that.

Honest.

Authentic. 

PoznanBut sometimes I get the feeling that we, as the Church, lick our lips like a lioness set free to cruise through humanity while they sit and sip their coffee in the kiss of the Adriatic sun.

Maybe they sense the danger, you know?

Because it is one kind of frightening to be swept away in a sea of people and another kind of scary to be counted as a number for an organization.

And that is what church feels like to this generation; an organization counting their number.

IMGP1552 - Version 2Nobody wants to be a number.

Or a project.

As if, with some measured time and the right ‘how to’ manual, I could renovate you and put you on the right track to Jesus.

Ironically, there are churchy articles and books that tell us how to connect with people. And, the problem isn’t that they exist. But, maybe why they exist should cause us to be concerned? Because, it implies that we don’t remember how to connect with people. Have we forgotten how to see someone as more than a countable commodity in our pews?

IMG_2992Three years ago, missionaries made Zagreb their home. 

We don’t have a mega-church.

To be brutally honest, I don’t imagine that we have the kind of church growth strategy that makes it into those ‘how to’ manuals. 

We have a Nazarene family becoming fluent in language and culture, putting their kids into Croatian school, practicing hospitality, carrying flowers into homes and finding seats in cafes.

Just like the Croats on the street below Dolac Market, in the third space, where it is public and intimate and anchored to the sea of humanity.

I like that – the intercourse of our lives birthing a relationship that cares for the other instead of using her. 

It isn’t my space. It isn’t your space. It is our space. Neutral. SharedAnd, we are hosted by the Holy Spirit in the Third Space.

He is that Third Space:

The Holy Spirit filling us, inviting us, to HIs table, and there is no Us and Them, because we are all  lost and lonely and desperate and in need of an anchor.

It sounds like, well, it sounds like what we all always imagined church should be, before Church became about the best outreach strategies.

Back when we saw people as people; not projects, not numbers, not potential Christians, not target audiences, not even people going to Hell if we don’t intervene.

It seems like there might be a table opening up in my life with a friend motioning for me to join her there. There is a place for you too, for all of us; a Third Space, where grace speaks and the coffee flows, and the pink cherub jigs her way down Tkalciceva Ulica.

Could you bring some flowers, if you come?

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fish stories

IMGP9293 The Naz had a storyteller once upon a time. Harmon Schmelzenbach had his Swazi fish and he wove them deep down into the centers of our bellies and tugged. Somehow, Mr. Schmelzenbach helped ears to get beyond our heads and our troubled lives and our pressing needs and to remember that the soul and the stomach rumble in a painful unison.

He who has ears, let him hear.

I love it that Jesus said that because, who doesn’t, really? Have ears, that is. It is the paradoxical Jesus speaking. The one grinning while sea water drips from his beard like tears drip from the soul of humanity. Continue reading

humans and their necks

“For some, war leaves no choice; for others it makes choosing a must. A small gesture can yield irreversible consequences. It can either save a life or ruin it. (A quote from the Schindler museum)

Barbed wire fence from Schindler's factory

‘saying you don’t come back from the cemetery’

I am angry in Krakow. Always. Angrier than a Christian should be. Angry like I could punch someone. Ball up my weak little fist and throw it into somebody’s gut. Is that righteous anger? I don’t know. But I peer through a grimy little window in a wall somewhere in Schindler’s Factory at photos of men hanging by their necks. Continue reading

tiger mom

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The clouds let go of a gush of tears as my baby left the car tonight. My wipers worked their rhythmic magic, a pulsating synchronization of my mother’s heart. In a few short months, she will leave for college. What is this ripping of ligament from bone that slashes at my tiger soul? It is the precursor to a thousand sleepless nights of wondering where she lays her head, how much sleep she gets, and what concerns worry her brow. Seventeen years of cinching car seats and looking both ways culminate in a kiss goodbye as she hops into a car of teens. Soon, too soon, she will board a plane that carries her far, too far, from my mother’s arms.

Continue reading