Monday, August 27, 2012

Okay, So Miracles Happen

I'm always praying for miracles. Sometimes I forget that they actually happen. Wake-up call time.

Warning: this gets a bit crazy, so if you are allergic to spiritual warfare, you've been warned.

There is a 7-year-old boy who is a regular at the cafe. He and his cousins and his siblings make up one of the core groups that we work with. For the past few months, he has continually gotten into fights, screamed at people, broken stuff and even hit me on occasion. He and his cousin throw rocks at us, the windows, and pretty much do anything they can to express their anger at us. We have had some truly spectacular battles of will from time to time. His sister told us that he has anger management problems.

We (and God only knows how many others) started praying for him and his cousin. They started coming to the church services, but this boy would vigorously argue with everything we would say during the sermon or service. When we would pray, his eyes would roll into his head and he'd go nuts or wouldn't even be able to hear us or recognize that we were speaking.

We would say, "Jesus is God."
"No he isn't!"
"God loves you."
"No he doesn't!"
Et cetera.

Long story short, this boy doesn't have anger management problems; this boy has a demon that has anger management problems. After we identified this, and we started telling the evil spirit to shut up during church, he could hear some of what we were saying and some of it took root. Of course, then it started making him lie down in the middle of the road after we'd have an episode in the cafe, or some such stunt. He still would come to church, but for about a month, he even stopped that. We all have still been praying.

Christina had a few dramatic encounters with him where she told him that she would never hit him back and that God loved him and so did she. At one point, he sat and cried with her on the curb for about 20 minutes. After that, he would act up, but not with the same virulent hatred that he had before, and he stopped arguing with every single thing. God gave me a dream during which I and several others did deliverance ministry with him.

I went to Uganda. While in Uganda, he and his cousin were on my heart pretty much 24/7 the entire time, so I kept praying for them, along with many others. First day I came back, he saw me and ran up and gave me a huge hug and said "I missed you!" It was really sweet. Five minutes later, he hit me really hard on the back as he walked out the door. Pretty sure he had no conscious knowledge of doing it, since he didn't look back to see if I'd do anything.

Today, we had Bible study class. Christina was going through the Jesus comic book with some of the kids, but this little boy wasn't really interested, so I asked him if he wanted to do a story with me. We sat in the corner and I started to tell him the story. He looks at my Bible and says, "That word isn't in there!" He's 7. I didn't know he could read. So I read him, word for word, three stories. Then he flipped around and picked a story and read 3 stories to me, cuddled up next to me. He was really into it. I just sat there saying, "Uhhhhhh....okay."

When we finished, he picked up my Bible and said, "I'm taking this with me." I swapped him for a slightly easier to read translation of the New Testament, which he hugged and took with him, proudly telling his sister that "Pastor Hannah had given him his very own book called New Testament that he could read." And then proceeded to give me a mangling koala bear hug all the way to the door.

God is so, so, so good. He still has work to do in this little boy, but...holy freaking cow!!! YAY Jesus!!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Foosball and Forgiveness

The kids in the Cafe lately have been trying to make me angry this week. Really. They admit it -- basically, they said the don't understand why I don't yell like other adults do.

I was feeling pretty good about being the model of Christian self-control after all this. Until yesterday. That's when I challenged Hannah to a rematch of foosball.

Hannah is good at foosball. Quite good. I'm OK, and I wanted to see if I'd gotten much better. After the score was 8-1, I realized I hadn't gotten as good as I would have liked. And I was getting frustrated because I like to win.

I stopped the game to ask for some tips on strategy and spent an inconsiderately long time asking for details on how to position my goalie and two defense guys. Meanwhile, the kids were beginning to roll their eyes because they wanted to play. When Hannah finally pointed out, "Hey, these guys are waiting to play," I got even more frustrated and said, "You guys go ahead and play" and began to walk away from the game.

Not my finest moment. Hannah called after me, "Hey, we're not done with the game." So, even more embarrassed, I came back, halfheartedly played until she scored two more goals, and scurried away.

One of our kids, sensing unease, said, "Are you and Pastor Hannah not friends anymore?" I had to smile and said, "We're still friends. I was just being immature and walking away from a game that I needed to finish."

Hannah at that point tried to apologize to me, but I was so angry with myself for not being Super Priest (see opening paragraph of this post) that I kind of muttered something and hid in the back for a few minutes to pray and get my head together. While talking to God, I knew that I needed to apologize for being childish. To Hannah. In front of all of the kids.

So, I did. Walked out front, apologized, asked for forgiveness and received it.

The whole thing, in retrospect, seems foolish. But as I've reflected on it, I believe God uses things exactly like this.

The kids do need adults who won't yell at them. Sometimes, by God's grace, I can be that.

What they need more desperately is adults who screw up, admit their fault, and ask to be forgiven. They need to see grace practiced. That's actually harder for me.

Hopefully, with God's help, I'll grow more and more into being that kind of priest.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Beginning Transformations

Snapshot of things God is doing.

When we first started hanging out in the park and teaching Bible stories, some kids would come over to play music or hear the story. But there was one kid (the playground bully) who was really not into us being there. He would circle around and throw things (sometimes rocks) at the kids who were joining us. He would mock the older ones, saying "What are you doing with them? That's baby stuff!" and try to shame them into going and playing basketball with him instead.

Thing is, this kid was so lonely. We could see it - he was the bully, but he was so miserable. There were times when we'd go by the playground and he'd just be sitting there by himself with his basketball, watching other kids play together.

We kept coming back to the park every week, and he would come over to the cookouts to get a hot dog or something. He would join the games we started (mostly with the intention of destroying them - somewhat successfully - we had to sic the deacon cop on him once). We finally managed to make him talk to us long enough to get his name. After which, he ignored us if we used it, so it didn't much matter. But it did mean that we could pray for him by name. Every week we would teach Bible stories, and he would circle around the tables, but he stopped trying to interfere - he would just circle at a distance, hoping someone would ditch us and play with him.

Well, we kept praying for him and saying hi and trying to get him to join us for about 6 months. Then we opened the cafe. We were still going out to the playground, so we'd see him, and he continued to do his circling/ignoring thing.

Six weeks after we opened the cafe, he came in with some of his friends and started bullying around the cafe. We made him stop, but it was pretty obvious that he wanted to play inside, but didn't know how to play foosball (the game of choice in the cafe). I offered to give him lessons a few times - succeeded once. The other kids started mocking him for his ineptitude, but he started learning and isn't half bad now.

We have a set-up where if kid wants something to eat and can't pay for it, they can do a cleaning job for it. One day, this kid decided he'd try that out. So he's in the kitchen washing dishes with us and I discovered that he is a really sweet, conscientious kid. I started thinking to myself, "If this boy doesn't watch it, I'm gonna start actually liking him a lot."

Then he started defending the cafe rules. Rather the opposite of continually trying to break them. Interesting.

Granted, he's still a sneaky bully a lot of the time. He still pushes boundaries. But somewhere in the past month, he's discovered that we actually do care about him - he counts on that.

Yesterday, I was teaching a crocheting class. He came over and asked to learn. I started to show him how, but he got frustrated and asked me just to make him a bracelet. So I did, and he wandered off. Later, he came back and asked to learn again. Again got frustrated, and asked me to make him a chain and put a cross on it. I nearly keeled over with surprise, because we've made it clear that you only get a cross if you want to learn about Jesus.

I started to make him a chain, and as I'm doing so, he asked, "Why do some people talk about Jesus all the time and not God?" Before I could say anything, he said, "I guess it's because he died and rose from the dead and stuff, huh?" Completely blown away, I just answered, "Yeah. I mean, when you think about it, it's pretty cool, right?" "Yeah." (Guess he'd been listening during all of his circling)

Christina came by with the cross and some cord. He saw the cord, looked at the cross I was wearing around my neck, pointed to it and said, "Can you make me one exactly like that?" I did, and as I handed it to him, I said, "Do you know why people wear these?"


"People wear these to remind them that Jesus died for them. And to remind you that he loves you that much."

"Hmm." Then he put it on, shuffled his feet and walked away.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why Today was My Favorite Liturgy of the Palms Ever

Every Sunday afternoon, we have a Holy Eucharist at Oaks Cafe. We really, really don't know what to expect most of the time. Local folks -- especially the kids -- are still deciding what to make of the full-on Sunday worship thing. Today we had a small gathering of neighborhood kids and an adult friend of ours.

We handed blessed palms out and told the kids, "This part of worship today is joyful. So, wave your palms like crazy." And we sang "Hosanna in the Highest" to the beat of a bodhran, and the palm branches flailed around every which way. And -- more than any other time I can remember -- I tasted a fragment of joy that must have existed in Jerusalem when a group of neighborhood kids got caught up into something they weren't sure what to make of and ended up singing and flailing palm branches around as Jesus rode by.

The service turned sickeningly fast, as it does, and the white stoles bled into red as the passion story began. We all just listened and imagined the pain and fear and mockery. And we were silent.

Communion was reverent -- especially for a bunch of unbaptized kids who don't know what to make of what they're encountering yet and can't yet receive. And at the end, there was fellowship over a cup of hearty soup and war stories of April Fools' Days past.

Lord Jesus, give all of us in our little community the grace to know how to walk alongside you during this Holiest of Weeks. Amen.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Beginning New Things

So, there has been this two-month lapse in the blog. During this lapse, we have been turning the M&M Diner into Oaks Cafe & Ministry Center.

God has blessed us incredibly throughout this process. He has given us some amazing volunteers who love to renovate, paint and do pretty much anything else we throw at them. These guys have been awesome. Sample of the past two months: "God, we need an electrician." Next day, an electrician shows up to volunteer.

"Lord, we really could use a foosball table." "Hey! Could you guys use our foosball table we have lying around?"

"Lord, megablocks would be really awesome for these kids." A wonderful woman shows up to make curtains, incidentally with a trunk full of toys and megablocks. And an artist daughter to help us make the space pretty.

Yesterday, we officially opened. Two former Starbucks baristas, a bunch of amazing bakers, several musicians, a token extrovert pulling people in off the street and so many more helped to pull the Cafe together and bring in the folks in the neighborhood. There were foosball death-matches with some of the neighborhood teens and much hot chocolate, cookies, fruits and veggies were consumed. Younger neighborhood kids came and played in the toy corner and had foosball (less-than-death) matches. It was really great to see them all chowing down in between games! Half of Missing Link Street Mission came wandering in to check it out and give us support.

And we had our opening Eucharist, led by Bishop Love.

So many churches were represented there - it was really beautiful, seeing different facets of the body of Christ come together to worship in the little cafe in North Troy. We worshiped, prayed, got the altar (built by the amazing Scotty Gladstone) consecrated, and sang Amazing Grace while processing around the block. It was a great way to start.

It has been quite a process - but God has pulled together an amazing collection of people to make it happen; we are so blessed. This is a hungry neighborhood, physically and spiritually. And now, we continue to pray that God would use this cafe and the ministry there to spread the light and hope of the Gospel into North Central Troy, healing, feeding, delivering, saving.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"utterly impossible and utterly wonderful"

"My Shepherd has called me to a flock that is wandering or wounded or rebelling visibly -- not just leagues away in the quiet of their hearts lined in the pews. I am to find my flock somewhere outside that rain-splattered window I'm looking out now....

"Truly, Lord, what is this call you have placed upon me? It is utterly impossible and utterly wonderful. What kind of priest will I become, Lord?"

I wrote the above words a little over a year ago as I prepared spiritually to be ordained as a priest. Hannah and I moved to Troy in the summer of 2010 with an absurdly glorious vision of God's plan of mercy and redemption. We had no home, no job, no church, no team. It was totally nuts.

In weeks and months, God provided us with jobs and a home. We prayed and prayed and prayed. And things happened. Astounding things.

A team formed -- of college students, of longtime area residents, of Christian Alliance folks and Methodists and inner city non-Denominational Christians and other Episcopalians from nearby cities and from cities hours away. They showed up to pray and to serve food and to play with kids. And the passion to see the light of heaven blast away the darkness in North Troy grew in us all.

Within the last several weeks, Oaks received a large donation that will allow both Hannah and I to quit our part-time jobs and to focus all of our time on mission. And, we have a building. We've rented a former diner in North Troy from a man with a desire to bless the city. We are excited about hot meals and hot coffee in that place in the months to come. We envision a safe place for kids to play and create and to play foosball. We want it to be a place for addicts to meet together and get clean. Most of all, the diner is to be a place where all people can come as they are to worship -- where the good and the bad can find Jesus' love and mercy.

Today, just 18 months after moving to Troy, we stood inside the diner praying alongside Christians of other denominations who share the Lord's absurdly glorious vision of mercy and redemption for Troy. They are utterly committed to Jesus and to laying their lives down for him and for the people in the neighborhood. They are our friends.

Truly, Lord, what is this call you have placed upon all of us? It is utterly impossible and utterly wonderful. What kind of priestly people will we become together, O Lord?