Tuesday, July 16, 2013


The following story was originally written in April 2011:


Taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body given on your behalf.  Do this in remembrance of me.

--Luke 22:19

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

       --Acts 2:46b-47

He loves us and he will always love us in the house of the Lord.

--Allenia, age 9, written on the glass door in our living room

   It’s seven-thirty on a Friday night, and the sun is beginning its nightly routine, slowly melting into the horizon and forming rivers of red, orange, and yellow.  The late light flows through the power lines that run from our house into the distant sky and bathes our red-and-white, wood-frame house in hues that speak of longing and promise.  Josh, Emily, and John are the first to feel the outpouring of the sky.  They are sitting on the roof and watching that deeply spiritual phenomenon that is the end of a day.

Below them I sit at the picnic table under the car port, surrounded by a buzz of activity.  Out in the gravel lot under the power lines, kids are doing cartwheels and tossing around a football. Beside me at the table, Anna and Donovan are finger painting with a couple of ACU students.  Black and white hands become unrecognizable in the assortment of blues, whites, and greens as they leave handprints on construction paper and on the hearts of those who are meeting God in the other.

In the kitchen, Faith and Aaron are finishing up dinner, Lily is washing some dishes from a late lunch, and Conner is keeping his eye on the ice-cream maker, spinning away in its bucket of ice and adding to the din.  Soon the artists’ table will be returned to its original purpose, and the many miscellaneous conversations about life, love, faith, and struggle happening throughout the house will cease – better yet, will converge, as young and old, black and white, male and female, Christian and Sojourner, poor and rich, join hands and give thanks for God’s provision and love.

We have big dreams for the Allelon community.  We want to see transformation in our neighborhood, in our churches, in our city, in our country, and in our world.  Visions abound: a community garden, an after-school program, a neighborhood association.  We dream of abandoned crack houses and flourishing schools.  We dream of parks being safe on a Friday night.  We dream of every person in our hood knowing the love of God and extending it to others.

  The realization of these dreams must begin with inner transformation.  As anxious as we may be to see systemic, structural change, there is no way forward as long as the walls in our hearts remain standing, walls of racism, classism, individualism, and materialism that separate us from God and from each other.  In the Allelon house, community meals have become times of holy demolition.
As we sit down at the table with others who do not look, talk, act, or think like us, as we share laughter and debate and prayer and grief, as we serve and are served, God breaks down every wall that divides us.  For us eating is not just a necessity; it is not a means to an end.  The table is a place of communion, where we as Christ’s body remember the story of his great love for us.

  The Last Supper is one of the most celebrated and remembered scenes from the Bible.  It was Jesus’ final meal with his disciples.  From Jesus’ words and actions at this meal comes the ancient sacrament of Eucharist, in which we share in Christ’s body and blood.  I have no doubt that this is a Eucharistic text and that the early church was practicing communion as a ritual by the time the gospel accounts were penned.  But I also read this story on another level.

  Jesus is sharing a meal with his disciples, just like they have countless times before.  With his pending departure weighing heavily on his mind, Jesus breaks the bread and asks his disciples to do the same in remembrance of him, as if to say, “Listen fellas, I’m getting ready to leave.  See this bread that I’m breaking?  My body is about to be broken for you.  See this wine that we’re about to pass around?  My blood is about to be poured out for you.  You will share countless meals in the future.  When you do, when you see the bread and feel the weight of the cup in your hands, remember me and what I soon will do for you.”

  Communion as a sacrament is wonderful, an ancient tradition full of life.  But communion as a party where the family of God gets together and celebrates Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in their conversation and in their love for each other is also a beautiful way to fulfill those words of Christ, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Every meal is an opportunity to partake in communion. We celebrate his body that was broken and his blood that was shed; and we celebrate his body that is living, the community of saints, diverse and gifted, often dysfunctional, always redeemed – the Church.

  At community meals more than at any other time, I have an overwhelming awareness that God is doing something much bigger than me – much bigger than any of us.  I look around this small house in a forgotten neighborhood and see signs of life, dreams becoming reality as God brings the Kingdom here.  When Anna sits on my lap and John learns to forgive his enemy; when I confess sin to my brothers and from their eyes and mouths receive the forgiveness of Jesus; when Poon recites a poem and Kenderick returns my smile; when we join hands around the table – I feel the weight of all God has done and a longing for all these signs around me to reach their fulfillment as God’s kingdom finally and fully comes on earth as it is in heaven.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

In the Light: Conceptions of sin in 1 John

As anyone who has attended college or even just read a handful of good books can attest, education can be a very disorienting experience.  This is because it is difficult to be exposed to enough material to actually expand one's knowledge without also expanding one's knowledge of how much one does not yet know.  So during my freshman year in college, as I studied philosophy, I also realized the breadth of that field, vast planes of thought yet unexplored.  As I studied theology, I realized how many issues of faith I had never thought through, far more than I was able to think through during my college years. With every great book I read, a perusal through the bibliography revealed how many others I had not yet read.  And so, with each bit of knowledge gained, I lost confidence in the measure of my own knowledge.  And this is not the result of attending a particular type of school that was somehow degrading or where the teachers tried to make us feel lost in the sea of the knowable.  Rather, there is something about true education that is self-perpetuating; the more one learns, the more one realizes how much there is to learn.

Virtue is the same way.  The closer one comes to the ideal, the clearer is one's understanding of the distance between him/herself and that ideal.  There is a clearing of the vision that occurs as one attains to virtue, and what is revealed is the endlessness of that attainment.  A man who sets out to be truthful begins by ceasing to tell blatant lies.  As long as he is telling lies, ceasing to do so seems to him to be the meaning of truthfulness.  But as soon as he has mastered this basic idea, he will find that he has still a long way to go; for without his previous falsehood to obscure his view, he can now see deeper within his own heart, to the lies of omission, the lies of subtle deception, and eventually the lies that he is telling even himself.

A woman may begin by deciding not to shoplift anymore, but as soon as she has seen her way clear of that pit, she is able to look ahead on the road a bit; and she begins to question whether checking her facebook at work might in fact also be stealing.  When she has decided that it is in fact stealing and has mastered that temptation as well, she may realize that withholding her money from someone in need is for her a form a stealing.  How far she has come from deciding not to shoplift!  But still she is not done.  The road to virtue goes ever onward and ever inward.

This becomes even more true when a person's view of righteousness is not only philosophical but also relational, that is, defined in part by their faithfulness to God.  When I hear God beckoning me to the secret place to spend time quiet before God, and I choose over and over to read a novel or watch a movie instead - escaping rather than engaging - I know in my heart that I have sinned.  When I feel God gently nudging me to help a stranger or a friend and I do not respond, I know that I have sinned. As it says in James 4:17, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (NIV).  These decisions do not stand condemned by any objective moral framework.  In fact, for many other people who are at different places in their relationship with God, they would not be issues at all, just as there are many levels of faithfulness that I know nothing about.

The point is that saintliness is never experienced by a saint.  I may look at the life of Mother Theresa and describe it as saintly because it so far surpasses the level of faithfulness that is common among men and women; but I am sure that in her own perception, there was always another frontier of holiness and faithfulness to a holy and faithful God, one which she as often as not, I am sure, knew that she had fallen short of.

This line of thinking is the only way I have yet been able to make sense of John's teaching in 1 John 3.  He says:

"Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.  But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins.  And in him is no sin.  No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
"Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray.  He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.  He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work.  No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God." (1 John 3:4-9, NIV, emphasis mine)

These are hard words, the kind of writing that could make one question his/her own conversion.  I gave my life to Christ years ago, but I still struggle with sin!  Am I a child of the devil?  Have I not been born of God like I thought?  Maybe my baptism just didn't take....

In the past, I have dealt with it by talking about how John is using hyperbole here as a rhetorical device to add emphasis.  He is emphasizing the need for purity in the bride of Christ and drawing a clear line between righteousness and wickedness.  His concern is to exhort his listeners to godliness, to make them stop and question whether their choices honor God or honor the enemy of God.  There is a time and place for grace as well, but right at this point in the letter, he is trying to get them to straighten up and honor God.

That well may be.  He may be speaking hyperbolically.  He may be speaking with a greater concern for effecting a certain action than for making every statement theologically and soteriologically accurate.

As I read through this passage most recently, however, I noticed a paradox that got me thinking.  Consider the lines above: "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him."  But as we have already seen, the pursuit of virtue is an endless task. As we become virtuous, we realize how much farther we have to go.  As we find freedom from this sin or that sin, our sight is no longer clouded by it, and we can see more clearly our other faults.

To put this in a different way, the God who "purifies us from all sin," calls us to more and more the closer to him we get.  And everything to which he calls us becomes a point of decision: we can choose God's will or our will.  To choose our will is sinful.

The paradox is that for certain sins to even be a struggle for us is evidence that we have seen God and known God.  We are sinful insofar as we choose not to submit to his will and his way, which are revealed to us in the context of our sanctification.  Therefore that sinfulness is evidence of our ongoing sanctification.

So then, there are two types of sin: 1) Sin as lawlessness: the violation of a moral code.  This sin is verifiable, observable to anyone who might see me commit it.  I stole that shirt.  I slept with my neighbor's wife.  I clearly told a lie.  I sacrificed to an idol.  This sin is the devil's work, evidence of a life not submitted to God. 2) Sin as weakness and imperfection.  During the process of sanctification, God is constantly leading us to areas of our will that are not fully given to him.  He is calling us to higher and higher ground, holier and holier lives.  As Switchfoot puts it, "The shadow proves the sunshine."  As John puts it, "But if we walk in the light...the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." Failure and forgiveness are part of this purification.

I think that John, in verses 4-10 is talking about sin as lawlessness (see v. 4).  It is clear from his statement of purpose in 2:1 that he fully expects that we will still violate the revealed moral code (sin as lawlessness) after our conversion.  We must read the phrases in v. 6 ("keeps on sinning" and "continues to sin") with this context in mind.  These phrases could be read as "anyone who breaks the revealed moral code again after trusting in Jesus did not actually trust in Him," or they could be read as "anyone for whom violation of God's commands continues to be normative and unrepentant did not actually trust in God."

This makes sense in light of verses 11-20:

"This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.  Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.  And why did he murder him?  Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous.  Do not be surprised my brothers, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.  Anyone who does not love remains in death.  Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
"This is how we know what love is; Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us.   For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything." (1 John 3:11-20, NIV, emphasis mine)

John switches suddenly to focus on real, tangible love for one's neighbor as the measure of conversion. "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers."  Rather than his previous assessment that was black and white with no shades of gray, this measure for judging one's own conversion leaves a lot more wiggle room.  Just ask the simple question: Is my life marked by love for my neighbor the way the Jesus' life was marked by love for me (and my neighbor)?

In the final assessment, our confidence that we are in the truth does not come from a perfect track record of the "do nots."  This is important, John would say, and if the do nots are still normative for your life, you may want to see if you are on the path you think you're on.  And more importantly, if the do nots or normative for your teacher, it is a good indication that he may be "leading you astray."  But for disciples of Jesus, who, during the painful process of sanctification, sometimes feel like failures, sometimes fight the same battles over and over (in good company with most saints throughout history), our confidence - rest for our hearts in God's presence - comes when we, weak and frail though we are, actively participate in a life full of tangible acts of love (v. 18).

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Life of John Dunn

For those who are praying and for those who are new to the blog, I would like to make a post about our brother John.

John was the first person we met in our neighborhood. That was a God thing for sure. Back then John ran with the Crips and got into all sorts of trouble. One of the reasons he doesn't do that now is because he is in jail, but another reason is all of your prayers for him. God has been doing some mighty work the last year, starting with the time he lived with us and into the present as he sits out his time behind bars waiting for a trial that keeps getting postponed. His most recent letter to Wes informed us of his choice to leave the life of crime behind and to give his whole body and mind over to the lord Jesus.

I invite you all to renew prayers for this man, that the lord's justice will come swiftly along with his mercy and good will towards John's life.

May Jesus be praised and may the love of Christ shine in the life of our friend and brother John Dunn.

If you would like to write to John in addition to praying for him here is his info:

John Joseph Dunn #95353
910 S. 27th
Abilene TX 79601

In the next weeks we will be having elections for the neighborhood association, so we also ask for prayers that GOd will give us the right leaders and the right vision for the community at large.

God bless and may his peace rest upon the readers of this post. Amen.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

-Matthew 25:37-40

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Long time, no see

God is good. Thank you for all your prayers, we need them in the next few weeks as the neighborhood association nears completion. Keep looking, as shortly we hope to update the journey with a few stories and testimonies of God's. We love you all.

Peace to your house.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Somthing new from something old

Some times the best New things come when two old ones meet on a converging path. The two can no longer go on as they did before, either one must cease to be, giving way to the other, or they must join and move towards a new destination. This is the story of the Cross, when the word of God faced death and did not shrink away, but instead joined with the suffering of the world and took its hand through the veil of darkness. On the other side something new was established, something beautiful, something glorious. We now live at this Cross roads of Crucifixion and glorification awaiting the new to move on with the path of life. The tension of "here and not yet" is common place in our daily lives. It is refining us for the day of glory when the cross is behind us and life is fully ahead. Until that day, though, the Cross lingers in our sight awaiting our ascension, and that's hard because we want to live into the promises of life right now, on this day, for the glory of God.

An opportunity to examine this tension in our lives came around just recently. An unexpected guest became a sixth roommate in our home for the last several days. His name is Jesse. The thing about Jesse is that he needs social security benefits to survive and, as these things usually go, last week he momentarily fell through the cracks by some heinous technicality and lost his support, effectively making him homeless and broke. He just kind of showed up at our house one night and then never left. He has some kind of mental disorder that causes him to talk a lot and act like a child, but he's very kind and loves to laugh. Jesse also likes to talk about his past and how his Dad beat him as a kid and taught him to use profanity. The stories about his Dad come up bluntly and with an air of normality just as frequent as his wise cracks and silly jokes. As consequence the environment created by his presence is simply unadulterated reality. One cannot escape laughing at his jokes any more than one can keep from tearing up about the stories of his childhood even when the moment was set up for a different stage. Jesse interupted our lives with a jolt of reality.

For those who don't know, we have communal prayer time every morning after breakfast and every evening at 9 o'clock. We use a set liturgy, just released by Shane Claybourne, called "Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals." Its fairly uniform and requires a reading and response/ leader and congregation format. This became almost impossible to pull off with Jesse in the house, which isn't a bad thing in my opinion, but became a very huge opportunity to witness the character of our growing body. The first night we tried to do things as normal, but it felt very awkward, it was kind of synthetic, like trying to fit a square peg through a round hole. The book was the same, the words were the same, but the prayer time was no longer real in its old format. To be honest I love situations like this, I love it when we have to step back from our ridiculous expectations of spirituality and take our selves less seriously. Its a litmus test in my eyes, for the validity of our heart's intentions. What did we gather to do this night if Jesse's presence all of a sudden makes our most cherished rhythms feel synthetic? The practice is not wrong, and I I know our hearts do not reach perfection or the purity we strive for on this side of Jesus' return, no one is saying that, but was the practice more sincere about prayer than our hearts?

Its the already and not yet knocking again: do we keep the prayer time the same even though it no longer functions as reality with Jesse's interruptions, or do we go the way of the cross and allow for something new to happen? The next night I pulled Wes aside and asked him if we could alter prayer time to be more friendly towards Jesse and therefore less uncomfortable for others. We did, and it was a really good decision. It was powerful to hear him pray for the salvation of his father and to forgive him for what he had done. Our hearts were restored and our praise was a pleasing fragrance to the lord. Jesse led us some where new. I can see that God is doing a lot of that right now, and I want to take this opportunity to praise his name for it. Hallelujah!

Truly this is a season of new things in our community. I believe it with all my heart, and I want to share one new thing that I see coming on the horizon. New like resurrection from the dead, new like a church of Jews and gentiles. New like the mercies of God every morning.

I didn't know there was a church in the Stevenson neighborhood until I walked down Carver street for the first time. That was over a year and a half ago on a hot day in September. There was something old about meeting pastor Riley that day. I don't mean that the man is old, though he has been around the block a few times, I mean that he seemed an old friend right there, on the spot, the first time I met him. After his initial shock wore off, perhaps the shock of seeing a young white boy in the hood, we were fast to friendship. We had him over for dinner not a few days later, and before too long I was helping take Thursday lunches around the neighborhood to the elderly.

At the time Aaron and Ben were going to a church out in Clyde and Wes was attending the Mission in downtown Abilene. As for me it was the end of a long communal pilgrimage. I House Churched my way through college with folks who had been burned out on the institution and that wasn't far from my stance either. But now I had a chance for something new. My heart felt a mysterious tug towards Riley's congregation, my spirit showed me visions of rich future, but I was held back by doubt. I felt we would be called to this church as a sign of unity and reconciliation, but I didn't want to face burn out again, and in my heart I judged St. Johns and thought of it only in terms of what I could give. I just couldn't imagine the small forgotten church amounting to anything for our spiritual health. But I stand as a witness that the best new things come from something old. Redemption is so sweet to the soul, reconciliation so vital to the life of the spirit.

I couldn't ignore the spirit any longer, I felt called to be apart of something new, just like Peter at the house of Cornelius. As you know, we live in a neighborhood built in the fifties for segregation purposes. It stayed that way and became one of the biggest reasons for our relocation as a community, and a source of great calling. After being here for two years I can clearly see God’s hand in leading me to be apart of this small forgotten church. Just as a new people were brought together in the book of acts I felt the lord tugging on my heart to envision a new community of intergenerational post denominational multi-ethnic people. If there could be a sign of the gospel power here in this town this opportunity might be one of the greatest examples to display Christ’s message; a witness both powerful for the church and the city itself.

The first week was interesting. I was the only white person there which put me very out of place. The spirit of the civil rights movement still wanes in the hearts of the church members with a residual sermon note here or there to remind us of where African Americans come from. The reminders are received well with much vocal approval among the small crowd. But as the weeks have gone on other roommates have joined me and some of the older members have been returning after a long absence. Every Sunday the crowd seems more and more diverse. Wes even preached last week, which was awesome and powerful. And through it all I am amazed at how well God equipped this church for something new. I've never been to a church service that was so interruptible. Even people like Jesse have come to be a part of Sunday worship, people who bring us painfully present into the spirituality of reality. A slow messy business made of real people and uncomfortable situations along with laughter and crying mixed together in one incredible moment. I've never laughed so much at church, I've never been so moved, I've never lamented so authentically and I've never been so encouraged by one of the least of these. Not a single Sunday has gone the same since I started going to St. Johns, its been something new every time. I hope this continues, and I thank the lord for restoring my heart for Sunday services. May the lord be praised in the Stevenson neighborhood.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hello friends,

One of my main projects this semester is compiling a collection of short stories and theological reflections from our experiences in the Allelon community over the past year and a half. I thought I might share one of these stories with you. Kyle posted about this when it happened; you can read his post here. I hope you enjoy the story. I would appreciate any comments or suggestions.


“But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

- Matthew 5:39-42

“On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

- Romans 12:20-21

Jesus rightly asked what good it is to simply love one’s neighbor. His point was that everyone by nature loves those who love him, and there is nothing unique about such love. Jesus people, on the other hand, are called to a love that mimics the love of the Father, who “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” This indiscriminate love, based on God’s love for us and not on what the recipient of our love might do in return, is to be one of the defining characteristics of those who live as citizens of God’s kingdom.

The beauty of this love lies in its power to transform. It is so unexpected, so disarming, that it sneaks its way past people’s defenses. We will not be overcome with evil, nor will we relinquish our enemies to evil; we will overcome evil with good.

Nineteenth-century novelist Victor Hugo gives one of the moist poignant examples of this redeeming love in his novel, Les Miserables. After being invited into the bishop’s home and afforded every hospitality, recently released ex-convict Jean Valjean lives up to his sullied reputation by stealing the bishop’s silver tableware. When the women of the house discover his treachery and approach the bishop with exclamations of indignation at Valjean’s malfeasance, the bishop responds, “And in the first place, was that silver ours?.... Madame Magloire, I have for a long time detained that silver wrongfully. It belonged to the poor. Who was that man? A poor man, evidently.”

Shortly thereafter, a loud knock announces the arrival of a troop of soldiers with Jean Valjean, whom they have discovered with the stolen silver. The bishop’s response is resolute and immediate. He informs the soldiers that there has been a mistake. Valjean did not steal the silver; it was a gift. His only sin was forgetting to take the candlesticks as well, which would also fetch a handsome sum. Valjean stares at the bishop dumbfounded. The bishop says, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God." This story had long held meaning for me, but it took on a new dimension when I saw this love in action.

Kyle came out of the house prepared to hop on his bike and head up to campus. The bike was a nice crossover road bike, Kyle’s constant companion and preferred form of transportation. Where he expected his old friend to greet him smiling, eager for another day together, he found only a busted bike chain, drooping dejectedly on either side of the chain-link fence. As the reality of the theft sunk in, Kyle’s smile slowly reversed until his lips matched the shape of the failed chain.

I found out about the theft by reading Kyle’s blog post later that day, a tragically humorous metaphorical account of a lover (his bike) being wooed away. He said, “It is not the lack of its presence I pine for, but instead the forgotten forgiveness that, I lament, cannot now be poured out. I would like to meet this Casanova if only to wish them well together, and perhaps pass along the gift of a hearty lock to keep her safe. Seriously.” Even before talking to him about it later that night, I knew that Kyle meant what he said. Of course, he was upset and inconvenienced, but more than anything he wished he could offer forgiveness to the thief.

His big chance came about a week later. As he jogged down Cockerell towards our house, cooling down from an evening run, a teenager on a bike slowly gained on him. To his surprise, it was our friend and occasional guest Trevan. He pulled even, and Kyle noticed that Trevan’s bike could have been twins with his own lost lover. Without comment on the bike, Kyle threw out a greeting, “Hey T, how you doing brother?”

“I just found this bike” Trevan cut in.

“Awesome man. Well, it looks like a great bike. I hope you enjoy it.”

Back at the house just a few minutes later, Kyle stretched and recounted his conversation. “I kind of froze in the moment. I wish I could have just told him that the bike was his, that it was a gift and he didn’t have to be scared to come around here, that we just want to be friends with him and don’t care about the bike.”

Josh, Aaron and I were all in agreement – the bike belonged to Trevan. Kyle said, “Let’s get the word out to the folks who might know Trevan. The bike is his. It is a gift.”

Everyday in our community we join those countless saints around the world who pray together, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Discussing Jesus’ pronouncement of Jubilee, John Howard Yoder comments on this line of the Lords’ prayer: “[It] signifies precisely a monetary debt, in the most material sense of the term. In the ‘Our Father,’ then, Jesus is not simply recommending vaguely that we might pardon those who have bothered us or made us trouble, but tells us purely and simply to erase the debts of those who owe us money; that is to say, practice the Jubilee.” (Yoder 62) Since our master is so willing to forgive our every debt, how can we be unwilling to forgive the debts of our brothers, so small in comparison?

This is especially true when we realize that we are loved more than the lilies and the birds, for whom God never fails to provide. We are no longer obligated to fight for our rights, possessions, or security. Understanding and trusting in Jehovah Jireh, our provider, allows us to live with open hands, ready to receive gifts from the Lord but just as ready to lose anything, even our very lives, in order to spread God’s kingdom in this world. This unclenching of our fists is one of the hardest tasks for disciples of Jesus. I confess, my own hands still spend as much time clenched in jealousy, greed, and possessiveness as they do open in selfless love and trust.

The task is essential though. The beautiful community of the Kingdom cannot come until we refuse, no matter the cost, to allow our brother to be our debtor. We must consider the lilies and the sparrows. We must consider just whom it is that Jesus calls blessed. We must consider the nature of our God as provider. We must decide which is more important, our mission or our property. We must take Jesus at his word. We must abandon our illusions of security and wealth, forgive those who owe us just as God has forgiven us, and overcome evil with good.

I have not seen Trevan in a while, but from what I hear, this Valjean’s soul has by no means been withdrawn from “black thoughts and the spirit of perdition.” We have become good friends with his cousin John though. We have been discipling John for almost a year now. He comes from the same background as Trevan. They have both been gangbanging since their early high school years. Although he has never been very wealthy, material success is the end all be all in John’s mind. Of all those subversive Kingdom concepts we have discussed, the idea that one might abandon wealth and security in order to show love and acceptance to a brother or sister has been the most difficult for him to swallow (as it is for so many). Every so often, we will be talking about the Sermon on the Mount, and his eyes will light up with clarity, as if the Spirit were opening his fuse box and flipping the breaker. We might read, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” or “Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things shall be added as well;” and as we talk about the very difficult implications of these teachings for his life and ours – and for the life of the church – he will laugh and say, “Oh! That’s like the bike, huh?”

“Yeah, man. It’s like the bike.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ben Ruben

"Turn off right here..." Said Aaron, leaning over from the passenger seat. We took the next exit and entered the town of Raton. "Gas station left" read the sign, it was about six o'clock in the evening and the temperature was quickly dropping. The stars twinkled dimly above and I caught a glimpse of the big dipper as we passed under the interstate. To our right a different kind of twinkling lights lined the rooftops of a well kept quaint little downtown. "Wow, we took the perfect exit." I said. Aaron laughed, part in good humor, as usually he is in, and in part because I'm always making ridiculous statements of that sort.
The light of the street lamps appeared cold and static silhouetted by the gentle snow flurries silently about them.

When we pulled up to the Gas station I noticed a lanky figure seated on the curb looking piercingly through the night. I couldn't tell if he was looking at us, or nothing at all. The only movement in or around him was the thick puffs of carbon dioxide lifting into the air out of his nose. Frost like lacing hung from the bottom of his beard which blew gently in the chill wind. Apart from breathing his posture composed a symphony of silence which hung suspended in the air with my thoughts: what to do, what to say? I searched my heart, I searched my head for the words of Jesus. Often God speaks through me in these situations, usually something like: "What can I do for you brother?" In fact that's what I planned on saying to the guy, but as I got out of the car I looked over to see Aaron was already approaching the man. I smiled as I herd the words coming form my brother's caring lips.

"What can I do for you brother?" Aaron asked. It was very much-still really, really cold outside, but my love for Aaron seemed a momentary relief from the weather. I am blessed to have such a brother. Amen and hallelujah.

"Its cold." Said the lanky old man, or some similar response. He came into the gas station with us and I proceeded to grab a cup for some hot chocolate. The room was tense. The clerks went quickly to postures of anxiety.
"Whats your name?" Aaron asked, and I kept an eye on the unfolding conflict around us.
"Ben Ruben." said the old man. Most of his teeth were missing and his skin was dry and wrinkled.
Then we walked towards the counter where the clerk was peering suspiciously around his current customer, eyeing the hot chocolate in my hand and frowning at Ben who was standing next to me.

"We can't serve him!" Said the clerk. "He's been asked to leave already." THe customer in front of me turned his head to peer at me from the corner of his eye. The guy felt caught between ensuing battle lines.
"He wants that guy to leave." The customer said to me.
"I understand." I said. To my left the other clerk, a young man of teenage manner, was nervously swaying back and forth. Turning my face back to the customer in front of me I said: "The man here was made in the image of our lord and he deserves respect, he deserves love." After these words left my mouth I saw that the young teenage boy behind the counter shifted his posture taking great surprise and awe from the statement he had just herd. He seemed a fair bit scared as well. Now it was my turn to check out.

"We can't serve him Sir." Said the check out dude. I peered at him with a mix of compassion and fierce determination.

"This is my stuff, he can have some if he wants it. Give me a pack of cigarets and this hot chocolate, and I'll be glad to go outside." The clerk sighed and fulfilled my request. As we ventured again into the freezing cold Aaron suggested moving around the corner, away from the door. Aaron is good at not starting more trouble than is needed, thats good for me. So we scuffled around in the snow and Ben began thank us for our kindness. A minute passed and we turned to see the young teenage boy patting up after us. Ben was in the middle of a story about God speaking to him and giving him the technological keys to saving the world, something about Nicolai Tesla, electric bicycles and the cleansing the body of sin. As Ben went on talking the young man joined us and waited politely for a break in the conversation.

"I have to ask you guys to leave the property." He said. "Either just across the street or into the next parking lot."

At that moment I knew that Ben would say something, I could feel a shared sense of dread between me and Aaron hoping it wouldn't be reactionary or hateful in anyway, as was his very right. To our surprise this is what came from Ben Ruben's mouth:
looking down at the kid's name tag he said:

"Chris, I love you, I love you, I love you....and I forgive you....I forgive you for being loyal to an unworthy cause, and I pray that the lord bless you and everything that you love." With that we left the stupified young man standing in the gently falling snow and headed for a curbside seat in front of McDonalds. Sitting there in the bask of a neon light we talked more of Jesus and the hope a glory that we await in our fallen world. We gave Ben our email address, so that he could contact us concerning his inventions and how we might help to liberate the world from the government and oil industries. I hope to see that man again. That night I lay in my bed thinking of Ben, wishing we lived in the same city, that I might help him to pursue his vision from the lord, though crazy as it sounded.

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