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Better Stories Episode 6 :: Play and Exploration

A special interview with my good friend and the Founder of the Center for Play and Exploration – Dave Bindewald

www.playandexploration.com

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Better Stories Episode 5 :: Live at the McNemar House!

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Why Ethiopia?

Last night, our team of 8 who have traveled to Ethiopia for the week sat around talking about our first full day of time with the children at the Care Point.  As we talked, one of our team members shared that she had received the question leading up to the trip several times…

“Why go so far away when the money could be used better here in the U.S.?”

I listened.  And I fought the instinct to respond as I have so many times to that question over the years.  And I waited for her to follow up with her thoughts.

She grew a little emotional as she recounted our home visits yesterday and said simply…

“It’s not the same.”
This is my seventh time on the continent of Africa.  The summer before my senior year of high school, just a few years after the official “end” of Apartheid, I traveled to South Africa for three weeks.  Then, with a former church I visited the slums of Nairobi four times.  And now, our church plant has been in a partnership with Children’s Hopechest and traveled to Ethiopia twice.

In my mind, there is nothing like the smell and sights and sounds of this continent.  Though every country I’ve been to has been different culturally, geographically, economically, and socially, there are also themes that I sense when I come here.  To walk through developing countries, third-world communities, urban slums and rural farm villages paints a picture of a land that is far from what constitutes the everyday existence of my own life.  I never cease to have a moment here where I catch a glimpse of a child, a mother, or a family that is surviving in the harshest of conditions with the greatest of joy.  It is a powerful experience, and one I’ve grown to love.

And yet, there is also a harshness to these trips.  Coming off of a very difficult funeral I performed last week, it has taken me about 48 hours to feel as if I’m now “present” here in Ethiopia.  There was, in all honesty, a sort of deep breath in knowing what this week would bring–time spent with 90 sweet children living in vulnerable conditions and visits to homes where in our culture we might insist it was unacceptable even for our pets.

This is not easy, but it is beautiful.

This morning, I read in the book of Acts about the church at Antioch.  It was composed of prophets and teachers, leaders who constituted a multicultural blend of an African, an aristocratic noble, and Saul the great Jew of Jews.  It was an eclectic mix who became the model of the missional church reaching not only their own backyard but sending the Kingdom of God into different parts of the world.

So, about 2 years ago as a young church plant we had a desire to make international missions a core part of the DNA of our faith community.  And while we recognized the world is so big and needs are even bigger, we knew the call of the gospel was to do something that would help bring the Kingdom to life in the hearts of those who were vulnerable–physically and spiritually.  For us, the question has never been, “Why Ethiopia?”  Rather, the question continues to be, “Why ONLY Ethiopia?”

The world is massive.  But the Kingdom of God is infinite.  It is diverse and forceful and amazing.  And it is what we are called to.

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Better Stories Episode 3 :: The Louisville Crew

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Better Stories Episode 1 :: Mike Masterman

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When You’re Just OK at Texting

I sat on a plane recently and once it landed the beeps and clicks of cell phones and seat belts began to fill the space as passengers reconnected to the busyness of their lives.  Just in front of me, I watched as a man began to frantically respond to a text message.  I could see his screen and the feverish nature of his fingers typing away.  I couldn’t read the words (and as you’re thinking, shouldn’t have creepily spied out his conversation), but I could tell he was struggling to get the message out.

He would type a few words, notice an error, delete words, and then try again.  This went on for several minutes until finally I watched him grew frustrated, erase the entire (multiple paragraphs-long) message, and simply type two letter as a response.

“Ok.”

Here’s the point.

There are times where an explanation may help, but simplicity is better.

In every organization I’ve ever been a part of I’ve found myself and others at times bringing unnecessary complexity to situations that were much more simple than we wanted to let them be.  There were debates that didn’t need to happen.  E-mails that could have been skipped.  We all felt these things were entirely necessary at the time, but the truth is simplicity would have been much better.

I’m not saying there isn’t a need for complexity at times; there is.  But what I am asking you right now is what are you doing as leaders with complexity that would be much more effective with simplicity?

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When a Nightmare Takes 7 and Turns it Into 2

I have a 7-year old daughter who is fearless.  Fearless.  She’s already asked me if she can skydive with me.  Seriously.  She kills spiders when her mommy is too afraid.

Last week, we headed to bed and just before we laid down we heard her crying.  We walked in the room and quickly found her in that half-asleep, half-awake stupor of bad dreams.  I asked what was wrong and all she could say through her tears was, “I had a bad dream…”  We stayed for a few minutes and my wife asked her if she’d like to come sleep with us for a little while.

She did.  And she calmed down.  Complete and utter peace.

Now, it’s been probably three to four years since we’ve ended up with one of our children in our bed.  Our girls all share a room, so they are rarely afraid before falling asleep because they basically talk each other to death until they fall asleep.  But on this night, my seven-year old’s nightmare turned her back into a two or three-year old.

There’s this statement the writer of Psalm 4 makes that I’ve thought about, but never really experienced until this night with our youngest daughter.  It says this:

“In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.”  (Psalm 4:8)

I think if I’m honest I know exactly what it means to have so much fear that my heart goes backward in age.  I know, and I bet you do too, how invasive and pervasive fear can be in my life.  I know the nightmares that become realities and the tendency my body and mind have to shut down and leave me living life half awake.

And that’s where I think this Psalm starts to make sense.

For my seven-year old, the fear in her nightmare was only consolable by the presence of her parents.  And for us, in our fear, at times the only answer for our fear is the presence of our Heavenly Father.

That night, I held my daughter and whispered that she was okay until her heart grew quiet and she was able to rest.  And perhaps, in our fear at this very moment, our perfect Father is whispering the same thing to us.

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My Day was Better Because of Boba Tea

 

Before last Friday I had no idea what boba tea was.  Turns out, it’s a thing.  Like, a big thing.

Last week my wife and I celebrated our 15-year anniversary (a couple months late) by taking a cruise out of California and then spending an extra two days in Los Angeles.  On Friday we found one of the coolest little farmer’s markets I’ve ever seen.

This market was an experience in sensory overload.  The smells, the colors, and the diversity of languages and cultures happening all around us were an overwhelmingly rich way to spend an hour.  From crepes made by a French family to authentic Italian pizza to fresh seafood hauled out of the Pacific that day, I was mesmerized by this place.

Then there was the tea shop.

It was a chilly morning, so I went looking for hot tea and found a sweet little Asian woman with over a hundred different types of tea.  I did the best I could to order two cups of what sounded good and this lady simply asked me the following question…

“Do you want boba?”

As with any legitimate Star Wars fan my mind immediately conjured images of a bounty hunter with a sweet mask and awesome gun, but that wasn’t who she meant.

Turns out, boba tea (or bubble tea) is a concoction of tea with “chewy tapioca balls and fruit jelly”.  At the point she asked if I preferred the boba(s)(?) in my tea, I didn’t know this.  All I knew was I was in the middle of one of the most diverse and eclectic places I’d ever seen and I wanted to show just how cultured I really was.

“Absolutely,” I said.

Boba tastes like I imagine fish eyeballs to taste.

I spent the remainder of my drink doing my best to siphon the liquid off the gelled tapioca and not let any of it touch my mouth.  The tea was good.  The other stuff, not so much.

About the time I finished my tea, I felt a tiny hand tap my shoulder.  I turned to see a boy of no more than 9 or 10 years old with skin a bit darker than my own looking in my eyes.  He asked simply…

“Excuse me sir, where did you find your boba tea?”

I pointed him in the right direction and watched as he was so excited to find the treat that I had been repulsed by.

This was just a moment.  A simple, nondescript instant in my day that really shouldn’t have stood out.  But for whatever reason, it did.  In fact, I haven’t stopped thinking about it.  That brief minute where I drank a tea I didn’t like and a little boy from a different culture than my own searched for a tea he loved keeps coming back.

It is next to impossible in recent days to access news of any sort without someone trying to convince us of which “side” is right, or more loving, or more just.  But, this constant cycle of shouting and persuasion is doing little except dividing and frustrating us as a humanity.

All that to say, this post has nothing to do with politics.  But it does have something to do with an understanding of God’s kingdom that, in the end part of Scriptures paints a picture of a land with open borders where the people of that land offer praise to Jesus the Lamb:

And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll

    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,

    and they will reign on the earth.”  (Revelation 5:9-10)

So here’s the simple conclusions this moment in a farmer’s market in California revealed to me:

My day was better because that little boy tugged on my arm.  And I didn’t agree with his opinion.
My day was better because of listening to the diversity of languages swirling in that place.
My week was better better because of the several staff I met on our cruise ship who had come from the Philippines, parts of Africa, Mexico, and Europe.
My week was better because I walked a street in Ensenada, Mexico and felt completely out of place.

And yes, my week was better because I even tried boba tea.

I guess I wonder what “better’s” we miss because we don’t feel comfortable with what’s around us.

 

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The Tension of these Times

I will never forget a flight back to the DC from Nairobi, Kenya. As we boarded the plane one of the flight attendants told me and the two pastors I was traveling with that there were a group of Somalian refugees on this plane. She was preparing us, because these refugees had never flown and did not understand the etiquette of planes, etc. She wanted us to be aware.
 
We boarded the plane and my heart broke as I walked down the aisle and saw about 10-15 Somalian CHILDREN. None of them were more than 12 years old. They looked frightened, unsure, and yet also perhaps a little hopeful.
 
I don’t know what their stories were. I don’t know what their religious beliefs were. I don’t know where they are now. I don’t know if any of those children pose a threat to my safety or the safety of this country.
 
But I know I was proud to be on that plane with those children. And on that day, I was really proud to be an American.
 
I read this article this morning about Evangelical responses to the issues of refugees being discussed by the Trump administration in the past few days.  I’d encourage you to take some time to read it.
 
Christians… the climate of our country today–at least the climate we see on the surface of social and news media–is fragile. We stand as followers of Christ, with an opportunity to perhaps demonstrate our love and presence of the Spirit in more tangible ways than ever before.
 
The old quote, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words,” is perhaps more relevant than ever before. Maybe we should be a little quieter in these months and these moments. Perhaps we should spend less time skimming the media streams and more time doing what my good friends are doing this weekend, simply hosting a dinner with friends and strangers to have conversations in love. Perhaps now, more than ever, we could become people who throw really good parties and bring joy to a stressed-out world.
 
And as we do that, we can never lose sight of the biblical commands to care for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner.
 
Scott Arbeiter, President of World Relief, the National Association of Evangelical’s compassionate arm ministering to refugees says this in the article above:
 
“The question for the American Christian is: Will we speak out on behalf of those who are running from the very terror that we are rightly trying to put an end to?” he asked. “People who are running from Mosul and Aleppo and a thousand other places on fire?
 
“Would we be willing to accept giving up a 1 in 3 billion chance of our safety in order to make room for them?” he continued. “Or would we say, ‘I am not willing to give up even the smallest fraction of my safety to welcome people who have been vetted very carefully, who have been proven as a remarkable population of people. Will I not make room for them?’”
 
“We have never had an opportunity like we have right now to reach people who are coming to our shores, in many cases from places we have no access to,” said Arbeiter. “The risk that we have right now is that we are closing the doors to the very people that we say we want to share the gospel with.”
 
The church needs voices more than ever. Prophetic voices. Shepherding voices. Truth and love voices. But perhaps the greatest voice we can offer is one that has been coated in the presence and tangible demonstration of God’s love.