A Close Call

I had my first opportunity to bike through some of the neighborhood this evening (I've been watching my niece & nephew the last three days and the roads were closed for a few days as well--not to mention the curfew the first night). It's incredible. I know there are much worse damaged areas out there in other states. My parents said they hadn't seen anything on the tornado in our area because of the devastating tornado in Joplin, Missouri. And rightfully, there are other areas that need more focused attention (most of them are in war-torn Africa and Asia and don't get the coverage they deserve, however).

Still, this tornado was in our neighborhood. It effected us. And it has effected many people. Urban Homeworks alone has been directing the help of over 500 volunteers a day. Churches and many other organizations are serving meals each day because many are unable to get in their homes and more have been without power.

The pictures above were at 29th and Logan where it seemed like the tornado intensified greatly. We're at 25th and Irving--four blocks south and four east. It was close. Very close. We didn't even have branches down. I hate the fatalism of the word "lucky," but we were lucky. I don't know what other word to say. I'm not going to say God protected us, because that makes it sound like He wasn't protecting those who received damage. But I'm thankful--very thankful--that not only was our house spared damage, but my kids who were in the midst of the tornado at a birthday party were safe, and my wife who was supposed to be driving home from work when it hit was safe.

There are a lot of people who had damage--many are renters in our area and most don't carry renters' insurance. It's a poor part of town, for the most part. A part that many consider "rough." Stero-typed by violence, drugs and theft. I think now--especially now that many people have come into the neighborhood to help--people are seeing how much the neighborhood cares for one another and how most are here to make a difference. I've wished I could do more.


On Processing a Tornado

Yesterday afternoon a tornado went through North Minneapolis. When it happened, I didn't give it much though. The sirens didn't go off until after it was on the ground. The local news stations weren't talking about it yet to know what part of the county it was going through. I was on the second floor of our home. It didn't look bad outside. I didn't go to the basement (I'm a country boy and used to being able to watch storms to know how close and bad they are). And then I heard it--I hadn't really heard one up close before. I does sound like a freight train like they tell you it does.

Beth was supposed to be driving home right through the area at the time it hit. I couldn't get through to her on the phone. It took her a lot longer to get home because she couldn't get through on most of the streets.

The boys were at a friend's birthday party at the time. Their house happened to be right in the path of the tornado. No trees were left on their street. Beth went to pick them up (I had to get to church because I was preaching) and had to park a few blocks away and climb over trees to get them. Thankfully, they were fine and handled it all fairly well.

When we got home from church I (and a friend who was staying with us last night) ran to some friends' house to bring their frozen goods back to our freezer since they were out of power. On our way back we went a few blocks over to see what we could see. Just four blocks away from us trees were uprooted. We, thankfully, had no damage. But it was close. Very close.

This morning Anders didn't have school. The boys and I biked down to the center where Urban Homeworks and the Sanctuary CDC were running volunteer opportunities out of. There wasn't much I could do with the kids along as far as clean-up went, but we were able to help get volunteer waivers and other forms to where they needed to go. We made a few trips on the bike. There was a huge turnout of volunteers--I've heard around 600. Which is great; there is a lot of work to do.

In the past 24 hours the helicopters have been flying overhead constantly. Police cars and fire trucks have been all over. Streets have been blocked off. Nearby streets and landmarks have been flashing across the news. It's been very surreal.

We're in an area that often gets a bad rap as being the bad part of town. But most people have been out there helping their neighbor as best they can. People coming from all over to help and seeing the heart of the people in this neighborhood.

And so we pray...for those who have lost much (including the families of two who lost their lives), for those without a place to stay, for those without electricity, for continued safety and cleanup. And we'll do whatever else we can.

*Top picture from Kare11.com, bottom picture from Jeremy & Sarah Scheller


Reflections on a Failed Rapture

About a month and a half ago we were greeted with a new billboard telling us to "Save the Date" of May 21, 2011, as that would be the date Christ returns. Of course, no one took it seriously. These sort of predictions have come and gone in the past (including a previous unsuccessful prediction by the man behind these signs). And those who know the Bible know full well that not even Jesus knew when He would return.

And so the world waited on in cynicism today for Jesus to come back or for the true believers to be taken up into Heaven--or for something apocalyptic to transpire. Of course, nothing did.

Before we point fingers at those who did make these predictions (or foolishly believe in them) noting how they wrongly read the Bible, let us ask ourselves (as a friend of mine pointed out today) where are we reading the Scriptures wrongly. The issue was that Rev. Camping didn't involve the broader Christian community in his interpretation of the Bible. Yes, the Bible is meant to be read personally, but it also must be looked at communally--even letting past historical voices chime in. We are a people of God--not persons. We're in this together. We need each other to keep us on the right track.

And as has already been said, we can't know the day and hour of Christ's return. He said it will come like a thief in the night--unexpected. Yet, He also said to watch for the signs, just as you watch the weather for signs. A lot of Jesus' teaching about the end times was to simply "be prepared" as a Boy Scout would readily agree. Each day could be our last. Make the most of it. Live accordingly. Enjoy life to the fullest as Christ offers. Don't worry about warning the world, just have your life in order.


On Baptism

One of the things I appreciate about our denomination is that we baptize both infants and believers. The church didn't want something like the specifics of baptism to divide it so they allowed space for both. As ministers we agree to perform both modes.

When believers come to be baptized they do so as a public pronouncement of faith, showing that their sins have been washed through Christ's blood and they are living a new life in alignment with Christ's death and resurrection. They are baptized because they chose Jesus.

When parents bring their infant to be baptized in the church, they do so as a sign of God's prevenient grace. Jesus' atonement took care of our sins long before we were even born. He went to the cross knowing that one day we would be in need of His grace and salvation; He loved us before we breathed our first breath. Infant baptism shows that Jesus chose us.

I was baptized as an infant. That is special to me--and I need those reminders that God chose me. We chose to let our boys decide when they want to be baptized. I appreciate both forms of baptism and their reminders of who we are in God. Both are signs of His grace and love.

We celebrated two new lives in our church tonight. Baby Bailey was "churched"--it was her first time to church since being born just over a week ago. Our tradition is to welcome them with prayers and blessings.

Baby Teagan was baptized tonight. She happened to be Pastor Jan's granddaughter so it was a special event--though, of course, all baptisms are special. With each baptism we are reminded of our own baptisms and place in God's family. We pray over those who are baptized.

Tonight, the lectionary text happened to be Acts 2:42-47 which talks about how the church functioned when it was first formed. The believers were devoted to the apostles' teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, prayer and to sharing their resources for the sake of helping those in need. The met together in the temple and in their homes, and each day new believers were added to their number. We continue that today. This is the community we are baptized into. This is what we welcome the newly baptized into for being discipled. And in our baptism, as we are identifying ourselves with Jesus, we are also entering into a community where we practice the same things the church has been practicing together for generations. We fellowship together, we gather at the table together, we pray together, we learn together, we grow together, we love others together, we give together and we follow together. This is the family you are welcomed into.


The Good in The Hood

There's a lot of hurt in the hood. It doesn't take much to see that. Several times a day I can hear people yelling at each other.

But there's also a lot of good. Yesterday while I was working in the yard I got a chance to talk with James who lives down the street from us. He often can be seen outside in the mornings walking up and down the block picking up litter from the curb and sidewalks. James moved to North Minneapolis after living most of his life in the projects in Chicago. The way he talks, you'd think North Minneapolis was a paradise compared to the projects. And maybe it is. He shared how his kids couldn't really play at the playground because of the gunfire. They knew to drop to the ground if they heard shots.

James moved here a while back when some family members invited him up. Right away he found job opportunities. And though he could get his own place, his aunt appreciates the help he provides as well as peace of mind knowing he's around.

And he's here to make the neighborhood better--as shown by his selfless act of cleaning up the never-ending litter (though James admits some could likely be from his grandkids...). One of the axioms I was taught as a kids was to always leave a place better than when you found it. James is doing that; hopefully, we are too. That's what community does. Not just with the litter, but with each other.


Doubting Thomas

On Sunday at church we looked at the story of Thomas encountering the resurrected Christ. It was a wonderful experiential evening. My friend Tonya was teaching and she insightfully put together four different encounters based on different learning styles. There was a kinesthetic station of body prayer, an verbal station of telling the story, a tactile station of re-affirming faith through touching physical objects and a visual station with various artists' depictions of the story as well as a video of Nickel Creek's Doubting Thomas song. (I led this station; a few of the art works are shown here.)

Thomas often gets a bad wrap. Matthew 28:17 tells us that more than just Thomas doubted. Mark 16:14 says that Jesus rebuked all the disciples for their lack of faith. Thomas just didn't happen to be present when the rest of them first saw Him.

We all have doubts. Doubts are good. Without going through doubts our faith seldom goes deeper. Doubts mean we're thinking; we're interacting; we're engaged. Faith is a gift from God--not something we can produce ourselves. And just as Christ came to Thomas, He meets us where we are. And Thomas went on to do great things, supposedly being the only disciple who took the gospel outside of the Roman Empire to Syria and India.

So, don't be afraid to be a "Doubting Thomas." Just don't let your doubts hold you back.

On the Death of a Terrorist

News reports are coming in that Osama bin Laden is dead. As I look at the updates of my friends on facebook, several are rejoicing, some are hoping for an end to war and others are questioning if anything will change.

I know that in World War II many devout people, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrestled with determining if the world would be better off without Hitler or if it was morally wrong to kill someone even as evil as Hitler. Osama was responsible for the deaths of thousands on US soil alone. This is evil. Was Osama created by God? Yes. Did deserve to die? I don't know. Did thousands of soldiers and civilians deserve to die in order to kill bin Laden? I have a hard time accepting that.

I'm not going to get into politics or war right now. I suspect that his death won't change much--at least right away.

I do know that Jesus tells us on more than one occasion to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I do know that His example was not to retaliate against the Romans or the Jewish religious leaders who flogged Him and sent Him to His death. I do know that He talked about being peacemakers and turning the other cheek, but I can't seem to come up with a single verse where Jesus said to hurt someone or cheer for someone's death.

I do believe that as a nation we need to be able to defend ourselves and stand up for the oppressed. That is political and national necessity. But as a people of faith, I believe we always need to strive for peace and pray for those who may hate us and wish us dead. Not pray against them, but pray for them. I do wish that the billions that have been spent on war could go towards preventing the deaths of the hundreds of children who die each day from hunger.

I thank those who have served to keep our nation free. I mourn for those who have died. And I pray that one day we may be better and bringing peace to the world than violence.