Sunday, November 22, 2009

Second Thanksgiving in NYC

We are approaching our second Thanksgiving in NYC as a family, and as a young church. Honestly, in the past, most Thanksgivings have meant food and football, family, and a break from work. I haven't done a great job of using this season to take inventory of my life and be thankful. This year is different. A year ago I was going through major adjustment to our new life in the city. I was grieving all I had lost and left behind in Michigan, wondering how life was going to go here in NYC, uncertain about what our church would look like, and even if it would take off. It was a pretty difficult time, and looking back, I was pretty self-absorbed. Not too much room for Thankfulness. This year is a different matter.

This past weekend was such a great time of friendship and ministry. I realized that a lot has happened in a year. On Saturday, Communitas served at the New York City Rescue Mission, putting together care packages to be given to needy families Thanksgiving week. Over 2 dozen friends from Communitas came together. As we sorted and stuffed bags, I was overwhelmed with the community God has brought into my life. It was serious joy! I realized how much I love these friends and how they have enriched my life. We have all been through a great deal together. We have struggled, wondered, doubted, and rejoiced as well. It occurred to me that while we still have much to learn about genuine community, we are becoming "Communitas", a community forged in the furnace of struggle, risk, and challenge.

Today, Danny and Amy Cox were with us. I was so excited to have Danny lead our band and to lead us in worship. The years we worked together at Kensington, leading New Community, will stand out as some of the most formative and joyful years of my life. We helped each other to learn to hear God's voice more clearly, to love Jesus more, and to grow in our love for his bride, the Church. I have missed him so much. So as he lead us today, I looked around at the people that God has gathered to us in our first year here, and felt deep gratitude in my heart. God has been good. He is good.

For those who follow my blog, I am "moving it" to Communitas' new website (check it out- You'll see the tab for my blog on the home page.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Road Trip

Yesterday I headed west out of NYC on I-80, with my 17 year old son Caleb, driving the empty Communitas 16 foot truck to the Detroit area. We are going to leave the truck in Michigan until after Thanksgiving, and then drive it back to Manhattan with a full load... front to back, top to bottom. Full of what, you ask?

Last winter members of Communitas were part of an initiative called “Don’t Walk By? Each Saturday night in January we joined hundreds of other volunteers and hit the streets of Manhattan, covering a different section each week, walking block by block, going down into subway stations and other public spaces, looking for members of the homeless population of NYC. Our goal was to invite them to come for a hot meal, and then to connect them with different opportunities available to get them off the street for good. A different church hosted the event each week, and the men and women who accepted the invitation to come for the meal also had a chance to receive clothing.

By the end of January we had covered all the blocks of Manhattan, I believe from 60th Street to Battery Park. Thousands of contacts were made, many came for the meal, some got into programs to help change their lives, and some received clothing. But for every 1 person who came for the meal, I would guess 20 said “no thanks”. That means that they preferred to stay on the streets on a cold January night. I recall one particular evening in the Wall Street area, asking a man who was wrapped up in cardboard on the sidewalk in the shelter of a store entrance that was closed, if he wanted some help. He said he was “fine”. Fine? That night it was 12 degrees out, and even dressed for the occasion, after a couple of hours on the streets I was chilled to the bone.

Since that time, I have become more aware of the magnitude of the challenge with the homeless. Many will not go to shelters for a variety of reasons. Many are mentally ill. Some are drug addicts who cannot abide by the rules set up by shelters. Bottom line, in spite of the considerable safety net for the homeless in NYC, many will continue to try to survive on their own. That means that this winter, thousands will be living outside.

How many homeless are there in NYC? A friend of mine who has run a shelter in the city for almost 20 years believes that a conservative estimate would be 70,000. 70,000 homeless people! He actually thinks it could be as high as 100,000.

The problem seems beyond remedy. Maybe it is. But that does not mean that nothing can be done. When Mother Teresa was once told that her work in Calacutta, while admirable, was only a drop of water in the ocean, she replied that if she did not do it, then the ocean would have one less drop, And so, she said, we begin with one, and then one more, and then one more, and so on.

Here is the drop in the ocean for Communitas. Can we help some of the homeless fight off the cold? Yes. Easily done. Many of us have extra winter coats in our closets which haven’t been worn for years. And some of us can respond to one of the many Christmas sales and buy a coat at half price. We can add many drops in the ocean of NYC this winter.

So why is the truck in Michigan? Working with Kensington Community Church, we are having a winter coat drive for the homeless of both Detroit and New York City. I hope to drive the truck out of Kensington's parking lot on Monday, November 30 with the truck weighed down with hundreds of coats- men’s, women’s and children’s. All five of the campuses will be challenged to bring coats for the Thanksgiving Services on Wednesday, Nov 25.

If you happen to live in Michigan, come by the Troy Campus and look for the large white truck with “CommunitasNYC written on the side, and imagine it full of love and warmth sent from Michigan to the needy of NYC. (We are also looking for sleeping bags. A few weeks ago our small group brought some food to about a dozen homeless men who live about 5 blocks from my apartment. I had one sleeping bag with me and as I gave it to a man, the others came immediately to see if I had more. I’d love to help all of them!)

Can I ask those of you who read my blog to spread the word? Pass this blog along to others in the Detroit area. Help me fill all 16 feet of the truck. We can't solve the homeless problem, but we can warm things up a bit for people who are of unsurpassable worth to God.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Mind of Christ, Part 2

What do you see? How are you hearing this conversation? How are you thinking about this? What do these circumstances mean to you? With these kinds of questions asked of Jesus, I tried to interrupt the normal, conditioned responses I make to my environment.

Here is what I have learned so far. First, I could not always get past my own thoughts to his- maybe sometimes I did not want to. Second, even when I sensed clearly what his mind was about a given circumstance, I did not always line up my behavior with his thoughts. Third, there were times when I was not sure that the thoughts were his, or mine. Having acknowledged those failures and shortcomings, I will say that trying to tap into the mind of Christ has been a pretty amazing experience.

Sometimes I think I am a bit ADD- my thoughts wander a lot and I don’t stay easily focused. So it was surprising that I have been able to remember throughout the day that I am trying to access the mind of Christ. Perhaps it is because I began everyday before my feet hit the floor asking God to help me have the mind of Christ today. I think he helped me remember- whether I was on a bus or subway, studying in Starbucks, or watching the Yankees slug their way into the World Series (hey- I have to cheer for the Yankees- Paul said he became all things to all people so that by all means he might win some- so I am just doing my part…, see what I mean by ADD?). Here are a few of my experiences so far- some fairly unimportant, others more critical.

Smoking in the Park: I went to spend a couple of hours in one of my favorite parks in Manhattan- Madison Square Park. I brought my Bible, journal, i-pod, and spent a couple of hours in “solitude” as hundreds of people walked by. It was a beautiful fall day. I was enjoying being outside, enjoying God, enjoying sitting. Then a man sat down near me and began to smoke a large, smelly cigar. The wind was blowing the smoke right into my face. I became irritated, and began to think some nasty thoughts about this inconsiderate man. Wait- the mind of Christ. I redirected my thoughts. “Craig, you don’t know this man, but I do. He is of infinite value to me. Forget the cigar smoke. He is so much more than that. Your thoughts of him are not my thoughts. What if he could read your mind? Would your thoughts attract him to me?” Then I began to look at all the people walking around and playing with their dogs, and sitting in the park. And I think I saw what Jesus was seeing- so many people, all of infinite value to him, and most unaware of God’s love, and lost. As Jesus said, like sheep without a shepherd. And I began to weep, right there on that public bench. I felt like my heart was going to burst. A pretty big shift in thinking from negative thoughts about Mr. Cigar Smoke in My Face to compassion for the people of NYC!

Trash- I was walking down the street in my neighborhood and noticed all the trash. I don’t like trash on my sidewalks. The guy in front of me couldn’t make it another 45 seconds to the trash cans that are on every street corner in the city. “Someone needs to pick up this trash”, I thought. The mind of Christ. “You are the someone. This is your city, your neighborhood. Invest in it by helping to clean it up.” So on the way to the subway, I picked up trash and deposited it the trash can on the corner. I don’t know if this is going to become a regular thing.

Conflict- I walked into a situation where someone was had just finished being fairly rude to another person. I knew both of these people, and knew enough to know that “Jeff” was out of line. Jeff left the scene of the crime quickly, and after talking to the other party, I went on my way. For awhile, I was processing the situation and what needed to be done without consciously remembering that I have the mind of Christ. Since this was someone I know and care about, I was planning an appropriate “confrontation”. When I finally got around to redirecting my experience to the mind of Christ, and asked him what he thought of the conversation, I saw things very differently, and more importantly, I felt inclined to do something very differently than my initial thoughts about what to do. And I felt a gentle “rebuke” myself from Jesus that my thoughts had been overly harsh and critical.

Hospital Waiting Room- My friend Dave broke his hand on a fall down slippery subway stairs. He had to have some pins put into his hands. As he was recovering from surgery, I waited with his wife Michelle late into the evening in the waiting room. As we waited and waited and watched the clock, Others were there waiting as well. One young man had just stepped out into the hallway and spoken as well to someone I assumed was a surgeon. When he returned, he was pacing and seemed agitated. I was tired and sat eating my candy corn (I love vegetables). As I watched this man, I remembered the mind of Christ. “What do you see?” I knew he saw a man who was there alone and was going through a difficult time. So I asked him who he was waiting for. That resulted in a conversation about his wife’s 12 hour surgery to her face that involved taking a bone from her leg and using it to replace part of her jaw bone. The tumor had been discovered in her jaw while she was pregnant with their first child, and they could not treat it until the child was born. So it grew and grew, and now they were facing a serious situation. Mattingly was born a few months back and now they are facing this ordeal. When he finally left for home, another couple who had been waiting shared their story of a loved one having an emergency appendectomy. The mind of Christ shoed me that in a hospital waiting room, there are no strangers.

There was so much more that has happened as I have been more conscious that I have the mind of Christ. I know there is still much that I miss- and as I said, some that I ignore or resist. But it has been and hopefully will continue to be a helpful way of learning to live in the presence of Jesus. He may be with me always, but I am not always with him.