Tuesday, March 07, 2006

crash helmets for urban fools

Let me paste here into the blog this item originally found on our forum several months ago:-----

Four local pastors and I..am the only white guy, how cool is that, qualified for grant to study urban cross-cultural ministry together..even free trips to Boston to network... The program is at this site, and
here below is my essay for the application (I was asked certain questions about my urban experience, etc:


Crash helmet, please.

I have just returned from a leading a California group into a ten-day plunge into urban ministry in Lima and Huancayo, Peru; a trip bookended by ministering to an elderly AIDS victim in a shoebox apartment routinely within earshot of gunshot, and an encounter with a man coming into our church (intentionally built next to a brothel) with a gun and intent to use it to kill someone, anyone, simply because “living in this crazy city has messed me up.” Urban plunge indeed.

All turned out well (with tears, the potential murderer turned his gun into the pastor, and his life over to Jesus Christ). But I need some debriefing, some unwinding, some re-entry time. And understandably so. But just because I boarded the plane in a swirling South American city of nine million, and exited it here “safely” in my less urban(e) hometown, doesn’t mean I can let my urban guard down, or take my crash helmet off. Fresno is a metropolis of half a million; that’s decidedly urban, no matter how much we refer to it downsizingly as an “overgrown cow town”! The same knotted issues relentlessly and repentlessly await me here, albeit in microcosm, and in different disguise, language and latitude. So in the midst of my recuperating rest, I face the clamant call to immediately retrieve my crash helmet from the closet, out of sheer and practical preparedness.

And I have God and Annie Dillard to thank. I had previously read Annie Dillard’s prescription for a crash helmet, but the urban Peru trip converted me:

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs,
sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what
sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a
word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their
chemistry sets, making up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is
madness to wear ladies hats and straw hats and velvet hats to church; we
should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and
signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.
-Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, p,40

When God truly shows up, that’s enough justification to be helmeted-up. But when the manic matrix of predictably unpredictable urban ministry also and simultaneously “shows up,” that is the “last straw” for straw hats and “church as usual.”. Helmet, please!

Having graduated (1986) from Fresno Pacific University, with a degrees in Christian Communication and Spanish Language and Culture; especially with excellent classes in urban anthropology and an urban summer term in Guadalajara and Mexico City (at that time the largest city in the world), I could have trusted that my degree from that fine school came accompanied with the crash helmet. But then I moved to Asbury Theological Seminary/E. Stanley Jones School of Evangelism and Mission , where as an integral part of my Masters of Divinity, I studied more urban anthropology and ministry, and even lived a term in a rescue mission in inner city Chicago (under the Wesleyan Urban Coalition), and interned at a Spanish-speaking congregation in the ultra-urban Pilsen neighborhood. So I was tempted to trust that with the conferral of this more advanced degree and its more intensive urban experiences, I was armed and ready; crash helmet and all. But then I entered the pastoral ministry. I did not crash and burn, but didn’t always keep the secret of the crash helmet. The parsonage (the only English-speaking home on the block!) in our first pastorate was burglarized twice in our seven years there…by church members! But we loved this downtown church (First United Methodist) in a impoverished California city (Delano), whose population is over 90% not of my Anglo ethnicity. I moved on to Fresno to pastor St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, a vibrant 680-member parish with such an intentional focus on maintaining a presence in its “Mason-Dixon line” neighborhood , that we commissioned one staff member and family to literally move into the neighborhood and convert a cocaine-dealing apartment complex into an incarnational arm of the church; an outreach and recovery center (www.DakotaHouse.org). I am sure I had thoughts of being adequately seasoned in urban ministry. But the events of 2001, both 9/11 and (especially) the new church I was planting (in God’s sovereign and prophetic humor-grace, at the same time). Life 9/11-ed me, and I suddenly found myself in a new place literally and spiritually; thrilled and terrified to start from ground zero; from scratch and Scripture; dusting myself off from the ashes, and throwing myself into a non-denominational, new-wineskin, back-to-basics church plant (Third Day Fellowship, www.3dff.com); without a lot of answers, but with some great and intriguing questions!

Like Abraham, I had left Haram.
I left the denomination of my heritage, my natural and spiritual birth, and by God’s call was overnight an oprhan and pioneer, with a renewed vow, earned in the crucible of brokenness, to keep constantly dressed in the full armor of God, urban crash helmet included. As long as I remember to daily don the darn thing, remembering that all of life, and thus ministry, is intrinsically and inescapably urban.

Seeking out peers and mentors likewise seeking Christ’s vision for urban ministry, all while effectively helmeted (choice companions such as the three pastors in my CCRD partnership; we represent three races); and huge and holy help from folks I may never meet, but read with passion, I am ready to be made ready. Bishop Laurie Green is accurate and articulate: “The church in the urban predicament has a long history of theological endeavor and Christian praxis from which to benefit. Many urban saints through the years have studied the situation and engaged with it. In all this we have had our urban heros, heroines and fools.” (Preface to Andrew Davey’s “Urban Christianity and Global Order”). I love that triad of mentors; and long to be a helmeted holy fool myself, and maybe even a humble hero, as I interact with an international and eclectic entourage of urban-wise; enKingdomed sojourner s like Jacques Ellul, Wolfgang Simson, Annie Dillard (of course), Jurgen Moltmann and Erwin MacManus (only in our day could that final name represent an Hispanic!)

Though most of my ministry has been in urban contour and context, and I have purposely attempted to stay engaged to Jesus as I engaged urban culture, I am ready to posture myself afresh at the feet of new mentors, here and in Boston, and am asking the Spirit to do a deep work in me, allowing me to continue to start from scratch, with helmet on, and urban curiosity about the Kingdom dialed up. Our peer group, at our first meeting, independently and in unplanned unison (!), named the required “question” to be studied: ministering to broken and blended families. Such a God-ordained and God-revealed choice didn’t even necessitate a vote! This is simply our daily need, for which we need daily bread and help.

In the past, my pastoral strengths have been cross-cultural passion and compassion, empathetic counseling, and provocative preaching/teaching. My weaknesses have included administration and clear leadership visioning and communication. My current emphasis and research (www.3dff.com/php, and http://www.davestuff.blogspot.com) revolves around issues of church and culture. I am writing “Let the Pagans Prophesy,” highlighting the church’s need to realize and actualize the incredible unprecedented opportunities, in the current postmodern paradigmatic shift, to hear and heed the voice of the Spirit in “secular” media, science and technology. I agree with Leonard Sweet that “It may be for the first time in history, God is more active in the church than the world.” In the book title of the same name, Sweet recommends a response: “Carpe Manana!” I fear that Philip Jenkins (The Next Christendom) is also right on; “We (the church) are living in revolutionary times…but we are not participating in them!”

I serve on the executive eldership for our international network of churches and ministries, Grace Covenant (www.gracecovenantint.com). In this capacity, I lead mission trips to world urban centers, such as the aforementioned Peru plunge, and teach at our Ministry Skills Institute, again in the areas of culture and new wineskin church leadership. So I am truly expectant about this upcoming connection with the Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence program, and sense that in surprising and Spiritaneous ways, it will be an answer not only to my prayers, but to the following poem (which not long ago poured out of me, and captures my often quixotic but insistent and persistent quest for seeing the Kingdom come in urban clothes). For context, know that “Fulton Mall” reference is to that outdoor pedestrian mall in our city, which in its 1960s heyday was a nationally-acclaimed model of innovative downtown renewal; and now is a unfortunately more famous/infamous as a center of, well all things urban ministries so needily need Boston University’s CCCRD..and well-built crash helmets… for. It’s called “All I Want”:

hating it
baiting it

waiting to be

unfound by anyone but Messiah Man

dying to be
crying to be
not trying to be
consistently insistently persistently
in the place where He is all

all i want
is to walk on water
to break bread for thousands
to touch the hem and hand it to the world

all i need to get there
safe but not sound

is holy impatience
focused fury
to pray with gentle violence,

"Thy Kingdom come

on earth
on Fulton Mall
on time
on me

in Africa
in hell
in droves
in me

Gethsemane me, Jesus
Moriah me, Messiah

till i bleed and breathe nothing but You"

i won't wait anymore

it is finished

i walk on water
i heal the sick
i do works of Jesus
or i die

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!