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Monday, August 31, 2009

Death, Life, The Dirty Truth and a Living Disarray.

Last week, within 24 hours my Northampton life was intersected by four experiences, two were planned and two seemingly inserted - all within 24 hours. They showed up on their own; one was very jarring.

The planned experiences were delightful.

The back story: imagine/northampton has been invited by Vision New England to provide the music for and present a video about our church at their Annual Meeting in September. We will be one of 6 church plants in New England highlighted this year by them - a great opportunity we think.

To create the video, I asked Nate Oldham to film it for us. He graciously agreed, so last Friday he and his fiancee, Ashley Capozzoli came up to spend the day shooting. It was to be a short, 2 and a half-minute piece highlighting who we are and what we are in Northampton for. I had written the script for it and would be the "talking head." So we began late morning at Pulaski Park where the first two segments of the script were shot.

It went well after a few takes. I am not seasoned at this sort of thing, but with their helpful and gentle coaxing, I got the job done and will not wince when I see it on the big screen. After that portion, we headed over to shoot the last part on Kirkland Avenue, the curious, covered alley/street linking Pleasant Street to a parking lot behind Main Street. The plan was I would walk and talk the final monologue. It went well also.

As we were walking from the park to Kirkland we passed just by the parking garage and I happened to look to my right as we were talking. I noticed quickly a fire ambulance, police, and a small crowd gathered around the yellow tape people put up to cordon off crime or accident scenes. We walked a little farther looking to see what was happening.

That's when I saw him. Lying on the street, 10 yards or so from the entrance was a man. He was on his side and utterly motionless. From our vantage point we saw the top of his head, his arms bent up near his head and his shoulders. He was lying like a child sleeping on its side. While there was no gore we could see (nor did we want too, believe me), it was plain to all of us he was dead.

Out of respect for the dignity of this unfortunate person, we did not linger, but the effect of unexpectedly seeing death on a bright Friday morning with friends doing something exciting, did.

After the shoot, we met up with Tricia and had lunch together at Zen, a Japanese restaurant in town. The place is elegantly presented and the food delicious. It was wonderful for us to have a meal with Nate and Ash. After lunch, we wandered all over town as Nate took "b-roll" shots for the video. Life and creativity continued.

Fast forward to 7:15, Friday evening. Team member, Matt Bayne, and I agreed earlier in the week to meet at a local watering hole called The Dirty Truth (such a winsome name), for a grog and some catch-up conversation. He, Karen, and their boys just spent their first week in Northampton after moving from Tariffville.

The place was packed and we had to almost yell to hear each other amidst the din of conversations racing on all around us. If the truth is dirty nobody would hear it in that place! Nevertheless, as it always is with Matt or Karen, the conversation was rich, intellectually stimulating, honest, and funny. We spent a couple of hours there talking everything from Matt's work as a graphic novelist to the wildly peculiar realities of the quantum world. Life and connecting continued.

Now, those of you with dogs know there is an early morning ritual which must be performed or an unpleasant in-house incident will occur needing cleaning and disinfecting.

At the lovely hour of 4:30, Saturday morning, I trudged down our three flights of stairs with Tiger and headed out onto Main Street for his morning toilet and constitutional. As you know, it is still pretty dark. He has a tree just to the left of our front door he "anoints" every morning. Also right next to our door is the door to the adjacent building. The vestibule is quite sunken and very dark at night.

So as Tiger is doing his business, I hear a low voice coming from the vestibule. The voice seems not directed toward me. But, it is creepy and continues the entire time I am there. I cannot make out words. As I look hesitantly over my shoulder, I can make out what looks to be a baby carriage filled with stuff. Behind it, someone is scrunched up and huddled over, talking in a deep monotone the entire time we are there.

The encounter was disconcerting to say the least.

I realized later in talking with Tricia that she is a schizophrenic woman in town who spends her days wandering the streets, pushing the baby carriage and talking to herself. She lives in two worlds 24 hours a day - the one she shares with us physically, and the one of her own making.


As I thought about what I experienced in Northampton those 24 hours, I am reminded once again of unsettling juxtapositions:

1. Death interrupts days crammed with ordinary and life-celebrating experiences. It can show up with a vicious suddenness and stop life in its tracks. In those instances, death is a cruel intruder, unwelcome, but hard to ignore. Death in front of our eyes grabs our attention.

2, Death always leaves me with a sense of sadness, and sometimes, with a profound sense of waste, even though I am resolved that there is true life after this death. I know everything matters, but still . . .

3. Death discolors an ordinary day; it leaves a stain hard to get out. I had to move on, but I was marked by the death of this stranger lying in the street. I still see is body dead on the street.

4. People trapped in severely broken minds always leave me feeling helpless and uncomfortable . . . and I am a counselor! It is as if the humanity of the person has been altered so radically that he or she lives an existence locked away from me. It is frightening and always unsettling. I feel I have no way in so I shy away.

5. Doing something creative and life-giving with gifted friends always makes me want to leap for joy. I cannot get enough! Even though death and disarray barged in for me to see briefly, I was also able to see grace spill over and friendship comfort.

6. To me, a life lived well includes creating art, having connecting conversations, and celebrating the wonder of loving, fruitful relationships in the midst of death and disarray taking center stage more than any of us want.

7. Death will intrude and sting, but God created life to refuse to be silenced or stifled. It will overwhelm death, and death will be no more.

Creativity, making videos, lunch with loved ones, a grog with a friend, and the simple routines of a day all point to the God of astonishing life which will not be denied, life that will interrupt death for good.

Jesus dies for 3 days 2000 years ago . . . and he woke up.

LIFE wins; death is hamstrung and will be put down forever someday. We can all count on it.


Here's a thought: do something really alive after you read this and do it with someone else who really matters to you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

After Week One at Ground Zero.

Sometimes just showing up makes all the difference . . .

Starting from my encounter with Mike, the street person I have gotten to know, last week was a remarkable beginning compared to our previous year living in Sunderland and working in Northampton. As soon as we moved to Main Street contact with people we didn't know ramped up, especially people quite different from us.

It was exhilarating:

I am finding, given my natural motivation to pioneer, explore and go beyond, that I relish meeting and talking with new people, hearing their stories and sharing mine. Each person embodies a grand mystery revealed slowly as time is spent with him or her. Each is filled with exquisite potential for collaboration, creativity and Kingdom development. I love the possibility an encounter with the new person presents. I love the edginess pr depth they live. It catalyzes and refreshes me.

It was challenging:

Three of the four people I met are quite different from me, especially in their walk with Jesus. They have a radicality and Kingdom fearlessness stunning and humbling to experience. Each talked of living their lives free to do what is asked of them as they are asked, no matter the cost. They are fierce in their desire to be of use and to help people find Jesus. They don't look like, talk like me, or share my age. They are prophetic, street evangelists, healers, iconoclasts and redemptive subversives at heart. They are broken servants of the Most High God who live well in the unfolding unknown.

I am challenged by their freedom, but I also know we have something to give them through imagine. Each one said they are called to help us . . . in any way they can. God called them to do it. He brought us together.


It is intriguing:

As I met each one I wondered what God has up his omniscient sleeve. Mid-week I mentioned to the Leadership Team that imagine/northampton will look very different from what we suspect if God continues to draw these kinds of folks. It will be more messy, surprising and even bewildering at times. We will learn much from them.

My conversations with these guys left me with an unshakable sense that imagine/northampton really is God's initiative and he will shape it as it furthers his interests according to his will. He will do it his way, period. We got the ball rolling with him, but there are others he will gather to lend their voices and gifts to how God wants to move us forward in the days ahead.

I love that!

Add to the mix that we got to spend half a day with Nate and Ashley, a young and very gifted couple of Jesus followers from CT who feel called to join us up here next year after they finish school and get married. Then, Matt and Karen Bayne moved into Northampton last weekend. Their arrival has been long awaited. What a joy for us to have them to be here finally. They are amazing people in their own right.

I also met some young street musicians, gave money away to street performers and panhandlers, and built a relationship with a man who provides homes and work for the homeless. We are going to have coffee this week so I can learn from him.

This weekend, Tricia and I will join friends from Steiger Intl. across the street to hang out with street kids and homeless folks. I will bring my Udo drum and do some playing too.

So last week left me exhilarated, challenged and intrigued. I like living this way, and I hope it will continue. If God adds making a real difference in Northampton for his Kingdom, we get to live a life better than we could ever cobble together on our own.

Make it so, Father . . . every last bit!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Who's Taking the Wheel Covers in Northampton?

Something very sinister is going on in Noho these days, I think. I began to notice it after one of the wheel covers on our mini-van went inexplicably missing. Yes, just gone like that!

As I drove around town I began to see other cars with only one wheel cover missing. They are often from older cars and on the left front tire (not exclusively though). As I paid more attention the puzzling phenomenon became more troubling. There are more than a few cars with just one wheel cover missing!

What's going on? What kind of catastrophe is just around the corner because of this maddening mystery?

Does it involve extraterrestrials? I know they're among us.

Is someone stockpiling for the revolution? I know it's coming.

Does it portend a fast approaching scarcity or rationing of wheel covers? It could happen.

Is this tied to the vile Obama plot to socialize America? You and I know that's what he's up to!

Or is it something freaky like a conceptual art piece that the participants (the hapless victims of the theft), do not realize they are part of? I am in Northampton you know.

What if my mind has been taken over by a megalomanic supercomputer, and I am seeing what is not really there, cruelly manipulated like some puppet. Why was I picked? Why?

Do we all need to be very afraid?

Please help me while there is still time. Ideas?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What my little wait showed me about THE BIG WAIT

Two weeks ago after returning from doing leadership coaching in West Springfield, I was made aware in a very small way of what people on the street experience daily.

We had just moved into our apartment in Northampton. There was only one key to the street-side entrance and I didn't have it. It was 10:15 at night and I was locked out. No big deal, I thought. I could see the lights on upstairs on the third floor. Tricia must be up so I will just call her. Problem solved.


I must have called 20 times over the next half hour. She wasn't answering. That could mean she was charging her phone or she was asleep and charging her phone. I usually returned around ten from the coaching, so it was not unusual for me to not quite be home yet. She wasn't wondering where I was.

A few days before, I had met a man on the street named Mike (not his real name).. He looked to be about my age. He did not have the appearance of a street alcoholic, drug addict or mental patient. He wasn't unkempt or street worn. He was alert and self-contained.

Interestingly, no matter where I went in Northampton, he would be there. It's important to know that we had talked many times to people about the idea that one of our goals was to serve people on the street. He was on the street and I could not avoid him. It seemed that God was saying "Put your money where your mouth is," with this man, so I did. I talked to him a bit and made a connection.

So as I was sitting on the bench in front of our building wondering what to do, I thought I would go talk to this man. I had seen him sitting around the corner earlier. I went and asked him if I could share the bench. He invited me to take a seat. For the next 30 minutes we talked about his story. He had some sort of relationship with the God of the Bible (I had seen him reading it before). He had lost his job, his church and his family for reasons he did not reveal, and I did not press for. He was assertive and pained by his situation. He was also an overcomer. I could tell by how he talked and the turns of phrase he used.

As it turned out, toward the latter end of our conversation, Tricia called wondering where I was. It had been an hour past when I should have returned home. She came to fetch me and I said good night to Mike.

Upon reflecting later over what occurred, I realized I had been given a glimpse into what folks must experience on the street of having no place to go. Because of our vantage point from the apartment, I can see the street and I am beginning to recognize homeless people. During the summer months some spend the nights walking Main Street because it is not safe to sleep on the streets at night, especially for women. Mike slept on a bench during the day because he said it was "safer." He is a burly guy with attitude. He could defend himself, but preferred the safety of the day for sleeping.

From my conversations with him and watching him and others sitting around with little to do, I realized the malaise of living on the street. Just sitting for an hour and not being able to get into my home, gave me a sense of being cut off with nowhere to go. I didn't like it even though I knew I would get in sooner than later. I had a surprising and uncomfortably forlorn feeling of being displaced and alone. It was weird given my actual circumstance, but very real.

I realized many of the people on the street must wait for simple things like getting enough money to eat. They wait for places to open so they can eat. They wait to get cleaned up. They wait for family to step in and help. They wait for shelters to open and beds to be made available or housing they can afford. They wait for government checks to come or clinics to open. They wait to get high and to get clean. Some wait to find there way back to sanity or any return to a life of simple stability and order.

A few wait just for another day to get over before another waiting day begins.

Another few, I suspect, wait for God to do something . . . anything.

More than I realize, wait to die.

Yet, I know there are people on the street who are not powerless to do something about their situation, but being displaced is intimidating and creates a disconnection from life which can be overwhelming no matter who you are. People become invisible and eventually dehumanized. They remain ghostwalkers to many of us.

Any life wasted or lost is a flat-out tragedy, I think. Living on the streets because you have to is a profoundly wasting predicament. Living there because you want to, is not much better in my opinion.

My point is that in my little wait God let me feel the sense of being cut off from the mainstream of living in society. He wanted me to glimpse the loss, fear, waste and fultility that homeless people must experience from time to time, or maybe all the time. He did that in little over an hour.

I sure hope this awareness will not be wasted on me in the days ahead.

Please, Jesus . . .