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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

imagine/Northampton's Newest Video

Check out our latest video describing who we are, what God is doing in our midst, and how people are being affected. Love to hear your thoughts!


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two Hours With Ned.

I'll call him Ned. He has two other names: one given at birth and one he's given himself.

I've been around him for most of the time we've been here. He's on the street, but for periods of time he disappears. He looks to be in his mid-30's. He's a gentle soul which comes through most of the time. I wonder why he's on the street. For most, it's because of addiction and/or mental illness. For some of the youngest ones being on the street is a summer of "walking on the wild side," and being free from life's responsibilities for a while.

Anyhow, days ago, Ned was at  his usual place soliciting change with his cardboard sign (mandatory gear for the homeless in Northampton). As I normally do, I walked by and asked how he was. He mumbled something about being in a car accident. He has a bike and was hit on Pleasant Street a few days before. He showed me a swollen ankle. I asked him if he'd had it looked at. Ned said emphatically "no!" I'd later find out why.

Later that day, I was heading to a meeting in another town. Ned was still at his usual place. He didn't look good. I was in a bit in a hurry, but stopped. I asked if it was his ankle. He mumbled, looking down, "It hurts so f---ing bad." I said again he had to get to the hospital. He looked me directly and said," I HATE f---ing hospitals. They scare me." I said I understand, but "Your ankle might be fractured. It's not going to go away." He looked away and nodded his head. I told him I would take him to the hospital. He shook his head "no." Right then, two guys he seemed to know showed up and handed him a slice of pizza. I had to leave, but I repeated my offer. He wouldn't budge.

As I headed to the car, I prayed that if God wanted me to help him, he would create another encounter. I couldn't force the situation, but I've always felt a tug toward Ned. Perhaps he was a "son of peace," like Jesus refers to in Luke 10 when sending out the 72.

Well, the very next day, after I'd  gone to Hopkinton to fetch Tricia and meet our newest granddaughter, Piper Rose, we were heading from our car to the apartment to drop off Tricia's luggage and then grab a bite to eat in town. As we sometimes do, we decided to take the Kirkland Avenue shortcut. It's a dismal stretch of dumpsters, graffiti, discarded liquor bottles -- smelling of urine and garbage. It also feels spiritually dark. As we entered, I looked to my left, and there between two dumpsters was Ned. I knew this was the answer to yesterday's prayer. I also knew we had to help him. He was in excruciating pain, grimacing with the smallest of movements. He complained he could not stand on it at all. It was true. He couldn't. The pain was written on his face. He was hyperventilating also because of pain and fear. He'd say a number of times, holding up his hand, "Give me a minute," until both subsided. It was sad. He was sitting amidst the garbage as if he is discarded garbage too.

Both Tricia and I told him he had to go to the hospital to get his injury treated, and we'd take him. He have kept shaking his head "no" repeating he was afraid and hated hospitals. He added to it that he preferred to his entire foot cut off. He would repeat this "solution," even in the hospital. Ned looked and felt utterly miserable. We affirmed that he was afraid and felt alone, but we would go and stay with him until he got treated. Assuring him so calmed him and he agreed to go. We packed him and his backpack (1 of 2 possessions besides his clothes, the other being a decrepit bike), into the rear seat.

We dropped off Tricia's stuff and got crutches we'd kept since her fall on the stairs. Carefully, we were able to get him in the car. I could smell alcohol on his breath. I assumed it was his way of numbing the pain. I also knew he had a drinking problem from word on the street. They all know each others junk intimately, and are quite free to share it, almost with glee sometimes.

All the way to the hospital he apologized for inconveniencing us. He let us in on the fact he hates asking anyone for anything. Over and over, he'd also return to his preference of having them cut off his foot (problem solved in his mind), and that he really, really hated "f---ing hospitals."  He'd suffered serious burns on both legs 12 years before and was in hospital for over as month. Apparently, he'd had an earlier and equally traumatic stay before the burns incident. He truly was terrified about the prospect of going. We promised we'd walk through the entire ordeal with him. Again, he'd calm for a minute, then we'd go through the whole dialogue again.

The ride to Cooley Dickinson took just 10 minutes. We got him admitted with no glitch. I called imagine folks to get prayer going.When he got into an examination room his anxiety heightened; he was agitated, ripping off the ID bracelet they put on folks in the ER, complaining about everything. He'd go in and out of the fear. We kept praying silently and offering comfort. Soon he was whisked away to X Ray to assess the scope of the damage. He didn't like it, but a very patient and persistent X Ray Technician gradually got him to cooperate. We could hear her from outside the X Ray room.

It was only 10 minutes before the Doc came into his room with the good news that nothing was broken, but he had a bad sprain. A nurse came in with an ace bandage and a soft cast. She helped him put it on. She was gentle and resourceful. He made a big deal about "hating crutches," and would not use them, no way. We'd left ours in the car. She gently overcame his resistance. His choice was one crutch and one cane. Gradually, he calmed because this terrifying part of the ordeal was coming to an end. Soon we were out the door. He tried to do a wheelie with the wheelchair. I cut that short and got him in the car.

Driving back (he wanted to go to his home -- the space between the dumpsters), I mentioned the Doc said he could have over-the-counter painkillers. I told him we'd get them for him. He responded with an adamant "no." Ned looked me right in he eye and said, "I have my own painkiller." Then he looked away, repeating how hard it is to ask for anything, but soon blurted out, "I need five dollars for a pint." I told him we can't do that; it was a matter of conscience for us. He didn't press it, and apologized for asking.

Back at his "home" he was overwhelmed with gratitude. He said we were people "with big hearts,"; "we were now family." He called me a "father-figure," and hugged me for about a minute. I'd never hugged a homeless man before. He smelled terrible, but it felt a holy moment to me. I doubt he's hugged much. I told him his life mattered. I didn't know how he got where he was, but he was a person and it was our privilege to help him. I told him God cared and people were praying for him. He said he didn't believe in God, but was grateful for our kindness. He asked for my number because I told him I wanted to help sort through his life and see if he could get back on his feet. Earlier he told me he'd been a landscaper. Maybe he could do that again if he could deal with his stuff and find God in the process.

I realize the entire experience was full of God at his initiative. I know God is pursuing Ned. I'm sure the process of recovery would not be easy at all, but if he wants to try, I'm ready to help. God can and does do miracles

Amazing to me was God honored my prayer and we got to make a difference. Being with him for an hour or so gave me fresh insight into homeless people who are addicts. They're fiercely independent and expect little from others. They have been injured emotionally; fear and anger influence them profoundly. They've suffered loss, abandonment and dehumanization. Ned said he'd lost his father and brother and missed them terribly. He also let me know he responds when treated like someone who matters. His self-absorption is a survival skill, not cultivated arrogance and meanness. He has a heart and craves human connection.

People like Ned is one of the reasons imagine/Northampton is planted on Main Street. Helping him was another step toward serving Christ in people like him (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus says those who follow him will do so. His Kingdom example has to be our Kingdom mission.

I didn't see Ned yesterday, but I hope to today. I hope he'll call me too.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Simple Missional Questions to Ask Ourselves All the Time.

1. How in your life do you see folks around you encountering Jesus through you?

2. How do you incarnate his love so that people in your sphere of influence want to know him?

3. Would anyone be inspired to follow him by the way you live?

4. Besides indirect evidence of your religious or spiritual practices (going to church, praying, reading the Scriptures, etc.) does anyone not a Christian know why you follow him?

Take frequent time to reflect on these questions and listen for his "still, small voice." Thank him for evidence of him working through you if he has, but also ask him to "make you able" if you've little evidence of his working through you missionally of late or perhaps ever.

The hour is late.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Of Baptisms, Tag Sales, and Missions Fairs.

In the last couple of months, we've had opportunities to experience new life-together stuff. Each a bit different, but all a part of how we're wending our way though the missional life we have together in imagine/Northampton.

Nhung Bui's Baptism:

In April, we had the joy of celebrating our second baptism. Nhung Bui, a graduating senior at Smith College had been coming to imagine for a number of months. She was part of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at Smith, and imagineurian, Crystal Fryer, the full-time Staff Worker there, invited her to our group. We grew in relationship with her, and she felt at home with us. She'd become a believer a year earlier, but was ready to be baptized. She wanted us to do it.

So on a bright, sunny Sunday morning after church we headed over to Puffer's Pond on the Smith Campus for the sacrament. Tricia and I had the honor of baptizing her. It was the first time for us doing it together. A number of students and friends showed up, including some who were not believers, but were curious and wanted to support her. I was glad to see so many, including our friends David and Anne Hulley who've had a major Christian influence on young women at Smith for years.

So down into the murky water we went about 12 feet out from the bank. It was a tad slimy and the cold water immediately let us know we were alive! I took a minute to explain the meaning of what we were about to do, asked her a couple of questions for her to affirm she knew what she was doing, and then Tricia and I gently laid her briefly under the surface of the water. When we lifted her back up, everyone applauded, and she was smiles from ear to ear. Back on the bank there were hugs and pictures, especially with the women in her house group.

After, we headed back for our monthly Pot-of-Grace meal as part of the celebration. Later that week, we gave her a Bible and some other gifts to remember imagine/Northampton by. It was all lovely.

What struck me was the beauty and grace abounding in this sacrament. Love and Life were evident each step of the way. We had the privilege of celebrating the reality that Nhung had committed her life to Jesus at her conversion, and now was publicly testifying to that truth with unbelieving friends and committed brethren. The Kingdom shone through at the pond for a few minutes that day. We all at imagine hope God will grant us more baptisms and often!

Nhung will begin her graduate studies at Princeton in the fall. We hope to see her again.

The First imagine/Northampton Tag Sale:

As a few of you might be aware, we are considering moving to a building called the Round House in the fall. It's contingent somewhat on whether we can raise monies sufficient for the first year's lease ($46,200) -- at least, that's the thinking right now. So a couple of weekend's ago we had our first all-church tag sale to begin the process. Many of us gathered our stuff for sale and hauled it over to Jenn Swick's and Kait Brink's apartment, It was Kait's idea to have the event, and they graciously offered the yard  and porch of their apartment to hold it. The location was good.

So we had the usual assortment of books, clothes, toys, knick-knacks, records, some baked goods, and various other used household items. As they always do, the dealers came first, looking for particular things. They didn't stay long. Soon after, all manner of people trickled by to browse. They bought stuff; $455 worth. Not bad for a first try.

While I was happy for the results, I most enjoyed all of us being together in a common effort, getting a chance to hang out and engage people. For instance, I got to know Wednesday (her nickname), better. Tricia and I stayed for about 2 1/2 hours, then left, returning in early afternoon to help clean up. I was also pleased to know people inquired about who imagine/Northampton was, and what we were about. It's always important to help our neighbors put faces with names; such connecting breaks down barriers, particularly with how folks in this community view Christians. Neighborhood tag sales let us engage people on a common ground. We all have tag sales at times. We all buy stuff. The community gathers around a mutually beneficial transaction, and conversation happens.

Good stuff for missional relationship building. The Kingdom has a face. Labels fade when relaxed talk happens around the common good, shared reality and a bargain.

So we'll do more of this. If you know us, you know we have considerable talent around food, so I can see a smash-hit bake sale in our future: "Hazelnut Peach Frangipane Tart anyone? Oh you want 2? Coming right up, madam!"

The Mission & Ministry Fair at THE BARN in Simsbury:

Yesterday, imagineurians Jim LaMontagne, Eslie McDermott, Dave & Karen Sweeney, Jenn Swick and Jon G. Hill traveled to The Barn in Simsbury for their Mission & Ministry Fair. It's was our home church (McDermott's, LaMontagne's & Bayne's) prior to coming up here. They have been supporting from the beginning.

The event was a great opportunity for us to have folks there meet some of our folks, and see the fruit of their support. Also, folks at the Barn are wonderful people and so are our imagineurians; they are related through us in a way. We also wanted our people to see the place where imagine/Northampton began as an idea, prayer, and dream. And the physical plant itself is quite beautiful just to experience. Jon mentioned more than once after seeing it all that we were "very fortunate." to have lived there for 20 years. Indeed we were.

The centerpiece of our presentation was a 7-minute video  generously created for us by Dave Sweeney with his partner, Marty Langford. They have a video production company called Viz-bang,
and spent time with a number of us filming interviews, showing Northampton, and even giving glimpses of our jazz group1FlightUP, . As Dave says, it's "still a work in progress," but even now it communicates well how we understand ourselves and our mission from more than one person.

So we spent the 2 hours in the Celebration Hall talking with old friends and meeting some new folks. I was delighted to see other missional colleagues representing their work: Betty Means, Bob and Becky Cooley with AIM, Gary Moorehead with Marigold Fund, and Jeff Kraines with The Navigators, for instance. Catching up with people was satisfying, and seeing us all doing missional work in our own spheres of influence was heartening to me.

I also enjoyed talking to people about what we are doing. They asked intelligent questions which gave me a chance to respond about work which is a great passion for me. Telling the story of what God is doing in our midst and through our efforts together is how we connect them with imagine. I hope it inspired, and built their faith a bit.

Perhaps the most fulfilling was seeing Jim, Eslie, Dave, Jenn, Karen, and Jon representing our mission together to people they didn't know (Jim, was a member of the Barn, and Eslie, grew up on the property at the Center For Renewal). I feel such pleasure at witnessing imagineurians express a life-giving identity with our community, and the Kingdom mission we are undertaking together as we follow Christ in Northampton.

This stuff never gets old for me, whether lived out through imagine Baptisms, Tag Sales or Mission Fairs. I never thought I'd be any of this in the first place.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

When the World Sparkles Enough That It Blinds, the Kingdom Fades to Gray.

One of the hardest, and sometimes most heart-breaking, experiences I've had in ministry, whether as a counselor or church leader has been when someone I have a relationship or am working with seems to gradually cool to Christ and his brilliant Kingdom mission. He or she quietly slips away, yielding a part or all of their heart to lesser joys and pastimes.

Over the years, I've come to understand unless what people pursue is disturbingly sinful to those who love them (abuse of drugs or alcohol, risky sexual habits, destructive irresponsibility such as not being able to hold a job because of willful immaturity, etc.), their progressing blindness often appears benign on the surface: a promising new relationship takes center stage, the long-sought-after job or career path opens and consumes the best of who they are, or family becomes the main source of life and well-being, for instance. Nobody's going off the deep end; they're just wandering away slowly because they can't see the Kingdom as their most compelling way of life

The central issue for me gathers around what the heart prefers as it's deepest longing and loyalty, pleasure and joy, meaning and purpose. We have the freedom to give our hearts to what is good or what is evil. All of us do this all of the time to varying degrees depending on how much we've embraced with conviction God's summons to holiness:  " . . . you shall be holy because I am holy." (1Peter 1:16) . He holds out this summons 24/7 if you're a Christ-follower. We move toward and away from this summons, but by the amazing grace of God, through steps forward and steps back over years, our spiritual momentum is toward him and what he cares for.

Nonetheless, I've heard people who eventually lost sight of the way say the whole Christian thing was too hard; they just couldn't be good enough.

I've known others who when confronted with their love of certain sins, and the need to turn aside from them, decided the price was too great.

A few took care of the salvation deal (yes, I believe), then lived as they pleased, confident that the salvation endgame was won; no need to go overboard with the religious stuff.

A scarier group of folks knew that they were rejecting Christ and didn't care. In fact, they became convinced it was all a load of baloney. They took the high ground of enlightened understanding, little aware they had lost the means to see reality.

So painful to me was the reality these folks were being given the opportunity to be loved, healed, and freed, but they kept looking elsewhere. Their blindness was gradual but insidious. 

I know the Scripture warns frequently about the terrifying dangers of falling away. Such knowledge sobers me. But I have a sadness for those who could not grasp the exquisite beauty of God, and his grace-drenched Kingdom. How tragic is the reality that some who are summoned say "no thanks," I like this stuff better. What a loss of potential for the Kingdom mission they were invited to.

How is it LOVE can be shoved aside for love? I get it that we can choose soul poison or medicine, but the stakes are astonishing. This world's sparkling unto blindness kills; the Kingdom faded gray is the ultimate of lies.

I think we Christians do not do anywhere near enough to reveal the brilliant shine of the freeing Kingdom reign and rule of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We settle for ho-hum in our church cultures;. the routine is safe and manageable. Who among expects miracles? We think the power of God is for maintaining the mundane, not rolling away the stones from tombs.

I have to say, I've had the most disappointing experience of watching young believer's being slowly spiritually blinded by a cultural Christendom so boring, superficial and insular that they became convinced it was a feckless sham. Conversely, this world lures them constantly with endless promises of excitement, intense feeling, a steady diet of pleasure, and the promise of a good life (on their terms) free from anything that fetters you doing what you want, when you want, and how you want. It's dreck with a hidden death sentence.

When we all decide to follow Jesus at all costs into this jangly, sparkly world to manifest the brilliantly shining beauty of simple grace and the resurrecting power of love, I know the color of true life will return and dazzle those still able to see it.