But in the last few weeks God has been ramping up putting me in unfamiliar situations where I'm on point. Last week was no exception. It began with my speaking to folks on the Town Council about The Open Table model for helping poor folks transform from being homeless to having a productive life: http://oldmenplantingchurches.blogspot.com/2013/12/meeting-with-northampton-city-council.html.
Then, early Tuesday morning God woke up Tricia and brought 1Corinthians 1:10 to mind: "He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers." He told her to tell folks also that we needed $10,000 to overcome a deficit and get even. It's always been financially tough here, but the last quarter of 2013 has proven particularly so. Tricia told me she sensed the Holy Spirit was saying that in folks praying for us and asking others to, they would see the faithfulness of God in how he answered this prayer from all of us.
It's always been hard for me to ask for money; some of it comes from old patterns of shame and all-too-familiar feeling a failure at the core, mixed with liberally anxiety I've battled for most of my life. Some of it's never feeling the opportunity to let people serve God by supporting the Kingdom work he's given us to do. Mind you, folks have been consistently and wonderfully generous to us since we began fill-time ministry in 1980. So it's not as if I've often experienced folks criticizing us when we've made the ask (with a couple of quite painful exceptions). It's just been hard for me to do from the git.
Well, I forwarded the email Tricia sent to me and received all sorts of encouragement. One in particularly was amazing. A friend we're praying will join us next year with her husband in our mission responded with an outline of a strategy for helping people see a way for them to do their part. It was quite creative and essentially noted if 100 people gave $100 we'd reach reach the goal. She outlined it this way:
"What this request looks like to me, is this: 100 of us sends $100.00."
$100.00 = 3 meals out.
4 trips to the movies (without popcorn).
3 months of Netflix or 1 month of cable? (I don't have a TV).
I loved she took the time to think about it, then exhort others to view it this way.
Anyway, to date through his people God has sent over $9000! If I'd've guarded my comfort zone, I'd've balked at sending the email to protect my pride. Glad I didn't! Thank you, Lord, and thank generous and faithful brothers and sisters!
A week ago Thursday, I had a conference call with Jon Katov, the Founder and prime mover of The Open Table ministry for transforming the poor. He asked a couple of folks who had experience with OT and would be of help in the conversation to join our conference call. We talked of how I conceived what I needed to move forward, and a little about who imagine/Northampton is, plus the culture of our small city. By the end of our conversation it was clear we were moving forward, and after the first of the year would begin the process to form a table. As I mentioned in my last blog, I will be meeting with someone in the Mayor's Office to get connections for populating the table. Jon suggested for a first candidate we work with a young man or woman who's "graduated" (I forget the official term for it) out of foster care. That's makes great sense to me.
What ended in frustration last year will begin anew in 2014!
I include this in a blog about my comfort zone because God continues putting me into situations where I've never been. They are more stretching than the ones before because I have either no actual expertise in the task or new adventure I tackle, or I feel exposed because doing so increasingly puts me in circles of relationship new or foreign to me. Looking back over five and a half years, I recognize coming to Northampton has been one continuing series of new encounters and endeavors involving all sorts of folks I've never really been around. Remember, I lived for 20 years at a retreat center on a 40-acre church property where I interacted almost exclusively with Christians. I marvel at how far I've wandered from all manner of comfort zones in the task of planting imagine/Northampton...and for the better. I've thought about it more than once, but never took the plunge.
Last Friday night, I loaded up the car with my smaller drumset and made the short trek to the Unitarian Society of Northampton to be a part of the monthly jazz jam held there. For some reason, I'd been on a mailing list inviting me to come and play. I'd never taken them up on it, but I decided to give it a shot.
The sad fact is, since 1FlightUp flamed out unexpectedly over a year ago, I'd played no creative music beyond a couple of short-lived attempts to re-form. In fact, I hadn't touched the drum set pretty much since then. Jim, Eslie, and I had talked of looking for other musicians to form a band, but no one has taken the lead in that, so Friday was my first foray into re-igniting my creative musical side, at least a little bit.
I didn't know what to expect and I did know what to expect. I was pretty sure the folks doing the jam would represent a number of skill levels and experience; their age range was from the 30's to the 70's. I was right. I knew that we'd be playing standards from the jazz canon, more than likely using The Real Book (a compilation created in the 70's of mostly well-known tunes). I was right again. I also expected everyone there would be so because they loved this music and enjoyed playing together. True as well. There were a lot of smiles, friendly encouraging and just plain enjoyment. No one was trying to show off. At the same time, those who could play demonstrated it.
We played for about two and a half hours. I started playing and practicing at 15 so as soon as we began the first tune, my body and creative sensibilities just kicked in. Muscle memory from literally thousands of hours practicing and playing for 50 years took over. It also didn't hurt that I listen instinctively to other musicians to support them as well. Jazz musicians know to do that as requisite for the art form.
I include this in a blog about wandering from my comfort zone because, for me, there's always a little uncertainty about how well I'll do individually, and in the mix of new musicians. I haven't gotten out there for a while as I said. The musicians will be unfamiliar. Playing improvised music always entails a risk:
- Will I make good musical choices?
- Will the other musicians like what I play, or will I not be able to play something?
- Will I get lost or make a rhythmic mistake which throws off the other players?
- Will I enhance the collective music-making?
- What if I can't really play anymore?
I plan to play again.
Finally, last Sunday, I preached at imagine. I do so occasionally. It's never been very comfortable to me. I feel the weight of the responsibility, and again, I'm an amateur. While I've probably preached 30-40 times since I became a Christian, it's not natural to me. I'm a communicator, but I don't have a preaching gift. Because of my ADD, there is a good chance I'll say something spontaneously (and not Spirit-inspired) which would have been better left unsaid, particularly using humor - nothing inappropriate, just lame or distracting.
But last Sunday, I wandered furthest from my comfort zone by leading an a cappella Advent hymn sing. I come from a family of singers, my daughters are singers; Tricia loves to sing; I can sing in tune and my voice quality reflects the family I came from. I sang in bands, but...standing up in front of the church and leading an a cappella hymn sing is another story entirely. For instance, you have to begin in a key where the high notes are not to high or the low notes too low for most if not everybody to be able to sing. I had one shot at it. Also, I needed to make sure I started the tune confidently so people could follow and not be awkwardly tentative. Again one shot. Not to be overlooked, I needed to begin a tempo, neither fast nor too slow, so folks could be comfortable with getting the words out. Good song-leading helps people feel unself-conscious thus enabling them to open their hearts to God in the singing.
God was very good to all of us in that I was able to (other than stand alone up front) lead both hymns inconspicuously, and people were able to sing, including harmonize. So while I wandered away from my comfort zone, no one else seemed worse for the wear because of it. Mission accomplished and it was lovely.
I'd like an extra helping of such boldness in 2014. Pray for me that it may be so, and while you're at it, pray it be so for yourself in your Kingdom mission.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!