Under Construction  

Posted by Ben

I have been in the process of finding a new layout for my blog, and have thus destroyed my old one on accident. I found a new one which i love, but will not be able to use. This unattractive, white, blinding nonsense will serve as an "under construction" look for a little while. I have not posted in a while and will not for another week at least. I apologize.

Holiness 2  

Posted by Ben in , ,

When i started this Blog, I'm not sure if i gave any real indication as to why i chose the name i had. I am sure some know, some do not. The idea comes from a Warren Barfield song called "Mistaken" where the end of the chorus goes "This is all i want to be, I want to be mistaken for Jesus." Wow, what if that were truly the goal of all Christians? Not that I think it isn't of most, but i do in fact believe it's been lost somewhere in American Evangelicalism. I also think quite a few camps have substituted legalism for Christ-likeness, of which I include my own Nazarene Tradition (and many other in the American Holiness movement). The shame in that is this...

What is Holiness if it is not in fact producing Christ-likeness? And is Christ-Likeness understood as a list of rules we are able to keep? Or, may we be so bold as a people to claim that it must be understood as so much more. It is characterized by Grace and Mercy, and above all else Love. To keep a list of rules or doctrines is to rob our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ of the power of His Holy Spirit. So the big question for today is this... What if when people left a conversation or meeting with us, they were convinced that they had just seen Christ? They couldn't even describe you, only Christ? Do we believe that's possible anymore?

Well this artist does...

I shouldn’t have to tell you who I am
Cause who I am should be speaking for itself
Cause if I am who I want to be
Then who you see won’t even be me
Oh the more and more I disappear
The more and more He becomes clear

[CHORUS]:
‘ Til everyone I talk to hears His voice
And everything I touch feels the warmth of His hand
‘ Til everyone I meet
Sees Jesus in me
This is all I wanna be
I wanna be mistaken
For Jesus
Oh I wanna be mistaken

Do they only see who we are
But who we are should be pointing them to Christ
Cause we are who He chose to use
To spread the news
Of the way the truth and the life
Oh I want all I am to die
So all He is can come alive

‘ Til everyone I talk to hears His voice
And everything I touch feels the warmth of His hand
‘ Til everyone I meet
Sees Jesus in me
This is all I wanna be
I wanna be mistaken
For Jesus
Oh I wanna be
Oh I need to be mistaken
For you
Oh I wanna be mistaken

[BRIDGE]:
May He touch with my hands
See through my eyes
May He speak through my lips
Live through my life
I want Him to
I want Him to live
- "Mistaken" -
by Warren Barfield

(all emphasis added by me)

And Can It Be?  

Posted by Ben in , , ,

I will continue to post thoughts on Holiness throughout this semester for sure, as I am taking a class on the Doctrine of Holiness. But also, since it is in fact the Hope of the Gospel as proclaimed throughout the Old and New Testament Scriptures, "without which none will see God," I will probably continue posting thoughts on Holiness as long as I keep a blog on the internet. This is a WONDERFUL Hymn from Charles Wesley. Another blogger posted it and upon reading i could not but post it for my readers!

"And Can It Be That I Should Gain?" UMH #378
Charles Wesley, 1738


And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Holiness  

Posted by Ben in , ,

I spent all last school year studying Wesley's Doctrine of Holiness or "Entire Sanctification" or "Christian Perfection" on top of my own studies. I also studied the Bible for myself as well as what a lot of other people had to say about things. This is where I tend to, AT TIMES, agree with certain people in the Emerging Church conversation. Many of their sentiments are a call to Holiness and a life that is Christ-Honoring by our Works, which the Scripture even tells us God has prepared in advance for us to do.

I have stated before that I believe the Gospel is incomplete without an emphasis on Holiness and the Hope of Entire Sanctification. I believe very strongly in Holiness and the message it holds and pervays. I am saddened by much of today's Church in rejecting it. I see a lot of Reformed Theology rejecting the idea, even though Augustine as well as Calvin would have each agreed with it, as is made evident by a true understanding of Calvin's "Perseverance of the Saints." Luther is the one who really disagreed with it and understood Justification in simply forensic, legal terms. Thus being the case, I have been greatly affirmed and gained great joy from reading the following excerpt from a very prominent Calvinist, Charles H. Spurgeon.

From Charles Spurgeon "the Wedding Garment," preached at Metropolitan Tabernacle 1871:

"Holiness is always present in those who are loyal guests of the great King, for "without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Too many professors pacify themselves with the idea that they possess imputed righteousness, while they are indifferent to the sanctifying work of the Spirit. They refuse to put on the garment of obedience, they reject the white linen which is the righteousness of saints. They thus reveal their self-will, their enmity to God, and their nonsubmission to his Son. Such men may talk what they will about justification by faith, and salvation by grace, but they are rebels at heart, they have not on the wedding dress any more than the self-righteous, whom they so eagerly condemn. The fact is, if we wish for the blessings of grace, we must in our hearts submit to the rules of grace without picking and choosing. It is idle to dispute whether the wedding garment is faith or love, as some have done, for all the graces of the Spirit and blessings of the covenant go together. No one ever had the imputed righteousness of Christ without receiving at the same time a measure of the righteousness wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. Justification by faith is not contrary to the production of good works: God forbid. The faith by which we are justified is the faith which produces holiness, and no one is justified by faith which does not also sanctify him and deliver him from the love of sin."

Read the full sermon here.

Fundamentalism  

Posted by Ben in , ,

One of my biggest pet peeves is Christian Fundamentalism. Why? you ask, simply for this reason.

They make Christianity about what it is NOT, a new law. It is about a bunch of "fundamentals" of doctrine and belief which set the lines for, at the most, salvation and, at the least, orthodoxy. The sad thing is that it has taken over in America's microwave society where the only way an answer can be a good one is if it is clear, concise, and one-sided. People want an answer they can swallow. They prefer a pill. An answer they must chew on, food with substance that is good for nutrition and growth, is frowned upon or even shunned.

Also, the "fundamentals" are not in themselves actually fundamental to the faith of Christ crucified and resurrected. They also treat the Bible as a literal spoken word of God, to be read/heard and therefore understood. This is so unfaithful to the original authors, their inspiration by the Holy Spirit, the historical context in which they arose, the audiences which would have heard them, and the pieces of historical literature which they truly are.

As stated before, they tend to make certain theories of doctrine, at the most the means of salvation in and of themselves, and at the least a litmus test of orthodoxy. One such theory (on top of Verbal-Plennary Inspiration as discussed above) is Penal Substitution, or Substitutionary Atonement. They fail to acknowledge that Substitutionary Atonement is never mentioned in a single historical Creed or Confession of Faith. Also, they seem to treat their angry-father version of Penal Substitution as the only acceptable one. All of this fails to realize that there are multiple views and theories of atonement throughout the history of the Church which inform a robust, Biblical view of Atonement.

They have a view of Sola Scriptura (which in itself is a good doctrine) which is far inferior to the original idea. It basically says that there is no need to research secular historical sources to understand certain things contained in the Bible, because that would have no bearing on what the original audience would have heard. Sadly, the most common thing i see in Fundamentalists attacking others on the grounds of Sola Scriptura is not that the person being accused has actually denied Sola Scriptura, but rather the attacker's understanding of SS and that particular passage. In the words of Rob Bell:

When people say that the authority of Scripture or the centrality of Jesus is in question, actually it's their social, economic and political system that has been built in the name of Jesus that's being threatened," Bell says. "Generally lurking below some of the more venomous, vitriolic criticism is somebody who's created a facade that's not working...

My last critique which I find completely disheartening about the Fundamentalist camp is their particular understanding of "Heaven" and "Eternal Life." Also, even more-so, their understanding of the Gospel and how it is understood in terms of "Heaven" and "Eternal Life." The Gospel writers as well as all other NT authors were very clear on one thing, Heaven is to be understood as God's presence or dwelling, and that Eternal Life was something which began TODAY, at the moment of entering into relationship and life with Christ. The future hope of the Gospel was not Heaven, somewhere in the clouds or "up there," but rather a final realization of God's glory and power manifested in the complete restoration of His Creation, through the final destruction and ousting of Sin (separation of Creation from Creator) and Evil (the destructive results of said separation). In forgetting or, at worst, rejecting this truth they see no social agenda to the Gospel. It is simply a means by which to secure someone's FUTURE destiny, which they believe from that point in the future to be without end, thus being understood as eternal.

In my human weakness I have at many times associated Funadmentalism with Calvinism. Though it can be said truly that where one sees Fundamentalism, it is not unlikely to find Pre-Millenial Dispensationalism as well as Calvinism. However, Fundamentalism and Dispensationalism have also taken strong roots in the Southern Baptist Convention, which is traditionally Arminian.

Based upon these frustrations, i was greatly relieved to find that R.C. Sproul, an amazing man of God whom I happen to disagree with about Justification, is Himself a Partial-Preterist (like myself). I was also excited and relieved to find the following two quotes from J.I. Packer, another prominent Calvinist and wonderful man of God.

"To be sure, fundamentalists within our three traditions are unlikely to join us in this, for it is the way of fundamentalists to follow the path of contentious orthodoxism, as if the mercy of God in Christ automatically rests on the persons who are notionally correct and is just as automatically withheld from those who fall short of notional correctness on any point of substance. But this concept of, in effect, justification, not by works but by words -- words, that is, of notional soundness and precision -- is near to being a cultic heresy in its own right and need not detain us further, however much we may regret the fact that some in all our traditions are bogged down in it."


Lastly, my strongest contention against Fundamentalism. One can be sure that Fundamentalists are sure that Protestantism, if not Protestant Fundamentalism is the only way of true salvation. This follows in line with the need for "notional correctness." In this, they are usually quite sure that Roman Catholics (the Oldest Tradition in modern Christianity) and Eastern Orthodox are not Christian, or part of the Body. Many would even also say that only Evangelical Churches are in fact Christian, denying inclusion to Mainline Churches. To this end I offer yet another quote from J.I. Packer which he gave as an answer to why he would sign a document on the coming together of Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox in mission:

"Hitherto, isolationism everywhere in everything has been the preferred policy of both Catholics and evangelicals, and a good deal of duplication and rivalry, fed by mutual suspicion and inflammatory talk, has resulted. ... So I ought to have anticipated that some Protestants would say bleak, skewed, fearful, and fear-driven things about this document -- for instance, that it betrays the Reformation; that it barters the gospel for a social agenda ... Why, then, should any Protestant, such as myself, want to maximize mission activity in partnership with Roman Catholics? Traditionally, Protestants and Catholics have kept their distance, treating each other as inferiors; each community has seen the other as out to deny precious elements in its own faith and practice, and so has given the other a wide berth. There are sound reasons why this historic stance should be adjusted. First: Do we recognize that good evangelical Protestants and good Roman Catholics -- good, I mean, in terms of their own church's stated ideal of spiritual life -- are Christians together? We ought to recognize this, for it is true. I am a Protestant who thanks God for the wisdom, backbone, maturity of mind and conscience, and above all, love for my Lord Jesus Christ that I often see among Catholics ... Though Protestant and Catholic church systems stand opposed, and bad -- that is, unconverted -- Catholics and Protestants are problems on both sides of the Reformation divide, good Protestants and Catholics are, and know themselves to be, united in the one body of Christ, joint-heirs not only with him but with each other. ... Such a coalition [to combat 'disintegrative theology'] already exists among evangelicals, sustained by parachurch organizations, seminaries, media, mission programs and agencies, and literature of various kinds. It would be stronger in its stand for truth if it were in closer step with the parallel Catholic coalition that has recently begun to grow. ... their domestic differences about salvation and the church should not hinder them from joint action in seeking to re-Christianize the North American milieu. ... Propagating the basic faith, then, remains the crucial task, and it is natural to think it will best be done as a combined operation. ... Billy Graham's cooperative evangelism, in which all the churches in an area, of whatever stripe, are invited to share, is well established on today's Christian scene. And so are charismatic get-togethers, some of them one-off, some of them regular, and some of them huge, where the distinction between Protestant and Catholic vanishes in a Christ-centered unity of experience. ... What brings salvation, after all, is not any theory about faith in Christ, justification, and the church, but faith itself in Christ himself. ... What is ruled out is associating salvation or spiritual health with churchly identity, as if a Roman Catholic cannot be saved without becoming a Protestant or vice versa, and on this basis putting people under pressure to change churches."

For those of you who have ever been curious as to why I have at many times voiced great disdain for Fundamentalism, here lies my reasoning. I believe it alienates brothers in Christ, and makes our Bible as well as our Faith something it was not meant to be. I think it misses the great story of Redemption.

Most Amazing Musical Performance Ever?  

Posted by Ben in

Yes... I submit that it is true.

For those of you who don't know my musical tastes very well, let me inform you. My father raised me on classic rock. About 70% of what my father listened to while I was growing up was The Allman Brothers Band. They are quite an extraordinary band whom I have also fallen in love with. My family makes an annual event out of going to see their Live show. They are among the first Jam Bands and are still one of the best at it. One of their guitarists, Warren Haynes has become by far my favorite guitar player.

Also, Dave Matthews Band became my favorite band about a year ago and are kind of the most legendary modern band. They are well known for following in the Jam Band legacy/ilk and have had Warren Haynes perform with them on many occasions. They do a live version of Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower which I think is one of the most amazing songs ever arranged. I have long wanted to find a live performance of All Along the Watchtower with Warren Haynes joining them on the Electric Guitar.
Well.... I found it the other day.
Tell me if this isn't one of the most amazing musical performances you've ever seen in rock music...

Salvation  

Posted by Ben in

Salvation is the central story to the Bible. It is the hope for which we as Christians live. Many different traditions have had something to say about Salvation and sadly the view of it has become very watered down and is found wanting. Because of this I am beginning an Independent study over the next many years on the work Christ accomplished in the Cross. Hopefully this will all complete in a book about it. *SIGH* yes, Ben Burch has become one of those people. This is not to be something no one has ever attempted. This is going to be my work to give us a whollistic view of the cross, from my perspective and tradition. informed by other perspectives and traditions. In order to understand the work the Cross accomplishes we must understand the result of that finished work: Salvation.

So to start by understanding Salvation, which has also been understood poorly and in a very lacking way throughout the recent century, I start this work by reading a book which is in no way meant to be exhaustive. This book is meant to give a solid foundation to a simple working definition of what Salvation is. This simple working definition will lay the foundation for the study and explanation of how God's work on the cross fulfills and provides for this goal.

This book is Salvation Belongs to Our God by Christopher Wright. Wright is Anglican and is in no way related to my personal favourite New Testament Scholar, who is also Anglican, Bishop N.T. Wright. Both of these men are theologians at the forefront of what God is doing in his church as far as theology goes. Myself being a Wesleyan am affirmed by their Anglican roots since John Wesley himself never saught to break away from the Anglican church, in fact if I am correct he considered himself part of the Church of England until the day he died. His goal was to reform the church, God's people, from within. His goal was to call them to Holiness.

All this being said, understanding Salvation and ultimately the work of the Cross should greatly inform a theology of Holiness, which is in fact the Hope of the Gospel.

If you'd like, join along as I work through this book. It is going to be hard to juggle with my academic work/reading but I am hopeful that I can do it often enough and that it will be fruitful for those of you who read along.

Missional God (more)  

Posted by Ben in ,

Check out parts 10 & 12 to Scot McKnight's synopsis/outline of The Mission of God by Christopher Wright.

Part 10

Part 12


In fact just go read all the posts. This looks like a fantastic book and there is a lot to gain from reading/joining this discussion.

A Response  

Posted by Ben in

I made a post a couple of days ago with some videos Ken Silva had posted on Youtube. In that post I told my readers the truth about what I think about Ken's website. However, I did so in a way that cast not only his website in a negative light, but also Ken as a person. This was not like me, and something I should not have done. I was blessed to have Ken visit my site which is very exciting. However, he called me out on what i'd said, and i'll publicly say this. Ken, I hope you come back to read this...

I apologize for the way i cast you as a person in a bad light in my blog. You are quite a fundamentalist in your approach to the Bible, and I believe that is a very unbiblical way to read the Bible. I also think that you miss the mark a lot when talking about Emerging folks. Keep in mind, I am no emergent. I have emailed you previously before a couple times with honest questions and once with a very honest correction to a quote you put on your site. A quote in which you denied the very core, basic tennant of Christian faith. That a Christian is defined by loving Christ, not by their doctrines (you had a quote saying the opposite). You did not respond to any of these honest attempts to have conversation. Later i sent you an email rebuking you for your negative words about XXXChurch. You finally responded to that one, in a way so as to make it seem i had no right to talk to you in such a way. Anyways, these are my points of disagreement with you, and especially with the way you run your site, and the things you say. I had an obligation to let my readers know. However, I should not have cast you as a person in a negative light. I apologize for doing so and I hope that my apology will be accepted.

Anyways I think it is great that you posted such a great video. A video which gives hope to CHristians, that opposites can sit down at one table and not call one another heretics. That Christians can realize that we can all agree in loving and serving Jesus Christ. It gives hope to Christians in the middle like myself who are neither conservative, nor emergent, that those on the polar ends can join in the body together. I am not sure what you meant by "matthew 23." Jesus is rebuking the self-righteous Pharisees. That has no relevance to your video, or to my discussion of your video. If you would like to expound upon that... feel free.

Again I apologize for casting you in a negative light as your person. I hope you know i've prayed for you after reading some of your blog. I am sorry I did not show you a better way in my post, I tend to try to do so. I hope by publicly apologizing I can show you what I am really all about.

Our Missional God  

Posted by Ben in , ,

You have probably seen me reference either Scot's book or blog, both titled The Jesus Creed. That is because I believe Scot is an amazing Christian, Author, and Scholar. I don't know him personally, though I live close enough I should try to make a trip and meet him at some point. He runs a fantastic blog over at Jesus Creed and I am going to send you all over there for another great discussion, but most importantly a specific post. Scot is walking through Chris Wright's The Mission of God currently. The most recent blog covered a chapter on the Exodus and how Wright views it's importance in the overall redemptive story of God.

GO CHECK IT OUT!

It is a great story of what Redemption and Salvation mean to God and mean for us. If you're not a Christian and you are reading my blog, GO CHECK IT OUT! Maybe you'll be somewhat more interested in the story of Christianity than you were before. God is not a God of rules and human-like wrath. He is a God of Holy Wrath which seeks to redeem rather than punish. This is just a great chapter on how important the Exodus is and what all God's mission in His creation, our world, is all about.

Our Missional God 11

Cool Interview  

Posted by Ben in , , , ,

There is this guy named Ken Silva. He runs a smear website which he tries to use to show how every "emergent" and every other Christian he disagrees with is a "Heretic." The only problem is that Ken's website does a much better job of showing his lack of understanding of Emergents and of Scripture, God, and Christianity.

He posted a couple videos, an interview, on Youtube. I am not sure what his purpose was, though I am sure he did not accomplish it in this video, since it did not cast Tony Jones in ANY negative light. In fact what it showed, I am extremely grateful to see. It showed a VERY conservative, reformed minister and a VERY liberal "Emergent" (i only use that term because he is in fact the Director of Emergent Village) sitting down and having a very civil conversation about the Gospel. There were many points of disagreement, but also many points of agreement or at least understanding. A lot of laughs were shared and altogether it showed both men treating the other as and calling the other a "brother in Christ." This is AWESOME. Check out the videos... tell me what you think.

John Chisham (Left) = Conservative, Reformed Minister
Tony Jones (Right)= Liberal, Emergent





A God Who Answers Prayers  

Posted by Ben in , ,

For those who read my blog, I'm willing to be vulnerable with you. I personally love to read books about God and about the Bible. I love to read the Bible. I love to get to know who God is. However, one thing i struggle with is having a time set aside for God. I'm not big on "the same time every day." For those whom that works for i couldn't be happier that's just not who i am. And don't take that to mean i don't spend time in relationship and in time with God throughout my day, i believe he is with me at every point and I can commune with him at all points in my day, my LIFE is relationship with Him if He is in me. However, I do struggle to take time out of my day to intentionally spend time only with our God. This is something I am working on getting better at, as should we all have an aspect of our relationship we are honest needs improvement, and constantly seek to improve.

Thus i have learned how important prayer is. I drove home last week and on my trip i got bored of my extensive CD collection and decided to play the "radio game." I was suddenly bored of that after about 15 minutes and i stumbled onto a Christian station where a preacher was preaching (imagine that). He was preaching on why we should be a people who pray. Why prayer is so important to the Christian Life. It was a great message and I spent a good while listening to him. His final point was that when we pray, we receive or partake in the power of God. Eventually the sermon was done and i put a CD in and began to cruise some more. I kept rolling this idea over in my mind, partaking in and receiving the power of God.

One of the things i have done to boost my prayer life is to keep an active prayer list of everyone i wish to pray for. There have been a great many people whom I've added to it over the past few months. A lot of them are the people i spoke of in my Chicken & Cigarettes series. Three in particular. Emily, George, and Anthony.

I got in late that night to Galen's house and got to sleep. The next day we got up and moseyed around the house a bit before heading off to Baltimore with his girl, Jessica, and another guy named Wyatt. We had high hopes of seeing these three people!

We got there and we talked to the woman who, with anthony, supplied our blankets the night we stayed there. She informed us that George and Anthony would not be in til later since they were at their jobs, full time jobs! She also told us that Emily was not living there any longer, as she was now living in an apartment in a senior apartment complex!

We pray for a lot of things and i watched a video on youtube that said Christians "count the .1% of answered prayers as "God answering prayer" and the 99.9% of prayers which are not answered as "God just said no because he knows best" and that it's our "scapegoat" or "copout."

The Jesus Creed has a chapter in it entitled "Praying the Jesus Creed" all about Jesus' Prayer which he teaches the disciples. And how it is a practical outlet of the command to "love your neighbor as yourself," as it fit well into Scot's definition of Love. If Love is an action of one to another which seeks to help see the other become who God desires them to be, then prayer must be a way of doing such. Jesus teaches us to pray for not ourselves, but for ourselves AND others. To pray for the things God ALREADY WANTS TO DO in their lives. Prayer is an active part of our surrender to God, to His will. It is an active part of loving God and loving others. When we pray, we submit to God's will, and love others, by praying that God would provide those things for others which he already desires to do/provide.

"Give US this day our DAILY BREAD"
"Forgive US our transgressions"
"Lead US not into temptation"
"Deliver US from evil."

These are the requests Jesus taught us to make of our heavenly Father. Maybe we aren't always praying about the right things, maybe they are our desires, and not part of God's already sovereign will. Maybe our prayers are not part of actively loving others, of helping to shape them into who God desires them to be. I believe praying for a home, for a job as an active member of society, and to eventually see those on the margins brought back into active membership in the beloved community are those things in God's will for all of humanity. And thus, prayers were answered that day in the park. We did not get to see any of the three we most longed to see, because God doesn't answer prayers to see people out of OUR desires, he answers the prayers for others which are shaping them into God's new creation. He answered prayers, and we did not get to see them because they had either a home or a full time job. Praise God.

Leave comments!
Tell me about some prayers God has answered in your life...

More From Chicken & Cigarettes  

Posted by Ben

After writing and reflecting on my initial trip to Baltimore i realized more about my trip than i had ever known previously. It became very exciting as it all began with a phone call on a rainy, cold day in January. I told my friend Galen that he needed to read this book The Irresistible Revolutionby Shane Claiborne. I mailed him the book while he was away in Brazil(?) on a work and witness trip. I told him that after he had finished reading it, we were both going to be silent before God for a while. We might pray some, but we were going to spend a lot of time hearing from Him. We would then call each other, and I very well might say "are you thinking what i'm thinking?" We did this and Galen responded with "I'm with you brother."

It did not mean at all what i had thought it MIGHT mean when i first sent him the book. But it did mean this, eventually Galen would tell me he wanted to go to Philadelphia for a week or so while i was home. Then i read The Simple Way's policy on visitors on their website which strongly discouraged the course of action Galen and I were hoping to do. I decided i felt it were better that we follow The Simple Way's vision, and do something local. Little did i know that Galen would have an idea already churning through his wacky brain.

All that is to say that all because of a phone call we ended up spending a day and a half on the streets of Baltimore and Galen and I experienced enough that i filled up an entire 10 blogs with only my experiences. We ultimately encountered Christ through the humble elements of Chicken and Cigarettes and were witnessed to by an amazing homeless man. We intended to make plans to go back and we did so for August 4.

When we got to "the nitty gritty" and were talking it out, a girl from the local Helping Up Mission contacted Galen to talk to him about our interest in their mission. He told her about our plans at more vigilante work and this girl decided that her and others wanted to team up with us and do something a little less organized and a little more raw. So i am excited about this and hope that we can also be an asset to them in their ministry at the mission as the days move forward.

How cool is God? Talk about a confirmation that we're doing good work. My father also talked to a homeless advocate in Washington, D.C. about the homeless situation and community in Baltimore. He told my father that he thought it was great that we were doing something good, but that we should get involved with those who know the area because Baltimore is a very rough culture with a lot of hard drugs, mainly heroin. All this coming at a time where we were currenty being led by God to team up with one another. How exciting? Anyways, we are headed up Agusut 4 and we are excited about the addition of the workers from the Helping Up Mission.

We ask that you would be in prayer for us as we move into this time, prayer for our safety and ultimately that God would not only teach us amazing things, but use us in some sort of powerful way. That God might use our mustard seeds to do something really great by His power.

Dave Matthews Band  

Posted by Ben in

I got into Dave Matthews Band just about a year ago. I am very grateful that i have as they have become my favorite band. I had an opportunity to possibly go to a show and didn't, i believe because of lack of money. Kinda wish i would have! Anyways i made it a MUST to go to a show this year. I was going to go both nights they played in Indy but couldnt find the money or anyone to go with, so i settled for friday night. It was a superb time, I met a bunch of cool people, had a blast, got phone numbers and we all plan to meet up for next year's show, pretty cool if you ask me, don't know if it will happen or not. I just like that we made such a good connection.

Seek Up
One Sweet World
Granny
Grey Street
Old Dirt Hill
Pantala Naga Pampa >>
Rapunzel
What Would You Say?
Rhyme And Reason
Out of My Hands
Everyday
Crash Into Me
Lie In Our Graves
Money - [Pink Floyd Cover]
Money (That's What I Want) - [Beatles Cover]
Crush
Anyone Seen The Bridge? >>
Too Much (Intro)>>
Ants Marching

Encore Break

Sister
Gravedigger
Thank You (For Lettin Me Be Myself Again) - [Sly & The Family Stone Cover]

Played for 3 hours straight, absolutely incredible. I was a little sad that they did not play #41 but it is alright. Tim Reynolds is touring with them this summer so it was super exciting to see/hear him. His presence really was incredible.

Leroi Moore is injured, he suffered an ATV accident in which he broke many ribs and punctured a lung. He was readmitted to the hospital a couple of days ago. Jeff Coffin of Bela Fleck & The Flecktones played in his stead and he was a worthy substitute. I am praying for a good recovery for him.

All in all it was absolutely great show and the amazing part was that it was without Butch Taylor and Leroi Moore. This will definitely be AT LEAST an annual event in my life.

Life is Beautiful  

Posted by Ben in

Life truly is beautiful. It's also full of a lot of junk, and sometimes life plain sucks. This morning I had to go to the funeral of a 20 year old young man who is the older brother of a student in our youth group, named Ben. The deceased was named Tim. The pastor nailed the sermon, just nailed it. He said...


I am not going to tell you that "God planned this" or that somehow this is "part of God's great plan or design." I will not tell you that because i simply do not believe it. God does not plan for a 20 year old who is so bright, so loved, and so loving to die at 20 years old. God doesn't plan for grandparents and parents to have to bury their children and grandchildren. I am going to try and put this in the vernacular of Timmy and his friends, I think if I were twenty i would say it this way.

"This Sucks!"

It sucks that a 20 year old died and that we have to be here today. And you know what? I am sure many of you have said that and will continue to say that in the days coming. I am sure many of you have wept over this. I assure you God has wept too, and does so with you. You know how i know that? Because he did when his friend Lazarus died.


He went on to explain that Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, so why did he cry? The preacher proposed what I believe, Jesus wept with Mary and Martha in their pain. He wept over their pain. He wept at the state of His creation, that man should have to deal with the pain of death. He wept because it was not part of his plan. He probably said in Aramaic...

"This sucks!"

That's a powerful message, we serve a God that weeps with us and weeps over the fact that we face the pains of life.

Oldie Goldies  

Posted by Ben in ,

I have been doing sunday school with the old folk for about two months now. I absolutely love it. I have decided that is certainly a theme which i believe would be a part of a communal or organic church. I think that part of our work would be visiting the shut-ins and the folks in nursing homes who do not get visitors. I think giving them a community to be a part of is an important part of the gospel.

Today i finally got a lot of my kids/teenagers to come with me. You should have seen the excitement on Patsy and MarryLou's faces! There was a new woman there today and for the life of me i cannot remember her name. Anyways she had the most beautiful voice. She did not talk to me other than that, no matter how hard i tried. I did a hard thing, i let a couple of our boys take Patsy to her room to get a "sodey" without me. Nathaniel smiled so large when he arrived back in the main room with Patsy. I think he is beginning to see the "small things."

As we were leaving I told marrylou we would be back next week and "we love you all."

She responded and said "oh we love you too!" I am sure she didn't just mean me, but meant all of our group of teens. But what an amazing honor. I love you are three very special words and they meant the world to me today.

New Look, New Series?  

Posted by Ben in , ,

I have a new look, I LOVE IT. Only one problem, date stamps don't seem to be working currently, I'm working on that. We shall see if i can fix it, if not i may just go with a different template.

So Chicken & Cigarettes is done for now, probably for good. I will be returning to St. Vincent's park in Baltimore hopefully on August 4th with Galen though if i do blog on that trip, I am sure it will be a new series, new name.

As for now, I do intend to keep an honest and somewhat consistent blog. It will mostly be my thoughts, things that happen each day, what i'm learning each new day. Currently i have a post directing people to The Jesus Creed for a discussion on the concept of "heaven" as it appears in scripture. I would like to bounce back and forth on meaningful discussion i see over there, coupled with my own insight when i get into reading Surprised By Hope which most likely will not start until September. I do not know how much i will do on that.

My real current passion is praxis, the application of our theology in the Christian Life. I don't like the idea of "application of our theology in ministry" because their is no ministry which exists outside the life of the Christian. All ministry is meant to be done within the context of relationship, flowing out of the heart of the individual as it is formed and transformed in relationship with the Redeemer. I will be taking a class on Praxis this coming semester. I also currenly read a book on the subject of doing ministry in the 21st century and beyond called The New Conspirators by Tom Sine (which i have yet to review but is a MUST READ for those going into "full time ministry"), and am currently reading two books on the subject entitled New Kind of Youth Ministry by Chris Folmsbee and Organic Church by Neil Cole. I am turning over the idea in my head of starting an organic church plant after i graduate.


So I intend to blog on my ideas as I pray through this and walk through this in the days coming up. The questions I will be seeking to answer are this:

What would Church look like over the next 20 years if Jesus started it?
When and where would it meet?
What would it spend it's money on?

The answer to these questions begins with "Community."

I'd love input! So please chime in and tell me what you are thinking as i go along!

Chicken & Cigarettes - Pt. 10 - Frank & Emily  

Posted by Ben in

To those of you who have been reading these, thank you for enjoying as i have shared my experiences. This post concludes my series journaling my trip to Baltimore. I have been working in a Chronological order of events, but this post will break that. This story touched my heart beyond measure, I hope it does the same to you. I pray you will press into finding Christ in the unlikely places, the lowly things, the foolish things. I hope you will be open to the Spirit's humbling and teaching. Enjoy...

...I had left for a few minutes to go take a call while Galen and D'Andre passed out the pizza to those in the park. As I came back from around the side of the church, a man said "thank you so much for the pizza, are you going to have some?" I responded by saying "no, thank you. I am actually fasting today." The man replied by saying "God Bless you!" I walked around the park soaking in the sights and sounds, the joy. I was smiling uncontrollably when i looked over and saw Galen sitting down at a park bench at the far end of the park. He had handed a couple slices of pizza to the woman who was laying on the park bench. Another man had taken the pizza from him and proceeded to finish handing it out, since Galen was at this point engaged in conversation. I made my way over to him, analyzing the sight. He was not only sitting on the dirty ground, talking to this older lady who was sitting on a park bench, he was positioned at her feet. Why is this significant you ask? In Scot McKnight's book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others,
he identifies the position of Mary while Martha was running around the house preparing dinner. He shows that Mary was in the presence of Jesus, sitting at his feet. Scot points out that Disciples of any teacher are usually spoken of as having "studied under" the teacher or "studied at the feet" of a certain teacher. He shows us that in the Jewish culture at this time, the disciples would literally sit around a room on the floor while the teacher (in this case Jesus) would sit in a chair and teach. This positioned the disciple to look up at the teacher, and in a posture of ready to receive. He explains that in our walk as a disciple of Christ, a disciple is one who sits at the feet of Jesus. Galen had this position to this woman.

I came up and joined Galen on the dirty ground and listened as this woman thanked us for the pizza and asked us what we were doing in the park. She told us her name, Emily Dodd. She told us her story.

She did not have much education. She had lived decently most of her life, her husband was a Marine, James Dodd I believe was his name. He sailed on an American ship and would be gone from time to time. They never had a lot of money, but never needed for anything either. Well, James had passed away about 5 years ago, leaving Emily, who'd not had a job and was physically unable to have one at this point, without much. She said she "bounced around from place to place, and eventually found herself there, in the park."

She was still collecting a small sum of money from the government for her husband's pension, though this was not much to speak of. She was now 72 and had many physical ailments. As one can imagine, the outside is not a nice place for a 72 year old woman, and a park bench does not do well on already old and aching bones and joints. She was actively looking around for a place in the city that would suit her income, but hadn't had any luck so far. It was amazing listening to her talk about her husband, you could tell it was so nice to have someone listen to her, listen about this wonderful man whom had meant the world to her. Everything became real when he had a name, had an occupation. He was not simply some woman's husband. He was James Dobb, he was a mariner on a U.S. Marine ship. He was a real person. She too was more than a woman on a park bench. She had a real story, a real past, real pain.
We prayed with her. We thanked God for having met her, and we prayed that she would be able to find a place which would suit her income. We prayed that he would touch her aching joints, especially her very bad knee. She prayed and thanked God for having met us, and for our kindness. Such an undeserved, humbling prayer.

As we finished praying, we talked some more and shared life together. As we were there talking, a man came up and dropped a bag in her lap. The man was somewhat taller and had not shaved in a very long time. You could tell he was most likely homeless as well. She said "Oh thank you! What is this?" In the bag was a piece of fried chicken and a sandwich.

He immediately responded by saying "don't thank me, thank God. He provided for me, so i'm providing for you!" My stomach twisted as tears began to form in my eyes. My heart began to beat fast as I looked over to Galen who was smiling at me with the same look in his eyes.

She asked the man why she had earned such favor and what his name was. He did not oblige her with the knowledge of his name, for he said his name did not matter, it was God who deserved thanks, not him. He proceeded to tell her that while they were downtown sometime the other day, he had seen her and asked her for a cigarette.

"When i was in need, you helped me and God has put it on my heart that as long as i trust him to provide for me, that i am to provide for you. If i do so, God will be faithful to provide for me. God does not bless us for our own good, but so that we can bless others. I came across a bit of fried Chicken and a sandwich. I could have eaten it all, but i didn't need it all, and God commanded the Israelites not to take more manah than they needed, but to trust God to provide the next day. If i am faithful to bless you and not keep it all for myself and trust God to provide, He surely will"

Such is the hope of the Gospel! Israel was a blessed nation so that they might bless the world with the knowledge of HaShem, El-Shaddai, the Living God, YHWH, their deliverer and the deliverer of all mankind.

We who are blessed with the knowledge of Christ and with the love of Christ are to be a blessing to others with the knowledge of Christ and the love of Christ. As Scot McKnight states in one of his blogs, "...ties together the Bible around the theme of God’s redemptive work — anyone who reads the Bible and doesn’t talk about “salvation” is wiping out the big idea."

This redemptive work of salvation does not speak of "going to heaven." It speaks of the redemption of all of creation, especially mankind, from the fall and affects of sin, through the power, knowledge, and love of the redeemer God, ultimately ending in an eternity spent with Him in a world where creation has been completely restored. The Gospel is the realization of God's work in human history. The death and Resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit restored man's relationship with God and gave man access to God. This gives us power over sin through the Holy Spirit, the power to defeat sin in our lives, the power to share the love and knowledge of Christ, and the power to be the hands and feet of Christ to work to defeat the affects of sin on God's world in our lives, present in such places as AIDS/HIV, pornography, addictions, poverty, abuse, violence, and pollution which all destroy the world, and personal sin which destroys the individual as well as the community. When we are blessed, it is so that we might bless others and be a part of this redemptive work.

We like to talk about this in classrooms, in church sanctuaries, in youth groups, over coffee, and over communion. These are great places, and I hope God meets us there. But here it was, the Gospel alive, working and moving in front of me in the form of chicken and cigarettes.

We had gone to Baltimore to be love, to love others, to share Christ with others, to be Christ to others. We did not expect to meet Christ on the streets of Baltimore. When was the last time we invited someone to the dirty street to meet Christ? When was the last time we met Christ in Chicken and Cigarettes? Christ and His Gospel span all demographics, all lines of age, wealth, social class, denomination, race, sex, vocation. It is available to all peoples, in all places. You don't have to go to a church to find Him. You can meet Him where you are. He is alive in the work of the hands and hearts of His people. He is at work through a couple loaves of bread and a few fish, and through chicken and cigarettes.




Chicken & Cigarettes - Pt. 9 - Raining In Baltimore  

Posted by Ben in

He demonstrated to a visitor how he sleeps in the rain, under a purple comforter and a brown tarp."This is how people sleep," Anthony said, snuggling up in his comforter while tucking the tarp under his wooden bench. Still, he said that when it rains hard, there's no staying dry. "That's when it's really terrible," he said.- Quote taken from the article in the Baltimore Sun.

Sleeping on a park bench is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Again, i cannot imagine doing it every night. It had gotten very cold that night, about 45-50 degrees. Not exactly optimal sleeping temperature, even for those who like it cold. It was quite astonishing just how cold it really was. I was wearing three pair of underwear, a pair of gym shorts, and jeans. On my torso i had two t-shirts, a sweatshirt, and a wool coat. I wore wool gloves and a wool hat. I had the thin but oh-so-helpful blanket Anthony had given me, and a rubber blanket we'd brought from Galen's. One would have thought all of this would suffice. It did not.

I woke up several times throughout the night. I wasn't too cold as i closed my eyes and fell asleep. But when i awoke the first time, to the sound of an ambulance driving by on President's St getting onto I-83, I felt frozen to the core. I woke up again to the sound of a man yelling, telling a story of two guys who had really upset him and that he was really going to give it to. Galen and I both awoke to this sound, and were quite worried for some time. We knew from the story those two guys couldn't be us, but this was just a situation which brought pure anxiety. The temperature was nearly unbearable as you shook and shivered, making it all the harder to get back to sleep.

I finally got to sleep about a half hour to an hour later. I would say I got another hour and a half of sleep before I awoke to the worst imaginable thing at that time.

Drip. (no way, that's gotta be dew falling from the tree)

Drip. Drip. (just go back to sleep, it will go away)

Drip. (see, it's just dew)

Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip, Drip. (Oh crap, here it comes)

We had known there was a chance it would rain about 10pm-midnight. It had made it until 2am with clear skies, we had thought we had surely gotten lucky. Not so much.

I made my way back to sleep and hoped it would all be gone when i woke up in the morning, believing somehow that i would get another 4 or 5 hours of sleep if i got back to sleep. About an hour and a half later i woke up again to the sounds of morning traffic coming into the city for work twenty feet away. The rain had not subsided or even subdued, instead it had swelled to a point of downpour and the whole world around me was a swamp. I was small enough that i fit on the park bench alright and under the rubber blanket ok but, as Anthony stated, there was no staying dry. In fact i have scarcely felt more wet in my life. There was this hole in the middle of the rubber blanket so as to allow you to wear it as a poncho, and i had not properly placed it to where this hole would not be a factor. I had one section of my arm and torso which was drenched from rain making it's way through. I sat there in misery for an entire hour, feeling as though i was in a bad dream, wanting to be anywhere but where i was. I have never felt so rich and privileged.

I couldn't take it any more so i got up and began to walk around, trying to shake off the cold. It simply would not go away. I saw that the residents of the park had much more advanced tarps to keep the rain out. Oh how i longed for one of them. I got in my car and hit the road to attempt to get a little warmth and to find the bank. I had to have my car moved from the Church's parking lot by 8am so they could use the space for parishioners of morning mass. I got myself lost going in the wrong direction on I-83 with no map and no exits to be found. I got myself even farther lost after taking an exit, and that's when Galen called.

"Where are you?"
"I don't know, I'm lost. REALLY lost. I don't know if i'll ever make it back. I have tried three gas stations and no one speaks English, and if they do, somehow they've just moved into the city and can't help me."
"I would love to be lost in a car with you right now. Anywhere but here."

I eventually found my own way back, understand i mean no offense to those who could not speak english, it was simply the fact of the situation i was in. As i arrived at the park, Galen was now nowhere to be found. I called him.

"Where are you?"
"Outside McDonald's trying to get money for a hash brown. No one will spare even 50 cents so i can get a hash brown. They don't even ignore me or walk past, they just simply say 'no'."

I found him later and he looked the part; we both did. Our stomaches were growling as we had fasted the previous day. We walked to the bank so i could deposit checks and we could have some money for breakfast. It was still raining, still cold and we were still not dry, still not warm. We had to walk to the bank once which was about a fifteen minute walk. As we arrived, wet and cold, it was closed. We walked back to the park to find my car and deposit quarters into the parking meter. Another fifteen minute walk. We began the trek back to the bank. Another fifteen minutes.

By this point the cold and wet was almost unbearable. We got the checks deposited. We started walking back to the park. This would make an hour of walking back and forth in the cold rain just for depositing a couple checks. Needless to say we are frustrated. We had not gotten a good night's sleep, maybe 4 to 5 hours of total sleep, broken up ever hour or so. As we would attempt to cross the street while the little lit man said "walk" we were almost run over by the numbers of commuters who could not care about anything except making it to their destination. Apparently left turns take priority over a pedestrian who has a "walk" light. This was a recurring theme and eventually you just had to force your way out there and someone would be smart enough to hit their brakes. One street we crossed was particularly harder than others, with more stubborn drivers. Finally i pushed my way out into the street. A man almost hit me, slammed on his brakes, honked, and looked upset. As he drove passed i threw my arms up in disbelief and the police officer in the middle of the street who was supposed to be directing traffic began yelling at me because I was crossing while i had an orange hand warning me not to. There was no room for me to discuss the fact that she had not been doing her job, that i had been trying while i had a walk signal, and they had not allowed me to do so, and i was stuck in the middle of the road while it turned to a stop. I also had no patience to deal with this stupidity. I was very frustrated and in disbelief. But such is the cycle. I appeared homeless, they are a drain on society who collect welfare checks from people who work hard and that particular man was going to work to pay for my welfare check, so his need to get to work was more important than my need to cross the street. End of story.

And I get no answers
And I dont get no change
Its raining in baltimore, baby
But everything else is the same
-Raining In Baltimore by Counting Crows

"I long for the suburbs of Chicago to meet the slums of Calcutta. When the poor come face to face with the rich, riches will mean nothing and when the rich meet the poor we will see an end to poverty."

Chicken & Cigarettes - Pt. 8 - Prayers for Prostitutes  

Posted by Ben in

"Jesus never talked to a prostitute because he never saw a prostitute. He only saw a child of God he was madly in love with." - The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne

For anyone who has not read The Kingdom of God is a Party by Tony Campolo, I think it's a good idea to do so, but I wouldn't make it on the top of your "to read" list. Instead, listen to a sermon he gave at a Christian Community Development Association conference here. Whatever you do, don't write this off just because of reservations you may have about Dr. Campolo. It is powerful and moving. He tells a story of a time he was in Hawaii and ran into a bunch of prostitutes. Long story short, he threw a birthday party for a prostitute at 3 a.m. and gave her a glimpse of the Kingdom here. For a moment, she felt the love God has been pursuing her with. This sermon, or address, moved me greatly and inspired my following interaction.

As we sat down on my park bench, for a quick recap and prayer before going to bed for the night, a woman came by and said hey. She sat on the park bench across from us, where Galen would be sleeping for the night. Her name was Laura. She had the look of a woman who had once been beautiful, but years of hard living had taken their toll on her and it almost looked like something had stolen that beauty from her. She said she'd heard about us, and wanted to know "So you all just trying to get the experience? Just doin it for kicks to see what it's like?" Apparently this is something that people will do from time to time, sounds like a somewhat fruitless endeavor to me.

We explained to her that we indeed were not interested in simply "finding out what it's like." We were far more interested in the people, and attempting to love, be love, be Christ, and hopefully help someone spiritually. At the very least, we wanted to see, and be seen. To give others the chance to know, and be known. It just seems that being known, and being heard, are two things lacking for those on the margins of society. She said something to the extent of "oh, wow." She then began to talk to us about herself and what she does/why she does it. A lot of it turned into rambling about her interactions with the folks who stay in the park. Some of it was interesting, some of it was downright pointless, until i realized that she was seeking to be heard. That is all, just to be heard. Something i take for granted every day.

She was kind enough to warn us to make sure we locked up our wallets in the car and that i hid my keys somewhere no one could take them from me while i slept. She assured us that as much as people had appreciated us, there would still be those who would seek to get ahead at our expense. She told us that she doesn't particularly like what she does, i can't imagine she would. She said sometimes you have to do what you have to do to put food on the table. She doesn't have kids, so i struggle with that, but i am not her and have not gone through what she's gone through. We simply let her be heard, talked to her about ourselves, and told her of our hope in Christ. She seemed content with the fact that she was a good person, and this was just something that she had to do. We didn't attempt to change her mind, what can you do but offer the hope of Christ? She certainly didn't reject the idea of Christ and His love, she seemed interested in how it had manifested itself in our lives, but she only had so much interest for the subject. We entertained her for a short while, heeded her advice, thanked her for it, and told her we'd be praying for her.

That night i prayed a prayer that God would deliver her from the horrible things men had done to her. "That is how these things start, some slob messes a girl over when they're really young and we blame her when we should be blaming him." Such a powerful line that shook my core when Tony Campolo said it. I can't imagine feeling that's the only way to make it, i can't imagine how she got there, she didn't quite inform us and it wasn't a question i dared ask. My heart went out for her and i prayed that God would help her feel HIS love, and that God would send someone her way in the future who could change her position in life. Give her hope. We still intend on going back, maybe we can be that at a later date. The only thing we could do that night was pray.

Galen told me the next morning that when we woke up around 2am to the sound of an ambulance and man yelling, that he had seen Laura out on the corner.

Lord, deliver her.

Deliver us.

Chicken & Cigarettes- Pt. 7 - Angels Named Anthony  

Posted by Ben in

We walked around the harbor for about two or three hours before it became too tiresome to carry our belongings much more and our feet began barking at us. It was only May, so the night air brought with it cooler temperatures. In fact, it hadn't been all too hot since about three in the afternoon. Galen and I took a seat outside of the National Aquarium's Dinosaur Exhibit. We spoke of our day, of the joy and the great things. We talked of the pains we'd met in people throughout the day. We dreamed together of a day when people will no longer need or want for anything, because everyone will love each other enough to provide. A world where Capitalism doesn't work and Communism is not necessary. A world based on God's economy, a world I believe is here for us to participate in. We talked about how we'd experienced God's presence with us through the day and we told each other of how blessed we were to have so much. We dreamed for our individual futures, where God would lead us with girls, what family might look like. We did life together sitting on a chain lining the sidewalk, looking up at a Tyrannosaurus Rex. We finished with a smile and decided we should be on our way back.

We got within a couple blocks and could see the old boiler tower which was just across the road; this was the sign we were close. Close to home. As we came into the park we were greeted by a man who was holding a newspaper.

"Hey, did you guys see this?" he exclaimed, pointing at the cover story of the Baltimore Sun. There was a sorrow in his voice which was unmistakably clear.

We hadn't any time to figure out what he was pointing at or why before he grabs our shoulders and goes "hey, i heard about what you all did today with the pizza and all and how you have been here spending time with us in our park. People have been talking a lot about you all. You are angels." I have never wanted to laugh so hard, but i knew what he meant, and it meant a lot to me. I am certainly no angel, just a pitiful man trying to follow Jesus but it touched my heart to know that we had done such a small thing and it had meant so much to people.

Anthony proceeded to show us that his photo accompanied the cover story of the newspaper under the headline "City makes agreement with local church to help homeless." I felt it was hopeful, and my first reaction was excitement. My eyes were quickly opened to the reality of the situation, one I'd never thought of before. He told us of how he had once been a successful student in school, as well as a hard worker with a good job. He told us he graduated high in his class in high school and went on to receive a degree from college. For his picture to appear on the front page labeling him as homeless was, to say the least, embarrassing. He said "I have friends, what are they going to think when they see me like that? Oh, how it hurts."

His words pierced my heart as i realized the problem is bigger than we think. I always knew they were "human" and needed to be "loved" and treated like "human" more often than we do as a society. However, i realized that there is a greater picture to God's redemptive work and story. You see, God's kingdom is not only one where riches pass and poverty ends, where brotherhood is found, and everlasting joy and love are the characteristics. God's Kingdom does not only yearn in this world that all "have homes," in fact i believe that to believe it in these terms is to be completely un-biblical. Jesus' ministry shows us that God's dream is not for "homes," but for dignity. God's Kingdom is one of restoration, where those on the margins of society are restored to their proper place at the center of society as loved and honored members of the blessed community. It does not simply give them a home, or sight, or stop their bleeding, or make them speak, or cast out their demons, or make them get up and walk, it is a Kingdom where their dignity is restored.

When Jesus healed the woman of her bleeding, she was no longer unclean. When Jesus healed the leper, he touched him, he felt him as human, and the leper could now go back into the walls of the city and join his people. When Jesus healed the Demon Possessed Naked Guy (DPNG) of his "legion" of demons, that man was able to enter the city once again, in fact he preached the GOOD NEWS to TEN DIFFERENT CITIES! When the crippled man's friends lowered him through the roof of the house, Jesus did not make him able to walk first, no, he said "you're sins are forgiven," restoring to him his dignity and ability to be a member of society.

This is God's dream that we are to work for here, not a simple, worldly idea of everyone "having a house."

We prayed with Anthony that God would heal his disabilities which had been the cause of his inability to work over the past years, and that God would heal his heart and hurt. We prayed that God would restore his dignity, and we thanked God for the city's intents to help those in need. We prayed that God's reconciliation would be at work in Anthony's heart so that he might see the good intentions of the reporter, and forgive her for using his photo and bringing shame to him. We prayed that the reporter would catch God's vision of restoration and her heart would become aware of the affects of using such a photo in such a way without permission. We thanked Anthony for teaching us, and for his kind words.

It was cold that night but we had many layers on and we thought we'd be alright. Anthony asked us if we had blankets. We responded with a no, but assured him that we had enough layers. He in turn assured us that we did not and gave us each one of his. It was only about 45 degrees that night and i don't know what i would have done without that blanket.

And he said we were the angels...

Chicken & Cigarettes- Pt. 6 - Jesus' Neighborhood  

Posted by Ben in

poverty is so hard to see
when it’s only on your tv
and twenty miles across town

where we’re all living so good
that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood
where he’s hungry and not feeling so good
from going through our trash
he says, more than just your cash and coin
i want your time, i want your voice
i want the things you just can’t give me
- Rich Young Ruler by Derek Webb

The prospect of sleeping on a park bench is not nearly as inviting as one might think, though you may not even think it to be inviting. To think of doing so from our warm beds is hard enough, but to stare a park bench in the face and realize that's the best you are going to get for the night, and it is truly going to happen, is downright depressing. I can't imagine doing it every night.

So, with the sun making it's way towards the horizon and the cooler air setting in, Galen and I decided to do some walking around the city. We hoped this would tire our legs, feet, and joints out enough that we could get to sleep rather quickly. We headed into the Harbor and went sight-seeing.

For those of you who are not as familiar with the East Coast, Baltimore is a port city which sits directly on the Chesapeake Bay. It is similar to Chicago in that as you move into the harbor (such as towards Lake Michigan) the city continually gets more exciting. So we took a walk into the harbor and it didn't take long to see what I was not looking for. A divide. I know this blog seems like a simple point to make that doesn't need to be made, but i was just in awe.

We walked downtown and saw person after person wearing the newest fashions, walking into and out of fine restaurants, and laughing while enjoying each others' company. I don't propose that these things are bad, in any way, i was just blown away by walking into a different world. We walked through a beautiful city on an early summer night, saw beautiful buildings, beautiful people, and just realized that we were not at home. We saw a few beggars, and met a man who was homeless and spoke with us for quite a while on our way back to the park. All we really understood from his was "you have three and then one goes down the hole and you have two." We weren't sure what he was talking about or what you had three of, but we did learn that there was a strip club we should go to just down the road. I wouldn't call this a fruitful conversation, but we tried. Everyone else seemed to walk by him as though he was invisible. You saw how out of place these needy people were in a world of affluence, and there were so many in need just a few blocks down the street.

I don't mean to say our economic well-being is bad, in fact quite the opposite, i wish that for those in the park. What i am saying is I long to see a day and a world where the world of the rich seems conscious of the sufferings of those without. As Shane Claiborne says in his book The Irresistible Revolution, "I long for the suburbs of Chicago to meet the slums of Calcutta. For I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will mean nothing, and when the rich truly meet the poor, we will see an end to poverty."


What if every time we passed someone begging us for money, it was Jesus in disguise?

Heaven  

Posted by Ben in ,

The neat part about having my own blog is that i get to speak where i want to speak, and put friends in the direction of smarter people where their knowledge is better than mine. There is an awesome discussion of "Heaven" going on over at Scot McKnight's Blog, Jesus Creed. Check it out, it's in light Bishop N.T. Wright's book "Surprised By Hope" which is on top of my "To Read" list. Check it out, lots of insight from a brilliant New Testament scholar, and lots of insightful discussion from readers in the comments.

Enjoy!

Best Coffee in the World  

Posted by Ben in

So it would be impossible for me to write coffee suggestions without providing the most important suggestion.

In December I was looking at Christmas gifts and my sister was asking me what i wanted. I had done some research and found the "world's best coffee." I did some research and found it had received the highest rating ever by Coffee Review. Upon doing some more research, i found that it had sold for $130/lb. green at an internet auction which broke all records for any coffee (other than that silly one that cats eat). This is a single origin farm coffee that can be reproduced. I found no way to get my hands on the actual coffee that had sold at the auction, but MANY roasters had bought up the coffee from the same farm. The only difference was that these beans had not been sold at the auction record-breaking coffee had come, though they come from the same field These coffees received high scores, and PT's Coffee Roasters in Topeka Kansas received a score of a record 97 on Coffee Review, depending upon the quality of the roaster. Anyways, i had my sister buy me 12oz. of this coffee and might i say that it was well worth the experience and my joy should make her money well-spent.

It is a little pricey, so i suggest that if you are the type of person who is into this, put some money aside for coffee and use a couple months worth of coffee funds to acquire a whole pound of this, or see if anyone is willing to help you buy 12oz. It was by far the best coffee i've ever tasted. It had strong notes of cherry and other berries. It had some strong red fruit notes and ended with a sweet hint of sugar cane. Absolutely phenomenal. I could not believe it. Every sip was astounding and i swear fireworks went off in my mouth. You can acquire a bit here. This is the roaster i got my 12oz from and it received the record score of 97 from Coffee Review.

Check it out, and i suggest you buy some if you can justify spending $35 on coffee.

Brew method i used: French Press

Coffee Suggestions  

Posted by Ben in

So it was my intent when i began this blog to write on Coffee, hints the first name "Christ & Coffee." Anyone who knows me knows that next to my love of God and love of people, Coffee is pretty close. I absolutely love it. They also know I am rather particular about my coffees, and that i won't drink bad coffee. So lately i've been doing some looking and there are a few coffees i am in desperate want of trying. I plan to order the first here in a week or so, just a matter of deciding which one to try first. I suggest anyone else try these coffees as well. I am always up for giving advice on good coffees to try.

El Salvador - El Retiro Estate (Direct Trade): from 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters

Bolivia - Chicaloma (Organic) - Cup of Excellence Winner #12 : from 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters
(This one broke all records for highest selling price of green beans from Bolivia)


Ethiopian Aricha Nine: from Coffee Klatch

Any other coffee lovers out there, I suggest you make one of these three on the top of your list for next coffee to buy!

Chicken & Cigarettes - Pt. 5 - Pizza Parties in the Park  

Posted by Ben in

Remember being in elementary school? (Heck, for that matter, even middle school or high school if we're honest with ourselves). There were a few things which brought more joy than anything else. The first few days of school were GREAT because you finally got to see all of your friends, the few days before Christmas break were awesome (and the next few after it was over SUCKED). The best of course had to be the end of the school year, the last week, and certainly the last day. So much joy! There was another day that was always the best, Pizza Parties. It didn't matter if it was for a class, for homeroom, or some kid's parents brought it in for their birthday or for no reason, they were great. I think if we are really honest we will admit that a big group of people and 15 pizzas is a scene which still incites much joy to us as adults.

So on our way down we came up with a great idea, we would buy a bunch of pizza and have a party in the park. When was the last time these people had someone do something like that for them? It could have been somewhat recently, after all there are workers at the mission nearby who are very friendly, but chances are it had been a while.

There was a gentleman who'd been bothering us for money the whole time though we had already told them we really couldn't hand out much money, it just wasn't what we were there for. He told us at one point he wanted to get some food for another guy who was intoxicated on many different substances and was at a point in the hot day where he needed some food.

So we asked the gentlement, D'Andre if there was a specific pizza place he knew of that everyone there enjoyed. He told us there was one and we asked him where it was. He looked down Fayette St. and said "down there a few blocks, and make a left... eh here, I'll take you there." So we followed.

On the way there, D'Andre told us that he had been homeless until this year. He had spent about a year living with those folks in the park. He told us that he'd come back from time to time to spend it with the good people he'd lived with for a year. He told us he'd never forget where he'd come from. He told us about the past there with that community of people. He said there used to be a lot more and that they'd live in tents just up the road some until the city of Baltimore made a legislation which made it illegal for them to do so. He told us that after that they started to live anywhere they could find until the Church began to allow them to stay in the park right there. We asked him about the Mission George had told us he was going to stay at tonight. D'andre told us that the mission helps a lot of people out but there are certain "standards" that they make you adhere to which are not "conducive to the way some of us live." This blew me away and broke my heart that somehow people in this condition would not give up their alcohol or their drugs in order to be helped, it just made me wonder how you help someone with that type of mentality?

So we got about 7 blocks down the road and into this greasy, hole-in-the-wall, mom and pop pizza shop. We had them box up two hole pizzas to go and got cheese and pepperoni. We walked back up to the park with D'andre, handed him a box and said "hand it out, make sure everyone gets a piece." Galen handed out the other pizza as I left to receive an important phone conversation. As I returned, people were smiling ear to ear as they received their pizza.

There was so much joy in the park that day. People smiled and laughed and thanked us and those handing the pizza out for the pizza. It's amazing what small things can do! Joy filled the air as i walked around and took it all in. I thanked God for such an opportunity to bring joy into someone else's life. It reminded me of a quote from Tony Campolo.

"The Kingdom of God is meant to bring joy and excitement! If all you have to give them is a bowl of soup and a blanket, it's not enough. You have to be able to offer joy. The Kingdom of God exists to bring celebrations into the lives of those who have no reason to celebrate and to throw parties for those who have no parties."


We partied that day.

Chicken & Cigarettes - Pt. 4 - Toilets & Rubber Gloves  

Posted by Ben in


Jesus demonstrated how to wield his imperial power by washing feet, telling stories and playing with kids. Jesus' empire is based on the absurd values that the last should be first, losers are winners and the most influential in this empire should clean the toilets." - The New Conspirators p. 120-1 by Tom Sine


Around this time last year my father appeared on a local Washington, D.C. TV program called "STREATS TV" to talk about the work that our church does with the Homeless in the District and to tell people how to get involved either with our church or other programs or institutions that help with the cause of the Homeless and Displaced. This is "an unprecedented tv program by the homeless about homelessness. After my trip to Baltimore he showed me the website and there was a video on there where a homeless man woke up on a park bench. As he got up, he looked around for a place to use the restroom. As he started to use a tree he heard his mother's voice in his head telling him not to and to find somewhere more appropriate. As the video went on it explained that even finding a decent place to relieve one's wastes is an everyday struggle for many people who do not have a home. To not have a home means so much more than not having a bed or a roof over your head, it means all of the above and so much more. It means to not have any of the everyday comfort and luxury that comes with having a place to call home.

This resonated with an experience I had while in Baltimore. Galen and I found it to be extremely profound. As we had only been in the city for a short while and had not yet gone to say hello to our friends yet. We realized we both needed to use the lavatory and were wondering where we might find one, for some reason we never thought about asking the church. We went up to a man on the corner of the street and asked him, he told us we could walk to McDonald's or we could just use the porta-john there in the park. We looked over and saw it was covered in graffiti and writing. As you opened the door it you walked into a restroom which was by no means in good shape. A lot of the writing was addressed to someone by the name of Kim. Many said "thank you Kim for taking care of our bathroom." Some other writing was addressed to other people. Much of it read "If you can't shit in the toilet then go do it outside."

As we spent time talking to the folks who lived in the park, we learned a lot about that bathroom and about Kim. We learned that the church had bought the park from the city for $1 because the city was not taking care of the park. As an act of love and ministry, after purchasing the park they began allowing the homeless of the city to sleep and live and commune in the park. Much of the city was upset at this because it sits on one of the main drags of the city, President St. which heads out of the harbor and turns into I-83. The park is located directly where it turns into and out of I-83, so all of those cars see a group of vagabonds as their first or last site in the city.

One parishioner, named Kim, felt called by God to do ministry for the homeless. What was his ministry? He told the church that if they'd supply the folks in the park with a restroom that he would clean it and keep it maintained. Many of those who live in the park told us of how much they appreciate the work that Kim does. They all recognized that he doesn't have to do it. In fact, many said that if they were Kim, they wouldn't do it. They were very frustrated that some don't show any appreciation for the kindness that Kim gives to them.

I thought this was powerful, it wasn't those who helped give out food and clothes from time to time or even weekly that made the big impression. It was he who humbled himself to cleaning toilets for those who might fail to appreciate the work that he did. It was that work on the side that usually gets no recognition that received the spotlight from those who needed it the most. Kim might not get any recognition from the church, he might not get any recognition from most people in the city, but to those who feel the affect of his work first hand, he's a hero.

If Christ made himself a servant, humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, maybe we can clean more toilets.

"We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

Chicken & Cigarettes - Pt. 3 - George  

Posted by Ben in

"Ask the poor, they will tell you who the Christians are." - Mahatma Gandhi

So as we walked up and said "Hi," we were greeted rather warmly, yet with obvious curiosity. We were asked who we were and kinda what we were doing in the park. We weren't sure how to give a very good answer, so we simply told them we wanted to hang out and meet some people. They were notably surprised, and asked "you want to hang out here and hang out with us? When you could do so many better things in Baltimore?" We responded by saying "well we couldn't figure there was much better to do than meet some real people and get to know you all a little." One of the younger men said "you all are Christians, right?"

Maybe Gandhi was on to something? That or maybe that's because it's as simple as Jesus says "They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another." - John 13:35.

So we sat down with them in the cement section in the middle of the park which surrounded one of the park benches. We all introduced ourselves, and Galen and I joined them in casual conversation. This was nice and simple. An easy first step! There was an older man sitting on the far end of the park bench closest to me who had not said anything. He turned and peered at me through kind eyes, gave me a beautiful smile which featured half a bottom row of teeth and no top teeth, and asked me "What did you say your name was again?" I introduced myself again and he said, "Good to meet you, my name is George."

He proceeded to tell me what was on his heart, his story. He was hard to understand, as a great lack of teeth can make it hard to speak clearly, and repeated himself over and over again. His breath reeked of alcohol and he had tough leathery skin which had seen it's fair share of hot days in the sun and hard nights on park benches. I would put him at about 60 years of age and the story he told me spanned about the last 20. This is George's story:

23 years ago George was laid off from his job in the city. He had trouble finding work and lived off of unemployment for a little while. He never finished high school, so finding work became very difficult. He began to use drugs and alcohol to cope with his troubles. He was addicted to alcohol and drugs (my guess is cocaine from all outward signs) for 18 years. As he talked, you could begin to hear and notice the toll drugs had taken on his mental abilities. My heart went out to him.

He bounced from mission to mission for a while seeking help. Finally, 5 years later, with the help of a Christian program he got off of drugs. He has been drug free ever since, not one relapse. 18 years of Hell and misery, and he's been free for 5 years! He told me how he still struggles with alcohol as he looked down at his Budweiser can which was 90% empty. He said he hurts so much and wishes he could quit drinking. He looked at me and smiled again saying, "It's so nice to have a nice, clean-cut person willing to listen to my story."

While in the latest program George met a girl. Her name was Karen. They made it a habit to see each other every day for the past year. Karen is currently in a program, I do not know what kind of program, according to George she does not do any drugs and does not drink. The program she is in currently is a typical, non-coed program. George hasn't seen Karen for the last month and a half because of this. He told me how he missed her so much. While they had seen each other last, George was attending another program, trying to break free of alcohol addiction. He and Karen had decided that they would get married when they were both out of their current programs, but Karen had an ultimatum; George had to quit drinking. George had quit the program he'd been in and was again on the streets drinking. As he looked down at his Budweiser can another time, i could feel his heart breaking over his inability to beat this demon in his life. He longs to quit so that he could marry this woman he loves and wants to get back into a program so that he can get off the streets and get a job and hopefully be able to afford a place for the two of them.

To an outsider, George's mental disabilities seem like they would make a complete success in this goal nearly impossible. My heart went out to him, though somewhere deep inside of myself I know that all things are possible through Christ. After George had told me the same information about fifteen times and came to a stopping point, he began looking down at his Budweiser one more time, twirling it in his hand so as to make the beer inside make a "swish-swash" sound back and forth. I reached out and took a hold of his tough, leathery, calloused hand and asked him if I could say a quick prayer for him. I simply prayed that God would help free him from his addiction and make it to where he and Karen could get married and have their own place. It was a very simple, quick prayer, no more than about 20 seconds. He smiled at me one last time and told me he'd be on his way and thanked me so much for what I had done, saying one more time how nice it was to have someone listen. As he left I promised him I would continue to pray for him, and that he had to get himself into a program. He smiled and nodded his head.

I only saw George one more time. He came back later in the evening, and asked us if we were planning on sleeping outside. We said "yes." A couple others said "why would you sleep outside if you don't have to? If you can afford not to, I wouldn't do it."

We replied by saying "well, if you all are doing it, and we're spending time with you, why should we go sleep in a warm hotel room for the night? If you all are out here tonight, then so will we be."

George let us know he'd be going to the local mission to spend the night, and maybe join their program. Praise God. He told us they take people in every night, and we could go there if we didn't want to sleep outside. We told him it was ok and we would still stay outside, but thanked him for his generous help.

We wished him luck, and I told him one last time that I would continue to pray for him.

"Thank you! I will need it."

The Bible Is Already Written  

Posted by Ben in

God is good at correcting me. I'm sure he's good at correcting everyone, but I'll admit to how good He is with me. It often is not a subtle, or even kind correction. It tends to be more like a slap in the head. He's good at that, there's another term for it, i think it's called humbling us.

So, he's been up to it in my heart recently. I notice that far too often it is us as Christians who are the least humble people. Ugh, i hate it. I also hate how much i must own that statement in my own life. If you don't, awesome, but if the shoe fits then wear it.

In Matthew 11:25 Jesus says "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children"

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are," - 1Corinthians 1:27-28

These two verses are so true in my life. Jesus also said that those of us who do not accept the Kingdom of God like a little child would not see it. Well, he certainly uses Children to make me see how full of it I am and how little i know. Todd has a 7 year old son, Eli. When my younger brother died, 2 years ago, we had a very small viewing for close family friends because of the severity of the accident and the structural damage to my brother's face. Todd was holding Eli as he stood over and looked at my brother, weeping. I watched as Eli grabbed Todd's face and looked him in the eyes asking "Why are you crying dad? Joey's not there, He's in heaven. Joey's not there dad." Later that week, my girlfriend at the time's little sister, Madison (who is the most adorable girl in the world) said to Sam, "I don't understand why everyone is so sad, I mean, Joey isn't dead, he's in heaven, and we're all going to see him again when we go to heaven."

Wisdom, from the mouth of 6-year olds in the midst of my greatest tragedy. I believe these two experiences helped me get through the tragedy.

Well God continues to use Eli as a tool for shaming Todd and I. Not long after, Todd met me for dinner at school. He told me a recent experience he'd had with Eli. Eli was beginning to understand what it meant to be a disciple of God at his wise age of 6, and realized it meant that we help others regardless of the circumstance and their need, as we have fit to fill the need. Todd was filling up someone's gas tank who was in need of Gas, and Eli realized that this was to help their need. So he said "and if someone needs a car dad we'll give them a car! And... if they need a leg, we'll give them a leg!"

A leg!? Really!? What powerful imagery. I'll never forget a six year old's flawless understanding of our obligation to serve others.

Well, recently was the greatest. Todd was working on a sermon and Eli, being a typical 7 year old, bugged him over and over to wrestle, about 100 times in a matter of 10 minutes. Todd got frustrated and told him that the answer was still the same, and he needed to finish his sermon. Finally Eli left for his room, very frustrated. As he returned minutes later he asked if he could wrestle again, and when confronted with the problem of his father needing to finish writing a sermon, Eli responded with...

"but Dad, isn't the Bible already written?"

Todd put away his notes and wrestled with his son.