Monthly Archives: July 2009

St. Deano: Reduce, Reuse, Recyle

reducereuserecycleI grew up in a Free Church, and we didn’t really pay attention to saints. We were a ‘low church’– no liturgry of elaborate service. But I like the idea of saints, because they are exemplars to remind you of what we should be and do as Christians in the world. Deano is a friend of ours in the neighborhood who is a little slow but he diligently goes around picking up aluminum cans in a 4-block radius from his house (he won’t venture beyond that). I’ve begun to think of Deano as a patron saint of recylcing.  Deano has eyes to see the potential where others don’t. 

I was having breakfast with Robbie this morning at 11worth and we were talking about Simple Free being a place for some Christians who are on the edge or periphery of the church. Honestly, some of us are sort of misfits, for various reasons.  Delightful fantastic misfits, of course, but misfits.  Maybe the mantra ‘Reduce, Reuse Recyle’ kind of captures what we can do at Simple Free as we encourage each other to be in community and connect with other Christians.

Reduce: Simple Free is into reducing in that we try to remain a low-maintenance low-overhead group– no paid staff, no rent, sticking to traditional liturgical service, and having inter-congregational study where we learn from each other. We don’t have great programs and great production. We do have simple though, and simple is sometimes pretty great.

Reuse: I don’t throw stuff away. I am a keeper, not a thrower. And many times I’ll discover I have something I really need already. We use hymnbooks each week that I found in the attic of my old country church out by Marquette Nebraska. They have green duct tape on the corners and edges to cover the fraying.  They hadn’t been used for 20 years, and I said we could use them– and we do each week.   We use the liturgy and scripture passages from the Anglican church instead of coming up with a new service plan each week.  And if we get too big for our space, we want to find an existing underutilized space and use it.

In terms of reusing people, Simple Free has people with a lot of potential who are in many ways underutilized– who have a lot to offer the world, but who need to just be reengaged. I think we mutually reenergize each other to move forward and to be active. Mutually encouraging one another towards love and good deeds, as the Bible says…helping each other use our lives well.

Recycling is taking stuff with potential that has been put curbside and figuring out how to reutilize it, rengage it, put it to new use. It usually needs to be transformed in some way. St. Deano has an eye for the recyclable. He sees potential where others don’t. In this way at least, I want to have the eyes of Deano to see in people the potential– the ways in which they can be fully used by and for God, and the ways in which they can be grace and a blessing to others and the world around them. Until we find how we can be this, I don’t think we can ever be really happy, because in one way or another, this was what we were born to do– to be people for and with others for the sake of Christ.    — andy gustafson



Finding Self Through Community

Who Am I picThe second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:31

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13

I’ve been struck by these passages the past few months. The challenge here is daunting and difficult. First, (or rather secondly) we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sweet, so what does good love look like? Well, the second passage seems to say the greatest love comes from the sacrifice of my life for the sake of friends. What I’m picking up here is that we should aim for our neighbors to be our friends and then place their hopes and desires above our own or rather will the good for them over my own good.

This love is based in and upon how much I love myself. I should love myself because I am myself. If I don’t pursue good things for me then me will soon no longer exist and I couldn’t love anyone. So, I must love myself and the more I know who I am, who this self is, the more capacity I have to love my self and others because the more we know about something the more we can love it. Therefore, when we are confronted with the decision to will the good for our friend/neighbor or will the good for ourselves, we begin to discover who we are because we have recognize our self and choose to submit that self to our neighbor. So, it is through community (neighbors and friends) and our submission (laying down of our life) that we can truly find our selves.

In times of identity crisis we have the option to pull away or run to community. By pulling away I think we often become entrenched in our selves and lose sight of who we are. But, if we choose community we find that identity tuck away somewhere inside us. In a non-apparent way all to common in Christian teaching, we find that we can focus and love on others to truly focus and love upon ourselves.

A quick note about solitude. An important part of this process of loving our neighbors and discovering our selves comes through solitude. This a time of reflection where we can see the choices we made and learn about our selves so that when we return to community we can continue to pursue the good for our neighbors. So, in a certain sense solitude is where self discovery happens but only through our actions of love in community can we have something good to reflect upon.



IMG_0763There are moments, sometimes days when I am preoccupied when I am in the presence of someone else. I look back at those moments and I think, “why did I forfeit the real experience of that person in the moment for the sake of something else– that concern, that future event, that other person who wasn’t even there at the moment?” I feel regret at those times for having spent the moment thinking of something else instead of really engaging that person.

It happened to me today when I got home. I was out back cleaning up stuff we’d taken out of our back porch to clean it. Mike, one of the guys who works for me, came around from the front where he’d been sitting waiting for me to come home because he’d finished his tasks for today. He was in a good mood, had some good stories he was telling me, and I was actually enjoying them, but continuing to do what I was doing, and being a bit preoccupied. Mike asked me if I was thinking about the plumbing at the 8-plex. I guess I’m pretty easy to read, and my guys know me pretty well. I said yes I was, and I was sorry if I seemed to be short with him. He said it was nothing, but he could just tell. He told me one more story, and then left. Right after he did I wished I would have made him a lemonade and listened to some more of his stories. But I hadn’t. Because I was thinking about plumbing issues at the 8 plex. Plumbing issues which are not pressing. Copper pipes were forefront in my mind, so Mike got ignored. It was silly, stupid, and kind of sad.

But its easy with all we have going to be preoccupied with life tasks, life events, and to not take time for people– even the people who are right in front of us talking to us. Its kind of ridiculous really.

I think about when I was a kid. When I was a kid I didn’t have a lot of responsibilities– so I could pay full attention. I used to get bored as a kid, and I think it was because I didn’t have distractions. I never get bored now, and I blame it on the fact that I have so much to keep me occupied. But its beautiful that as a kid you have so little to do that you can get bored. Its usually not kids who are short on time to hang out– its the adults who have to run, can’t stay long. Why? I guess because we get busy. We need to be busy, and the responsibility is part of being adults. I have responsibilities to my job, to my friends, to my tennants (I have some rentals– I am responsible for the toilets of ovoer 65 people– now THAT is responsibility!) I wouldn’t trade the responsibilities and the joys that come from those responsibilities to be free and bored again– my responsibilities are part of my contribution to the world and to life.

However, what concerns me is that I sometimes feel like I use up all I’ve got and I haven’t got overflow. Grace to stop what I’m doing, overflow to listen and be with someone, freedom to pay attention and set aside my preoccupations. To be able to realize what is really important.

So this is what I want to do more, and to be more. To have more overflow. To be a space of grace for others, like shade on a hot day.

Jesus said that we have to come to him like children. Maybe part of that is that we have to come without preoccupations, with attention to give. I pray that God will give me grace to live remembering what is really important– what is really great in life. I hope God does that for you too…

— Andy Gustafson

Christians Partnering with Christians: for whoever is not against us is for us…

two churchesToday at First Presbyterian we looked at the passage where Jesus’ disciples tell him they saw some guy casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and they told Jesus that they told the guy to stop doing this. The guy was obviously not affiliated directly with the disciples, so they figured Jesus wouldn’t really want some renegade doing things in his name. Jesus response was “Do not stop him…. No-one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”

Sometimes Christians don’t do well at serving in partnership with other Christians. Not long ago, it would be strange to see Lutherans and Presbyterians cooperating, much less Catholics and protestants and orthodox working together. One nice example of this cooperation is the local “Neighbors United” ministry organized by Mosaic Community Development, put on in the 1st Baptist church at Park and Harney, and supported by 10 churches in the community. They feed often over 150 needy people each week, and distribute free clothing as well. (see our partner link to neighbors united) These churches are cooperating to do something that alone none of them could probably do.

It seems from Jesus words that the key is that whatever is done is done in his name. The disciples had just been arguing about who was greatest– John was probably disturbed that this guy was casting out demons successfully without official approval– maybe out of jealousy even. When work is done for the sake of anything other than the sake of Jesus and building his Kingdom, it probably is off track. And when we are opposed to work being done for the sake of Christ, because it conflicts with our personal plans, then we are probably off track.  But Christians talking together and working together can help eliminate some of these conflicts.  Being willing to work for the sake of the kingdom, rather than the sake of our denomenation, our programatic plans, or our church empire-building 5 year plan– is the mark of real selflessness.  Hopefully we and our churches have the selfless attitude of being more concerned about making Jesus a reality than in building up ourselves or our churches. That sacrificial attitude makes one a strong leader, a strong church, and that attitude helps make more good stuff happen through Christ’s Church.

It seems important for Churches to communicate with each other about plans and projects so that a. they don’t duplicate work and b. they can do things together that they can’t do alone. It is more difficult to work with other churches, and of course there are real doctrinal distinctions which may make it unworkable when it comes to certain types of projects.

Churches new to a neighborhood maybe have the most to think about in these sorts of situations. If a church from west omaha, for example, wants to start a new ministry in a part of town where there are older established churches, do they take the time to talk with those churches and discuss possible partnerships? Sometimes the work of megachurches can be akin to walmart driving out the mom and pop shops– and while it is often done by these churches in the name of effectiveness and efficiency even, if it is done without concern for those churches which have been faithfully serving in these neighborhoods for years, then it seems something isn’t right. And if the established churches aren’t doing what they should, it seems that there might be ways to partner up with what is established. If a megachurch wants to do a VBS in an inner city part of town, why not partner with a local church which has an established program which could use some help? Why reinvent the wheel?

I guess I feel about church development like I feel about housing development– some would rather just tear down the old and build all-new because its more efficient and cost effective and also you can do what you want. I myself prefer to use old established structures if possible, because to tear them down seems like an irreversible destruction, and to reuse, recycle and restrengthen the old seems like a redemptive creative act which, although it takes more work in some ways, is a very rewarding and tradition-honoring way to proceed “for the name of Christ”.

On the other hand, established churches need to be willing to be flexible for the sake of Christ and not let their traditions and comfortable norms keep them from continuing to thrive and be actively engaged in their community.  An infusion of new blood can be invigorating, but it is an infusion, and invasion of sorts– something new from outside.  It seems that the important things are to a. make sure that our goal is to serve Christ, not to become great b. whe should have an open generous attitude towards cooperating with other Christian groups and even seek that out, and c. beware of letting your programs or denomenation affiliation or market-brand focus of your church become more important than letting yourselves be used with or by other Christians for the greater sake of Christ.

Nietzsche, Michael Jackson, and Losing One’s Focus

Michael Jackson died recently (in case you’d been on a deserted island for the last week) and his news overtook the frontpage headlines for about a week. Coincidentally, thats about the same time that news about Iran faded from the American consciousness for the most part. One of the most ancient cultures in the world was facing a monumental struggle towards more open democracy which could radically change the future of the middle east and world and potentially affect the peace or cause death for thousands of people– but that was overtaken by our insatiable interest in pop culture news.

Nietzsche said that “To forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity.” I find this very true in my life on a regular basis as I try to evaluate why I waste my time on various silly escapes. Youtube, facebook and all the various movies we have at our house can steal my time. There is so much that seems more useful for me to be doing.

But this very pragmatic approach is not necessarily the right answer either, I guess. This week we read about Ezekiel’s calling to go speak to the Israelites. God makes it clear that Ezekiel will probably fail, but that that is what God wants of him. We read that along side the passage from Mark where Jesus went to his hometown and found that people there had very little faith in Him. In both cases there was little fruit from the work. But Jesus went to his hometown out of love, and God sent Ezekiel to his people because God’s faithfulness comes even in the face of faithlessness and fruitlessness. This sticking to one’s calling despite no apparent fruit reminded me also of Noah, who worked for over 125 years before his boat building seemed like a good idea. He was faithful.

This reminds me of a time in Milwaukee. I used to go with a friend of mine occassionally to a Milkite Catholic church where the priest did a pretty involved and elaborate liturgical service each morning. Often there were 5 of us there with the priest, and I once asked my friend if the priest went on and did the service if no one showed up. “Of course!” he said, “The priest will do this service come hell or highwater!– he’s not here for us, he is here to worship God on behalf of this church– for those who are here in body and those who are not here. That is his work!” That comment has always stuck with me, especially on days that I wonder if my work is paying off, when its hard to see fruit. The nice thing I guess about submitting to God is that you don’t have to BE God– you just serve and let Him worry about outcomes.

So this is encouraging to me. I need to maintain my focus, like Nietzsche, Ezekiel and Jesus, and do what I’m called to do. Whatever that is, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t usually involve Michael Jackson (except when we play Michael at the next dance party…)

Don’t Be Deadweight: Are Christians to be good citizens, and if so what does that mean?

falwellThis week our passages talked about the poor, and we talked about the poor always being with us. Often when we think of acting out our faith we think of social justice activities, such as feeding the homeless (Neighbors United or Mosaic’s life on the Brick ministry), or working with inner city kids (like the PAC house does). But there are a lot of other practical ways for us as Christians to live our lives out in a way which honors God and by which we can act out our faith in day to day life.

I’ve been trying to think about what it means to be a Christian citizen. Citizenship is an old fashioned word, a word we don’t use much, but to be a good citizen means to contribute to the common good and bring about good things for society as a whole. I come from an evangelical Christian heritage which was a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand, evangelicals originally (in the 40’s and 50’s) didnt want to be seperatistic, but rather wanted to transform the world through the gospel of Christ (whatever that meant). They were responding in part to the fundamentalists who had wanted to preserve the truth of Christianity against ‘modernism’ and ‘liberalism’ by sort os circling the wagons, hunkering down, and tyring to keep out the worldly influences in their lives. But evangelicals are also for the fundamentals of faith– they wanted to preserve these as well.

So some evangelicals got involved in developing higher education (Trinity, Fuller, Talbot, Wheaton, etc), while some got involved in social justice issues (Sojourners) or even civil rights issues. Some got involved in anti-abortion crusades (Francis Schaeffer). Ywam brought bibles behind the iron curtain. Intervarsity, Navigators and Campus Crusade tried to help reach the college students on campus. JEPUSA (jesus people usa) took root in caprini green neighborhood of chicago and lived in community reaching out to the inner city. In the early 80s moral majority tried to make an impact on america and bring it ‘back to God’. Today there are new community houses built around “new monasticism” and other like communal-living groups, which is cool.

But for the vast majority of Christians, we live outside of such communities.

So how do we live lives which make a difference without living in community houses? Of course there are many ways to transform our culture. Christians still don’t see much connection between being a Christian and recycling, for example. Should Christians be more apt to buy a Prius than a Hummer? Should Christians be more likely to recylce than someone who doesn’t think God created the earth? Should Christians be more likely than non believers to be in better shape and take care of their bodies? Should Christians be more likely than non believers to take financial risks to invest in cutting edge neighborhoods, putting their capital to work transforming local neighborhoods rather than hoping for a percentage better return by investing in the bond market?

Are Christians the ones making our cities more interesting, more vibrant, more dynamic and thoughtful? Or are Christians generally not at the forefront, generally dragging their feet, the last to get it and catch up?

Its obviously not an either/or. But it seems that if we as Christians would more actively utilize our financial resources and our brains to dynamically invest in our communities not only with money but with thoughtful creative ideas we could be at the forefront of some of the development of new social capital in cities like Omaha.

Of course some Christians are– Christian artists making a difference, Christian entrepreneurs making a difference. But there are so few (compared to all the Christians around) that they REALLY stand out it seems.

SO the question then is– what do you and I have to offer? How can we be put to use in our culture and society– not only to help the poor (they will always be with us, and we should always help them) but also to be social innovators who live our lives as works of art to God– as useful fruitful beneficial lives which are a gift to God and a gift to others…

So– Are you a gift to others? Is Omaha (or whereever you live) better off because of you, or are you deadweight? Christians should never be deadweight.

I hope that God helps us see more and more how we can be used in this world, and how we can be used to transform the world around us– both spiritually and materially. And I hope we will see that as a spiritual act of worship to the Creator…