Monthly Archives: January 2013

Howard Street Project: Acting in hope, without knowledge of the end.

In March of DSC002162009 we bought a building near downtown Omaha which had been condemned.  It was an 8-plex and had been vacant since a 2005 double homicide.  We spent 3 years working on it, and finally satisfied the city and got tennants to move in. 

Directly behind that building, 10 feet away, was another derelict condemned building, on Howard street.  That building was full of junk.  A hoarder had been filling it up for years, and that hoarder, Joe, often came in and out of that building, bringing more stuff, taking some things out, etc.  It was a personal warehouse of sorts for his hoarding habit. 


The  owner of the building, a lawyer, had gotten the building in exchange for some legal work, but did nothing with it.  Eventually the city threatened to put him in jail for neglecting the building.  He owed 4 years backtaxes on it, and was not interested in going to jail.  I approached him and asked if he wanted to get rid of it.  The city had mentioned he could tear it down, but that would cost 20,000, which he was not interested in spending.  He said he’d give it to me if I took over responsibility for it, legally and financially.  That was August.

103_3502Although I didn’t have any legal documents saying it was mine, and wasn’t sure what I would do with it (or could do with it) I decided to start to clean it up.  I hired some friends and we took about 11 dumpsterloads of stuff out of the building in September.  It was a messy dirty job.  It involved getting rid of literally tons of things, including refrigerators full of rotten food. 

DSC00195The begining of the project seemed somewhat overwhelming.  Each bit of progress helped encourage us about what we might be able to accomplish.  Finally, we got the entire thing cleaned out from top to bottom.  But I still didn’t have any legal right to the building, and I still didn’t know what the city would make us do with it if I did.

DSC00197In late December the owner contacted me and said he wanted me to get the deeds transfered over into my name by the end of the year.  So I did, December 31, 2012. 

Throughout this process we haven’t been quite sure what we will do with this building if we can redeem it, or if we may have to tear it down.  What we did know was that cleaning it out would be an improvement, and that the building was fundamentally solid and with a great deal of work could probably be a pretty good place for someone to live. 

DSC00215We’ve even considered making it a hostel, or grouphome, or band-practice space.  But we don’t know for sure what its end will be– we just keep acting with hope, not really knowing for sure where this is all going.

Last week we started ripping into the walls a bit– taking off plaster and panelling, and getting into the walls to see what we are working with.  So far we are encouraged.  A slight leak in the roof, but most of the building appears to be in good shape.  Who knows what it might become?

Its sometimes overwhelming to have projects like this.  But it is exciting.  Taking responsibility for a building can be a time-consuming affair (just ask my wife) and so one has to count the cost, although not being entirely sure just what that cost will be. 

103_3511A lot of things in life are like this though.  We don’t really know how that marriage will work out, how this home will suit us, how this church will fit us, how these children will turn out, what our life decisions will bring us.  We make decisions with as much wisdom as we can, and leave the rest to God. 

100_3703Of course most people wouldn’t take on buildings like this– because they have more sense than I do– and they wouldn’t enjoy it.  But this redemptive process is fun to be a part of, although sometimes its a dirty smelly job.

May God have mercy on us all (especially my wife).

More pics of before and after cleaning:

 DSC00195                                                                                                     DSC00220

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Looking for Goodness

polFinally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phillipians 4:8

One of my favorite songs by the 80’s band “The Police” is ‘King of Pain’ because its so melodic and catchy.  In the song, the author has eyes to see the pain around him in the world:

There’s a little black spot on the sun today
It’s the same old thing as yesterday
There’s a black hat caught in a high tree top
There’s a flag-pole rag and the wind won’t stop

I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running ’round my brain
I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain

There’s a king on a throne with his eyes torn out
There’s a blind man looking for a shadow of doubt
There’s a rich man sleeping on a golden bed
There’s a skeleton choking on a crust of bread

Whatever the specific meaning of these lyrics (there is some debate) one thing is clear: this person sees pain and ironic suffering and badness in the world. 

And while I think this song is magnificent, and melodic, its a no-go as far as a philosophy of how to live ones life.  We feel like this sometimes– like all is bad and dark around us, like everything is getting worse, like we’ve reached a tipping point and the sky is falling.  But at that point when we are in the valley of the shadow of death, we are encouraged in Scripture to ‘fear no evil’. 

Actually, the Bible doesn’t encourage us to stay positive– it commands us to stay positive.  

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phillipians 4:8

From beginning to end, the letter from Paul to the Phillipians is just one long encouragement letter– asking them to keep the faith, to keep their spirits up, and continue to act in hope.  He asks them to love each other, stay unified, and not let the troubles of this world get them down. 

Its good advice, I think, to actively apply this verse to our own lives.  There is so much that is not true, not noble, not right, not pure, not lovely, and not admirable to think about and focus on.  The cynic may say that such advice is advice for ostriches who prefer to keep their heads in the sand– but that is not true. 

Every day true things happen which are better not to focus on and discuss at length.  For example: bowel movements and zit popping.  Others:  moments of anger, unguarded lustful thoughts.  Still more: false political string-emails that get forwarded on, dirty jokes and porn, the discouraging perspective on any topic at all.  None of these things are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable.

Each of us is just one person.  But if you’ve ever been in a discussion where everyone is piling on with discouraging assessments, and one person speaks a positive good word of encouragement and hope, you know what a difference something like that can make.  If you’ve ever been in a situation where the conversation is going a direction it shouldn’t, and someone steps in and says a good word to stop it and turn things around– you know how much difference one person’s positive obedience to this command from Phillipians can make. 

For some reason, it sometimes feels good to speak a discouraging word.  And sometimes a group of discouragies get together and seem to like to wallow in despair.  To them the one focusing on the good, noble, and lovely may seem hopelessly naive– or perhaps naively hopeful.  Either way, Christians are called to be this– and to act accordingly. 

God, it seems to me, is hopelessly hopeful.  Even in the face of these great and discouraging odds that humans may somehow not make a mess of their lives, God sent his Son to give transformative hope to all people.  With very bad odds, God makes a bet on us.  He acts with faith and hope on an unfaithful hopeless cause– us. 

Christians are to live a life saved from ourselves– from our despairing hopeless habitual stupidity and sin.  And we are to live these lives not for our own stupid selves, but for the sake of others– because of Jesus.  That is what we are about.  So to muddle around wallowing in the hopeless, the ugly, the painful, the tragic and the false and impure is not only stupid- it is wrong of us. 

And its a pretty nice command to follow, when it comes down to it.  God is asking us to have eyes to see the good in the world– to have gracious eyes that can see past the ills to the pure, good, noble, lovely things.  What a beautiful command to be told to follow!  We are to be people who encourage others, who help others to see the goodness of God in the world, in the midst of the confusion.   Its up to us to decide to follow this way of grace.

We have a choice.  Get with it. 

May God have mercy on us all.


Living in the Meantime of Life: Happiness, and What We Need…

sunset2When we remodelled our kitchen in February of 2011, I cut some wires to the upstairs which effectively took out all electricity on the second floor.  Apart from an outlet in two rooms, we didn’t have electricity up there.  My plan was to rewire to the attic and connect in (something which we did do for the bath that summer) but the rest of the rewiring never got done. Our upstairs was, by and large, dark– until Monday.

I finally worked on the project for most all the afternoon, with many many trips up to the attic, and down to the breaker box in the basement– over and over.  Finally, I got it to work, and we were very happy.  Finally, no more dark hallways at night, no more flipping switches to no avail, or tripping over various things in the dark.  Finally when we turned on the switch, it would come on.  Celeste was so happy that she just kept turning the lights on and off, over and over– in disbelief that we actually had electricity in our upper floor.

That first night, as we were roaming around in the dark, looking for the one lamp in the corner which used to be the only source of light, I pointed out to Celeste that we now could use the lightswitches, and we laughed at ourselves for continuing in our old ways.  We weren’t used to having electricity.  Our house was now fully ‘modern’.

I mentioned this on facebook, and one very true comment was that my wife must be very patient and understanding.  Longsuffering is probably an even better word!  Celeste puts up with a lot.  But one reason she is happy is exactly because she is patient, and understanding. 

The Stoics always said there are two ways to get happy– either to get what you want, or to train yourself to be satisfied and even thankful for what you have.  Neither of these options is easy, but the first one– I am convinced– is nearly impossible.  Trying to get what we want is a fools errand in most cases– because as soon as we get what we wanted, we usually get dissatisfied– at least when we have a consuming “I get what I want” mindset. 

The second path is also difficult, but more attainable.  Partly because it depends on you, not on the external circumstances beyond your control.  We can’t do much about the weather, or what others do, or many of the things which frustrate us.  Of course its easy to tell others to be satisfied, and much more difficult for us to take the same advice.  It was easy for me to encourage Celeste to be happy we at least had a lamp working upstairs for nearly 2 years– but its harder for me to be patient and understanding about the things which frustrate me. 

We live in a world where we are encouraged to expect and long for instant gratification– and that is exactly what often frustrates us.  We have more, and enjoy it less.  We are able to do more and more, and yet we often feel satisfied less and less.  It is part of the human condition to be without full completion in this world.  Many of the great thinkers of the church throughout the ages have pointed out that this ongoing longing is in some way an indication that this is not our home– that we have something more to expect.  This world is an appetizer, but one filled with struggle and trials.  We are meant to live in this world, and to live well (not merely to endure it)– but there is more to come.

The frustration I experience usually happens when I forget that there is more to come. That hope is what draws me out of frustration and in dark moments despair in the face of difficulty or sadness.   Again, we are not to be escapists– we are meant for this life!  But there is more to come both in this life, and beyond that as well. 

So happiness in this life is not merely about pursuing what we want, but learning to deal with the many times when we do not get just what we want when we want.  To remember that ‘this too shall pass’ and to remember the hope that there is more to come.  In the meantime– which is where we spend all of our days– we do the best we can, find joy where we can, and hope through the rest.

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:22

There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 23:18

“But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Psalm 39:7

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5

 Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed. Psalm 119:116

 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

May God have mercy on us all.   -Andy


The new meeting space for simple free.

27th and DeweySimple free church is not a normal church. Many people who come to simple free go to other churches on Sunday mornings.    The main purpose of simple free is to provide a space for anyone who is spiritually seeking who may not quite fit in traditional church or for those of us who desire something in addition to other services we attend.  We try to encourage, challenge, and know each other.  Besides our liturgy sundays, we do things meant not to grow an institution, but to just be useful to anyone, hopefully especially those who feel burned out on or burnt by ‘church’. 

DSC00037A central vision of Simple Free has always been to help people who are on the fringes to be in community with fellow believers, and to find a space to honor God  through more simple ancient forms of worship like liturgy and hymns, as well as reading Scripture together.   We are interested in Church history and do a book club at Upstream, but we try not to get too cerebral, and to keep things practical.  We also seek to be involved in our community in concrete ways– particularly the Gifford Park and Park Avenue areas. 

Now Simple Free has a unique opportunity to meet together in a basement whichth_100_3664 matches their DNA.  Andy and a partner bought 2709 Dewey St (just one block north of 27th and Harney, 3 blocks north of 27th and Dodge) in 2009 when it was boarded up and covered in gang graffiti.  Some had wanted to tear it down, and it had been neglected long before it was abandoned in 2005 after a double homocide occurred here.  But there was promise in the building– and with a lot of time and effort and belief, the building got transformed. 

th_100_3651It took 3 years of rehabilitating to redeem this building, and in April of 2012  it became fully inhabited, with 8 units completed.  It felt good to see the transformation.  This fall the cement floor in the basement was finished and an outside entrance on the west side was added. 

th_100_3662This will be the entrance to the space where we will meet for simple free from now on at 6pm on Sunday nights.  Its a cave, but a cool cave! We will plan to have something to eat together at 6, and then start around 6:30ish.  This first week will be pretty informal– mostly just enjoying and arranging stuff in the space.   Just come in the entrance on the west (right) side of the building, under the fire escape stairs.   Anyone is welcome to come, anytime they feel like it.   If you have questions, text or call Andy 4026699846, Ryan Youtz 4026772692 or Celeste 3083807488 or David Dick 402 5982322

If you want to donate cool furniture or candles, cool pictures of the last supper or velvet paintings of any kind, let us know… 🙂


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