New Beginnings Continued:

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Hey everyone, I haven’t posted in a while and for good reason. I’ve been working through some personal things and I haven’t had much inspiration to write as a result. However, I have caught the writing bug once again, So if you don’t mind, I would like to jump right in.

In my last life update, I wrote about why I was moving back to Michigan so I would like to begin there.

What Did I do in Michigan?

Thanks to the help of a few gracious financial supporters, I was able to form a reconciliation ministry. Ultimately, my labors took the form of a community workshop that discussed the destructive effects of racism in our society. This workshop was fantastically easy to put on as the crowd was hungry to discuss the topic. The meeting was organized in a poorer rural area of Michigan. This was significant because rural people are afflicted by poverty just like those in the city. Yet, unlike the city people they are still over looked by non profits.

I want poor people in rural areas to recognize their commonality with poor people in the city. Too often, I find that poor people divide themselves along geographical lines instead of standing with solidarity under one incredible community (that was not a call for communism). This was my heart behind the workshop and is still my heart now. Until cohesion is felt between a community, its members won’t be restored to one another…the workshop sought to discuss that.

What Was the Workshop Like?

The workshop was 100 people strong and attracted a mix of individuals — some religious — some not. Overall, the event was about 3 hours. In the beginning of the workshop, there was a lesson on the different academic works pertinent to the topic of racism, what some ways forward might be, and how to get involved. After the lesson, there was time spent in small groups where people brainstormed how they might address these issues in their community. To assist others, I wrote a course pack for people to follow along with the lesson. I also appointed a group leader at each table that I trusted to help the conversation stay on track. One overarching objective of the workshop was to generate awareness of this issue; as well as, connect residents to their local officials.

Further, I know that the word “Racism” itself has become a trigger word for conservatives and liberals alike… so I forbid a single word from leaving my lips without tact. Dialogues about racism (in their current construct at least) naturally invite people to share their experience. It is quite easy in these moments of sharing for people to approach another’s experience regarding racism as though it were a sparring match — which leads to conflict. To my delight, the people present were more interested in hearing each other than seeing who had the worst experience. It was beautiful! People were in one room unifying under a shared sense of affliction. But that affliction wasn’t hopeless…the affliction had people buzzing about in their seats, searching for a better way forward and I loved that. They began to see how if one person hurts then we all should hurt for them. May there never be a hurting for others that is selective. Some come from rural places — others, city places. We don’t all get a ghetto but we all get pain.

The workshop was well received because others received me. I learned a great deal about community organizing and ministry as a whole. It’s more about shaping hearts than it is about having yourself seem clever. I truly believe God’s spirit was in that room.

Why I Left Michigan

While the workshop went well, things elsewhere did not. In an attempt to save money (because I wanted all my money to go toward the ministry) I took up on the offer to stay with my family. It’s difficult–almost traumatizing– to be near to my family at times.

To make a long story short, I was kicked out of my home twice. My grandparents didn’t want a fourth person in the house and made it clear that I shouldn’t be there living with them. Following that, I stayed with my dad and my step mom. However, I was kicked out of my father’s home as well. I hadn’t mowed the grass on time and that upset him so he started yelling. I hadn’t been around people who yell at me in a very long time… so I sort of shut down and said a few snarky things that didn’t improve my situation.

While I try to respect my parents I don’t always succeed at making them feel appreciated. That is a character flaw. Overall, I grew tired of the constant criticism and degradation. It’s one one thing to make a mistake or have a disagreement. It’s quite another to punish someone severely for that disagreement. I wish things were better between my family and I but I decided to create some boundaries.

Come June, I was emotionally exhausted and without a place to stay. So, I called a friend from Biola who lives with some guys near Anaheim. I eventually secured a spot to in their home which is where I’m renting now. For a short while, I was moving from couch to couch with friends in Michigan and that situation was not ideal.

Reflections

This story I’m telling you doesn’t have a happy twist to it’s ending. I don’t have a pithy truth statement and can’t surmise much else beyond the fact that I’m in a hard place. If I’m honest with myself, I just feel pretty broken.

It frustrates me that I can’t describe something negative about my family without anticipating shame and criticism from the people who don’t understand my situation. I think the command of Honoring your mother and father extends beyond obedience to their every command. Before my obedience to parents, I have to take into account my faith, my conscience, and what I need to communicate to make a truth clear. If someone insists on something that’s against my conscience then I insist on politely advocating against them. That’s all I really want to say about that…

A Final Word…

For the past 7 months, I’ve been working as a bartender but also as a minister (if you get what I mean). Originally, I set out to work as a server in Michigan so the overall principle of gaining ministry experience holds true–learning Hospitality to learn ministry! Hidden between the loud patrons, lewd comments, and demeaning labor, is an umbrella arc of character development. I’m not just learning how to make drinks worthy of their own runway, I’m learning how to serve difficult people with a smile. I’m learning how to seek the best in people when they are at their drunken worst. I’m learning how to smile. These smiles go a long way and ministry is just as much about living the truth as it is speaking it. Though I do menial work, I continue to find ways in which I can apply my theological education to people around me. This season has been hard to be sure, but it would have been much harder without my faith. I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be faithful in seasons where things fall apart. I’ve learned how to cling to God when things fall apart. For a while, I felt like giving up on writing, ministry, all the professional things I had hopes for really. Yet, in the midst my confusion, I’ve learned to pray more, fast more, and seek God more. I hope this is a reminder to someone in a tough spot like me.

More posts coming soon!

Mac.

 

 

New Beginnings.

Life is full of difficult decisions. In the time leading up to my trip, I owed my landlord months of rent in addition to the approaching payments of my student loans. Had I stayed in California and continued my tenacity, I have no doubt that I would become stable as I have before… but at what personal cost? California is awesome and expensive. While I was making progress toward my financial independence, the mental struggle I went through each month to pay my dues was eroding my sense of self. I grew unable to enjoy the things in LA I had initially moved out for and was struggling to maintain depth in the relationships I had. I increasingly felt isolated and I left California feeling defeated.

When the time to move came, I was already leaning toward a ministry in Michigan. To pursue this prospect, I thinned out my belongings to what I could fit in my car. I headed through the mountains, drove under the sunny skies and had a euphemistic optimism about what was ahead. That was day 1. On day 2 of my drive, reality set in. When I reached the open fields of Nebraska, I realized that I had a mind numbing amount of time to reflect on my decision. Should I have stayed? Have I forfeited God’s plan for me? What does God want me to choose? These are the questions I began to wrestle with on my drive.

Choices are easy to make when the nature of their outcome is predictable. Decision making is difficult when we consider that there is a grey area. If I decide not to brush my teeth, then I should not be surprised when I get a cavity. This is an easy decision to make. I should always brush my teeth! However, deciding between two things that are of the same good nature, especially when you are in a pinch, makes the process of deciding difficult. My thinking is that when you have two things (like two good job offers) and must choose to keep one, there is wisdom in deciding which one is the better thing to be had. In the end, the right decision will bear more fruit.

In my situation, staying in California was not a wise option, though it was difficult to leave the people I had met. For a solid year, I wavered between a job in Oregon and a job in Michigan. On the one hand, I could have moved to Oregon to work as an admissions recruiter for a seminary. While this isn’t a snug fit with my theology degree, it offered a few things that were good. First and foremost, it provided an opportunity to introduce people to theological education. This is an important thing considering the current changes in seminary. It also would have been a means to more financial comfort and its not like money isn’t something that I need. Even more so, Oregon would have brought about the opportunity to travel and I love building new experiences with people.

On the other hand, Michigan has benefits of its own. In general, I have special feelings for Michigan because it is my home state. In Michigan, I would have the opportunity to work as a server in a restaurant. A server job may seem to others as less extravagant than a recruiter job. I think service related work instills many qualities that prepare people for a life of success. Service, promotes the growth of character qualities that lead to a successful ministry. The tending to others, wearing the face of your product, and maintaining patience all scream ministry to me. In addition, I gathered that most of what I would like about Oregon and the northwest as whole are things that I already appreciate about my home state Michigan. Oregon seemed like a liberal version of Michigan and I have about had it with liberal thinking. Oregon, seemed like a prolonging of the inevitable return to Michigan. The only difference between the two was that a line of work is already available for me in Oregon. Moving to Michigan seemed like the better choice because it would force me to figure out how my degree is relevant to the society around me. If I don’t figure out how to make what I’ve learned relevant then I don’t want my degree.

I sometimes regret the principled way I act because of the stress it brings me. However, I cannot willingly defile my conscience so I tend to make decisions based off of the growth that I think it will bring my character and not the financial gain it will make me. I know that this is stressful for my self and for the people around me. I also know that there is a better balance to be had with making money and pursuing character. My dream however has always been to start a community building ministry that focuses on reconciliation. This calls for a faith that does not outpace its character. Michigan seems like a snug fit for this kind of thing. Reconciliation ministry requires an exceeding fortitude of character because reconciliation work is a slow and heart grappling endeavor. In this decision making process, it became clear that such a ministry is going to be difficult to start regardless of where it begins. Whether I continued working in Los Angeles, moved to Oregon, or drove off to Michigan, I would have to initiate the difficult process of getting this work started.

The need for reconciliation permeates our society. There is technically no place you could go where reconciliation wouldn’t be relevant. However, California is huge and has a lot going on already. It made more sense to me that I should start off in a smaller–yet growing place like Michigan because the matters of reconciliation are more approachable. The characteristics of population, scale of disparity, etc, occur on a more observable scale in Michigan than in California and I saw this as an opportunity to get to the core issues of reconciliation work. Further, Michigan cities like Grand Rapids remain in a period of constant growth, and I understood the nature of that growth to be something that opens its people to new ideas. People here are on the lookout for something and a reconciliation ministry might just be that something. Thus, Michigan became my priority.

Overall, God wants to be the priority in our decision making. Yet, there is an enduring struggle in our hearts to place God first. We would enter the furnace like Daniel if God said it was His will, but it is a difficult thing to hear God. The closer to the midwest I got the more uncertain I felt about my decision to move. Part of me thinks that this might be the point of faith. Despite my weakness of understanding and regardless of my heart’s fluttering hesitations, God’s strength is still being perfected in me. I want to go where I would rely on God’s strength and not my own.