Refound passions, and the importance of the shimita

I feel bad that I haven’t posted recently. I know it’s not that big a deal in the overall scheme of things, but it has been an issue on my mind these past few days. Honestly, I’ve been pretty busy as of late. There’s so many projects and things that need to get done. And as a result, it has been almost 2 full weeks since my last real blog. I apologize a thousand times.

Bridge shirtsI had a realization this weekend. As you probably have already gathered, I am a youth worker in the city of Elizabeth. Actually, I am one of many leaders in one of many groups of which The Bridge Youth Ministries comprises. It seems, in recent months, that I have had a more overseeing/administrating role thrust upon me. This is nothing of my choosing, nor do I necessarily want it, but I accept the role as it has befallen me. Now, I’m not the one “in charge” of the group I work in (Midtown) and I don’t pretend to be, but it seems that many people come to me for organization and even for clearance on what to do certain nights, especially when Harold (our pastor) is absent due to his musical tour.

I say all that to say that I do spend a significant amount of time setting things up and preparing, and then making sure everything runs properly. As a result, I sometimes feel quite removed from actual interaction with the youth, though I do still get to do it a bit. Well, as circumstances would have it, due to the fire at the Liberty we are not currently able to meet there. (Side note: There was no really bad damage and we should hopefully not be too delayed in moving back in fully). We are meeting with a different Bridge, Bridge 23, for the month of December and then we will take up residence in School #2 for the start of 2008 and hopefully not tarry there too long before we can move into Liberty.

Since we are meeting with a different Bridge, we (the Midtown staff) are not the ones running the show, so to speak. I had no major responsibility this past week other than to be there. And so I actually had a whole night to hang out with kids. It was refreshing. I got to speak to a few, but spent a majority of time with one in particular who has some significant circumstances surrounding them as of late. It was great to just sit there and listen to their story and share thoughts with them. It was free and alive and the community our soul’s crave, of interaction with others and helping those who need it, was there. It was unforced and, really, was a breath of fresh air. It reminded me of what “youth ministry” is all about.

Me and GailAs did the events of the following morning. It was Gail’s birthday earlier this week. Gail is another youth in The Bridge whom I’ve known for quite some time now. I got to hang out with Gail on Saturday morning. We had some pancakes. And then we were able to talk for a bit. I haven’t seen her in awhile due to her insane schedule because she’s a pretty beastly soccer player. We got to talk about her college plans, SAT’s, scholarships, Mountain Dew, her recent birthday, The Bridge itself, her family and friends, etc. And then we got to look at some quality graffiti affixed to the wall of a local bowling alley. It was a great morning, and it further reminded me of how much I like simply hanging out with teenagers. It’s one of the things I was born to do. Even at work this week, I was talking to someone about these very events of the weekend and blurted out, “It sure is more fulfilling than being here.” (I am not shy about my lack of fulfillment at my current employer, though I don’t usually vocally assert this while there). And so I realize that there’s little more I’d like to spend my time doing than hanging out and talking to people… hearing their stories, helping where I can, trying to make a difference… and if they’re teenagers it’s even better.

Later that same Saturday we had a planning meeting for The Bridge to discuss what we are going to be doing in 2008 as well as to get some ideas out for Retreat(8). It was a pretty good meeting, though I can foresee that 2008 is going to be a very busy year. I kind of look forward to it. I have felt somewhat idle this past year. In reality, the entire 2007 has been somewhat of a break for The Bridge. We realized that we needed a rest because we are constantly pushing so hard and driving with great momentum. It felt to me, since we were so relaxed this year, that we might actually be losing some ground in what we are trying to accomplish. I’ve realized, though, over the past two or three days something interesting about this issue. This is the 7th year of The Bridge’s existence. There is a story in the book of Leviticus, where God tells Moses that the people of Israel are to farm and work the land as they normally do for six years. Then, on the seventh year they must give the land a rest. A Sabbath, just as the people were to observe a Sabbath on the seventh day of the week.

The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. (Leviticus 25:1-5 NIV)

This “seventh year rest,” or sabbatical, is known as the shimita. We now know that the earth does, in fact, need a rest periodically in order to regain and replenish all that is lost in planting and harvesting – the same as a person needs a rest to replenish and rejuvenate their soul in order to effectively face another week. Sabbath – Shimita – is given to put back what is used up in the daily activities and work of life. Is it coincidence that this year of rest came for us exactly seven years from when we began? I think not. It happened almost without effort. The natural rhythms of life and ministry told us to take it easy, and we simply listened to what was already there, without even thinking “sabbath.” And so, as the seventh year, our sabbath, our shimita, comes to a close, I’m excited for what will come in 2008. The “land,” the ministry, has had it’s rest and is ready for another six years of planting and harvesting. I, for one, am excited.

May peace be with you.

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. A day to celebrate eating too much and preparations to spend way too much money the following day…. wait, that can’t be it.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you probably have at least some familiarity with the “Thanksgiving story…” how the Pilgrims came to a foreign land, not really knowing what they would find then they got there. They left all the comforts of home in pursuit of an elusive dream that we all long for… freedom. Theirs was a freedom to worship as they saw fit. Maybe the freedom you seek take another form, but there it is. And then, late in the year they gathered with family and friends of old as well as new friends met in a “New World” to thank God for the blessings they had received and for the freedom they had found to live and love and worship as they desired.

And so we continue the tradition on the fourth Thursday of every November. Thanksgiving is a day we stop the busyness of life and the hectic schedules to remember how blessed we truly are and how much we have to be thankful for. And there is much to be thankful for.

The mere fact that I live in America, by default, shows how blessed I am. I have heard it said that if you live in the United States, have a roof over your head, and have a car, you are within the top 3% of the wealthiest people on planet Earth. Well, that’s me. A few years ago I took this fact for granted. Today I am more educated. I realize how blessed I really am. And I think differently about these things now as well. Even today, at Thanksgiving dinner, my father prayed over the meal before we began and he thanked God for the blessings we have and asked to bless us more in the upcoming year. It seems it is a cadence and ritual thing to say on Thanksgiving. But I think now that I am already so blessed, I don’t need any more. I really don’t. No, instead I think the time has come to take that blessing given to me and give it away to those who need it more.

And so I count my blessings

– I am thankful that all of my family is in relatively good health. There has been no major catastrophe within our midst, really ever. That is rare, and I am incredibly fortunate for it.

– I have some of the most amaing friends. I realized, especially in recent weeks, how good my friends, especially a select group of them, really are, and I come to the conclusion that I don’t really deserve them but they are mine anyway. It’s hard to believe that I get to belong to a community so close that cares about each other, or that I get to spend so much of my time sharing life with them.

– Along the same lines I am grateful for the community I am a part of in regards to my church. Even more so I am thankful that I get to be a part of group chosen to lead them. When I step back and think about it I can’t understand how it all happened or how I got where I am. I don’t understand how I deserve the honor of serving the community as a whole in the position I have been given. I don’t understand why I get to do the things I do, but I do. I am excited about what the future holds.

– I’m a tech geek, and so this may sound incredible stupid and geeky, but I am thankful for the Internet. Yes, the Internet. And for this reason: I have been connected to so many people across the globe that there is no way I would have met otherwise. There are a few new friendships I have made this past year solely via the Web. Some are only a few states away. Some are on the other side of the country. Others are literally on the other side of the world. It blows my mind how small Earth has gotten and how easy and quickly two people one, three, or a dozen time zones apart can be connected and talk and share life just as if they were in the same room.

– Finally, I am grateful that I get to live where I do and that I am blessed the way I am. I am grateful that I am able to help others, whether through the little girl I sponsor in Central America, through world relief funds, or through programs we are starting up in 2008 to bring hope and life to dying communities (more to come on that in 2008). 🙂 I am convinced now that the American consumerist mindset of “more more more” is a fallacy and actually sucks the life out of you instead of adding to it. I find that I feel most alive when I am doing things for people, and the more “sacrifice” it is to me, the more alive I feel. Jesus’ teachings about giving and sacrifice and finding life when you give your own away resounds in my mind and heart, and I think I finally understand what it means to live.

Looking back, I see a similarity, that all the things I am thankful for are related to relationships to people. “Community” is a topic that has been close to me the past several months. I understand what Acts 2 was talking about:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)

Group shotCommunity. It’s what our souls long for. To be wanted and loved. To belong. To fit in. Can you think of anything more terrifying than being alone. Alone by yourself, or even worse, alone while surrounded by others? Community is what dives is and motivates us. When we belong we are free to live and to love and to share and to experience life to the fullest. And so, this year, I am thankful for the community of people I am surrounded with and for the things we are able to do to bring peace and hope to this world when we work together.

What are you thankful for?

I want the truth!

Why is it that people like to talk and talk and talk before they know the full details of a situation? I’ve been thinking about the topic of “rumors” and “gossip” the past few days as they have been quite prevelant in my life.

It started last Friday. I got a text about midday from my brother, who works in the Elizabeth school system, that there was some major police activity in the high school. He wasn’t sure why, but there they were. It turns out that there were some threats of the potential of gang violence for that day and they were there to investigate. As a precaution, they evacuated all of the school (I think it was all of them). From there the rumor mill went into full swing. Later on in the day I received a text that 10 students were shot in school. I also heard that they cops found an AK-47 in the high school. Later on I heard that there was going to be a massive Bloods vs. Crips war happening that night. Next I heard that there was gang initiation that night and 60 people were supposed to be killed. From all the rumors it sounded like Elizabeth was entering into an Apocalypse with little cause for hope of salvation. At The Bridge that night we opened the night with a simple question: “What have you heard?” The room erupted with stories of chaos and anarchy and mass destruction. It came from all angles. Everyone had a different variant of the story which they held to be Gospel. And each were genuinely scared. Fear seemed to rule the city that night.

Today I received a call from Carlos that the Liberty Center (our church’s home) had caught fire. No one knew the full extent of the damage as the Elizabeth Fire Department would not allow people into the building until they were sure it was safe and fully inspected. Later on I hear rumors from other my parents that the entire building was engulfed in flame and the auditorium and stage was destroyed. This they heard from a friend of theirs.

What is it in us that likes to take stories and pass them along, with usual slight embellishment. Have you ever played the “phone game” in which you form a line, a code or phrase is shared with the first person and is passed via whisper until it reaches the last. The phrase is never the same as it was when it was started. The same is true of our stories, our rumors, our gossip. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t find anything wrong with the passing on of stories and of knowledge. But I prefer to have the solid truth before I share things. I don’t want to make things seem more, or even less, than what it is. I don’t want to implicate people or groups who have nothing to do with the story.

It is funny how what we hear can be so distant from the truth.

Yes, there was some recent gang activity in Elizabeth. Last Monday a twelve (12) and a thirteen (13) year old pair of boys were shot on Fulton St in Elizabeth. Yes, one died while the other survived. It just so happened that the funeral for Elisha Henderson, the boy who died, was on that Friday of rumor. And yes, it was true that the shooting was gang related. It is also true that that very same Monday, also on Fulton St, a house was sprayed and a man was shot in the neck. Yes, this was gang related too, though completely unrelated to the shooting of the boys. And yes, it is true that a gang OG was recently killed in the previous weeks… also unrelated. And all of these events were unrelated to the happenings of Friday. It is true that on Friday the police received a threat of violence at the school, hence the security. And yes, they found a gun…. a plastic toy gun, which they confiscated. And that was the extent of it. No gang initiation. No war. No Apocalypse. Just a toy gun.

There was no mass inferno in the Liberty today. A small fire broke out under the main stage – still under construction. The fire was contained in the storage room beneath the stage. The other auditorium and stage, located on the second floor, suffered no fire damage. In fact, none of the rest of the building suffered fire damage. The was much smoke, and we have to see how much damage that caused, but that was the extent of it. Of course, this will delay our occupation of the building, but there was no major catastrophe or destruction. All rumor.

I really try to steer clear of rumor-mongering and gossip. For the most part I feel I am successful. For the most part. And I think I will become even more resolute in my efforts after the events of this week. It was crazy to see what false rumors can do to people, and I want nothing to do with that. God calls us to live lives of truth. I want to live truth. I want to speak the truth. I think people crave truth. They want to hear it. They hear too many lies throughout their lives – on TV, in the news, from family and friends. Truth is a breath of fresh air, a straightening in a crooked and bent world. It’s what our souls crave and long for. And that is the goal for who and what I want to be.

A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful. (Proverbs 14:25 NIV)

Addendum to “Things that make me mad”

So yesterday I posted about how I was stuck with an antiquated phone while my Treo was going to repair and how it was thoroughly annoying and frustrating to me. Well, the frustration hit new levels this morning. It was a heavy texting day. Lots of conversations going on about random upcoming happenings. And Twitter. Of course Twitter. Anyway, I found it positively madening to text on a regular keypad, whether on regular Alpha or T9 mode. It took so long to type a simple message that I almost didn’t want to text. That, of course, didn’t hinder my actual mass textage.

Text Message limit?Apparently these older phones were not made for high-text capacity. Before 11am I had already run out of room for text messages. I received an error/warning box popup on the phone with each text received telling me that I was close to, and then that I had reached the limits of the phone’s texting storage and older messages were deleted. By 11am! That’s ridiculous.

It came to pass that I got out of work and returned home and proceeded to call Palm in order to take advantage of the warranty the phone was still under. It was discovered that the problems I was facing were not hardware related, but rather software. The fact that I dropped the phone had no effect on it’s performance. We performed a simple hard reset and the problem was solved. The Palm associates were quite knowledgable and helpful throughout the entire process. Kudos to you, Palm, on some great Customer Service work!

And then I called Sprint. Actually I called twice. The first lady I spoke to was wonderful. She seemed like she genuinely wanted to help. I explained my story to her: “My regular phone was damaged so last night I switched it over to an older temporary phone while the other would be repaired. It so happens that the manufacturer fixed the error over the air, and so I want to switch it back now.” She promptly reactivated my Treo, but since I was calling on the temp phone I had to call back for programming. No problem. She finished up her legal talk at the end, thanked me for calling, and paused. It seemed like she was trying to think what to say next to finish business, but instead, “I hope you have a wonderful evening,” came forth. And it seemed like it was a genuine good-wishing stemming from within a genuine good-hearted person. It took me aback for a few seconds. I wished her the same and we ended the call.

The second time I called (via Skype) was not so pleasant. I mean, the lady was nice, but it was obvious she was reading from a book. I told her, “I just called to get my phone activated, but the previous lady asked me to call back for programming.” Sprint rep #2 seemed to have a hard time grasping what I was talking about. She wanted to go through the steps in her book. So we did. When we entered the programming mode, I noticed the phone was already programmed from the day before. I tried to explain this to her, but she didn’t understand. She made me go through the steps, but I was getting errors because the information I was entering was the same as what was already in there, and so the phone kept telling me, “Hey stupid! You’re not changing anything!” This too she did not understand. We were stuck on this step for 15 minutes. Finally the conversation looked like this:

Me: It looks like it’s already programmed.
Sprint Lady: No, we haven’t done it yet.
Me: Well, we can test it. If I call my voicemail and it connects, then it’s all setup. If it doesn’t then I can just program it with a bogus number and then reprogram it with the right information.
Sprint Lady: …….
Me: I’m going to try it.
Sprint Lady: Sir, you need to program it.
Me: It is programmed. I’m going to call my voicemail.
Sprint Lady: You can’t get voicemail. It’s not….
Me: Ok, it connected my voicemail. It works.
Sprint Lady: Sir, it won’t…
Me: ::Holds up voicemail on speakerphone to mic::
Sprint Lady: ….
Me: We’re all good here.
Sprint Lady: Ok, sir, you won’t be able to make any calls for at least 2 hours….
Me: I just made a call.
Sprint Lady: No, it will take at least 2 hours for voice, and 4 for data.
Me: Um…
Sprint Lady: Thanks for calling Sprint.
Me: kthnxbai
Sprint Lady: Bye.

Treo BattlescarsWell, something like that. I liked Palm lady. I like Sprint Lady #1. Sprint Lady #2 annoyed me. But in either case, the Treo works now. The L button was damaged in the process of the last few days, but though it is ugly it still functions to some degree. I’m just happy to have my QWERTY keyboard back. I am happy to have my Treo once again… at least until I get the iPhone. And I am listening to Guns ‘n Roses on iTunes. Things are good.

Oh, and some other random goodness that has befallen me today:

– The boss is on vacation for the rest of the week.
– I finally ordered a replacement disc for MediaShout so that I can get the laptop setup and stop carrying that blasted desktop to and fro’ the Liberty.
– Went to Van Gogh’s Ear cafe with friends and listened to poetry and live music.
– Made a significant, yet hushed, purchase with the help of a good friend. More on that later.
– Played Scrabble and won, beating out Michael, Castro, and (for the first time ever) Janelle.

Good night and fare thee well. May peace be with you.

Things that make me mad

I accidentally dropped my Treo on Sunday, and didn’t find out until later in the night that the phone actually was damaged and was pretty much bricked. I was not a happy person, but really couldn’t worry about it at that point because we were in the middle of the church services.

Anyway, today I was without phone all day. Without texts. Without Twitter. It was rough. So I went to the Sprint store this evening to see about repair or getting a new cheap phone. No such luck. Apparently I was not elidgible for any discounts at Sprint and so the cheapest phone I could get was $170. There’s no way I’m paying almost $200 when I plan on getting the iPhone in the start of 2008.

And so, at the recommendation of the Sprint associate, I came home and found a crappy old unactivated phone that has been sitting in the drawer for the past few years as a backup. Tomorrow I have to call Palm and setup a repair for the Treo covered under warranty. I hope it won’t take too long to repair as this phone, in the 2 hours of its activation is thoroughly frustrating me. Even the simple act of inputting contacts into my address book was making me mad. I loathe T9 and standard Alpha inputting via a phone keypad. I miss my QWERTY. I miss my Palm OS. I miss my Mobile Internet. I miss my touchscreen.

This is going to be rough.

Behold my bane:

Not an iPhone

This Day in Twitter

  • 00:45 Apple’s OS X 10.5.1 update fixed the funktified text in Scrabulous. I am happy. #
  • 01:37 bed. Before 2am. We call this “improvement.” #
  • 10:17 Boss: “Ok, we need this stack of reports processed and done. It’s 9:30… How about by 9:50?”
    Me: “Um….. Sure.” :-/ #
  • 11:01 Listening to yourself via podcast is a strange thing. #
  • 11:39 Alisha is here. A plesant surprise on the lunch break. #
  • 14:43 I want the Led Zepplin collection from iTunes. The U2 collection would be nice too. #
  • 15:20 wait, is Twitter working now? Can it be? #
  • 15:24 @flowerintherain We’ll just have to beef up security tonight. #
  • 15:52 Booting my PC for the first time in almost a year. #
  • 16:05 @encrimsonate. No no.. There’s a reason the PC has been in storage. I just need it now and so will lower my standards temporarily. #
  • 18:32 I’m tweeting on my iMac at home from my Macbook at the Liberty. Back to My Mac is so cool! #

All entries are taken from my Twitter from the past 24 hours. To follow me on Twitter, click here and select “follow.”

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Awoken humanity

I am, as you might already be aware, a leader in a youth program in Elizabeth, NJ. We have an interesting setup to our program, as it is not one group in one location, but one group with several locations all throughout the city, and now even the state.

Well, in the group I work with, we want to always be sensitive to the needs of our city. We want to get involved with serving and the helping of the oppressed and needy and downtrodden, no matter if that need is a physical one, emotional, spiritual, or any other kind. We want to be there for those who need us most. As we fully move into the Liberty Center we will be able to do more and more as well as start up new programs and endeavors to attack the roots of the problems… not to just provide for the needy, but to attack the very roots of poverty. Not to just help those who are oppressed, but to assault injustice itself. A big task, yes, but it is what we are called to do.

We are starting small. As I said, we are still in the process of fully moving into our new home and so we are not at our full ability to do what we want, but we can begin the process.

Can driveThis Thanksgiving, as we live in such a blessed society and sit comfortably amidst the top 5% of the wealthiest people on the planet, we want to stress to the youth the importance of giving. Giving of their time, money, talents, and abilities for the betterment of society and those around them. Sacrificial giving.

And so we have teamed up for the upcoming holiday season with the homeless services at St Joseph’s in Elizabeth in order to provide food for the poor in the city so that they might have a decent Thanksgiving. We are going around door to door in our area, collecting non-perishable food items with which we will in turn submit for the feeding of the hungry. It will be glorious.

We began the collection of foods on Saturday. It was a chilly day. We gathered a small group of teenagers from our little community and set out to the streets. We spit into two groups as to cover more ground with more rapid pace. This week we invaded the Jefferson Park areas of Magnolia Ave, Madison Ave, Catherine St, and other surrounding neighborhoods. Next week we shall set out for the Peterstown area, so be ready.

I must admit that the first half of the collection was slightly disheartening. There was not much luck in people answering their doors, or if they did answer to help us. The second half yielded much better results. We ended up collecting three semi-large boxes of canned goods, pastas, cereals, and other such products. We also have a small number of appointments to return this upcoming Saturday for collection as well as individuals who have said they will bring “boxes” of goods to the Liberty throughout the week to donate. This, coupled with our second outing on November 17, I hope, will provide much aide and relief for the overlooked of our society.

I noticed something while walking house to house with the youth in my group. During the first hour spirits were somewhat low as our efforts seemed to be in vain. With each passing rejection or unanswered door, the paced seemed to slow. But at the first donation all that was changed. It was as if a spark was set and ignited a new passion in the teens we were with. And then the second donation came. And the third. Soon they were excitedly running house to house, boldly speaking to the residents where there was once shyness. Waiting with excited anticipation as the home-owners said, “Let me go see what I have in the kitchen.” The second half of our journey sped by with haste whereas the first seemed to drag. And so I began to think:

There’s something about service, about giving of yourself to something bigger, about the simple act of helping others that awakens something within us. Something about service that awakens the fullest extent of our humanity, and I think somehow, as we give ourselves away, we are connected more deeply with those around us and with God himself. It’s as if there is some deeply latent area of our being within that is only roused when we give sacrificially and unselfishly for the betterment of others. It’s as if we were meant for more than just living for ourselves. Perhaps there is something deeply divine about denying yourself and lifting the needs of our fellow human beings above our own. Maybe there’s a truth in the idea that we were made to help bring peace and restoration and hope and justice to a broken and fractured world. Maybe it’s true that, as the Scriptures say, when we give our lives away, we will find true life, that when we help others we will really be living life to it’s fullest potential. We will be experiencing life as it was meant to be lived.

Maybe.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it… Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:6-7, 17-19 NIV)

PS: If you want to help out and live in the Elizabeth area, (non monetary) donations can be brought to the Liberty Center (1121 Elizabeth Ave, Elizabeth, NJ 07201) during business hours or on Friday night between 7pm and 9:30pm. Or you can contact Pastor Harold Boyd at 908-289-6322. If you would like to help out but do not live in the Elizabeth area, contact me via email at whartz at bridgyouth dot com.

Peace be with you.