Thursday, September 26, 2013

Godspeed

Posted by Jack Legg

I have never wished anyone Godspeed before.

I've told people "Goodbye," and "Farewell," and "You'll be missed." I've even thrown down the occasional "Good riddance!" But never in my life have I used the expression "Godspeed."

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it is basically a phrase that is meant to wish someone well as they depart on a journey. It expresses positive intention for the traveler, blesses them upon their departure, and wishes them success and safety as they go.

As many of you know, Jeff and Inge Cook are moving to Denver this week. They will be working on various super-cool things already taking place at Providence Bible Church. In short, they are moving to the 'hood to do inner-city ministry work.

I studied under Jeff Cook, both in the classroom and out of the classroom.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are three things I appreciate about Jeff Cook:

1) He is a leader. I can tell you from experience that not every teacher leads. But every leader teaches.

Whether it be engaging issues of race in a predominantly white school, or preaching ministry to the poor among the privileged, Jeff taught me that you can't be afraid to go first. And many of us are grateful that he has been bold enough to lead for all these years.

2) He is passionate. He's said it before: if you cut him anywhere, he will bleed urban ministry. He isn't kidding. Devoting countless weekends to the "urban-i-cation" of hundreds of students, often at great cost and sacrifice... opening up his home and property to be utilized as a center of learning... and encouraging students to go out into the world and serve in the margins. I hope it can be said of me one day that my passion for Christ was so evident it never had to be proven.

3) He is conservative. I don't mean to use that word as a label, especially since the terminology has been hijacked by so many jackasses. But, I do mean to say that Jeff is committed to the serious study of Scripture.

Yeah, some of us "progressive" types get a bad rap. If matters of social justice are near and dear to our heart, some would say, then our hermeneutic must be weak. Not Jeff Cook. I've heard the man preach and teach numerous times, in public settings and private conversations. The foundation of every concept? Scripture. I remember spending the first several weeks of "Intro to Urban Ministry" listening and scribbling notes while Dr. Cook surveyed all of Scripture, building a sturdy framework for ministry to the poor. First, you build a skeleton of Scriptural teaching, then you wrap it in flesh. I respect a teacher who allows Scripture to speak, even if it isn't saying what we want it to.

I can't finish this post without mentioning Inge! Here are three things I appreciate about Inge:

1) She is loving. Not only does she care deeply for her family and (by extension) students, but she demonstrates it in tangible ways. I happen to know that Inge reads student reflection papers, listening as they try to articulate their learning curve. She is just as invested in the success of students as her husband is.

2) She is hospitable.Have you ever been invited to Inge's table to share a meal? I have! And it is an experience that cannot be matched. Any student who went through Refugee Weekend (or volunteered) benefited from her loving-kindness in the form of a stunning breakfast... a representation of heaven on earth! Inge is a mother... to her own children and to the countless students who have crossed her threshold.

3) She is creative. Our biggest regret at the Mulberry House is that we never had Inge come over to decorate. She is a gifted painter, talented gardener, and wonderful cook. Even though she has humbly dismissed the praise, I have always been stunned at the beauty of Inge's creations.

I don't like to be sappy... although honest appreciation of meaningful people in your life should never be considered sappy... but I wanted to write this. 

Jeff and Inge,

I know it will be hard to leave so many people and things behind. But, as Jeff Cook once said, "You can't drive a car looking only in the rear view mirror." Forward. Onward and upward. We'll miss you, but we'll still be here when you come back to visit.  

So, Jeff and Inge, I  wish you well. We all know this plan is the right one. None of us doubt God's goodness, or the bigness of His plans for you.

We celebrate the work you've done. We honor you for the sacrifices you've made. We are inspired by your willingness to start a new adventure. We are thrilled that you will still be in the trenches (different trenches, though they may be).

And, we love you. We love you as unique, inimitable members of the Body of Christ, the most diverse, expansive family in the history of the universe.

So, what's a few hundred miles? :)

Godspeed, Jeff and Inge! Godspeed.

By the way: if you want to be a part of the exciting work Jeff and Inge will be doing in Denver, you're in luck! We can all be supportive of their ministry through prayer and giving. If you are reading this, you should consider supporting the Cook family financially. Shoot me an email if you want the details. I can get you plugged in. Check out www.providencedenver.org to see some of the things they will be involved in.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cedarville University, Falling off the Balance Beam

Posted by Jack
 
What the hell is happening at Cedarville University?
 
Give me a minute. I'll try to explain.
 
Many faculty and staff have been leaving Cedarville University... some by choice, others by mandate.
 
 
We are in the midst of a coup.
 
I am not one to speak rashly, or throw words around without care (at least, not in print). So, make no mistake: when I say coup, that is exactly what I mean.
 
What is a coup? It can be defined as an appropriation of leadership or power. Or, a takeover.
 
I don't know the orchestrators of the coup personally, so I will not attribute any motives to them, good or bad. But the coup is happening nonetheless. A handful of people are seizing control of the direction of the university. A coup.
 
I don't want to generalize too much, especially since I am an outsider looking in. But if I had to simplify everything going on at Cedarville, if I had to make my best reckoning, I would say it like this:

Cedarville is narrowing their doctrinal positions. Based on this effort, they are working very hard to exclude certain people from the university.
 
There is this list of ideas called a doctrinal statement. The list represents the core beliefs of Cedarville University. This list of ideas sets the boundaries for teaching and discussion at Cedarville.
 
If people agree with all the points on the doctrinal statement, they can be a part of Cedarville University. If they do not agree with all the points of the doctrinal statement, they cannot be part of Cedarville University.
 
Recently, certain forces at Cedarville decided that the points of the doctrinal statement were not strict enough. They issued white papers to clarify, or tighten up, the existing doctrinal statement. Not only do people have to agree with the doctrinal statement, but they also must agree with the ideas expressed in the white papers.
 
In the past, teachers and staff signed a piece of paper saying they agreed to follow the ideas listed in the doctrinal statement. Recently, certain forces at Cedarville decided this written agreement was not enough.
 
These forces began investigating teachers and staff. They looked at books and articles that had been written by the teachers and staff and tried to decide if they were evidence of out-of-bounds thinking. They began listening to lectures and sitting in classes to determine if teachers and staff were saying things that fell outside the doctrinal statement. They also began interviewing teachers and staff to see if they really agreed with the doctrinal statement.
 
Some teachers and staff were fired. They were fired because the people in charge were not convinced their teachings or philosophy fell in line with the doctrinal statement. 
 
Some teachers resigned, retired, or left for new jobs. Each of them had their own reasons, but many of them left because there was great pressure on them to follow the stricter guidelines. Even if they were following the guidelines, many of them faced scrutiny and suspicion. To escape constant investigation, they opted to go elsewhere.  
 
When it comes to teachers and staff at Cedarville, I believe most of the changes stem from this systematic effort to narrow the doctrinal convictions of the university. I'm sure there are other motivating factors, but I will not speak to them...
 
I am the administrator of a daycare, so I spend a lot of time working with preschoolers and toddlers. One of the things we do in our classrooms, when we are training the children to stand in a single file line, is to cut footprints out of paper and paste them to the floor. When the time comes to line up, all the kids have to do is carefully step on the footprints that have already been placed for them.
 
By marking out their foot steps, I am telling the children, "You don't have to think about where to go. I have mapped it out for you."
 
Cedarville's white papers are footprints on the floor.
 
Cedarville seems to be saying, "Rest assured, our doctrinal statement is final and in order."
 
Many of us are asking, "Does your commitment to inerrancy apply to the Bible or to your doctrinal statement?" 
 
Cedarville seems to be saying, "We will continue to clarify our doctrine with our ever-growing body of supporting documentation."
 
Many of us are asking, "How specific will be specific enough?"
 
Cedarville seems to be saying, "We will make sure all of our professors fully align with our doctrinal positions."
 
Many of us are asking, "Where is the diversity of voices?"
 
I can hear the naysayers now, going on about inerrancy and absolute truth (and absolute certainty). I tell you, this is not about epistemology (our system for truth). I would never ask Cedarville to abandon their doctrinal convictions. I'd never ask them to turn away from the Bible. But I would ask them to reevaluate their approach to scholarship.
 
First, Cedarville, I would ask that you evaluate the way you look at your faculty. Are they scholars? Are they free to research, analyze, and explore Scripture? Or are they delivery men, simply called upon to deliver the contents of the doctrinal statement to students?
 
Do you look at them with honor or suspicion? Support or scrutiny? Are they co-laborers with which to collaborate, or rogue thinkers who must be kept in line? Are you committed to learning alongside them, or do you already have all the answers you need? Do differences of opinion have a place at the table, or should all opinions be uniform? Is there room for interpretation based on faithful scholarship? Or is difference in interpretation grounds for breaking of fellowship? Can an institution really call themselves a university and simultaneously silence every dissenting opinion?
 
Second, Cedarville, you need a new mental model for doctrine and truth.
 
God's truth is not a tightrope to be walked; it is an open space to be explored.
 
Doctrinal statements should feel less like a balance beam and more like a floor routine. The boundaries certainly exist, but we do not need to tiptoe along them. We also do not need to move them closer and closer to constrict movement. Anyone can traverse a balance beam; but I would contend that God invites us to dance, flip, and move within the space He's provided.
 
I said before, we need an epistemology (a system for truth) that is like a grain silo. It must be sturdy, strong, and unmoved by the wind. But it also must be broad, spacious, and capable of holding many similar, yet diverse grains.   
 
I took a class at Cedarville called Spiritual Formation. Before I arrived at CU, the class had been known as IBS... Inductive Bible Study. The class existed to teach students how to study the Scripture. This was a foundational component of the Bible minor, taken in the first or second year, as a basis for Scriptural thinking and studying.
 
At the time, Spiritual Formation taught me how to ask questions properly. The new Cedarville seems less interested in forming the questions and more interested in providing students with acceptable answers. They have become so committed to this notion, they have become willing to alienate, exclude, and remove faculty and staff who do not fall in line with an ever-narrowing, increasingly strict set of doctrinal precepts.
 
Cedarville, what are you afraid of? Is studying Scripture not enough? Is the Holy Spirit not strong enough to reveal truth to those who rightly divide the book? As a college, you often put tests in front of students. Do you really need to fill in all the blanks too? Why don't you teach students how to inquire... how to study... how to explore... then see what happens?

 
You know, in my preschool classrooms, I have noticed a pattern. As they year goes on, and the children grow and learn, I find myself removing footprints from the floor. I never find myself adding them.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

No More Mulberry House

Posted by Jack

Today we bury the Mulberry House. With warmest regards and fondest memories, we lay the house to rest.

Ok, fine. Nobody died. We're all here and accounted for. I just needed an eye-catching opening to get your attention.

Sorry. Maybe that wasn't fair. In my defense, it is true that the Mulberry House you once knew no longer exists. Let me explain.

See, a funny thing happened on the way to intentional community...

We formed the Mulberry House and that went pretty well. Over the past 4-5 years or so, our community activities and values brought us into contact with wonderful friends and neighbors throughout Springfield and the surrounding area. The formation of these valuable friendships slowly and steadily expanded the scope of our community.

Our group got a little bigger. We continued eating together and praying together and meeting once a week for Bible study. We also planted gardens together and helped each other with various projects.

Our lives started getting tangled together in many ways, but there was still a bizarre distinction. Some of us were "Mulberry House" and some of us weren't.

All of us had been taking part in the lifestyle, but only some of us had a name for it (and a website). The sense of community transcended any one house.

All of us, this tangled mass of intersecting lives, held a meeting: The Mulberry Street Conclave, we called it. We discussed our life together and acknowledged our commitment to one another. The Thing began to take shape.

We decided to do what most of us had set out to do in the first place. Rather than limiting our "brand" to one house with a given name, we decided to acknowledge the community at large. Call it the next step in the natural outworking of our mutual convictions.

The time had come. We peeled the label from the front of the Mulberry House and put up a "City Limits" sign instead.

Our new truth agreed upon includes a loose network of households... a village within a village... a motley assortment of individuals bound up together in Kingdom values. At the risk of bandying about hip Christian buzz-words, you might call us an "intentional community."

I assure you, the house at 125 W Mulberry Street still stands. And, nearly 5 years later, it still stands for the same things. But this house is just one part of a larger thing

We are not just on Mulberry Street. We are on South Center, and South Fountain, and Euclid, and some road out by the mall. And also Fairborn, and Columbus, and occasionally Yellow Springs.

Now we are Daniel and Mikal and Leah and Carla and Vicki and Tim and other Tim and Julia and Andrea and Carlos and Phil and Jack and Megan and Kathy and Brenna and Jess and other Jess and Zach and Rachel and other Rachel and other Rachel and others I'm sure I forgot to name (probably another Rachel).

The point is, even though we talked about it an awful lot, I don't think we ever really set out to form a house. We set out to form a body. And we're still doing that.

In reference to the Thing that once was, we're calling ourselves the Mulberry Street Community. We don't have business cards or anything, so don't ask. But we do have each other, and this ancient and oft-duplicated, new and refreshing tradition of structured, organic, ordered, chaotic, profound and mundane, larger-than-life but less-than-impressive existence. Let's call it community, I guess.

I couldn't fit that on a bumper sticker.

Monday, December 24, 2012

God with Us - A Word of Encouragemnt on Christmas Eve

Posted by Tim


Merry Christmas from Mulberry Street!  I have been reflecting a lot about Jesus’ birth the last few days in anticipation of tomorrow, and thought I might share some of my thoughts with you. 

In case you hadn’t noticed, Christmas gets busy.  For a lot of us, Christmas means card writing, present shopping, cookie baking, charitable giving, party planning, relative visiting, and a whole lot of other things that are very good intentioned and very time consuming.  The birth of Jesus is central to a lot of these activities and is most often our spiritual focus in December.  Christmas Cantatas, Plays, Choral Arrangements, and Sermons fill in the context surrounding Jesus arrival in Bethlehem and the beginning of God’s redemptive plan.  It’s a beautiful story:  God is with us. 

But over the last two days I’ve been a little troubled.  We have been working our way through Advent in our Bible study, each week focusing on a different aspect of the Christmas Story.  But in spite of all the prophecies, and stories of Bethlehem, shepherds, and angels; I was having trouble relating to the child in the manger.  God is with us…but does He know what I’m dealing with?

Sometimes all the busyness of Christmas works as a mask or a temporary relief for and from the struggles that life brings our way.  Come January I feel the void again.  And it’s my fault…I’ve made the truth of Christmas a seasonal thing:  God was with us; He did his job; and then He left again.  He came, He conquered Sin and Death, and returned Home.  Meanwhile, me and my friends can’t get out of our own way…still struggling with petty vices, doubts, and harsh realities. 

But I think I missed something, so let’s take a look at the baby’s life:

His mother endured a scandalous pregnancy, resulting in rumors that would follow Him the rest of His life.

He was born and placed in a trough intended for animals.

He was a refugee as a toddler, escaping slaughter, and growing up in a foreign country.

He was the step-son of a poor carpenter.

He would spend over three years dependent upon the hospitality of others, with no home to call his own, and no family that would claim him. 

He felt hunger in the desert, was deserted in the garden, and forsaken on the cross.

And after His greatest victory, His closest friends still doubted him.

And now He is with us. 

My deepest pains, He has experienced.  My strongest loneliness, he has realized.  My darkest doubts, He has processed…and He’s with me.

This Christmas, I can smile because my prayers have been heard by a Man like me….with me.  For those of you who are hurting and wondering who knows your pain, you have a Savior who has lived in poverty and despair, and who is ready to bear your burdens.  It’s the miracle I found this Christmas.

 

Grace and Peace

 

 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Another Open Letter to Ellen Degeneres

Posted by Jack

Dear Ellen Degeneres,

My name is Jack and I live in Springfield, OH. We have never met, but I have written you before.

Recent events have prompted me to send my greetings once again, in the form of this special Christmas letter (I hope you don't mind, but this being an open letter, I think some people may be listening in.)

Recently, J.C. Penney released a holiday-themed commercial and it included you.

Then, a group called One Million Moms released a statement saying they were offended by the ad. They said J.C. Penney had chosen to offend the "huge majority" of their customers. Then the group called on Christians to "vote with their wallet" by avoiding J.C. Penney "at all costs."

In case you've forgotten it, here is the ad:


If you want to know about someone's values, consider the things they celebrate.

I wanted to know more about the One Million Moms, so I looked up their website. There, I found a list of their proclaimed successes. There was a lot of talk about filth and about silencing certain people or companies. There was talk about removing certain shows from television and changing the words Wrigley uses to sell their gum. And, there was talk of cleaning up the language on certain websites.

I understood some of it. I could see how parents would want to shield their children from some of those things. And I totally respect their right to speak out and boycott and lobby for change.

But this situation with the elf ad was different. See, the "million" moms did not have a problem with the content of the ad. They were not offended by your awkward diner conversation with Santa's helpers. They were not hurt at the mention of merchandise or gifts or sales.

They were offended simply because it was you. The statement they released (and later took down) seemed to indicate that their real problem was J.C. Penney's alignment with you. There was nothing offensive in what you said or did, but they took offense at your presence.

I've never been in such a spot, but I think it would hurt my feelings.

I don't want to speak for them; their public statements have been pretty clear. But I wanted to tell you, Ellen, about the things I value.

I value conversations over diatribes.

I value forgiveness over resentment.

I value relationships that do not keep score, human connections that maintain no record of wrong-doing.

I value reconciliation of differences over restitution for perceived offenses. 

I value personhood.

I value meaningful interactions with actual people, rather than distorted caricatures.

I value the opportunity to turn strangers into friends, to erase hostilities, to revel in the glorious absence of ill intent.

I value speaking truth and I value love.

I value transformation over stagnation.

I value growth over atrophy.

I value maturity over childish things.

Most of all, I value you.

I value you, not because you meet my expectations, or because you align yourself with my moral system, or even because I approve of you.

I value you because you are a sacred thing of beauty, the hand-crafted invention of a Loving Creator. I value your dazzling originality, your stunning, breath-taking uniqueness. I value the Likeness emblazoned on your being, the Brand that reflects your Maker, the secret water-mark that proves your authenticity. I value the Image of God you were born in.

And I think God's Kingdom was designed for you too. For me and for you.

We, cracked vessels full of glory... we, broken creations waiting to be redeemed... we both have been invited.

Now, this Kingdom I talk about is not fully formed yet. Jesus kicked things off, but we are all waiting, longing, eagerly anticipating the day it is fully manifest.

No, we can't live in Heaven yet. But we can rehearse.

So, as my housemates and I do for all our neighbors, I wanted to extend an invitation. Come practice with us.

Why don't you stop by the house for dinner some night? We'd invite the million moms as well, but we don't know where we'd seat them.

We'd love to have you at our table, to eat with you and talk and fellowship. You are welcome here any time. No agenda. Just because you are you. (Please call ahead so you don't show up on a night we're not here, or walk in while we are heating up leftovers in the microwave, or something).

I'll extend the invitation to anyone reading this. We believe in a scandalously inclusive Gospel, a Gospel that changes every one it touches. We didn't have to become lovable before we were loved. We did not have to become perfect before we were accepted. We did not have to transform our own selves before God started His work in us.

And we don't expect any of that from you. Really, we don't expect anything from you. We can't change you, and won't try to. Let's all just learn eat together and see where that leads.

But, seriously, call first.

Peace to you,
Jack

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Grinch Was Right!

Posted by Jack


One of the most popular characters this time of year is the Grinch, made famous in Dr. Seuss’s classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I remember growing up with the Grinch: reading the book, hearing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” playing on the radio, and watching the animated special aired a few times each season. He was as much a part of my childhood Christmases as Rudolph, Frosty, and the rest of the stop-motion Yule-tide gang.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Wikipedia provides this brilliant introduction:

The Grinch, a fictional, bitter, cave-dwelling creature with a heart "two sizes too small", lives on snowy Mount Crumpit, a steep, 3,000-foot high mountain just north of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos. His only companion is his faithful dog, Max (a redbone coonhound). From his perch high atop Mount Crumpit, the Grinch can hear the noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville. Annoyed and unable to understand the Whos' happiness, he makes plans to descend on the town and deprive them of their Christmas presents, Who-ham and decorations and thus "prevent Christmas from coming."

Of course, the Grinch is always made out to be the villain. He is the mean-spirited monster who invades the peaceful village with thoughts of bad tidings and no cheer. He was in the wrong, it is assumed, and only when he is enlightened by the Who-ian hordes is he finally redeemed.

This Grinch-scrimination spills over into the real world as well. We use his name to label people who are less than excited about the holiday season. "Grinch" is a Christmas swear-word, a derogatory term comparable to "Scrooge."

(Tom sits peacefully in the corner reading a book while a mad gang of ugly-sweater-laden friends screams Jingle Bells at the top of their lungs, splashing eggnog all over the piano and toppling the ceramic manger scene onto the floor. "Oh, join us Tom! Stop being such a Grinch!")

But in the telling of this story, there is one little detail that often gets overlooked.

The Grinch was right.

Of course, he stole Christmas. But what drove him to that action in the first place? Was it a hatred of Christmas? Was it a distaste for feasts, fun, and fellowship?

I submit that the Grinch was not the villain of this story, but the hero. It was not Christmas that the Grinch hated...

It was noise.

Several scenes in the story illustrate the materialism and commercialism of the Who-ian lifestyle (a detail that did not slip by unnoticed by the keen Theodor Geisel). The children play with fancy, expensive, and state-of-the-art toys. Adults play elaborate musical instruments, creating raucous music and shrill noise. We see Whos engaging in frenetic and potentially destructive games and sports. Nothing is lacking from their ornate feast, and the trees are tall and richly adorned. It is a far cry from "Silent night."

"Noise, noise, noise," quoth the Grinch.

So, in the midst of all this chaos and noise, in the midst of all this clutter and glitter,what does our hero do? He does what any green, thinking citizen would do in that position: he tries to sabotage it.

The Grinch sneaks into town, loads up all the Christmas paraphernalia, and tries to drive it off a cliff. What frustrated shopper wouldn't like to do that this season?

(My favorite little detail is that the Grinch steals from the Whos mockingly dressed as the very symbol of all their seasonal materialism: Santa Claus himself!)

Admit it. The Grinch was just brave enough to do what many of us are incapable of doing. He ripped apart all that was superfluous and annoying, all that was flashy and unnecessary, all that was shallow and indulgent. He didn't like what the holiday had become, so he sabotaged it.

And the final scene of the story is the most beautiful. We see our Green Friend sit down with the Whos, in the absence of their "stuff," at a beautiful Who feast. No longer an outsider, he sits among friends.

(Note: Medical professionals report that his heart grew three sizes that day.)

Did the Grinch hate Christmas? I am not sure he did. But he did hate noise.

Would the Grinch rather the Whos be mournful instead of joyful? I would not say that. But he clearly did not understand their peace and joy, something he had never experienced.

Did the Grinch want to see all the Whos in Whoville live like grumpy old misers in complete isolation? Just like him? I don't think he'd wish that on anybody, but he himself certainly felt like an outsider.

No, he was not a villain; he was a hero. He was not a monster; he was a prophet. He was not a threat; he was a reminder.

And when he came down off his mountain and cut through all the noise, he was fascinated into submission, driven into awestruck wonder of the peace and joy he had uncovered.

I am calling everyone I know to be a little Grinch-ier this year.
  • Make an effort to cut through all the noise and eliminate all the unnecessary distractions.
  • Celebrate a season of peace, hope, and joy in the Name of Our Savior, not a countdown of shopping days.
  • Launch an extensive sabotage campaign against the commercial hype, material excess, and devouring consumption now associated with this season.
  • Rescue the lonely from the isolation of their cold, dark caves and welcome them in, in the Name of the Father. No more outsiders, not in this Kingdom.

And, in the end, when all the garbage has been removed, sit down with your community and carve the Roast Beast.

Visit our friends over at the Advent Conspiracy for some really neat Grinchy activity!

Followers