Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lost Lovers

Anyone who's a fan of Lost, you are invited to join us for a Lost: Season Finale Party. It's happening this Thursday (May 29) at 7pm. Send me an email (vickihopper@zoominternet) and I'll get all the details to ya!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Messiness Leads to Clarity

You may or may not know this about me...I am a messy desk keeper. I don't mean to be, but I am. I've been working at New Hope now for over five years. I currently share an office with 2-3 people depending on the day. I try to keep at least the illusion of order because a couple of the people I work with are administrative types who like to have all ducks in a row.

But the inside of my desk is another story...Yesterday, I decided to take the day and do a five year clean up of my files. I think every five years is about right, don't you? Anyway, the day held unexpected lessons. As I went through, threw away and reorganized, I realized a couple things:

Most notably, I looked back on what I have done in the last five years in an attempt to help build community at New Hope. I ran across events, small groups, programs, dreams, goals, plans, meeting notes. As I looked back, I realized that I threw myself into a lot of projects. Some yielded great results, some failed miserably. I see now that one never knows what is going to make a difference. My desire to seek God and trust him to lead each day is becoming more grounded.

I also saw that I felt soooo strongly about many things. I felt like each thing I was involved in was sooo important. And a lot of it was important. Most of it needed my attention. But as I look back now I see the imbalance I have operated in for much of those five years. I see now that many of the things that seemed life and death were merely steps along the path. I did not need to sacrifice much of the time I sacrificed with family and friends. By focusing so much on the 'church machine' I missed out on where life was happening. I am learning to be present in the moment. I am a softball mom. In years past, I used to fill that game time up with some God-centered book or learning article. There's nothing wrong with knowing God better, but sometimes that learning will come through unlikely sources. On the softball sideline, my role is to offer friendship. When I am at the softball game with other moms, I need to really be there (even if the time doesn't seem to be doing much). Who knows what God might be doing.

As I move forward (with my organized files) I desire to be used by God, to stop sweating the stuff that doesn't matter, to be present in the moment by being in touch with what God is doing. I look forward to all the adventures God has in store for me and for all of us. He is amazing. He knows what's best. My job (our job) is to seek him and to trust him no matter what things look like today. We can be guaranteed that five years down the road things will look different. Praise God.

Strangers Bring Us Closer to God

As heard on NPR's All Things Considered, May 5, 2008.

Until recently, I thought being a Christian was all about belief. I didn’t know any Christians, but I considered them people who believed in the virgin birth, for example, the way I believed in photosynthesis or germs.

But then, in an experience I still can’t logically explain, I walked into a church and a stranger handed me a chunk of bread. Suddenly, I knew that it was made out of real flour and water and yeast––yet I also knew that God, named Jesus, was alive and in my mouth.

That first communion knocked me upside-down. Faith turned out not to be abstract at all, but material and physical. I’d thought Christianity meant angels and trinities and being good. Instead, I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the despised and outcasts are honored.

I came to believe that God is revealed not only in bread and wine during church services, but whenever we share food with others––particularly strangers. I came to believe that the fruits of creation are for everyone, without exception––not something to be doled out to insiders or the “deserving.”

So, over the objections of some of my fellow parishioners, I started a food pantry right in the church sanctuary, giving away literally tons of oranges and potatoes and Cheerios around the very same altar where I’d eaten the body of Christ. We gave food to anyone who showed up. I met thieves, child abusers, millionaires, day laborers, politicians, schizophrenics, gangsters, bishops—all blown into my life through the restless power of a call to feed people.

At the pantry, serving over 500 strangers a week, I confronted the same issues that had kept me from religion in the first place. Like church, the food pantry asked me to leave certainty behind, tangled me up with people I didn’t particularly want to know and scared me with its demand for more faith than I was ready to give.

Because my new vocation didn't turn out to be as simple as going to church on Sundays and declaring myself “saved.” I had to trudge in the rain through housing projects, sit on the curb wiping the runny nose of a psychotic man, take the firing pin out of a battered woman's Magnum and then stick the gun in a cookie tin in the trunk of my car. I had to struggle with my atheist family, my doubting friends, and the prejudices and traditions of my new-found church.

But I learned that hunger can lead to more life—that by sharing real food I’d find communion with the most unlikely people; that by eating a piece of bread I’d experience myself as part of one body. This I believe: that by opening ourselves to strangers, we will taste God.

Sara Miles is founder of The Food Pantry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. A former restaurant cook, Miles is a journalist who writes about military affairs, politics and culture, and is author of the memoir Take This Bread.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.

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Thanks, Julie, for sending this to me:)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Celebrating the Imprint of Christ

I spent Mothers' Day driving to Dayton and spending the day with my sister-in-law, Cheryl. It was her birthday, so I drove down to surprise her - that was so fun! In addition, her husband, John, planned a small surprise dinner party with some of their closest friends. It was the coolest thing.

I had a great time getting to know Jeanne and Jaimee, two of Cheryl's very best friends. For me (since I am shy) it was a little uncomfortable at first, but then we began talking God's Kingdom...

Jeanne lives smack dab in the center of her community in Xenia and strives to develop relationships with her neighbors, people at her son's football games, and others as she volunteers at her kids' school. She is a gifted evangelist.

Cheryl's other friend, Jaimee, spends a night a week at a nearby strip club. She hangs out in the dressing room and talks with, leads, and loves the strippers. She said the owners are open to her being there because they care about these girls and they realize that stripping is not a job that you can retire doing. She takes resources with her - information about getting a ged, etc...but mostly she just loves like Jesus loves - unconditionally. She said they sometimes call her the church lady, which makes her uncomfortable, but I love it. Would that all people would associate church with someone who loves without condemnation...

We also talked about local poverty. Jaimee and Cheryl have fallen in love with the children that live in a low income area near them. They, along with their Church, Living Hope Church of the Nazarene, have done many one-time events and are now planning an ongoing after school program. Cheryl and Jaimee are leading the charge. God has broken their hearts. They have such a desire to see the injustice of poverty made right in their local area. As we talked, it was obvious that they feel insecure. They feel like they don't know what they're doing. I have every confidence in the world in them as I heard their hearts. They love with no strings attached. Small things done with love will change the world.

All in all, it has been a great trip. I think it helps sometimes to look out beyond our little, local area to see what God is doing. These moms confirmed what New Hope's Mothers' Day video was about. God is moving. He is redeeming. We are invited to be a part as we celebrate the imprint of Christ.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Story Continues

I don't know about you, but I have loved hearing the stories of people in our gatherings. We connect to each other through story, we find ourselves in the stories of others, and we have the opportunity to find God...

All that being said, I have to remember that whether the story is heard from the stage or in a conversation over coffee, it remains a glimpse into the heart of the person and not the whole picture. Soo much goes into who we are. So, if you're interested, I invite you (with permission from Bets) to see more of who Dave and Betsy (and JJ) are, the normal stuff they are going through, and the things that break their heart.

You can hear a little more of their story at daveandbetsy.