Friday, July 31, 2009

Our personal world turned upside down

I am crying a lot these days. We, Gail and I, have shed a ton of tears.

Two huge happenings in our lives.

Today is Gail's (my wife) last day on staff with Young Life. That may not sound so startling; people change jobs/ministry quite a bit. This is different than a more typical job change. Gail has served almost 32 years in this ministry, the past 10 as one of the senior vice presidents for field ministry.

So, this is a time of grief. Loss. Deep grief. I can't begin to describe what it has felt like over the past several weeks, and I certainly can't fully understand what it feels like for Gail.

I do want to say this: I am totally proud of Gail in the way she has led and leads, in the way she empowers others to most fully use their gifts, for the tremendous impact she has had on kids and Young Life, and her powerful relational style-full of love-she exercises with her staff.

She will be used in significant ways in the next steps of her life. (Gail would be embarrassed for me to write these things.)

But, it is still grief. And, then, more grief, coupled with shock...

A week ago yesterday, we ended up in the emergency room after Gail was experiencing some headaches and some other symptoms. The shorter story: after a battery of tests, and several MRI's, and waiting hours for the physicians to report back...

...a radiologist and then neurosurgeon come into our room and say that they've spotted a brain tumor. Brain tumor. Do you know what that sounds like when you hear it? Brain tumor. I can still see the look in Gail's face, and feel the numbness that ran through my body. Surreal.

Not only that- he said that he is pretty sure it is a malignant tumor, is in a position deep in Gail's brain, and is likely inoperable. He said that a biopsy is what he would recommend and then we would know for sure. Not only were we in shock, terrified, and numb, but we felt little hope. We wept in each others' arms. Then, that night, and in the days that followed.

For a number of reasons, we decided that we were getting a second opinion and that next day, Friday, we searched high and low for any connections with a reputable neurosurgeon.

It's a longer story, and maybe I'll write more about it at some point, but we got a call out of the blue late Friday afternoon from a top neurosurgeon in the Northwest. A gift. He said his brother called, after hearing about Gail's situation from a prayer network in the Northwest, and wondered if he might call us. I could tell immediately this was a brillant neurosurgeon, confident, resourceful, and had compassion. I cried. An angel? (One friend said, "I think it was Jesus calling!")

We were put in touch with an amazing, exceptional neurosurgeon here in Denver who has been marvelous. After looking at the MRI, and consulting with others, he has said it is tricky, uncertain if it is malignant or benign, and is pursuing various tests to help diagnose this mass.

It may be malignant or benign. It may be operable or inoperable, or partially removable. It may or may not need to be removed. We are waiting.

We have been given so much more hope, even with the uncertainty facing us. We are so grateful for competent, compassionate medical professionals.

And, we are so grateful for the flood of emails, calls and cards (and other expresssions of love) from people coast to coast. We are empowered by the prayers of thousands (one friend has kicked in a network of prayer in West Africa where he said there are 1,000 people each hour praying for us!). We do not take this lightly. This prayer for healing and for us as a family.

So we wait. We plead for healing. I know God wants us to pray what is on our heart and mind.

Our world has been rocked. But, I know we have the Rock and Refuge, and as one in our new church has said, "We will be your rock!"

That has been taking place and we are blown away by the love of others and people who are praying fervently. As we wait, and find our hope in God, I'm so thankful for this.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I don't want a "Christian" America

I'm not looking for a "Christian" nation. That's not my hope as I live in this country.

And, if I lived in Iran, I would not want a "Muslim" nation.

In other words, I would not want to live in a theocracy. The recent protests in Iran, after the most recent Presidential election, has brought this to the table more forcefully. The Supreme Leader, in that setting, is powerful with regard to politics and the direction of the nation.

Many in America find this theocratic rule, in Iran, to be unsettling. It creates anger in many. I wonder: would Christians in this country be equally upset if we had a theocracy here if it were Christian? I'm not so sure what the reaction would be. "Perhaps it would be ok as long as it were Christian," some might think.

Not me. For, neither did God intend this to be the case (nation states run theocratically), nor do I believe it to be good or what is best for nation states or governance. God did not intend for Christians to take over a country, rule it, and then impose that faith on others (the Constantinian error, i.e. Constantine becomes Emperor in 303AD and makes Christianity the "officical" religion of Rome). Faith in and relationship with God is always voluntary. We live with pluralism of not just socio-economic, ethnic, and racial dimensions but of religion, as well, in our nation states. We seek to respect those differences, live side-by-side, and work for the common good.

But, we do not impose religion on others- Islam, Christianity or any other faith.

So, I don't want a "Christian" nation. Besides that, it's a myth- that notion. I want to live in friendship and with respect for my neighbors and fellow citizens regardless of their religious beliefs.

And, what I really want is for the church to be the church. To live as faithful communities within this nation (or any nation), seeking to follow Jesus as counter-cultural communities. We don't impose; we invite. We don't coerce others with morality; we endeavor to live what we believe is moral and true.

Forward as groups of "resident aliens."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd, Jim Wallis and Mennonites

We just returned from a week at the biannual Mennonite Convention of Mennonite Church USA. If you were in a Mennonite church in the past 20 years, and attended the youth convention (coincides with the adult gathering), you know what it's like- about 5,000 high school kids with speakers like Tony Campolo, Mike Yaconelli, Yolanda King, etc.

If you are not in a Mennonite church or know nothing much about Mennonites you might go, "So...?" Or, "What's the big deal?" Or, "Sounds like a happenin' time!"

Speakers for the worship sessions included Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd and Jim Wallis. You might be interested in Boyd's blog entry, "A night with Mennonites and Jim Wallis,"

So, here's the deal for me...we have started a new church, The Bridge, in this emerging/missional stream that has roots in an Anabaptist/Mennonite vision and spirituality, and connects to a more progressive Evangelical stream. What I heard from the speakers and the conversations with others in Columbus, Ohio only reinforced the vision for this church. Others, including Claiborne and Boyd, said, "Go after it!"

These speakers pointed to the theology and vision rooted in the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition that intersects with what many are talking about and looking for as we begin the 21st century. Frankly, I don't know where the Mennonite Church will go- if it will be able to adapt in some of its settings to connect to this growing hunger. We'll see. I hope so.

But, I come back to Denver energized by the voices of Claiborne, Boyd and Wallis. Some great things are bubbling around the world with a renewed vision for the Kingdom of God.

Count me in!