Thursday, October 18, 2007

CCDA 2007 Show Me Jesus Beyond the Walls

We are newcomers to the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association). I didn’t even know who they were until doing my research in a class on Reconciliation last winter. Since that time, they have been very influential in helping shape the direction of our church planting plans and we continue to be challenged with their vision of community transformation through the local church by the three “r’s” – relocation, redistribution and reconciliation. Attending their 19th annual conference in St. Louis was a great privilege and joy for Josh and me. This conference inspired, moved, and challenged us at every turn. Our mornings began with a “bible study” given by Dr. John Perkins. If that hour of the day was all that we came to St. Louis for, it would have been worth it. I put “bible study” in quotes only because Dr. Perkins is a preacher and his preaching doesn’t resemble anything I’ve experienced under the title of “bible study” before. His passion for CCD, for the plight of impoverished urban black communities, for racial reconciliation and for the very gospel inspired me and challenged me to the core.

The evening plenary sessions were all excellent. They featured speakers of different races, genders and ages who each brought their unique perspectives and experiences. I won’t attempt to summarize all that we heard, but just say that this conference was what we hoped it to be – empowering and inspiring in a profound way. We felt the energy of about 2000 people who share a common mission and who are doing what we are still dreaming of doing. Their hard work and triumph over so many obstacles makes CCD seem possible. Their sheer numbers make us feel a little less lonely and a little less weird for the vision we have.

The conference offered an abundance of options for afternoon workshop sessions on such a variety of topics from the ideological to the practical. For the most part we enjoyed these and gained from them. I had the privilege of hearing Shane Claiborne talk about some of the content of his latest book that is about to be released, “Jesus for President.” I appreciate his thoughtfulness in engaging the issue of politics, empire, and following Jesus. I’m looking forward to reading the new book.

A few thoughts and observations: I am more aware than ever of how little I’ve been challenged on issues of race by virtue of growing up white in mostly white Eugene. Being able to hear the stories of black and latino brothers and sisters has opened my eyes a bit to realities of racism that I have mostly been able to avoid. In Eugene/ Springfield we have a growing Latino community that feels very separate from the white community and nearly invisible at times. But even I have felt the increased tension between the two communities since immigration has become such a hot issue. I’m feeling challenged to reach out and learn from this community.

It’s still very new and refreshing for me to be around evangelical Christians who are all about social justice. When the same preacher talks about the joy of seeing people saved and baptized, and then promotes traditionally “liberal” things like national health care and disapproval of war, it still surprises me. And I love it. I love this wholistic understanding of the gospel that is concerned with bodies and souls, with individuals and communities, with reconciliation with God and with one another.

We will be prayerfully contemplating much of what we heard at this conference for the foreseeable future. The basic tenants of this kind of church are too challenging to be followed outside of a strong and genuine sense of calling. The implications of relocation seem the most daunting, but in the long run I suspect that redistribution and reconciliation are the harder tasks. For such endeavors to be joyful, they must come from true calling and passion. For this we pray that we will clearly hear what God is calling us to do, and that we will have the faith and courage to follow.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Part Two

I started writing the next installment of our trip and ended up losing it by not saving. So I’m a little behind sharing about our Midwest adventures.

The rest of our time in Chicago was quite fun. We spent Tuesday morning at the Art Institute. Josh has been there many times, but it was my first and I could have spent a week there. We used most of our time viewing Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, and their collection is truly amazing. I always enjoy the benefit of having an art major as my personal tour guide.

We met up with Ben, another college friend of Josh’s along with a friend of his, and took off walking North through downtown. We ate at the famous Billy Goat Tavern (“Hamborger, hamborger, hamborger! No fries, chips! No Pepsi, Coke!”) which is home to the legend of the Cubs’ curse and which is frequented by journalists from the nearby Chicago Tribune. It also boasts being the lowest restaurant in town, located downstairs under the streets and buildings above. We went from lunch at the lowest restaurant to an afternoon snack and drink at the highest restaurant – the Signature Lounge atop the Hancock building. All of the views are breathtaking, but apparently the best view is from the women’s restroom. Go figure.

We stopped for a few minutes at the Apple store for the guys to fondle iPhones and check out the live band playing on the second floor. We took pictures of the famous water tower – the only building left standing after the historic Chicago Fire. For dinner we met up with Terry, yet another college friend of Josh’s and all of us squeezed into his car and trekked to Duffy’s for $1 burgers. After dinner Terry took Josh and I to a great coffee shop, and then for a brief but pleasant visit at his home. By this time it was getting late, and Terry dropped us off at the nearest el station.

At this point we were somewhere on the brown line north of downtown and it wasn’t early. We took the brown line back downtown, transferred to the green line and took that back to our temporary digs in Oak Park. We picked up our car there and drove all the way out to O’Hare to return it, and then we got on the blue line and took it all the way back downtown, transferred again to the green line and took it back to Oak Park again. All told, it took about 2 ½ hours before we were back to our Murphy bed at the Write Inn, rather exhausted and sick of the el.

Wednesday morning we were up early, rode the green line back downtown, transferred to the pink line, and got off near Union Station, just over the river from the Sears Tower. This was our first experience with rush hour in Chicago, and I think we must have looked pretty odd with our big packs walking upstream through the throngs of professionals streaming up the sidewalk toward their office destinations. We managed to find coffee and a small breakfast (bagel for me, yogurt oatmeal for Josh) and to retrieve our Amtrak tickets at a kiosk inside Union Station.

This was my first experience with Amtrak, and I must say that it was well worth the $23 ticket for travel from Chicago to St. Louis. We had a most amusing conductor – the kind of guy who understands that train to be his little kingdom and himself its benevolent dictator. His uniform enhanced his persona of jovial importance, as he prodded people to put the required ID tags on their luggage and made corny jokes with the passengers. We weren’t sure whether to find him irritating or just highly amusing, but in any case he kept the trip from ever seeming boring. We grew hungry partway through the 4 ½ hour trip and ventured to eat from the snack car. The greasy gut bomb held us over until we found some yummy teriyaki bowls in St Louis.

After the overwhelming hugeness of Chicago, St. Louis seemed rather small – which is saying something considering where we hail from. We found our way easily to the metro station and after a short wait got our ride downtown to the Arch stop. Our reason for being in St. Louis was to attend the Christian Community Development Association conference being held at the Adam’s Mark Hotel – conveniently located directly across the street from the Arch and the old courthouse where the Dred Scott case was tried. We were enthusiastically greeted at the front door by a CCDA volunteer, and as we got checked into the hotel and then the conference I felt myself swelling with excitement at the opportunity to participate in this conference.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Part One

Last Thursday Josh and I set out from Eugene for a 10-day trip to Cedar Rapids, Chicago, Valparaiso, and St. Louis. The first occasion for the trip was a wedding of an old friend of Josh’s in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Since he had accepted the invitation to be in the wedding, we found out that the CCDA was having their annual conference in St. Louis the following week, and one thing led to another. Being so close to Josh’s alma mater, Valparaiso University, made a visit there possible as well.

We landed in Chicago very late Thursday, got up Friday and drove the 4 ½ hour trek to Cedar Rapids in time for the rehearsal/ dinner. Saturday we took in the wedding and then turned back around to Chicago. We found a really charming and not too spendy hotel in Oak Park, across from the Hemingway Museum. The Midwest appears to have two coffee shops – Starbucks and Caribou Coffee. Caribou is much cooler, and has free WiFi, and one is located just a block from our hotel. Sunday morning we walked over for a cup of coffee and enjoyed the delightful ending of Pride and Prejudice, which we have been reading together for several weeks.

After coffee we checked out and made a pilgrimage of sorts to Lawndale Community Church. Lawndale is a CCDA church pastored by one of its founding members, Wayne “Coach” Gordon. We really loved our experience worshipping there, and left feeling inspired and a bit in awe. Both sides of the street are lined with ministries of this church, including a youth center, dental & eye clinic, a community center, a residential recovery home, and a rather large health care clinic. The service included some wonderful gospel music, and we felt buoyed up by the spirit of joy and praise among them. The sermon was good, the people welcoming, and the ministry of the church inspiring. We left feeling grateful that we had the privilege of worshiping there and seeing first hand what this famous community is like on Sunday morning.

In the afternoon we took the el into downtown Chicago – the first train of our planes, trains, and automobile experience. Josh has spent quite a bit of time in Chicago since going to college just an hour or so away. But this is my first time in the city. It happened to be the day of the Chicago Marathon, and downtown was teeming with runners and their fans. We walked to Millennium Park and took in the very cool art installations – the spitting face fountains, the “bean,” and the exploding steel amphitheatre. We decided to do Sears Tower, and walked through the towering giant buildings until facing the tallest of them all. wow! Heights tend to freak me out a bit, but the 103rd floor is enclosed and not terribly frightening. We had beautiful views in every direction, with the afternoon sun beaming on the West Side. When we’d taken in all the views, and way too many pictures, we descended and set out walking again. After smoothies at Jamaba Juice (one of them free thanks to a generous employee at closing time) we trekked up to the beautiful Buckingham fountain as its lights were coming on for the evening.

As the city lights began to come on we saw that many of the buildings, including Sears Tower are displaying pink lights to promote breast cancer awareness. One of my dearest friends has just begun chemo in her fight against breast cancer, and as I saw all the pink lights coming on it felt like all of Chicago was shining its support for MeKeesha.

Concerned about the Sunday night train schedule, we decided to catch the el back to our car in Oak Park, and make our drive to Valparaiso, Indiana.

Valparaiso is the home of the university where Josh did his undergrad work, so this part of our trip was a stroll down memory lane for him. He was in awe of all the changes – both to the city and the university. We grabbed a tasty dinner near campus and then took in the candlelight Vespers service in their stunning chapel building. After, we retired for the night at the Valpo Super 8.

This brings us to this morning, Monday, of our travel log. We slept in, and got ourselves checked out just in time to meet an old friend of Josh’s for lunch. After lots of laughs and stories, she had to get back to work, and we spent the rest of the afternoon perusing the campus, visiting a few people Josh knew, and taking in a class with his favorite art professor. After seeing the new buildings, and a few old ones, grabbing a smooch on the Kissing Bridge, and walking (rather too quickly) through the new labrynth, we left Valpo and headed back into Chicago.

We’re back in our cute hotel in Oak Park for two nights – the first two we’ve spent in the same place – and then we’ll be taking a train to St. Louis on Wednesday.