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unfolding stories

God has been unfolding many stories in the lives of his people and in the world he created. Some have been easy to spot, while others remain hidden. Some spring up quickly, while others are a long time in coming. And yet all testify to the goodness and faithfulness of God. We have been blessed to not only catch a glimpse of what God is doing in the College Heights community, but to be invited to join in the kingdom there as God’s great plans unfold.

We invite you to journey with us as we learn from new friends and neighbors about life, as we strive to follow Jesus’ example more closely, and as we learn how God is moving in the College Heights community.

Summer Camp Update

As blog readers might be aware, Amanda and I (Drew) work at a church camp for at-risk youth during the summer. Camp of the Hills is located near Austin, and we bring in kids from across Texas and Oklahoma for a week of outdoor activities, Christian mentoring, and unconditional love. One of our communities newest members, Barrett Davis, is serving as a counselor for our second half. Since we’re far from the neighborhood, we thought we’d send a short update on how the summer is going for us.

For starters, it’s been a great summer. We have hosted hundreds of campers, and are close to our all-time record for most kids in a summer. Barrett is part of one of the strongest counseling groups I have ever seen. Difficult situations have come up, from rough campers to tragic circumstances back home for several counselors, but God has been patiently loving us through it all.

This year marks my thirteenth and final summer as a part of Camp of the Hills. While I will undoubtably carry my experiences with me into the future and will continue to be shaped by how God has changed me here, I look forward to the future. Amanda and I are still searching for a place to live within the College Heights neighborhood, and I’m in the process of finding a full time job, but we’re confident that God will work mightily, even after we leave the place I’ve called home for so long.

The White Guy in the Black History Play

Byron looked at me intently, and his were not the only eyes on me. The entire room was watching, waiting for what was going to come next.

 

My wife, Amanda, sat in a nearby chair. Byron and two students helping direct the action stood at the front of the classroom, acting as our audience. About ten students, most of whom I had just met, were sitting or kneeling on the floor. That made sense because they were acting as if they were picking cotton on a Southern plantation. One stood up and approached me, and recited her line.

 

“May I have some water?”

 

Her line had momentarily drawn the attention off of the only White male in the room. But the respite was short lived. Byron looked back and me and said in a quiet but stern voice, “You know what your line is, Drew.”

 

I bowed my head to collect myself, then bellowed a word I had never spoken before as I pushed her to the ground. The word started with the letter N.

 

Let me give you a little background. A few weeks ago, I was attending the Black Students Association (BSA) chapel on campus. I’ve been a regular there most Thursdays for more than two years, save for the times I visit the Hispanos Unidos chapel. A BSA leader announced that they were bringing back an important part of ACU tradition by performing a Black History Production, and they needed volunteers. I signed up immediately, and convinced Amanda to come to the try-outs.

 

As soon as I got the lines I was supposed to read for the audition, I felt apprehension. The piece I was to read was clearly from the perspective of a Black student. I practiced it a pretty good deal, but worried how it would come across, especially the parts that particularly pertained to the character having difficulties with White students.

 

The audition came and went, and it was fairly uneventful. I read decently, but definitely did not excel. The panel listening to me tried their best to get me to add anger into my reading, but they soon came to realize the vocally emoting my anger just isn’t a strength of mine. Eventually, they were able to coax it out by making me transport myself into the character of a Roman soldier from the crucifixion, a part I have played many times. My audition was satisfactory, and the next week, I was part of the BHP.

 

We had a meeting with the entire cast to talk through the meaning of the production and read through the script. Twenty-five or so people showed up, and Amanda and I were two of three White people. As the only White male, I had a sneaking suspicion that my part would not be a fun or happy one.

 

I was right.

 

And so I found myself, a self-proclaimed “racial reconciler,” spewing a venomous word stained with the hatred and derision of hundreds of years of subjugation, the very opposite of what I stand for. It felt so very wrong. My prayer is that I continue to feel that wrong every time I have to say it. Because I do believe in the cause of racial reconciliation, and believe that a key part of it is education. The BHP is a powerful tool to teach the community about itself, because as Byron said the day he announced in chapel, Black History is not just about Black people. Our lives are woven together more closely than we can imagine. And for every story of discrimination, bigotry, and hatred that makes us pray, “Lord, may this evil pass from the world forever,” there is another story of overcoming through determination, courage, and love.

 

These stories belong to us all. On March 3rd and 4th, our cast will put on a production to remind us all of that truth.

the Family of God

Some of the greatest families that I know love taking care of other people.  The Cobbs, the Davidsons, the Orozcos…I can’t begin to count the number of times I have been invited into the lives of these families.  Or the number of wonderful things that I have shared at their tables.  Things like corn bread casseroles, dinner rolls, sweet potato pies, sweet tea or hot coffee, and conversations.  And I’d rather not try to count the number of pounds that I have gained in the process.

But for these families, taking care of others is never at the expense of the love that they have for each other. The love that they have for those outside of their family is an outpouring of the love that they share, and the expression of that outward love strengthens their love for each other.  Of course, they’re not perfect…all families have difficult times.  But the healthier families that I know seem to understand that if they aren’t doing the good, hard work of loving each other, they won’t be very effective at loving those outside of their home.

I do know families who try to love others while neglecting each other.  Sadly, most of the families that I know of that fit that description are those of professional church ministers (see footnote).

This is a trap that we easily fall into as a community.  We want so badly to do something amazing for God.  We want to be impressive.  I can’t tell you how many times we have stressed ourselves out trying to figure out what we are supposed to do, what we should focus on, what our mission should be.  Sometimes we are so idealistic that we can drive ourselves to cynicism…towards ourselves.

As a side note, there is a great deal of irony in being both idealistic and cynical.

But the reality is that we will never be able to live into the mission of God until we are able to live as the people of God.  Building each other up, carrying each others burdens, being devoted to one another in sisterly/brotherly love, or however you want to say it.  Jesus said it this way: by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

This is the evangelism strategy that I couldn’t learn from a sermon.  This is the soteriological truth that I couldn’t learn in a seminar or Bible class.  But without realizing it, I did learn it from a few great families.  That is one of my favorite things about the Kingdom of God.  It has a way of showing up where we aren’t looking for it.  Even while I was sitting in a pew trying to hide from the Kingdom of God, it found me.  And it was because of families like the Cobbs, the Davidsons, and the Orozcos…because of the way their love reached out beyond the borders of their family, drawing others into the joy of the Family of God.

May we be a people who are drawn deeper and deeper into the love of God.  May we know that even as we experience the pain of separation from God, from each other, from the Earth, even from ourselves, that we are all made in the image of God and therefore have within us the beautiful spark that mends.  And may we be a people who sees the reality within reality that we are the Family of God.

(Footnote:  I am not trying to assign blame, just expressing a pattern that I have seen.  I’m also not saying this is every minister I know.  What I am saying is that churches often have unrealistic expectations for their staff, even if they don’t intend to.  And church staff often have even more unrealistic expectations for themselves, which can be a reflection of their church’s expectations, their upbringings, and even fear of their own inadequacies…something that was likely the case for myself as a minister.  I am also becoming more concerned about the expectations we have of our nation’s teachers, but that’s another post entirely.)

As a member of this community of people, yet as a person living outside of the neighborhood, I have struggled some with how I fit into the dreams of the community at large. I suspect these feelings are natural, and have been affirmed in my place as a member and in my feelings over the last few months. for me, the hardest part is the disconnect between what I feel called to be doing (loving neighbors in the College Heights community at large) and where my life is now (living in a small but comfortable apartment right next to campus, spending most of my time in/around school, preparing to graduate in May).

With all that said, John, Rosten, and I have started on a new project that has already reenergized me and given me a focus on something I think could greatly benefit both the St. Ann Community and the College Heights neighborhood.

It’s called aquaponics.

The basic premise of aquaponics is combining aquaculture and hydroponics. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of those before, I’ll walk you through it.

What an aquaponics system could look like.

At its simplest, the fish (typically Tilapia) swim around in the water, producing waste. This waste gets pumped up into the grow beds, which are filled with rocks or other material for the plants to sit in. The plants’ roots filter the water, using the nutrients from the fish waste to grow much faster than plants left in regular soil. The now-filtered water is sent back into the fish tank, clean and ready for the fish to use again. All in all, this process grows plants and fish quickly and without harsh chemicals and pollutants. The result is yummy vegetables and fresh fish.

Our plan as of now is to research aquaponics and build a trial system, with the hopes of maybe expanding, and later being able to teach those around us how to grow healthy food right in their backyard. It should also prove an interesting conversation point to get us talking with the neighbors. And in my mind, it’s hard to beat a good old community fish fry to get to know folks.

[Edit: Drew didn’t give this post a title, so I (Rosten) decided to add one.  It’s from a line in a song by State Radio, “Dr. Ron the Actor.” John introduced us all to this awesome band, and they’re one of my personal favorites.  Check them out!]

St. Ann Community Retreat

From Friday night until Sunday afternoon, we will be going to Buffalo Gap for a community retreat!  We will be talking about our life together thus far and who we are moving forward.  Please pray for us as we have this time of discernment, growth, and sabbath.

people who love people people

As some of you may know, our community was blessed to be included as part of a panel discussion on asset-based community development during ACU’s Summit. One thing we were asked to do in preparation for that event was to prepare a short presentation giving a visual introduction to us and our life together, which was accompanied at the event this morning by Josh telling a little bit of our story.

And while we won’t claim that this presentation is all that amazing (our time was limited!), we thought we’d still share the end product with you. Maybe someday we’ll be cool enough and have enough time to put together something more professional, but in the meantime, we hope that you enjoy this. Thanks for being wonderful—and, yes, I mean you!

 

 

 

community updates…

So a few things have changed since the first time we told you about ourselves on this blog.  For the life of me, I can’t decide how to order the telling of those changes, and will therefore order them using the first method that I remember learning in grade school…alphabetically.  (Interestingly enough, after I decided to order them alphabetically, I realized that this actually places them in chronological order as well.  Looking back, that probably would have been the more logical choice in the first place.)

First of all, Drew Bowen took some time out of his busy schedule of scholastics and racial reconciliation to marry the love of his life…the talented, energetic, hilarious and beautiful Amanda “Panda” (Shoemaker) Bowen.  Amanda grew up in Dubai, where her parents still work as teachers.  Amanda works at Lee Elementary in Abilene, where she spends most of her time loving on special education children grades 1-4.  The two of them first met at Texas A&M University, and eventually Drew was able to win her heart through his rugged good looks, excellent leadership qualities, and embodiment of the word “persistent.”  Amanda and Drew currently live near campus, next door to our good friends Laura and Adam Hollifield.

Benjamin Covington, a long-time friend of our community, joined us this Summer as we moved to College Heights.  Ben is a Master of Divinity student at ACU, with emphasis in Missions and “being a Jew like Jesus.”  He loves baking, sewing, giving massages (not joking), and reading ancient near-eastern texts.  He has been living in our living room for the past three months, but will soon move into Laura’s old bedroom, while Laura will be moving into the Kirby’s old bedroom, which leads us to our next bit of news…

Deborah and Joshua Kirby have moved into a new house two doors down, greatly expanding the square footage that we are able to cover in our partying and merriment.  It is a lovely, large home with plenty of room for Ann and Julian (our cats) to run around and plenty of space for guests and visitors.  Like several houses in our neighborhood, their house had previously been condemned, but has been reclaimed over the past several months.  We are very excited for them to have more space to hold all of the babies that they will undoubtedly begin producing very soon…pictures to come.

Keith Owens has finished his time in graduate school, and has recently been hired by ACU!  He will be working with technology services, a field in which he has great passion, skill, and experience.  In fact, the computer that I am currently typing at would not currently be usable were it not for his services.  Mad props, brother.  Mad props.

Those are the main updates for individuals.  Of course, life is always happening with everyone in the community.  John and Shannon are still John and Shannon, bouncing around making the world a brighter place.  I’ll get to see them in about 30 minutes at Hope Church of Christ, where The Light Parade will be playing tonight.  Laura is still wonderful, but that comes as no great surprise to anyone that knows her.  She’s in the kitchen cleaning something, as is often her way.  I can hear music being played from a car parked a couple of houses down, and I wonder if our elderly neighbor is considering telling them to turn it down (Harley, if you read this, I’m talking about someone else).  We met a young man across the street the other day, and he now likes to come by and tell us about his theories on politics and music…to give you a general idea of the nature of these theories, he’s positive that Obama is the anti-Christ.

And I can’t imagine my life without any of these people.  Come by and see us sometime.

Hospitality

“What does it mean for me to be hospitable to my roommates?  I must assume the best in their intentions.  I must ask myself, ‘where is the image of Christ in the things that rub me the wrong way?’  I must encourage the image of Christ in others, and seek to understand (rather than only seeking to be understood).  I must pray that they are honest with me, even while I offer complete, loving honesty to them.  I must confess my sins if I am to expect the same from them.”

I wrote that about a month ago in my journal.  It was a Sunday morning, I was with the Buffalo Gap Church of Christ, and I was writing instead of listening to the sermon.  Not because the sermon wasn’t good, mind you…if you ever get the chance to hear Stephen Johnson preach, take it.  I was writing because I was angry about something that had happened in the house on Saturday, which incidentally was my birthday, and a perceived wrong always seems to hit me a little worse if it is on my birthday.  Instead of dealing with the frustration in my heart, I sat on it and didn’t say anything.  During the sermon, Stephen said something that reminded me of an entry in my journal from a few weeks before.  While I was searching for that entry, I noticed some notes that I had written about hospitality as a communal virtue.  I talked about how I want us to be a “house of peace,” a community that is “gentle, nurturing, and honest with those we welcome,” always “prepared to share and give even when it hurts.”

The amount of information that I retained from my undergraduate studies in Psychology is fairly unimpressive.  One thing that I do remember, however, is that we very often attribute our positive actions to internal qualities (i.e. “I saved that little old lady because I am a good person”), while we attribute our negative actions to external factors (basically, that the situation that we found ourselves in demanded us to act in the way that we did, like when I was in kindergarten and I got in trouble for not following directions and blamed it on the kid next to me).  On the flip side, we often attribute the negative actions of others to internal qualities (“they killed that cockroach because they are a bad person”), and we attribute their positive actions to external factors (“he only saved that little old lady because he was trying to impress that pretty girl…”).  Basically, we have this great little psychological game that we use to train ourselves to think that we are more rational, moral, thoughtful, and righteous than the other people around us.  You might be a better person than me and have no idea what I am talking about, and if you are, I apologize for assuming that you are like me.  For all of us humans, let’s continue.

As I read those words about hospitality in my journal, I realized how inhospitable I was being towards my roommates.  I would much rather play the little psychological game and assume the best of intentions in my actions, while keeping a tally of the little things that my roommates do that irk me.  Reminders of why I am more rational, moral, thoughtful…and righteous.  Of course, the irony is that this behavior is so obviously irrational, immoral, and unthoughtful.  And as for righteous: “why do you look for the speck of sawdust in your roommates’ eyes, all the while ignoring the plank that is in your own?”  (Yes, that is a paraphrase.)

Hospitality is a funny thing, because we can hardly begin practicing hospitality to a stranger if we do not practice it towards those that we are closest to.  Our homes will never be houses of peace if we get hurt and then just sit on our negative feelings and never say anything about it.  We can only welcome others with gentleness and honesty if we are first gentle and honest with ourselves and our roommates (or families).  And how can I ever expect to truly share with others if I retreat into a cocoon of self-pity any time I experience hurt?

May we be a people who look for truth and good in a moment, rather than focusing on what is false and painful.  May we be a people who love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  And may we be a people who search for the image of Christ in everyone that we encounter, because that is where hospitality begins.

(This is posted under “life together,” and so I thought it would be fitting to end with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together: “As only Christ can speak to me in such a way that I may be saved, so others, too, can be saved only by Christ himself.”)

a prayer

God, as we begin this new — long-awaited! — phase of our life together in you, I ask that you bless us with an ever-increasing measure of your Spirit. Teach us your ways. Form us in your image. Mold us as individuals and as a community of your people. Let us be people of faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, all founded upon humility and guided by wisdom. Let us be cruciformed, kenotic people who live in the necessary tension of sacrifice and overwhelming joy and life. Let us be people of justice and of mercy, people of your kingdom. Let that kingdom be present in us and on earth as it is in heaven. You, God, are greatly to be praised! Amen.

[For tonight, our first night of residence in the College Heights neighborhood.]

a sign from God

In our moment of need, God brought a sign from the past that we couldn’t have ever anticipated. This story is one you’ve GOT to hear!