Archive for the ‘Boston’ Category

new crib

Well, we’re all moved and getting settled into our new house. We’re excited about meeting our neighbors, walking the dog to one of the several dog parks in the area, frequenting Piers Park (in my opinion, the best park in the city), and generally working our way into the fabric of this eclectic and fun neighborhood. In many ways, we’ve already been doing that. For context, we’re still in East Boston, just a few blocks away from our old residence. We’re on the line, somewhat, of a neighborhood of predominately working-class whites and immigrants and a section of primarily middle-class artists and young professionals. Breaking anything in Eastie down cleanly is impossible, however, as there are mixes of all types of people everywhere. Our new digs will put us in closer reach of folks “like us”: twenty- and thirty-somethings, professionals and entrepreneurs, culturally and socially aware, pet owners, etc. (very generally speaking). We are still in close contact with our neighbors from our other neighborhood as well: still watching kids, eating breakfast with a few of them on Sunday mornings, taking trips to the store.

Hopefully, this will give you a better idea about what our life is like in Boston. We couldn’t be happier.

Music: “Photograph, live” by Homer Hiccolm and the Rocketboys

UPDATE: When you are a young white couple buying a home — not a temporary move — in a currently working class / immigrant urban neighborhood like East Boston, people give you funny looks.  Like, “Why would you do something like that?”  They think cities are meerly a short stop on the road to the suburbs for young’uns like us.  But not so.  Considerable evidence points to a return to city centers for many Americans.  One writer even recently suggested that the suburbs might become America’s “next slum“:

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.

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big news

No, not that news. We’re on the five-year plan, and the five years seems to keep sliding forward… =)

This exciting news is regarding our life here in Boston. We haven’t written much lately about our “lives” — jobs, home, hobbies, etc. Here’s why I think that is: With each new day, we see ourselves less and less as outside missionaries to a foreign land, but as citizens of that land. Neighbors. Co-workers. Friends. Not to say that we’ve adopted the vices of our host culture, but our understanding of the nature of the gospel and what it means to live that out in our culture leads us to “pitch our tent” among the culture we’re serving (and vice versa).

In short, Boston is our home.

As much as we loved our two weeks in Tanzania in September, our Thanksgiving in Austin, and our Christmas/New Years in Memphis, we’re with Dorothy on this one: “There’s just no place like home.” I guess you could say we “love that dirty water.”

With that, we have a very special announcement: We’re buying a house.

It’s a condo/townhouse, really, and it’s perfect for us. It’s still in East Boston, just a few blocks from our current location. Our mortgage payments will be comparable to what we currently pay in rent, and the square footage will be twice as much (for better hospitality). There’s a big finished basement, so consider this your open invitation to come see us in Boston. It’s also a few FEET from some amazing parks and greenways. Oh, and did I mention we can see the harbor and city skyline from our kitchen, living room, and front porch?

We’ve been mulling over the decision to transition from renting to buying for about a year now, and as we’ve prayed and gone to open houses, we’ve been confident that the Lord would lead us to the right place (or not!) at the right time. We’re now confident that He has done just that. We’ll get photos up as soon as we possibly can.
[NOTE to BOSTON FOLKS: We’re currently trying to sublet our current townhouse through the end of our lease, which is September. If you know of anyone seeking a place to rent in the very near future, have them e-mail smh00a [at] gmail [dot] com.]

Quincy Street

We’re having a blast in Memphis with the Holt Srs, which means we weren’t in town on Sunday to receive the Sunday Boston Globe. This Sunday’s Globe was especially significant because it began a seven-part multimedia series about the Quincy Street Missional Church of Dorchester.  Our great friends, Aaron & Amy Graham, were instrumental in following God’s lead in joining his work in the Upham’s Corner neighborhood of Dorchester, a table which was set with a simple Bible study led by a 70-something matriarch called Ma Siss in a chop-shop-turned-commodities-closet.

This story, written by Pulitzer winner Michael Paulson, along with the accompanying video and photo galleries, have been three years in the making.  I’m so proud of the Grahams, Ma Siss, and the Quincy Street community for this nod in a world-class publication, and proud of the Globe for this positive view of Christian faith in action in Boston.  My prayer is that this piece will serve as a positive glimpse into the Way of Christ to a broad audience of readers and viewers.  Please, spend some time to check out these articles and accompanying media.

great weekend with the ‘rents

DSCN1565.JPGThe folks were in town this weekend, and it was one of those weekends from which you need about 3 weekdays to recover. One of those weekends that make you think there could be no better place to be in the summertime than New England.

The weather and company were amazing all weekend. We spent time walking along the seaside Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine, played miniature golf in Portsmouth, NH, made and flew our own kites near the Chelsea Creek in East Boston, enjoyed the Italian Festival a few blocks from our house (remember the event from last year when we met our great friends Matt & Pam?), walked the Esplanade along the gorgeous Charles River (see photo), enjoyed a bluegrass concert in a harborside park near our house, and worshiped together at the historic Trinity Church in Copley Square.

Trinity, an Episcopal congregation founded in 1733 (!), is a Boston mainstay and center for faith formation in this city. We thoroughly enjoyed our time worshiping there Sunday morning, and would encourage anyone traveling to Boston to schedule a Trinity service into their schedule.

I saw the a T-shirt hanging in the church building with the following Top-10 list, which I thought was blog-worthy. It’s Robin Williams’ “Top 10 Reasons He’s an Episcopalian.” These were especially fun as we were walking out of the service. Enjoy!

10. No snake handling.

9. You can believe in dinosaurs.

8. Male and female, God created them; male and female, we ordain them.

7. You don’t have to check your brains at the door.

6. Pew aerobics.

5. Church year is color coded!

4. Free wine on Sunday.

3. All of the pageantry, none of the guilt.

2. You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized.

1. No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.

(oh, and thanks to PreacherMike, who paid us a visit and treated us to some great seafood and encouragement on Thursday night)

lovely

It’s nice to know there are still places in our society where people from all walks of life unite (story):

In an area famous for balkanized neighborhoods and clannish mentalities, the South Bay Center on the border of Dorchester has emerged as a melting pot uniting residents of South Boston, Dorchester, the South End, and Roxbury. At Best Buy and Super Stop & Shop, Old Navy, and Home Depot, the city’s black and white, rich and poor, Latino and Asian converge in pursuit of cat litter, artichokes, and air conditioners against the backdrop of the city skyline.

Someone queue the Lee Greenwood music!

saturday event

Sometimes I think we as Christians believe an activity or organization isn’t legit unless it has a Jesus sticker slapped on it, unless it has some scriptures in its mission statement. I think this is partly because of Christians’ tendency to create a false dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular.” In other words, God is in some things, but absent from others.

This is often evident when Christians attempt to connect in some way to a perceived need in their community. Youth in the neighborhood need mentoring and direction. Women and men live on the streets without a permanent place to call home. A local waterfront or park is in need of a cleanup. The first reaction by many believers is to create a Christian mentoring … homeless outreach … or environmental group.

June 2007 Fun 050.jpgBut in many of our cities and towns, the organizations and groups who have thought the deepest and longest about many of the issues we care about may not be rooted in any religion. This speaks to the disconnect between many Christian churches and the realities of our world, but also the work that many seemingly “non-religious” people have done toward the troubling issues of our world.

We definitely experienced this when we moved to Boston. Living in a community of largely lower class immigrant families, where many youth feel like they don’t have a chance to succeed, we were tempted to strike out on our own in an effort to connect with our neighborhood and somehow make an impact for God’s kingdom.

But it didn’t take very long to see that there were those in our community who had been pondering the social issues we saw for many, many years. One organization responded to the heightening youth-on-youth violence of the late ’80s by establishing a space for these kids and teens to come together to learn and participate in the performing arts. Another organization responded to the youth struggles, as well as an environmental justice problem in our community, by forming a youth-led group to act and advocate as a team on behalf of a local waterfront.

It didn’t take very long for us to realize that the logical solution to our desire to connect and contribute to our community was to join in with what people were already doing, not start some “Christian copy” of a tried-and-true local original.
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Saturday underscored this for us. On Saturday, we celebrated with many of our neighbors at an all-day event we’ve been helping to plan over the last several months. We joined a team of young adults (including Matt & Pam, who connected us to this group) and teens from East Boston and Chelsea, the town just to the north, to plan a day of fun — with music, boating, food, crafts, a parade, games, a 5K race, and various exhibits — along the creek that connects the communities. The event raised money and awareness of several of the environmental hazards that threaten the beauty and usefulness of the wonderful stretch of water, which could and should have much more human access and use than it currently does. More than anything, though, the event (and planning, especially) was a chance to get to know some amazing young people who truly care about each other and their city, and a chance to bring two amazing neighborhoods together for some “fun in the sun.”

It was an overwhelming success. I was the co-organizer of the 5K race, which drew almost 100 runners, and Chrissy organized about 40 volunteers for the event (which may have drawn as many as 2,000 people throughout the day).
What have we learned? Well, we learned that there are wonderful communities already in existence to which we can connect, and with whom we can partner to find solutions to the problems we see. We know, of course, that the ultimate solution to any earthly problem is the transformative power of Jesus, and that the kingdom of God can “break into” our world through more than just para-church organizations. It is our hope that God will use us to this end as we partner with — not separate ourselves from — those others in our neighborhood who desire peace and not war, beauty and not destruction.

Could it be that in our attempts to separate ourselves from the “good works” of the world, the church misses wonderful opportunities to connect to what God is doing through groups of people we may have never imagined could be used?

I wouldn’t put it past Jehovah to do such a thing.

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(I helped lead environmental boat tours of the creek we were celebrating on Saturday … what a perfect day!)

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The sponsoring organization of the event was kind enough to give us a space in its community garden, a plot of land that provides some local urban youth (ourselves included) a project to tend, along with some healthy vegetables and herbs. The top shot is of the entire garden (our plot goes from where Chrissy is standing to around where the fence is in the back), and Chrissy is watering the sunflowers in the next photo down. The bottom two show a mural that the kids painted on an adjoining brick wall: “Community Strength.” It’s a beautiful thing when beauty springs up from the hard concrete of the city.

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our commission

We’re discovering that our commission here in Boston is not to plant churches, but to live radically as the called-out people of God, in close proximity to like-minded disciples. (and invite others into the way of Jesus, but one that we are modeling first and foremost)

What, you ask, is different about that than what we’re all called to do? Good question.

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UPDATE: OK, I had some time on my run to think about what I mean when I say these things.  Let me break it down.

“live radically” – The way of Jesus is radical in the world’s eyes, because it places its hope in something that is not of this world.  It embraces the “dream of God,” which is to see all people put their whole trust in Him and adopt His character: care for creation; identifying with and speaking for the poor and marginalized; expressing our God-given creativity; imitating Christ in purity and righteousness; practicing interdependence and fellowship with fellow believers; enjoying rhythms of work, play and rest; and making all of life a “song of praise” to the Creator. (the church does so many other things and God is so many other things, but space doesn’t allow me to list them all here…)  You can see how this way of life is truly “radical” to those not living in God’s plan, but as Shane Claiborne says, these things are “ordinary” to the Christian.

“called-out people of God” – We are called out of many things.  I like Mike Frost’s use of the term “exiles” in his most recent book, which has that name.  Our lives are exilic in many ways: we live in the desert, under the tender care of a loving and leading God, but awaiting a final day of deliverance; we live outside of the domain of religiosity, which is a slave to laws and power and human strength; we live outside of the kingdoms of this world, choosing instead to serve the King of Kings.  So this is what I mean by “called out.”  I suppose it could also mean that we have God-given purposes on our lives, but I mostly mean it in an exilic way.

“in close proximity” – This is different for everyone, of course, but the older I get, the more I’m convinced that true, deep fellowship is difficult — if not impossible — outside of regular, informal contact in the context of close proximity.  For some, this means living down the street, and for others it means living in a big Victorian house together.  The non-negotiable in our minds is  regular contact with other “exiles” that doesn’t need to be planned out, and that spurs us on to follow the way of Jesus.

“like-minded disciples” –  Those who strive to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ, and take Jesus at his word, no matter how difficult.  This has enormous implications, of course.

In summary, I think the people of God critically engage, but refuse to adopt, many of the facets of the culture around them.  God’s way serves as a refreshing alternative to the way of self-indulgence, dog-eat-dog, and hopelessness, because it is a taste of life lived as we were created to live — as fully human.