The Community Phenomenon

img10How this became, what it is, and how it fits into God’s plan.

My wife and I have the privilege of presiding over a wonderful expression of community located in the old downtown area of a mid sized city in the Northwest.  It is nearly everything that I ever had a vision for in all the years that I have given myself over to visions.  It is rewarding on personal, professional, and spiritual levels. I want to write a book, sell a million copies and spend winters in Hawaii, but I really cannot take credit for any of this.  If anyone had given me instructional steps in order to arrive at this destination I would likely have never followed them.  I am pretty sure that this wonderful place and community that has risen up has been orchestrated, without much help from me, by the loving and creative hand of the living and loving God.

To start with, my early experiences as a Christ Follower were in and through expressions of community. More specifically, I first became a Christ Follower when I spent time with a group of crazy in love with Jesus types who chose to live in the same place, sharing their lives with each other and the people they came in contact with.  They loved me, lived out their faith openly, and eventually invited me to live with them.  That is where I accepted Jesus and first learned what it meant to be His disciple. That experience is indelibly etched into every part of my mind.

While community is a major part of my spiritual DNA, I have not always cooperated with it.  For years I allowed myself to be controlled by others desires.  I wanted approval and acceptance.  I had experienced it through community even before I became a part of community and I was hungry for that.  Outside of community, and I suppose inside some, acceptance was based upon a level of performance.  Rather than being a part of a living and vibrant community I allowed myself to be led through phase after phase of hoop jumping in order to receive what I craved. I had some success but it felt like I was performing rather than living inside the real.  I left my barbarian  roots and became domesticated, like a tiger trained to perform in the circus.

It has been said that a person cannot consistently behave in a manner inconsistent with who they are.  I paced back and forth inside the cage of my domesticated Christian life and longed for the wild. Eventually I blew up my life. Nearly every person close enough to be in the blast zone chose to remove themselves to a safe distance.  I stood willingly at ground zero and allowed myself, the person that I had become, to be blown to bits. With no one left to influence I embarked on a season of healing.  My own toxicity was exposed and I was slowly being nursed back to health.  I made some choices in the early days that were deliberately crafted to allow myself to be fully engaged and fully compliant to whatever God might have in store for my future. I gave up my commercial driving career and trained in the simple craft of cutting hair. After a couple of years of recovery, one in which I stayed mostly hidden from anyone I may have known before, my core DNA, my hunger for community that could only be sated by meaningful connection, began to emerge.

After a bit of time working with other barbers I opened my first barber shop. I opened it inside a sporting goods store appropriately named Mayberry, after the small town in the 60s TV sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show.  It was the owner’s desire to create the same small town atmosphere that he grew up with.  He sold a variety of goods from clothing to sportswear and from toys to fishing poles. He even had a soda fountain inside with inexpensive old fashioned milkshakes.  With the addition of my barber shop his vision was complete. Now all that was needed was the community to begin to show up.

Inside my little corner shop I kept my head low and worked hard at becoming the best barber I could possibly be.  Over time my old, affable personality began to surface.  People began to come into the shop just to enjoy a visit as well as to get a haircut. My overhead was low, graciously low, so I was able to charge less than most of my competitors.  That helped get the word out but there was something more that seemed to be drawing folk in.  We were doing well inside the shop, outside, not so much.  The store was big and open with high ceilings and a concrete floor.  There were other places nearby that sold virtually everything that was offered and because of their longevity were often able to offer them for less money.  The soda fountain was intended to be a break even business to draw people inside to shop, as was the barber shop, but people would come to the barber shop or sit at the soda fountain and often times did not purchase any store items.  Things were tight for the store owners and their vision wasn’t panning out like they had hoped.

Things were going so well for us that we decided to expand our business.  Since the store was unwilling to rent us any img12more space we ended up signing a five year lease on a 1200 square foot building in an old part of town.  We moved in and decorated, added some additional rooms for treatment options and opened up a salon.  It was a disastrous move.  From the very beginning the people that we hired took advantage of our divided attention between the two business.  Our staff began not showing up for appointments, helping themselves to products we purchased and using them to earn money at home, and simply pocketing cash payment and writing those appointment as no shows.  It was my first time ever having to fire someone.  I didn’t like it.  It wasn’t fun, but it was necessary.  Now I had a commercial building with a lease and no one to work inside.  We closed the doors to the business and contemplated our next steps.

After having the new location closed for over a month I decided to reopen it as a second barber shop.  I had a barber that had been working for me since the previous year and my stepson had graduated from beauty school and was working in the shop doing a great job. Since it seemed that everything was in place I did a little bit of redecorating and began to cut hair in the new place.

Things in the new place were painfully slow.  I barely made overhead for the first couple of months.  I was open four days per week and worked the other three days of the week in the old shop so that I could continue to pay rent and food at home.  It was during a lull in the action at the old shop when the owner of the store took me aside.  He told me their business was loosing too much money and that they would be closing the doors.  I asked how much time did had before they closed the doors and he told me, “Three weeks”.  In any other setting that would have been a death sentence for our business.  Three weeks was not enough time to even find a suitable location, let alone set up, furnish, and let your clientele know about the move.  Providentially we didn’t have to worry about that. What seemed to be an anchor on our moving forward now turned out to be a lifeboat!

Things began to pick up pretty soon after we moved full time into our new location.  We had five times the room that we had previously and we moved around and tried different variations.  Our goal and vision wasn’t just for a barber shop.  That longing for community stuck deep inside my wife’s spirit and mine as well.  We talked out and vision cast various ways in which to be missional in our community.  We thought of ways to empower small group ministry using our facility. We thought of giving the open space over to youth ministry.  We thought about opening a coffee shop and using that to reach out missionally to our community.  All the time I was shifting and moving things around trying to find ways to best practices for reaching out and creating community.  All the time I was trying to find the right thing to do, God was busy just doing.

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Within one year of opening the new shop as a full time barber shop things were starting to pop.  We never spent a dime on advertising.  We just didn’t have it.  Even without a marketing budget or strategy, people began to talk about our shop. People were giving us kind and encouraging reviews on the internet, making us the top reviewed shop on Yelp, Tripadvisor and Google.  King 5, a Seattle TV news organization rated us number 5 in all of Western Washington the first year and number 8 the second.  That was competing with shops in cities like Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Everett.  One after another guys would come in to get their haircut for the first time.  When asked how they heard about us they would often tell us that a friend, or a room mate, or a coworker had sent them.  People talked about us in the community.  Guys would notice other guys haircuts and ask where they got theirs done and they would send them our way.  Business was growing.

I am not a businessman, I am a doer.  My wife and I both love showing hospitality and I also love cutting hair.  The craft as well as the interaction fires all the right neurons in my brain making it the most rewarding activity I had ever participated in.  I am energized by the conversation and the connection between myself, the barbers that work with me, and the wonderful array of diverse men, and a few gals, who come and sit in our 100 year old barber chairs for some tonsorial ministry.  It seems to be working.  People come in and more come in each week.  Now that talk isn’t just about the quality haircut, it is about the feel, the vibe, the sense of community they feel.  Our latest configuration of the shop puts the barbering in a 300 square foot area in the back and makes about 800 square feet available for common areas.  It is becoming a place where people like to be, a place where people connect with us and with each other.  Somehow, in spite of my best efforts, community began to happen and it happens daily.

Back before I blew up my life, back when I was following what I knew was the call of God to become a pastor, I had a pretty clear vision of what being a pastor meant.  It meant that you were the guy that stood in the front of the little box with the cross on top and taught people from the Bible.  You met with them, listened to their problems and offered some Jesus ways to health and wholeness.  It all looked pretty much like every other pastor I had ever seen.  After the “big bang” I felt, and was told, that I was not longer qualified to be a pastor.  That was ok with me.  I loved Jesus a whole lot, but I was pretty well ticked off at his fiance and didn’t want much to do with her.  Barbering was fine with me.  The hours were more predictable, the customers much more agreeable, and the pay was better too.

Had you asked me at any given point while I was an official pastor what I wanted to accomplish, I would have given you the following list;

  1.  I wanted to be a friend to sinners, perhaps influencing them to consider Christ for the first time
  2. I wanted to engage the newly converted, influencing them to become full on, crazy in love disciples of Christ
  3. I wanted to influence disciples to consider giving their lives over to the mission of Christ outside of the box
  4. I wanted to be influence by and influence the movers and shakers out doing the work.

During any given week I will spend 15 quality minutes with those who haven’t surrendered to Jesus. We talk about everything under the sun, establishing a base of trust.  When the time is right, when the need is there, when the heart is soft, I point them toward Christ.  I have prayed for the terminally ill in my barber chair.  I held the weeping and grieving as they cried out their despair in that same chair.  I have offered advices, direction, and a hundred different stories to the newly converted and seriously committed disciples of Christ.  Interns and beginning vocational types have sat in my chair to receive prayer, encouragement, and perhaps an insidious thought or two sparking a hunger to perhaps think outside the box.  I also get to spend the time with the leaders of more than a dozen churches ranging from 50 to 5,000 members.  I make their hair look great and share what is on my heart.  They share back and we are both encouraged or challenged.  In all I would have to say that my regular congregation and visitors are so numerous that I have become more of a success as a pastor behind the chair than I ever had behind the pulpit.  Church happens, ministry happens, and I don’t have to make it happen.  I simply pick up my clippers and my comb and I jump right in to whatever God is doing on a given day.  It is an amazing thing to take part in.

I used to tell people that no matter how far you stray, the center of God’s will is one decision away.  I think about Israel in the desert. The followed the pillar of smoke or fire that was the Presence of God whenever and wherever it moved.  Each and every day they walked outside of their tents and there was enough food for the day.  It didn’t matter how much they gathered our how little, it was always enough and it spoiled if you tried to save any for the next day.  Each day was a matter of trust.  One decision, the decision to follow.  I don’t know what the future holds for my family.  An old neck injury has caused loss of feeling in my right hand and a great deal of pain on those busy days.  My volume is down, but my spirits are up.  We may look outside the tent one morning and see that the presence of God is moving.  We are committed to follow this adventure until the chapter closes on our individual adventures and opens to the adventures of our children.  We have had two precious little boys during our journey into this life we now live.  We also have two grown children as well as a number of surrogate children who we offer love and share our lives with.  We want to remain passionate about following God wherever He leads and joyful in wherever He stops.  There are people out there to love.  For now we have a community.  It didn’t really seem possible to me at the beginning this is what was going to become, but it is an amazing thing to be a part of.  I have great company on this journey.  My wife, Angela, is the first one to make me believe I didn’t have to live my life they way others thought I should.  She hitched up her wagon for the ride and makes sure that I am always looking beyond what is and into what might become.  My boys are full of life and personality.  They are both growing up in the barber shop, surrounded by the community of creation that is all around us.  I hope that they will become to love God and love the people that God loved so much that He gave His one and only Son.  I believe for them to be a gift to their generation.  I will keep you posted as the journey continues.

All The Music Seeping Through

“First thing I remember I was lying in my bed. Couldn’t been much more than one or two. And I remember there’s a radio,coming from the room next door, and my mother laughed the way some ladies do When its late in the evening and all the music seeping through.”  Paul Simon

I was surrounded by music as we traveled the back roads of the deep south and the long stretches in between there and our starting point of Western Colorado.  My mother and music and the old ripped upholstery of the 51 Chevy.  Out In The Boondocks stood out as we traveled the wooded countryside of Georgia, fireflies flitting to and fro, inviting a young boy to run and chase, laugh and do all the things that young boys do to delight.  The Duke of Earl, with its love message lost on my youth, but the bass line of,download “Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl Duke Duke” worked its way into my conscious in a way not lost over the next fifty years of music.  I would lie in my little bed in the little upstairs apartment where my mom and her boyfriend dejour would listen for hours on end to vinyl reproduction of the voices of Simon and Garfunkle.  I was really sad about RIchard Corey and wished I could have been his friend.

The late sixties and early seventies were a time when I began to make my own musical choices. A friend, Tim Rolland, brought FM radio into my AM world and introduced me to classical music.  I lost myself on the living room floor lying between two speakers and listening to Montovani and his orchestra. Mom and now Dad listened to country music exclusively.  I heard Bobby Bear, Conway Twitty, and the duo of Porter Wagner and Dolly Parton.  I was torn between the classics and Three Dog Night.  Steppenwold made me think I was tougher than I was and turned my Schwinn Stingray into a burly hog with ape hangers.  I knew I was “Born TO Be Wild”.

Hotel Califonia, Rich Girl, and even Lucille sang to me as I stepped out of my boyhood, and Jet Airliner sang me away as I flew off to basic training and a hitch in the US Navy. Got homesick and lovesick with all the mixed emotions of my new found life as I listened to songs like, I Like Dreaming, and When I Need You.Me Navy

Music led me away from my home and then it brought me back home as I discovered faith in Jesus and a new musical soundtrack that accompanied me along that journey.  Larry Norman told me about The Rock That Doesn’t Roll and Phil Keagy strained the strings of his guitar in the ultimate guitar anthem, Time.  Pat Terry Group and Honeytree appealed to my not quite rock and roll heart. I began to play guitar and tired over and over again to master The Broadmore Song. I still can’t quite get it.

Jackson Brown, Supetramp, and especially Billy Joel rode along with me in my custom van as I traveled between the shipyard in Mississippi, Grand Junction Colorado, and the destroyer group at the 32nd street Naval Shipyard in San Diego.

I dove into praise and worship music, but never stayed faithful for long.  Garth Brooks suddenly made country music sound fresh and more of what I loved about country and rock, combining the two and leaving behind those elements of cheese from both.

Deserving of it’s very own paragraph is the one album..  I was driving truck at the time, stuck in LA Traffic in a big, red Kenworth and the air conditioner was broken. I noticed a fellow in a BMW next to me having a grand old time.  He was bobbing his head twisting rhythmically in the plush leather seat. Anyone could tell he was  listening to music, or rather living inside of it.  I hollered out something about that and he opened his car door and ran around his car as the other drivers stopped on the freeway with us looked on in images (1)confusion.  I guess that doesn’t really happen all that often.  Climbing the steps on the side of my truck he held out his hand with a cassette tape that changed my life as I plugged in and heard Graceland for the very first time. Time could have stopped as I lost myself in the marriage of African and American music, with lyrics crafted, forged and smithed from a refining process that was of another world. It was as if I had been kissing and making out with music all my life, but that hot southern California day I truly gave up my musical virginity, never to hear music the same way again.

In the 90s I began to play the sax.  That exercise led me to the big band sounds.  Anything from Les Brown to Goodman, from Minton to Hampton takes me to a time before my time. My minds eye sees art deco and cityscapes, fedoras and side parted hair, and of course manly men with New York accents walking through clusters of swing dancing dolls.

Today I prefer to listen to jazz. My heart engages but my mind can focus on other things.  I guess it is sort of like speaking in tongues, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful” 1 Coringthians 14:14,  He says it in sort of a negative way, but it isn’t such a bad thing.  Spirit music?  Coletrane, King Curtis, Miles Davis. Never really thought of them as ministerial figures before.  Go figure?

Where did music go? Have I become jaded? Did my heart grow hard?  I don’t even listen to music in my car.  I listen to talk radio. It makes me mad, angry, furious.  These talking heads push all my buttons.  At least they stir up some emotion. At least I feel.  I am a Christ Follower.  I should like Christian music, but in general it leaves me unsatisfied. One hour of Christian radio and I am numb.  Go ahead, pull a tooth and see.  I love live worship and praise, at least some of the time as long as it doesn’t sound too much like the radio, ok?  Too loud, too raw, too old and too new. That seems to work a bit.

Speaking of Christian music, the first song to move me in years is a song called All About That Bass.  I know it uses some sexual references. OK, it all a sexual reference. Why can’t I shake the idea that the song actually should have come from a Christian artist?  If there ever was a song that should have been written and performed by a crazy Christ Follower it is this one. It is a song, maybe even the only song, that really is making a difference in WEK_MEGHANtrainor2_1008-614x921people’s lives.  Accepting who you are. Who would have ever thought of that?  Now that is a Christ concept if I ever heard one! Why are we so afraid to not sound religious?  Are we afraid that if people are able to accept themselves that the Holy Spirit will no longer be able to work inside hearts? Are we afraid that accepting our shape will suddenly make everyone weigh 600 pounds or accepting that we are sexual beings will inspire everyone to start jumping in and out of bed with everyone else?  I have an idea. I think we need to start having beer services.  Three pints fully consumed before admission. Then music might become real. Our message might be a little more serious as we stop taking ourselves quite so much.  Of course the musicians would naturally be required to consume at least 5. It’s just a thought.

As I started writing this piece about music a friend of mine in another city sent me a random text about a movie, Ragamuffin, that he had imageswatched. It was about a musician, Rich Mullens, who died tragically.  The movie made him sad. When Rich died it made me sad too.  I remember I cried.  I cried when Keith died as well.  I don’t remember crying when Larry died,I saw that one coming.  I did cry when I learned that he and Randy had made amends before he died.  I really cried then*.

Why am I spending all this time ranting on about music? I am not exactly sure if there is a “why”.  I don’t know if I have any kind of goal. Its sort of like the jazz I mentioned earlier, it is just there.  Music is there.  I think that every culture on planet seems to have a music and download (1)every life I know has a musical soundtrack, Kenny Chesney’s,  I Go Back, tells the truth like no other. “we all have a song that’s somehow touched our lives. Takes us to another place and time.”  I guess that just for this one, rainy gray Washington morning, I just want to remember.  Just for a moment.  Not to live, but just to lend a moments life to what was.  I want to see my mother’s face again.  She has been gone a long time.  I want to see all the friends that touched me along the journey.  Some of them I can’t even remember their names. They have all grown up and look like old guys and girls, like I do. Perhaps I might be the only one thinking of them today.  If I don’t think of them then they might truly be gone.  So for the next 15 minutes or so I will use my computer to listen to random songs from my past and close my eyes.  I am going to smile into faces I haven’t seen for a very long time.  I think I’ll go back.

*  Keith Green, Larry Norman, and Randy Stonehill

Now What?

I sat there shivering in the semi darkness of the little room.  I was draped in a dripping wet white robe with just my underwear on Imageunderneath.  The evaporation of the water was sucking away my body heat leaving behind a very cold and wet ten year old boy.  Now what?

It had been a fairly nice evening  It was the culmination of months of anticipation.  I had said the “sinners prayer of salvation” several times over the past year.  Each time the preacher got up to speak he made hell even hotter than the last time. I wanted to make sure I was paid up on my hell insurance.  When the heads were bowed and the eyes were closed my hand went up.  I stretched as high as I could.  Can you see me through all these other people?  I’m here, the short chubby one!  After the umpteenth time of saying the prayer someone got wise to my reappearance and suggested that I should be baptized.

Baptism was a big deal at South Sheridan Baptist Church.  They had baptized so many folk that they were expanding their building.  The new building on adjacent property was huge compared to the relatively small meeting space.  Most of the work was already done on the big building and there was a huge platform with a glass front baptismal tank. The wall behind was beautifully painted with a fall like mountain meadow scene. In this baptismal the preacher actually walked into the tank to do the baptizing.   I wanted to be baptized there.

Luck and timing did not work out for me.  Once i said I wanted to be baptized I was given a 5 minute class on what it meant to be baptized.  “Boy, did you accept Jesus as your personal savior?” “Uh, yes!”  “When did you do that?”  “Well,” I stammered, “in July, twice in August, and I think I got saved every weekend in September.”  No reply, just a few scribbles.  Then I was told I would be baptized that next Sunday.  Not good. The new building wasn’t to be inhabited for another month or so.  “Can’t it wait?”  No reply.  Bummer!

The baptismal in the old building was much less elaborate.  It was an old claw foot bathtub inside a wall with cheap wood paneling surrounding it.  When it was time to baptize, two grinning ushers would unlatch the doors hiding it from view and the preacher would come out with a waterproof coat on.  Then we were led out one by one, to be dunked in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, amen!  I know why the preacher didn’t get into the tank. The water wasn’t heated.  Brrr.

After it was over we went back to the private room where we had earlier taken off our street clothes save our underwear and changed into our robes. The robes were long, heavy things in order to protect the modesty of the baptized.  The also held a lot of water within the fabric.   I sat in that cube that was about four feet square with a curtain pulled in front of the entrance.  I waited.  I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.  I didn’t know what I was waiting for, but I didn’t want to move or do something that would cause me to miss out on the special part.   I figured out that this was a pretty big deal and there had to be more to it than this, a secret handshake or something..  When was someone going to come in and tell me about the wonderful things that were going to happen now that this wonderful thing had happened.  Nothing.  Now what?

After a long, long time my step dad poked his head in.  He came to church to see me baptized.  My mom didn’t feel like leaving the house.  He asked if I was ready to go.  I said I didn’t know.  He told me to get dressed and come on, he needed a smoke.  I did, and as I walked out I saw that everyone was gone except myself, my dad, and the janitor.  No one came.  No one helped me understand.  I just left.  I have to admit I was a little sad.

Looking back I can remember several times in my life of trying to be a Christ Follower where I repeated a similar pattern of commitment, response, and then a sense of abandonment.  I have often sat, cold and shivering after the warmth of a particular event wondering the same thing, “what now?”  I got saved again in 1977, then again in 1983, then again and again.  I volunteered, I led, I jumped through this hoop and that hoop.  I became a worship leader, then a youth pastor, then a pastor, then I became the “fallen pastor”.  At the end of each stage there was still this blank spot as to what I should do in response to it all.  Where do I go from here?  What do I do now?

Perhaps I can trace this difficulty all the way back to my childhood.  No one in my family ever excelled at follow through.  Perhaps it is even a part of my core wiring, imprinted on my by the Master Designer.  Why would He do that?  I’ll have to ask.  Perhaps it is that while I tend to be a strong leader I still have a need to have a strong leader as well.  Peers don’t make good leaders for strong leaders.  Most of the people I have in my life are peers.  The strong leaders I need, the ones that I see, they like me well enough but are too busy being strong leaders.

Another part of this whole pattern may be endemic in the Christian world.  We pursue people, convince them, and then we compile our statistics of how many salvation, baptisms, re-dedications or whatever campaign we happen to be on at the time.  We make the sale and birth the result, often to abandon the newborn to the wild and letting nature take its course.

I’m getting older now.  Not senior citizen old, but it is coming quickly.  My hair is mostly gray and when the barometer changes I ache from multiplied youthful indiscretions with my body.  My friend Dave, one of those great leaders, told me that he thinks that I still have enough runway left to get this bird in the air.  That was two years ago.  Maybe I’ve burned that up.  I don’t really know for sure.

I somehow think Jesus command to Peter to show his love by feeding lambs, feeding sheep, and tending sheep would indicate that speaking something so all encompassing and life altering as the Gospel of Jesus Christ would naturally come with some a sense of responsibility attached.  It requires follow up,   Not only does it require follow up but it also may come with a life time commitment.  In Ireland the saying goes, “A puppy isn’t just for Christmas.”  To think we can alter someone’s life with the overhaul of faith in Christ and just leave people to themselves and the Holy Spirit is to abdicate the role Jesus gave Peter.  His admonition came about during the same time period where Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news.  “You guys go out and gather sheep.  Oh, and Peter, be sure to tend my sheep.  Feed my lambs, Peter.  Feed my sheep, Peter. Okay?”

Have you ever been around a backyard mechanic?  My dad was one.  Our yard was always filled with half torn down engines, cars with parts missing and missing parts strewn around in great disarray.  Each one was a project embarked upon and never completed.  Each one eventually ended up being hauled away as junk.  Each one, had he stuck with it until the restoration was complete, would have been a prize in anyone’s collection.  My commitment to those who I am speaking to is to stay with it until the process is complete.  I guess that means we are friends for life.  Are you up to the company?