Monthly Archives: August 2013

Live from #LionLamb13

At some point tonight, I’m going to go to sleep.  When I do, I will sleep well.  Not yet though.  First, I have to stop my head from spinning.  I’m not sure how to explain all that happened today at the Lion and Lamb Festival.  I think the only way I can tell you about it is by telling you a story about my little girls.

Within minutes of arriving at Praise Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we were greeted by two little girls.  Age six and five, they were delighted to see my two daughters, age six and three.  The four of them became friends immediately, achieving immediate intimacy in a relationship in a way that only children can.  The four spent most of the day together.  “I’m in first grade too!”  They worked on crafts together.  “I like to color too!”  They ran and danced and played together.  “I like soccer too!”  They relished in learning about each other, and sharing the things they loved in an unbridled and unpretentious way.  For a six-year-old, there is no such thing as idle small talk.  There is only genuine discovery.

As a cool breeze slowly transformed the sweltering day into a perfectly pleasant evening, the girls paused for a snack.  They sat on a bed sheet in the field as Amy Cox played on the stage.  I discovered Amy on the Lion and Lamb’s youtube channel.  She was one of many musicians I had been looking forward to hearing.  As she played, I watched as the group of four girls started to grow.  The little community they created expanded.  Soon there were two more girls, and now there were two boys.  They were coloring.  They were looking at the Star Wars books we brought.  They were sharing cookies and apples.  They were dancing.  At this little group of children sat in a circle too perfect to have been planned by any parent.  They each had an apple, and all were dancing as Amy played.

While Amy was playing her beautiful song, “The Table,” which I included in a video below, one of the girls noticed something out of place.  There was another little girl just a few feet away.  She left the circle, tapped the girl on the shoulder and asked her to come play too.

In this moment, the Table was not a table at all.  It was a bed sheet spread on the ground.  There was no bread and wine.  There were apples, and grapes, and pretzels, and there was more than enough to share.  There were soccer balls, and a big field in which to run.  There was music in the air, and a Spirit calling the children to dance.

Lion and Lamb is not an event.  It is a community.  It is a community of people, spreading out a bed sheet, trying to figure out how to invite people to come, have an apple, and play.

It is Erica, a poet who spit her rhymes with a rawness that made me at one moment cringe, at one moment laugh, and at another moment make me bask God’s melody of creation.  She challenged me to step out to use art to proclaim peace and justice, and taught me a new word: artivism.  She inspired me to sit and try to write a poem.  I was shocked, and a little afraid, at what came flowing out of my pen.

It is Bruce, an author, an Asian man, a father, and a grandson of a woman who did not know where to sit in a bus in Little Rock Arkansas because she was not black, but did not see herself as white either.  He taught me another new word, microaggression.

It is Lorelei, who is training women to empower themselves and their communities in business.

It is Richard, a musician who is looking for songs that express a deeper understanding of God, and urges worship leaders to move beyond cliche and rote expressions of religiosity.

It is Rachel, a blogger and author who I admire and encouraged me to find my own voice by listening.  In her talk she challenged “preachers who want to be the next Rob Bell, and writers who want to be the next…” and didn’t fill in the blank, ONLY TWO DAYS AFTER I WROTE THIS: “Can I be the next Rachel Held Evans? Do I even want to be?

Tomorrow I am going to step into the speakers tent, and I am going to offer my voice.  I have already been changed by this community.  The plans I had for the talk I will give have changed too.  Right now I have no idea what I am going to say.  All I am going to do is throw open a sheet, take out a bag of apples, and share Christ’s love with anyone willing to play.

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The 85th Christian blog you should be reading

ImageLast week Christian Piatt, a Patheos Christian blogger, conducted a survey looking for the “25 Christian Blogs You Should Be Reading.”  Readers and bloggers nominated over 400 Christian blogs.  While it seemed to me that most of them leaned toward the Progressive end of the theological spectrum, there was a pretty wide array of blogs nominated.  I discovered the survey a couple of days into it, and added The Fat Pastor.

I first sent the link to vote for my blog on Facebook at 11 p.m. on Friday night.  I did it once again on Saturday and again on Sunday afternoon.  I tweeted it twice, I think.  I shared the link a few more times on my personal facebook page.  I never thought I’d make the top 25, but I thought I could break into the top 100.

The final vote finished with The God Article as number one, Rachel Held Evans as number two, and The Fat Pastor tied for 85th.  You can see the whole list by clicking here.  I was pretty pleased with finishing tied for 85th, but what was really touching were the comments people made.  I went through the top 100, and mine was one of only four blogs that had seven comments.  And it was not just the seven comments that touched me, but the kindness and appreciation that was expressed in those comments, largely from people I’ve never met face-to-face.  Sure, one of the comments was my brother, but even his words meant a lot to me.  The comments made in the survey read like the back cover of a book.

It was a pretty exciting couple of days as I watched my blog rise through the ranks.  I was thankful to see a couple of my facebook friends not only vote, but share the link with their friends.  I received a little bit of criticism on the Facebook page for the self-promotion, but it was good-natured.  And rest assured, there was nothing anyone said there that I had not already thought of.  Should I care where I am ranked on some list?  Should I care how popular I am?  Why do I write?  Is it to gain a big audience?  What is the mission of this blog?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of self-promotion on a Christian blog.  It takes a certain amount of hubris to write a public blog in the first place.  The moment I started The Fat Pastor, I remember thinking, “what do I have to say that other people should care about?”  Nearly five years later I am approaching 300,000 page views.  In the big picture of internet usage, that is barely a blip. At the same time, I think to my self “THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND!”

Does it matter that I’m approaching 300,000 views?  Am I being more faithful to God because I’ve reached this milestone than if I had not reached it?  I remember when I approached 1,000 Facebook followers.  I made a big deal about it on the page, and it turned people off, so they left.  Does the fact that I now have over 2,500 followers on Facebook make me a better writer?  Does that mean I’m a better pastor, or a better Christian, or closer to God?

None of the questions about self-promotion on a Christian blog are easily answered.  It all boils down to the question of mission.  What is the purpose of this blog?  Or put another way, if I suddenly had no facebook followers, no subscribers, no twitter followers, and no page views, would I keep doing it?  If I had a million followers and high traffic on the blog, what would change?

I am a writer and a preacher.  I will write about the love of God and preach the good news of Jesus Christ for as long as I have breath.  I will tell people about the transforming power of God, and I will share that with as many people as I can for as long as I can live.  I will struggle.  I will fail.  I will have doubts and questions, but the truth of who I am will never change.

Is it wrong to seek a larger audience for what I do?  I don’t think so, as long as what I do is point to something greater than me.  As long as what I’m doing is bringing people to the table of grace, then I’m going to keep going.  If my self-promotion takes precedent over God-promotion, then I’m in trouble.  In the meantime, I’m going to search for new audiences, because each audience is full of people – real people – who are longing to hear about the God that loves them, the God that errs on the of grace, the God that can lift all of us out of whatever hole we’ve dug ourselves, the God that can melt hearts, transform communities, and topple kings.

So yes, I wanted to be in the top 25 – because making the top 25 would have allowed me to speak to more people.  I believe in the story I have to tell, so I will continue to tell it. 

I’ve been grappling a lot lately about the future of this blog and the nature of my ministry.  How far should I push this Fat Pastor brand?  And if you’re turned off by my use of the term “brand,” I apologize, but that is exactly what I’ve created here.  I try to write from my heart.  I try to share my passion, joy, and frustrations.  I try to let you into my journey, but no reader will ever know the real me.  I don’t write every thought that pops into my head.  I make choices, and these choices create a separate entity that is not Robb McCoy, but the brand The Fat Pastor.  The Fat Pastor is me, but it is not all of me.  It’s not about being inauthentic, it’s just about having boundaries.  I create logos, and buy domain names, and craft a motto and wonder, what can I do with this blog?

Can I be the next Rachel Held Evans?  Do I even want to be?  Should I open a Fat Pastor store?  Should I sell t-shirts, mugs, and other merchandise?  Can I raise money through this blog to advertise in places to reach more people?  Can I raise money to support ministries?  Can I create a company that could help make a difference in the world?  Are there investors out there that could make it happen?  Should I write a book?  Should I seek more speaking engagements outside my congregation?  Should I open a youtube channel?  Should I live stream worship services?  How many people can I reach?  What does it mean to see “the whole world as my parish?”  To John Wesley it meant that he could get on a box and preach in a park and be just as true to his mission as he was inside a grand Anglican Church.  To me it means something different, and I pray that the Holy Spirit continues to guide me in understanding what it means to me.

I have a big vision for what The Fat Pastor can be.  I have to make sure that it isn’t just my vision, but a God-breathed vision that will build the Kingdom of God, not feed the kingdom of Robb.

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You were made in the image of God, part 2 of our trip to East Saint Louis

Part 1 of our trip to East Saint Louis “Bullets on the Tennis Court”

It is a lesson I have taught dozens of times.  I guess you could say it is one of my “go-to lessons.”  In my estimation, it is a pretty important lesson to teach.  You were made in the image of God.  It is a foundational lesson in the Bible, and the repercussions of understanding it are far-reaching.

On the first day with kids at the Mary Brown Center, we started by getting in a circle.  Sitting at halfcourt of the gym, there were about 12 kids from the center, and 9 of the youth we brought from Moline.  We played an ice-breaker game before I told them a story.

“In the beginning was darkness and chaos.  There was no order, no light, no substance.  Then God spoke, ‘Let there be light.’  And there was light.  And God saw that it was good.  Then God separated the sky and the world, giving shape to the Earth.  And God saw that it was good,”  I was encouraged by the attention I had.

“Then God made the oceans and the dry land. And God saw that it was good.  Then God set the stars, the moon, and the sun in the sky, and everything was ready for life to begin, and God saw that it was good.  Then God filled the sky with birds, and the seas with fish, and filled the earth with animals of every kind.  And all of it was what?”

“Good,” they said.

“Yet God wasn’t done.  It was all there, everything was ready, but something was still missing.  So now I’ll read directly from the Bible: ‘God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the animals of the earth.” So God created humankind in God’s image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.'”

As I read these words, I was able to look at the children sitting around me.  I repeated, “In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them.”  I was a little surprised at just how rapt they were at this point.  I didn’t need to call their attention to me.  I didn’t have to tell anyone to sit still.  So I went on.

“All of God’s creating work culminated in this act.  God created humanity as the ultimate expression of God’s love and creative work.  God made man and woman, and what did God call them?”

“Good,” they replied in unison.

“Indeed, the Bible says that God called them ‘very good.’  God is still creating.  God created every man and woman in God’s image.  That means that you were created in the image of God.  I was created in the image of God.  You, and you, and you…”  I looked directly into the eyes of the children and youth as I said this, “You were created in the image of God.”

“So what does that mean?”  I asked.  “It means that you should be treated as God’s special creation, who God called ‘good.’  God called you good, so don’t let anyone ever tell you anything different.  And it means more,” I said.  “It means that everyone you meet was also created in the image of God.  Your friends, your Mom, strangers, even people you don’t like.  They were created in the image of God too, and God called them good.  So it is important to treat others for who they are.”

It is a story I have told so many times.  It is always a powerful story to tell, but this time I felt like it was something more.  It is easy to tell a group people that they were created in the image of God when everyone in the group looks alike.  But we sat in this circle and our differences were obvious.  Different races.  Different ages.  Different social classes.  Different home towns.  Everything about us was different.  Yet at the same time there was nothing different.

As we went about the week, we learned more and more just how true this was.  We discovered undeniable truths about the people that God has created.  We love to create.  We love to dance.  We love to play.  We want to feel safe.  We enjoy making friends and connecting to others.

The mission of the trip was simple.  We wanted to share something that we love with new people.  We wanted to share the music, art, and learning that we love with children.  In accomplishing our mission, we did so much more.  We created friendships.  We built connections across all the obvious divides, and called upon something even more obvious, but somehow less well-known.

In so doing, we learned perhaps the most important lesson of the creation stories.  We were made, above all, for relationship.  We were built to be in relationship with God, and with each other.  We were created so that we could create.  We can create art, music, laughter, friendship.  We can create light in the midst of darkness.  We can create order in the midst of chaos.

We were created in the image of God who is a Creator, and who is still Creating.  My prayer is that the relationships we built were built to last, and that none of the kids we met ever forget who and whose they are.

Part 3 – Not goodbye, see you later

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Calvin, the Dad

Calvin, the Dad

I’ve always loved Calvin and Hobbes. When I came across this today, I teared up immediately.  At my Mom and Dad’s house, we kept a lot of the toys that my sister, brother, and I played with as kids.  Now my daughters, nieces, and nephews love them.   I do not know who created this meme, but I found it at

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August 21, 2013 · 1:27 pm

Lion and Lamb Festival

lion lambHeatherlyn, Amy Cox, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, Andrew Peterson.  These are not household names, but I’ve spent the last few weeks listening to them on the Lion and Lamb Festival Youtube and Facebook pages.

They are wonderful, original artists, and I am looking forward to spending two days with them, and with the rest of the Lion and Lamb Festival community.  For two days over Labor Day Weekend, I will be in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the Lion and Lamb Festival.  I am one of a group of speakers, artists, and musicians that are coming together for worship, conversation, and community.

The mission of the Lion and Lamb Festival is to build a “community of hope gathering to share gifts, inspire authentic conversation, and passionately follow God in the world.”  As I read through the list of speakers, I am humbled by my own inclusion.  The gathering speakers are people doing the hard work of justice in the world.  They are an inspiring group of people, and I feel so honored to be a part of it all.

Rachel_Held_Evans_t580The keynote speaker of the event is Rachel Held Evans, whose writing I admire greatly.  She is speaking three times at the festival.  On Saturday she is a part of a “Conversation on Millenials and the Church.”  Later that evening she is a part of the main gathering.  On Sunday she is sitting down for a Q and A about her book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”  This is a remarkable book, which I blogged about once.  One of the highlights of my blogging career was when she started following me on Twitter, and retweeted the link to my post.  Imagine then, my excitement to find out that my time slot on Sunday comes on the same stage, immediately after her.  

I am looking forward to this festival for so many reasons.  It is going to include some of my favorite things in this world.  I will be there with my family, camping away from home for first time.  We will listen to inspiring live music.  We will soak up the energy of powerful leaders.  I will have a chance to tell my story to a new audience.  Above all, we will build community.  We will create relationships.

It is going to be an exciting two days.  And I want you to come along.  I have two free passes to the Festival.  If you want to go, let me know in the comments section or on my Facebook page.  Every name that comments (with a valid email address on this page, or on the Facebook page) before Monday, August 19 will be put into a hat.  I’ll draw the winning name on Monday, and post it with a new blog post.

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Every morning I build my own little Tower of Babel

tower of babel

Gustave Doré, found at Art Index. Click on the picture for more from the artist

I held my daughter.  I crawled into her bed, and wrapped her up in may arms.  She nestled deeper into me.  I smelled her hair and kissed her soft cheek.  She took my hand, and pulled it under her head like a pillow.  The alarm clock flashed 6:30, but time stood still.  I prayed, thanking God for this moment.  I paused, And allowed. Myself. To. Stop. Breathe.  Deeply.  She was safe in my arms, and there was no reason for either of us to ever get up.

It would have been so easy to just remain there.  She was safe and warm, and as long as I could keep her there in my arms, nothing bad could happen to her. As soon as I whispered into her ear, “It’s time to get ready for school,” I would lose my grip.  As long as I held her there she would come to no harm.  She couldn’t have an accident.  She couldn’t stub her toe, or burn her hand, or get hit by a car.  No one could hurt here there.  No one would call her stupid or make fun of her shirt.  No one could exclude her from a game or break her heart.  We lay there together, drifting in and out of sleep, and there was no reason at all for us to rise.  Except for one: Babel.

The Tower of Babel story is found in the 11th chapter of Genesis.  The first 11 chapters are generally recognized as a separate section within Genesis.  Walt Brueggemann refers to it as the “Pre-History.”  Terrence Fretheim calles Genesis 1:1-11:26 the “Primeval Story.”  This section of Genesis includes the two creation stories, the first sin and expulsion from the Garden, the murder of Abel, and Noah and the flood.  These are the foundational stories of God and the people God created.  It is a myth in the sense that it is a story that explains why things are the way they are.  And like all myth, the truth of the story does not lie in the facticity of the events, but rather in the meaning we draw from it about God and God’s created people.

The story goes like this:

All people on the earth had one language and the same words.  When they traveled east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.  They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them hard.” They used bricks for stones and asphalt for mortar.  They said, “Come, let’s build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves so that we won’t be dispersed over all the earth.”

Then the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the humans built.  And the LORD said, “There is now one people and they all have one language. This is what they have begun to do, and now all that they plan to do will be possible for them. Come, let’s go down and mix up their language there so they won’t understand each other’s language.”  Then the LORD dispersed them from there over all of the earth, and they stopped building the city.  Therefore, it is named Babel, because there the LORD mixed up the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD dispersed them over all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9, Common English Bible)

Beyond the simplistic questions about historical accuracy, there are deeper theological truths that can be found from this story.  There are also troubling questions about the nature of God that rise quickly from the scattered remains of the people.

The main question is, “Why did God do that?”  It seems like a strange God that is in action here.  “There is now one people,” God declares.  This kind of unity sounds like a good thing.  In a world beset with division, barriers, walls, and wars, a united people sounds like a wonderful place to work toward, not a troubling situation that needs to be fixed.

The common interpretation of this passage is that the sin of the people was hubris.  Many see the problem to be the grandiose plans. The sky, they say, is no place for humans, but instead is the realm of God. The sin of the people was to make themselves too high, and to try to compete with God.  To understand the sin of Babel though, we must look closer at the motivation for the tower, and go back a little farther in human history.  The people state the mission of the tower is to “make a name for ourselves, so that we will not be dispersed all over the earth.”

The Tower would be a source of pride and strength.  A tower is an important part of any settlement.  The Tower draws travelers for trade.  Conversely, it helps detect invaders from a distance.  It provides a strategic advantage for defense, and serves as an economic hub.  The Tower is an important ingredient in protection, safety, and settlement.  The people knew that the tower will keep them from being scattered.  These things do not, on the surface, appear to be troubling.

It is no more troubling than laying in bed in the morning with the one you love more than anything in the world, and deciding to stay there forever.  Protection, safety, and settlement are not necessarily vices, but they are not innately virtuous either.

A look back at the beginning of the Pre-History reveals to us the problem with the Tower.  Look at the first creation story.  The work of God was started to create order and life out of chaos and emptiness.  This creative work culminates in Genesis 1:27-28, where God not only creates humans, but gives us mission in the world.

“God created humanity, in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.'” (Genesis 1:27-28, Common English Bible)

God said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and master it.”

The sin of Babel was disobedience.  Moreover, the people were creating their mission.  God gave them a purpose, and they were refusing to act.  The languages then, were not given as a punishment.  The languages were given to people to help them get the job done.  Not the job they intended, but the job God had given them.  What has often been seen as a curse is actually God empowering the people to do what they would not do on their own.  With this nudge, the Scriptures tell us that the people scattered.  They fulfilled their mission, were fruitful and multiplied.

I understand the sin of Babel, and I understand the gift as well.  I thank God every day for giving me those nudges.  Time and again I have thought to myself, “I’m settled.”  It seems like every time, God is there, confusing my language, pushing me to a new adventure, a new relationship, or a new mission.

Every morning I wake my daughter up to get her ready for school, I build my own little tower.  I crawl into bed with her and wrap her in my arms and want so badly to keep her from being scattered.  Every time I whisper into her ear, “Honey, it’s time to get ready for school,” I break the tower down.  It is one of the hardest things I do.

Settlement and safety are not inherently bad things, but anything that works against God’s mission for the world must be worked through.  It is so tempting to hold her and never let go.  It would be so easy to keep her in my own Tower, but in trying to protect her, I would be hurting only her.

God has great plans for her.  I’m not sure what they are, but who am I to get in her way?  Who am I to ignore God’s calling on her life?  She is made to love, to share kindness, to work for justice.  She, as she has said, “was born to dance.”  No one can dance with their Daddy weighing them down.  So I help her to get ready.  I send her out in the world equipped as best I can.

I kiss her goodbye, go upstairs and wake up her little sister.  Maybe I can stay in the tower a little longer with her today.

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Rape prevention check list

I am the father of two daughters.  They are young now, but I hope that someday soon they will go to college.  At college, there are often safety tips.  I remember hearing them when I was a college student.  There will be warnings of the dangers of alcohol abuse.  There will be warnings about walking alone on campus, about finding yourself alone in someone else’s room, and even about how to dress.  The vast majority of these warnings will be directed toward girls, warning them of the ways that they can prevent themselves from being raped.

There are various statistics about the prevalence of rape on college campuses.  A quick google search put the number of women that are victims of rape or attempted rape at anywhere between 1 in 50 and 1 in 4.  The truth likely lies somewhere in between.  “Rape Culture” on college campuses seems to be growing, as evidenced by the recent debate that Daniel Tosh sparked when making “rape jokes.”  Much of the problem has lied with college administrations that are unwilling to punish, or sometimes even investigate, men accused of rape.  Notre Dame’s football program was one such case that gained noteriety, but activists across the country have been raising their voices.\

So I decided I would chip in.  I came up with this list of “Rape Prevention Tips For College.”  I think this is almost 100% fool-proof.

1. Don’t rape anyone.

2. If you go out on a date with someone, don’t rape her.

3. If there is a girl at a party, and she is dressed very sexy, don’t rape her.

4. If you are with a girl that has had way too much to drink, don’t rape her.

5. If you see a girl, and she is passed out; walk by her, or help her get home, or find her friends.  Don’t rape her.

6. If, at any time, you are unsure if what you are doing is rape, then stop doing that, immediately.

Maybe it is time that we start teaching men at college that raping someone isn’t okay.  Every girl that gets drunk is not looking for sex.  Every girl that wears a mini skirt isn’t waiting for you to get into it.  Should women avoid dangerous situations? Sure.  I will teach my daughters to be smart.  I will likely get them to a Girls Fight Back seminar someday, where they will learn to defend themselves.  I will teach my daughters to protect themselves.

As a father of two girls, I will do my part.  I will do my best to teach my girls to respect themselves.  But its not all on me, or on them.  You fathers of boys need to step up too.  Teach them, in no uncertain terms, that it is not okay to rape.  You teach them not to lie.  You teach them not to cheat.  You teach them lots of things.  You may be squeamish about it.  It might be an uncomfortable topic, so I provided you with this list to help.  Learn it.  Live it.

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Bullets on the Tennis Court, or Mission trip to East St. Louis, part 1

Lessie Bates Davis logoThere was a bullet on the tennis court.  Not a spent shell. A fired bullet. Among the mess of leaves, sticks, and broken glass, one of our youth reached down and picked it up, looked at it for awhile then said, “I found a bullet.”  I knew right away he wasn’t joking.  I looked at the little cone-shaped piece of metal.  I don’t know enough about guns and ammo to know anything about its caliber, what weapon it was fired out of, or any details.  There was probably something else we could have done with it, but all I said was, “throw it away.”  So he tossed it in the garbage bag and we went about our business of cleaning up the tennis courts at Lincoln Park in East St. Louis, Illinois.

We were a group of nine youth and three adults.  Some were inside the Mary Brown Center, working with some kids from the neighborhood.  Most of us were outside sweeping.  It was unseasonably cool for late July in Saint Louis.  It was a gray morning, and we were looking for something to do.  Miss Terry had told us that the tennis courts were unusable because of all the broken glass, so we decided to try and sweep it up.  We had some rakes, brooms, trash bags, and a dust pan.  We raked the sticks, leaves, and grass into big piles and swept the broken glass into the dustpan.  Even when we were joined by about a dozen youth from the neighborhood, most working for a few dollars an hour, we realized there was no way we were going to clean up the courts entirely.  By the time we finished though, I would have felt a lot better about kids playing there, as long as they had good shoes on.

Of course, it was entirely possible that once the sun went down, the park would be filled with young people with nothing better to do than throw their empty bottles into the courts.  Miss Terry hoped though, that the presence of people cleaning it up would discourage them.  We could hope.

The first day of the mission trip did not go exactly as we had planned.  We had planned to show up at the Mary Brown Center at 8:15 so we had plenty of time to set up our version of Vacation Bible School for the 25-30 seven to nine year old kids that would arrive at 9:00 a.m.  We had planned to spend the two hours with them in neatly divided groups so we could have 20 minute sessions of worship, devotion, Spanish, art, dance, and closing worship.  We had planned to stay to do some other kind of chores around the center until having lunch, and then going about the rest of our day in Saint Louis.  They say that if you want to give God a good chuckle, tell him your plans.

The Mary Brown Center is a part of Lincoln Park.  The geodesic dome houses a beautiful gymnasium.  The Center is also home to most of the youth programs of the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House.

The Mary Brown Center is a part of Lincoln Park. The geodesic dome houses a beautiful gymnasium. The Center is also home to most of the youth programs of the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House.

On the first morning drive to the Mary Brown Center, I got turned around.  I took the wrong exit after crossing the bridge.  I read the map, but the streets I wanted to drive did not go through.  After a process that included about four u-turns, our two minivans arrived at the Center at about 8:50.  We were welcomed graciously by Miss Terry.  She gave us a quick tour of the facility.  There are two main sections of the Center.  There is the beautiful domed structure that houses an immaculate gymnasium, and there is the education wing, home to a computer lab, a youth room, a dining room, offices, and a larger room with tables for seating and table games.

During the tour she told us about the pool, which would be opening for the first time in five years, and the tennis court, which despite having the money set aside for new nets, rackets, and balls, was unusable because it was covered in broken glass.  We unloaded the vans, started setting up our stations, and waited for the kids to start coming.  At about 9:30, there were about four kids.  That’s when I asked Miss Terry what else we could do.  I thought of trying to clean up the courts.

Some stayed inside with the kids that came, and as the morning went on a few more trickled in, and others swept the courts.  That is when I felt the futility of what we were trying to do.  We were invading this space, not sure of our place, unsure of our role, wondering what the mission of this trip was really going to be.  We had all the right plans, but the reality of the situation weighed heavily on my heart.  And then we found the bullet.

“What the heck are we doing here?” I wondered.  Then I kept sweeping.  I could pick up glass, and if that was all I was meant to be doing, then I was going to do it well.  We worked for about an hour and a half.  When we left, there were still young people sweeping in the courts.  There were others outside the fences, laughing at those that were foolish enough to pick up a broom.  Later I talked to our youth about the courage it took to remain there while their friends taunted them.  We agreed that those that remained there to clean up their park were among the bravest people we had ever met.

To Miss Terry’s enormous credit, she sat down with us for awhile before we left and taught us about what the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House was all about.  She told us about her struggles as a community leader.  She told us about the kids on the corner with no hope.  She told us about the adult leaders that give their time and their energy so that they did not have to lose another kid to the street.  When I asked her, “What do you mean by lose them?” I knew that the only answer anyone needed was that bullet we found on the tennis court.

Part 1 – “Bullets on the tennis court.”

Part 2 – “You were made in the image of God”

Part 3 – “Not ‘goodbye,’ just ‘See you later.'”

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Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

I’ve shared some recipes on this blog before, but I thought I’d go with a full-blown food blog here.  I have been making slow cooker pulled pork for a few years.  I use lean pork, and add a little bit of brown sugar, but really it is a pretty healthy meal.  I started this with two two-pound pork loin roasts because they were on sale at my butcher.   Four pounds of pork is a lot, but the result is great for leftovers.  This meal fed three adults, four kids, and there were leftovers for four more adult lunches.

The ingredient list is pretty simple:

4 pounds pork loin
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
Spice Rub (I used my own mix that is roughly equal parts onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, and kosher salt,  with smaller doses of ground black pepper, cinnamon, paprika, and a touch of cayenne.  I would have used more cayenne, but knew I was feeding kids).
1 medium yellow onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic.
2 tablespoons of liquid smoke (optional)
2 tablespoons of tomato paste (I used up my tube.  This amount is not that important.  If you want to use a whole little can, that will be fine)
Canola or olive oil (enough to saute onion)
Kosher salt and crushed black pepper.

I started by turning on the slow cooker.  I’m not sure where, but a long time ago I read you should put hot things into a hot slow cooker and add cold things into cold slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Pork, step 1Mince the onion, and add the minced garlic.  I use only fresh garlic for sauces and gravies, but for things like this, the little jar of minced garlic is a great addition to the refrigerator.  The onions and garlic were then sauteed in a skillet.  I let them get pretty translucent before shifting them into the warmed-up slow cooker.Slow Cooker Pork, step 2

Then I turned up the heat of the frying pan and rubbed the pork pretty generously with the spice rub.  I made my own spice rub and keep it in a little plastic container, but there are tons of marketed spice rubs on the market.  Most of them are mixtures of garlic, onion, and chili powder.

Slow Cooker Pork, step 3Once the pan was pretty hot, I added the loin to the pan.  Brown the meat on all sides.  Let it get brown, not gray.  To do this the pan needs to be pretty hot.  That carmelized meat will add texture and flavor to the pulled pork.

Slow Cooker Pork, step 4I did not scrape every last piece of onion out of the skillet, and that’s okay.  They will get cooked a lot more in this process.  After the meat was browned, I transferred it to the slow cooker.  Lower the heat on the skillet, and add the apple cider vinegar. Deglaze the pan, scraping any bits off it is you stir. Then add the liquid to the slow cooker. Dump in the brown sugar, the liquid smoke, ketchup, and tomato paste. Give it a rough mixing, and set the slow cooker to low, 6 or 8 hours. The liquid should cover about half of the meat at this point.

Slow Cooker Pork, step 5

After about two hours, turn the meat over so the dry side is in the liquid.

Slow Cooker Pork, step 6

After another two hours, take the meat out and cut it into about six big pieces.
Slow Cooker Pork, step 7

About half an hour before serving, shred the meat. I used my tongs. I jabbed the big piece with the closed tongs, then opened the tongs. You can do this to the big pieces, and use forks for smaller pieces. If the meat has been cooking for almost 6 hours, this should not be difficult. I’ve also been told you can shred the meat by putting it in a mix-master with the bread hook.

Slow Cooker Pork, step 8

Let the shredded stuff cook for a little while longer. You can serve it alongside your favorite jar of barbecue sauce, or eat as is. I also recommend some hot giardineira peppers or spicy pepperoncini peppers.

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A prayer for the scariest room in the school

Students and teachers are preparing to go back to school.  For many students, the cafeteria is a terrifying place.  I created this prayer for those that will be searching for seats in the coming weeks.  Share this, especially with young people you know.  If they are anxious, let them know that people are praying for them.  If they are not, then remind them of how it feels to not know where to sit.  Hopefully they can show kindness in the coming weeks to someone that needs it.

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Cafeteria Prayer


If you would like to use it in worship, feel free (though I would appreciate an attribution somewhere in the bulletin).



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