Humble Beast's 2015 Year in Review: A Poem


‘Twas the night before Christmas and the Humble Beast team,
Made plans for an exciting two thousand sixteen!
But before we reveal those, I present to you,
The Humble Beast ‘15 year in review:

At the end of last year and beginning of this,
Humble Beast filled a hole that we sorely had missed.
Our interns shipped merch: CD’s to Snapbacks,
While making us laugh on Instagram and Snapchat.

This year also saw the fruition of plans,
To finally launch our gourmet coffee brand.
Left practices ethical business, moreover,
Our roasts always make for the perfect pourover.

Fear of God released by Eshon Burgundy,
Warned against serving idols, fame, currency.
People everywhere couldn’t help but be drawn,
To the Gospel presented so real and so raw.

We needed to hire a creative director.
Anthony Benedetto could not have fit better.
From video, illustration, to apparel and more,
Check out his collection in the Humble Beast store.

We hired Samuel Nagel, and also Josh Hill.
They do all the jobs that we needed to fill.
These dudes always grinding. We do not deserve,
Such hardworking guys with such big hearts to serve.

‘Had to narrow our roster, but we’re blessed to report,
Our decision was met with tremendous support.
We’re all still a family, so do not be nervous.
We support our brothers proceeding with purpose.

A brand new studio as we continue to grow,
Thanks to you who donated on Indiegogo!
You’ll be happy to know that Humble Beast is,
Already working on next year’s releases...

JGivens crashed a plane just to rap in the trees,
Then he shot a video in three-sixty degrees!
We spent the weeks ‘fore release just trying to cram,
For JGivens’ Humble Beast debut
Fly Exam!

This year Propaganda became a published author,
But more importantly he became a second-time father!
And just when you thought he couldn't do any more,
He killed it on Mineo’s
Uncomfortable Tour.

Don’t forget about Jackie. She’s just gettin’ started.
The Red Sea of male rappers, she’s already parted.
If you’re sleeping on Jackie all snug in your bed,
She gon’ rap the sugar plums right out of your head.

Tonight, check your laptop, sit by the Yule Log.
And enjoy one of our many new Humble Beast blogs.
You’ve blessed us and we hope we’ve returned the favor.
Merry Christmas to all, praises to Christ, our Savior!

- Gary Bagby AKA Foreknown

Gospel Conversations: Sean Myers (Part 2)

Editor's Note: This is the second half of Foreknown's interview with friend Sean Myers (pictured above), pastor of Redemption Church in Peoria, AZ, about his experience with issues of racial justice. If you missed the first half of the interview, you can read it here.

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F: Did your upbringing [Editor's Note: Sean covers this in Part 1] cause you to feel conflict about where to land when you see a constant volley between #BlackLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, and #AllLivesMatter?  
 

S: How did the world ever get along without hashtags?

I’m sure my upbringing has affected the way I feel about these things. Being born into a family that hated cops, and then being adopted into a family with a son who is a cop, has changed the way I see things.

I can definitely say that I am more frustrated than I am confused. I'm more frustrated with how we are getting our points across than I am with the stances themselves. It's crazy to watch sometimes. If I could generalize, this is how I would see it: Side A builds a straw man of side B. Side A spouts off so-called "facts" about side B, followed by so-called "facts" that apparently disprove Side B's position. In response, Side B uses Side A's straw man against them, creating their own straw man of Side A and their accompanying position. It's a confusing, viscous cycle!

Placing that analogy in context, #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter were created as reactionary responses to the #blacklivesmatter movement, which exists as a call for justice and equality for black lives. Their point is: Of course all lives matter, which means that we need to recognize the cultural inequality of black lives. Do you see the irony in #alllivesmatter? The problem is, people can only understand the other side's position if they build a relationship with the other side and listen.

This is where it gets crazy. If you are friends with, related to, go to church with, and live next to the "other side", you realize that nothing that the polar extremes scream at one another applies. You would no longer say things like, "All cops are bigots! Well...except for Peter, from church. He's one of the good ones." Thats insane! The cops with which you are in a relationship become good cops. In a relationship, you are able to see see that, though people are broken and make mistakes, they aren't malicious. The world is broken, and that affects everyone. We are, however, more likely to overlook their brokenness as we live in relationship with them.

 


F: Thank you so much for being transparent about your own experiences, as well as your willingness to discuss a topic that many work tirelessly to avoid. A couple of questions before I let you go: Does the Bible provide any type of map to navigate through the rough waters of racial tension?  Also, as Christians, how do those negatively affected by these injustices speak out, while remaining within the parameters of the Gospel?


S: There have been better men than I who have written on this topic. I can help provide some of the books and articles that I have read on the subject, but the reality is, some are helpful and some are not. With that said, I do believe that the Bible provides some ways to think though the issue. I would say there are two things that come to mind when thinking biblically about the issue, and both of them are not necessarily what the Bible says, as much as how we read it:


1. The entire Bible is written from the perspective of the lowly and the poor. The people of God are constantly in a position of subjection and migration. Both in the Old and New Testament, the people of God are the minority. (This is where an article by a man named Brian Zahnd was extremely helpful for me. Its called "The Problem with the Bible" and can be found here.)

It's helpful to know this about the Bible because it can help us "decode" the approach the Bible takes in how we deal with people who are not like us. When you view yourself as someone who is in the minority, you are forced to listen more and demand less. This is not how we view ourselves as Christians in America. Because Christianity is the major religion in America (at least in proclamation), we have the luxury to share our preferences (which aren't always biblical) and listen less. The American ethos has seeped into our Christian brothers’ and sisters’ hearts, and screams, "My way or the highway." In turn, we don't hear each other.



2. The second thing has to do with the Bible knowledge we have. It may be a bit much, but there are three parts to my answer:

A) Let's take the fact that one of the two greatest commandments is to love your neighbor, as you love yourself. There is no controversy over how Christians should treat each other. We can also look to Phil 2:3-4:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Its simple: Be humble, think of yourself less, others more, and look to others’ interests.


B) Here's the thing about the Bible; it never once tells you to “read” it. There is no imperative in all of scripture that demands that you “read” your bible. Even looking at the largest chapter in all the bible, Psalm 119, which is completely devoted to our approach to the Bible, it never once uses the word “read.” What it does tell us to do is to meditate on it, study it, memorize it, etc...


C) Putting A & B together to help answer the race issue: If we actually sat down and meditated on what it means to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” we as Christians could provide a lot more answers to the questions. We don't need to complicate this thing. Quit solely reading your Bible, and instead, think through its implications. This of course is not just about race, but can be applied specifically to racial issues. 

I can't tell you exactly how to navigate the waters of injustice, and it may not be helpful to hear, but the Bible let's us know where our hearts should be in our approach. I think the issue is that we want simple “how to” guides in doing this. That’s not right. You need to think though this, you need to study, you need to pray, you need to seek out wisdom in community. God will guide you.

 

Gospel Conversations: Sean Myers (Part 1)

Since the controversial killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012, the deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of police officers have received intense scrutiny from the media and the public alike. Across social media, we have seen expressions of hurt and anger. Many are confused: “This isn’t a part of the post-racial package I ordered when I voted for a black president.” Those in leadership positions, secular and sacred alike, are being asked to speak out. My friend Sean Myers (pictured below), lead pastor at Redemption Church in Peoria, AZ, felt it important to speak to his congregation on such matters. I asked him to share some of his thoughts with us:


Editor's note: Minor grammatical edits were made in the interview. Points of clarity, seen in brackets, were added by the editor. 


Foreknown: “I recently attended a church service where you were speaking on the subject of race.  It seems that, although there is so much racial tension in our country, a lot of the church prefers to stay silent on this issue. Why do you think that is and why was it important for you to speak on this issue?”


Sean: “You're right. Most churches aren't talking about the topic, but maybe it’s not intentional. I think that, for the most part, they don't really have a dog in the fight and so it’s not top priority. That's not a shot. It's just a reality that most predominately white churches experience what's going on in this area [of racial justice] from a distance. The truth of the matter is, not all churches have that luxury though. Most of my African American pastor friends that have multi-ethnic congregations can't help but talk about it. I recently finished a book called From Strength to Love, which is a compilation of old MLK Jr. sermons. What was interesting to me about this book was seeing all the texts that this man preached from; texts that I've heard preached many other times in many other contexts, and not once heard anything on the topic of social injustice or racism. Yet, it was there in the text. So to answer the first question outright: There are a lot of reasons why churches might not be talking about the issue (don't know how to, afraid to offend, etc), but maybe many churches don't talk about it because they don't have to.”



F: “Obviously, as a Christian, your view on race and the current issues with the police are seen through a Gospel lens. The cross didn't always color your opinion though. Would you mind sharing some of your backstory and how your views changed when you came to know Christ?”


S: Both of my parents were drug addicts growing up. Because of that, a few things stand out when it comes to your question:

1. I grew up in a small, ghetto part of the city called Sunny Slope. Like anywhere else in America, poverty ain't biased; she'll take any race. The poor area of town has a lot of different cultures and ethnicities. That means I grew [up] around a lot of people of color.

2. Yet, later in life, when I got saved, I ended up at a church in Scottsdale, which is an extremely wealthy part of town. I was predominately around white people and really saw some of the pain and brokenness that can be found in money.

3. Another thing about growing up poor was that I hated cops (like everyone I knew). The cops were the ones who took my parents to jail, took me to foster care, and were always trying to get in our business. They are the most needed and hated people in the hood.

4. Yet, later in life I was adopted by a family whose oldest son became a cop. Now suddenly, my older brother, Jim, is wearing a uniform that represents all my past pain. So when I’m watching these wicked acts of racism on TV, I keep saying to myself, "Jim would never do that!" Rough.

So my bend towards this whole race conversation tends to lend its hand towards being torn at times and seeing the bigger picture. Jesus cares about the "drug slinging" black dude who is killed for no reason as well as the cop who grew up with a racist dad who beat the hell out of him for being friends with a black guy. Both have stories that we don't understand, and it's important to know [that] the gospel is big enough to save them both.

---

The conclusion of the interview will be posted next week.

 

Death Anxiety and the Force (Part 2)

Humble Beast, as a ministry, has always strived to deliver transparent content. That is why I felt it was important to talk about an issue that has been a point of shame for me throughout my life:  death anxiety.

In my last post, I discussed this issue and presented my four main concerns about death:


1.   I don’t want to miss out on anything.

2.   When and how I will die?

3.   Doubt.

4.   Fear of the unknown.


In this post, I’d like to share how God has been walking me through each of these concerns. Please note that walking is in the present tense. You won’t find me sitting in a booth, passing out pamphlets with a button on my chest reading, “I beat death anxiety in ten easy steps. Ask me how!”  My anxiety is current; current, but no longer crippling. Praise his name!



1.   I don’t want to miss out on anything.

Last week, I shared that the Star Wars films have been a trigger for my death anxiety. I love Star Wars and worry that I may die before seeing all the films. So of course, last Thursday, the day after my blog post goes up, I see an article on the front page of Wired.com titled “You Won’t Live to See the Final Star Wars Movie”1. God is hilarious. The article, in short, states that Disney/Lucasfilm intend to release a Star Wars film annually for as long as there’s a demand. If I follow this to its logical conclusion, I can expect to die before seeing all of the Star Wars films. This leaves me with two options:

1.   I can hitch a ride to Bespin, jump in a carbon freezing chamber, freeze myself in carbonite, hope that a princess disguised as a bounty hunter unfreezes me after the last Star Wars film is released, and enjoy an epic marathon.

2.   I can trust that what God has in store for me in heaven is infinitely more rewarding than anything I would believe myself to be missing out on earth. Revelation 7:16-17 says:


16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.

17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”


Every tear. He will wipe away my tears from family left behind, friends lost, and yes, even Star Wars films unseen. When I enter the kingdom of heaven, my eyes will be set on God. I will not miss a thing.  


2.   When and how I will die?

A while back, I was discussing my death anxiety with a good friend, and I brought up this question. Our good brother Christopher “CJ” Walk had recently passed away. In his last days, his last moments, he praised God and said, “I’m ready to be with my Savior.” My anxiety about my own death barred me from understanding how CJ passed with peace and joy in his heart. As I imagined myself in his position, I could only picture myself crying out, “Please! Not yet! I’m not ready to die!” My friend reminded me that for the believer, the Holy Spirit brings peace. It was not through his own willpower, but through the Spirit of God, that CJ was able to face death so fearlessly. He trusted the words of Romans 8:38, and knew that death could not separate him from the love of God, which is in Christ. When I asked my friend if he was afraid to die, he pointed me to Matthew 6:27:


"And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?"

He instead encouraged me to focus on the fact that God has a purpose for our lives here on Earth, and once we’ve fulfilled that purpose, he will take us home.

If you are reading this right now, then you are alive. If you are alive, God is still using you for his purposes. God is sovereign. Therefore, you are invincible until the day he decides to take you home.


3.   Doubt.

A man once brought his son to Jesus, asking him to cast out an unclean spirit. Jesus then instructed the father to bring the boy to him.  Mark 9:20-24 explains what happened next:

"20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ 23 And Jesus said to him, ‘“If you can”! All things are possible for one who believes.’ 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’”

Although the only time my son ever fell to the ground, convulsing and foaming at the mouth was when I told him to turn off the video games and go to bed, I can relate to this father. “I believe; help my unbelief!” It’s something I pray often.

From time to time, when my anxiety is at its worst, I think to myself, “What if there is no God and no heaven? What if when we die, nothing? Eternal nothing.”  Although these thoughts are rare and fleeting, they have caused an immense amount of stress and shame in my life. Stress, because I never know when that What if? is going to present itself again; and shame, because when it does, I feel like a “bad Christian.”

But then I pray, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Over and over again, I pray this prayer. And then, something wonderful happens: My shame disappears, because my doubt hasn’t driven me away from God, but toward him.  

Theologian Os Guinness once wrote:

"If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply."

Where doubt was once a tool to grow my anxieties, God has now made it a tool to grow my faith.


4.   Fear of the unknown.

When I was a small child, I used to hate singing worship songs at church. I thought they were boring and that they dragged on forever. One day, I asked my mom what heaven was like. She said that it would be a place where we would worship God forever and ever. All I could picture was singing boring Sunday morning worship songs for eternity. I cried.

What I did as a child, we often do as adults. I redesigned heaven in my mind so that I could try to comprehend the incomprehensible. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says

9 But, as it is written,
    “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
    what God has prepared for those who love him”

Trying to imagine what heaven will be like is an exercise in futility. No amount of will or desire will allow you to conjure up that which cannot be imagined. This used to be a point of frustration for me. As God matures and sanctifies me however, my desire has changed. I no longer wish to understand heaven. Instead, I thank God that he has created something so wonderful that I cannot understand it, and because of what his son accomplished on the cross, it is promised to me.

Death still scares me sometimes. If I’m honest with myself, life does too. But I thank God for anything that causes me to draw nearer to him.

--

1http://www.wired.com/2015/11/building-the-star-wars-universe

Image credit to Scott Smith: https://flic.kr/p/67orhP

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death Anxiety and the Force (Part 1)

When I was in high school, I was watching the news one evening and heard a report that rocked my teenage world. George Lucas announced that they would be making three new Star Wars movies, referred to as “prequels.” For those unfamiliar with the Star Wars films (shame on you), the first three films in the series (Episodes IV, V, and VI) actually start in the middle of the story. As an avid lifelong Star Wars fan, I could not have been more excited.
 

When I went to sleep that night, my mind started racing. I laid in bed, staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling with a huge smile on my face.
 

Then, suddenly, a shift.
 

My eyes began to tear up.
 

Within minutes, I was using my pillow to muffle my uncontrollable sobbing. 
 

Anyone who’s seen the prequels would have thought that I was experiencing a moment of clairvoyance; that the ghost of Star Wars Future, in the form of Jar Jar Binks, came to warn me that these were not the films I was looking for. Meesa wishes that was the case. No, I was crying because in the midst of my jubilation, a morbid thought crept into my head:
 

“What if I die before the movies come out and I never know the whole story?”
 

This past week, I was reminded of this moment when I saw the #ForceForDaniel hashtag all over Twitter. Daniel Fleetwood, a 32-year old, terminally ill Star Wars fan, was not expected to live to see the release of the brand new Star Wars: Episode VII in December. Daniel’s wife started the #ForceForDaniel hashtag in an attempt to convince the powers that be to allow Daniel a pre-release viewing. After massive social media support, including a push from Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca, Disney and director J.J. Abrams allowed Daniel to watch the new Star Wars in the comfort of his own home. Daniel passed away last week, shortly after his dream came to fruition. As elated and saddened as I was from this story, a familiar tinge of dread crept up. The question had once again reared its ugly head: “What if I die before I know the whole story?”
 

Anyone reading this might assume that I take Star Wars way too seriously. That is a fair assessment. However, in order to be completely transparent, I will share with you the deeper underlying issue:
 

Hi, my name is Gary, and I struggle with death anxiety.
 

In preparation for this post, I’ve tried to pinpoint what exactly it is about death that causes me such anxiety. I’ve narrowed it down to four main points of interest:
 

1.   I don’t want to miss out on anything.

I want to watch my children grow up, hold my grandkids, take a road trip in a driverless car, vote for the first robot president, and of course, see as many Star Wars movies as I can. If God told me it was time to go, would I try to negotiate for more time?
 

2.   When and how I will die?

Will I live long enough to see my beard go gray? Is my next doctor’s visit the one where I find out how many months I have left? Will it be painful? Will I get to say goodbye?
 

3.   Doubt.

I know that I know that God is real, that he has a son who died for my sins, and that because I’ve accepted this gift, I will be spending eternity in heaven. I know in my heart that this is the truth. But every now and then, I’m taunted by a fleeting thought. “What if?”
 

4.   Fear of the unknown.

No amount of studying heaven will ever prepare me for what I will experience when I actually arrive. Heaven will be infinitely more beautiful, wonderful, and peaceful than anything I could begin to imagine. Heaven is perfect, and if I’m honest with myself, I have no idea what that is. I will be spending eternity in a place that I am currently unequipped to comprehend. Sometimes, that terrifies me.


Worrying over death has caused me a great deal of stress, fear, guilt, and shame throughout my life. It is an issue that God has been working on for quite some time now. In my next post, I will share what I’m learning through this process, and how God is helping me overcome each of these obstacles.

 

Image credit to Scott Smith: https://flic.kr/p/67orhP

Gospel Conversations: Sharad Yadav (Part 2)

Editor's note: This is the second of two parts of Gary's interview with Sharad Yadav (pictured above with his wife, Evelyne), teaching pastor at Bread & Wine, a church in Portland, OR near Humble Beast HQ. Catch the first part of the interview here.

G: So, with so many Christians’ primary focus on getting butts in pews, how do we intentionally love on those who won't step foot in a church building?

S: I would say that most churches are aiming much higher than butts in pews. Generally speaking, I don't think any church is saying, "please don't live a life of fervent worship, service, and evangelism – just sit back and enjoy!" And many of the larger churches in the area have the most vibrant ministries to the poor. I would agree that the time and money spent on pleasing worshipers as consumers, the knee-jerk rejection of the church's history and tradition and subsequent splashing around in the theological kiddie pool all make for unwittingly immature communities. But to the degree that this is true of churches, it is true of the wider culture and it is more cultural captivity than reckless abandonment. And it’s as true of "missional" churches with house communities as it is of "attractional" churches gathered in large spaces. The challenge is for Christians to actually have the mental, emotional, and spiritual space in their hearts to want to love and serve other people who would never step foot into a church building (or the living room of your home group; or any intentional religious association). And the only way to make room is by first personally receiving the love that clears out our guilt, anxiety, fear, false loves, dependencies, addictions, and distractions that make us live in defensive survival mode. The only way to receive it is by taking hold of the gift of salvation in Jesus, which we grasp through word, prayer, sacrament, and the disciplines which open our hearts to those things (contemplation, solitude, fasting, feasting, etc.). And the only way for individuals to learn and grow in these practices that nurture faith is in Christian communities that invite people into that ancient way without trying to control them.


G: Well said! Would you mind expounding on what it means to "take hold of the gift of salvation" for anyone who may not understand how to do that, or the implications of doing so?

S: Yeah, I guess that phrase might not mean the same thing to everyone. Salvation is a term used in some Christian circles to mean the rescue of their immaterial souls from hell into a heavenly paradise after death. That is a somewhat foreign emphasis to the Bible. Salvation in the Bible has to do with the restoration of human beings from our hiding, turmoil, strife, futility, self-defeat, and self-destruction that inevitably comes from all our attempts to make life on earth the way it should be in our own way and by our own power. It is a restoration to a fullness of those things locked inside human experience–truth, goodness, beauty–which we only glimpse now and again in fleeting moments of peace, joy, sacrifice and love. That fullness which we experience is called God. Experiencing it is experiencing Him. That fullness is revealed in the human life of Jesus, who models it and then offers it to us. The way He offers it to us is in the death of Jesus, in which God takes upon himself all of the shame, guilt, hatred, anger, misunderstanding and chaos of our lives upon himself. In his death he offers total acceptance and love in the face of complete knowledge and intimate experience of our brokenness. And in the resurrection of Jesus he offers the beginning of new selves that are the beginning of a new world where shame and guilt don't control us, violence and power can't bully us, and we live under the power of God's love and acceptance. Death has ended and been swallowed up in life. Instead of being driven by desires to fix the world and satisfy our desires by using the world and other people, we now look to God for that satisfaction and are finally free to love the world and other people without expecting anything in return. Through our broken past and broken bodies, we radiate deeds of love and mercy which beam from broken hearts that are being healed until the day when all will be restored by Jesus. And all of this is a gift. To be received, it requires nothing but the trust which looks to Christ and says, "Yes." If that faith is receiving the gift, the practices of prayer, contemplation, solitude, silence, etc are ways of opening it, taking it out of the box, playing with it and delighting in it.


G: Thank you so much, Sharad, for your insights on the gospel, community, and Scrooge McDuck. Finally, are there any resources you recommend for anybody looking to dig deeper into any of this?

S: Thanks for asking me! It's been a pleasure getting to know you better online over the last few months (which sounds more scandalous than it is). There are so many books that I count as friends, I'm not sure how to choose–NT Wright's "Simply Christian" is fantastic (as his follow-up on Christian discipleship called "After You Believe"). Henri Nouwen is peerless in his description of the spiritual journey. Authors who discuss the rationality of believing in God are legion as well, but I have particularly enjoyed Edward Feser, David Bentley Hart, John Haught and Keith Ward.

 

Sharad Yadav is the teaching elder at Bread & Wine Church in Portland, OR. Visit their website at BreadandWine.org

 

 

 

 

Gospel Conversations: Sharad Yadav (Part 1)

Editor's note: This is the first of two parts of Gary's interview with Sharad Yadav (pictured above with his wife, Evelyne), teaching pastor at Bread & Wine, a church in Portland, OR near Humble Beast HQ. The interview will be concluded next Wednesday.


About a year ago, after a particularly wonderful visit to Oregon, my family and I decided that we were going to make the move from Phoenix to Portland. Our first priority was to find a church.  Our pastor recommended that we check out Bread & Wine. After listening to a few podcasts, I decided to reach out to Bread & Wine’s preaching elder, Sharad Yadav. Even though after a few months it became apparent that God wanted us to stay in AZ, Sharad and I continued our dialogue.

I asked Sharad if he would share some of his thoughts on the gospel and intentionally living out the Christian life in love. 


Gary: You are the preaching elder at Bread and Wine, a church in Portland, OR. When you were a younger Sharad, is this where you saw your future self?  Are you living out your childhood dreams?

Sharad: When I was a younger Sharad, I imagined living inside something like Scrooge McDuck's money bin, filled with candy rather than money (in order to cleverly skip the step of buying the candy with the money - “work smarter, not harder,” my aquatic avian mentor always said). When I was a slightly older (but still younger) Sharad, I imagined living in a dilapidated apartment in Manhattan, smoking cigarettes for breakfast in order to appear avant-garde while writing for David Letterman. Both of these ships have sailed, for different reasons. Probably the last thing I could have seen for myself was being a preaching elder in a church. I would have known what those words meant individually, but had no idea what they could mean together in a sentence.


G: Diving into a candy bin seems much safer than diving into gold. Not safe, mind you. Just safer. Scrooge McDuck should've broken his neck the first dive. I guess physics don't matter when you're filthy rich. As appealing as cigarettes for breakfast sounds, God obviously had a different plan for you. Now that you have an understanding of what a preaching elder is, would you mind explaining your role to the rest of us?

S: Indeed. My role at Bread & Wine is to lovingly serve, primarily through subversive provocation, which is to say, teaching the Bible. I get to gently and winsomely ruin people's lives on Sunday mornings so that they can have a brand new one instead of the one they keep patching up and dragging around as though it were good enough. I also get to invite them to the table where immortality is served every Sunday in the offer of Christ's body and blood. In addition to that work, I am also paid to be irrelevant, which is another way to say “available”, to listen to their lives during the week with no particular agenda or strategy into which I'm trying to squeeze them. I am also expected to draw the curtain back on our rich intellectual heritage to show how our theological tradition speaks powerfully to the issues which stifle and confuse people who have thus far been forced to make do with the cheap plastic lawn furniture available in their more modern intellectual inheritance – which is just another way of saying that I am expected to help people hear the voice of God, which usually sounds new, precisely because it is so old.

 

G: And you're doing this all in the city of Portland, OR, which many refer to as a "godless" city. Do you feel like that is a fair assessment?

S: I don’t know that I would call Portland particularly godless – any more so than any other urban center, anyway. The measurements of these things are so clumsy as to be almost useless - church attendance probably doesn’t say enough about a person’s relationship with God to be very helpful. The cultural obsession with sex and consumption in Portland mirror the cancers of the Western world pretty directly (though it is true that it seems to me, subjectively, to be a concentration of sexual brokenness). Any visit to the southern portions of the United States might reveal that godlessness comes in a veritable Baskin Robbins of flavors. The flavor here tends to be militant skepticism, which is another way of saying that it is mostly economically privileged, white, and ex-evangelical. Portland has the distinction (in my mind, anyway) of being the most misogynistic and racist of self-identified “progressive" cities. But the food is good. In any case, just like corporations aren’t really people, neither do cities have any of these qualities as much as individual people do, so I try to reserve judgment until I get to know the person sitting across from me! I should also say that most people I’ve met, whether here in Portland or in Idaho, aren’t anti-God as much as they are anti-church, anti-Christian, and generally anti-jerk. Their souls are exhausted from the constant third-person self-evaluation, grieved by the burdens of betrayal, disappointment, and loss in their own stories, hopeful for the possibility of human compassion and relentless in their hunt for corners of joy in the fabric of pain which cover their world. And all of that is another way of saying that they are hungry for God, because they are hungry for genuine peace and transcendent love. And if they are skeptical, the problem is usually that they aren’t skeptical enough of the alternatives which so readily present themselves.

Self Checkout

The other day, I went to the corner gas station to gas up my car and pick up a couple of energy drinks, which might as well be a pack of cigarettes the way they're slowly poisoning me (I’m cutting back. I swear). I approached the counter, poison in hand, and asked:


“Can I get twenty dollars on pump number...um...”


I look out the window to locate my car and its coinciding pump number since apparently, I can't be bothered to remember where I parked 30 seconds before.

There it is.


“...Pump number 6, please?”


*Scan, beep, scan, beep, keystroke, keystroke, swipe, PIN, enter, receipt, pleasantries, end transaction.*


As I stood by my car pumping my twenty dollars of gas, I realized that I had just missed a real opportunity to live out the gospel through community. I treated the gas station attendant the same way that I would have treated the self-checkout machine at the grocery store or an ATM – merely a machine placed there to process my transaction; not a living, breathing, image-bearer of God whom I am called to love.


If I paid attention to her eyes, would I have seen joy or hurt? I don’t know, because I didn’t have the common courtesy to make eye contact. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but if I’m honest, I have to admit that I avoid community constantly.


The rise of social media has allowed me to involve myself in community just enough to feel engaged without actually having to engage in it. A friend has a new baby? I will reach out and share my overwhelming joy by clicking “like.” You posted a picture from your hospital bed where you were awaiting a major surgery? I hope that the heart I gave you on your picture conveys that, although I am concerned, I am trusting in God and praying for your situation. If I ever find myself in the physical presence of other people, I often look for any excuse to get on my phone. I’m on a higher level than anyone I know on Candy Crush Soda Saga.


17th-century poet John Donne famously wrote that “No man is an island entire of itself.” No one is self-sufficient. We have to rely on community for survival. God himself exists in the perfect community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since we are created in the image of God, community is crafted into our very design. We all know we need community; this is not in dispute. So why am I working so hard to avoid it?


Most of the time, I’d point to my introversion. Apparently, I’m not alone. I can hardly go a day without seeing some sort of “Ten Signs You’re an Introvert” list. Being an introvert is not a sin. We run into problems when we let our introversion mirror narcissism. Refusing to participate in community because it makes me uncomfortable is nothing more than an act of selfishness. My discomfort in actively engaging does not excuse me from the command to actively engage.


The Bible says in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV)


“As is the habit of some.”  


Ouch! Is it possible for your bible to stare directly at you? Christ said that the two most important commandments are to love God and to love others. Is there anybody you interact with that is not included in these commandments? We cannot live out the gospel if we are not loving others. We cannot love others if we are not engaging. Let’s turn off autopilot and stop coasting through our daily interactions unaware.


Here are my two challenges for you:


1.   Interact with intention

Since we are created with purpose, we should act with purpose. Understand that every interaction is a chance to show love. Does that mean we need to hug everyone we come across and tell them Jesus loves them? No. But we should be patient and kind. We should not envy or boast. We should not be arrogant or rude. Does any of this sound familiar?

2.   Engage with expectation

Believe that God will use you as a tool to bless others and ultimately bring glory to his name. No interaction is inconsequential. Be spirit-led, ever prayerful, and aware of the investments you are making in the lives of others. Do these things and you will build genuine community and see God glorified.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________



Full rights and ownership of image belongs to ©Franz Jachim, 2015. No changes were made to the image and was used under the rights of creative commons. Image source: 
https://www.flickr.com/photos/franzj/17681861843/in/photolist-sWuauX-wMyuXU-jkHFa-kd4eYW-acmo8E-7opcgZ-aciAkp-7bm9pH-4B7r9-acmi5z-e9xLWR-5LKrms-aciACe-pVR3mN-jL5wD3-acmraN-bYdrs9-id8Jvy-nHziCD-8PLpHy-9vde4C-4LcXs-67Mx5b-73ReBu-4QdRzz-bpj49Z-9eHuXY-5573dE-acixHR-bKaQJc-8GQs8u-pDEyz9-7VzmV3-bCqiy5-698FaY-4fxznz-anpyq-twBJpb-5USyoR-67MvM9-aagvhX-oRjWmm-bwADVq-67Hkma-7Bhecr-uWyuFG-qQU1z-8GMiBk-4PRW7b-acixsx  

 

On Bread Alone?

Hey Friends!

With the recent release of my debut album “Ornithology” I’ve been seeing the same question pop up more than any other. “Who is Foreknown?”.  Well actually “What’s up with dude’s hair and beard?” gets asked more, but for the sake of this blog post we’ll stick with “Who is Foreknown?”. I’m a Christian. I’m a rapper. I’m a Dad. I’m a gamer. I can continue to list things but you’ll still be stuck with the same question “Who is Foreknown?”.  That’s a big question and I don’t intend to try and answer it in a single introductory blog post. Instead of just trying to tell you who I am, I’m hoping to use this platform as a window into my day-to-day living. If you’ll take the time to journey along with me, my hope is that the question of who I am will fade into the background and together we will focus on the Gospel and the practical daily application of it. With that being said...let’s begin.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to eat.  If I’m planning a trip to somewhere I’ve never been before, the first thing I’ll do is Google the hot spots to grub at. If I ever skip a meal I end up getting shaky, getting a headache, and I turn super grumpy. I’m kind of like the Incredible Hulk (you wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry). If I lose track of time, my stomach will let me know that it’s time to eat. Just talking about food will trigger hunger (this is the part where I head to the fridge for a little snack). I love food. I crave food. I literally will die without food and I know it. Now if I can only be as passionate about the word of God.

In Matthew 4, after Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights, the devil tempted him...with food.  The bible says:

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

    When I choose to go a few days without reading the word of God, I am starving my soul. In the same way I get physical symptoms when I skip meals, my soul groans when I’m not in the Bible. I am guilty of saying that I’m too busy to read the Word every day but I guarantee I’ll get my three square meals.  If I can be completely honest, I think that growing up Christian and reading the Bible for years has allowed me to make excuses to myself. “If I don’t read every day it’s not a big deal. I’ve read the Bible my whole life. I know what’s in there.”. That mentality is the equivalent of starving to death, then someone offers you food and you say “I used to eat food all the time.  I remember what it tastes like.  I remember what it smells like. So thanks for the offer, but I’m good.”. Our souls need daily nourishment and the word of God is where we find it.

    So how do I fix this problem. As a husband and a father, I want to foster a household that delights itself in the reading of God’s word.  That’s why my family has decided to take on a challenge.  We have agreed that before each meal, we will take a few minutes and read our bibles together. This is not a substitution for our individual devotional time, but it does ensure that as a family we are not skipping our spiritual meals. So far we have found this to be very beneficial. Not only are we reading more often, but we are reading together and then discussing the passage over a delicious meal. We are currently reading through the book of James.

    Some may see this as establishing a routine.

    I see it more as establishing a rhythm.

-Foreknown