golden hill

Women, Child Birth and What it Means to be Fully Human Again

Prayer for Baby ChaseMy wife, Jan, was 8 days past her due date when the first signs of labor finally kicked in about 5am. Being past your due date is no fun (keep in mind, I’m a dude talking here, so I really have no idea how hard it really is) as you start to wonder, 1. if this little creature will actually EVER arrive and 2. if your labor will be have to be initiated by powers outside of your control, namely lots of drugs and stuff. After our first babe (Ruby) decided to make her triumphal entry on the very LAST day before we would had to make some hard choices about the road forward, we were praying baby #2 would come along a bit sooner. 

As the contractions strengthened, we celebrated that this was the real deal and Janny locked into this sacred, super-human state of focus and determination like I’ve never encountered.  

Strong. 

Steady. 

Quiet.

At peace. 

It was surreal. Of course, I was a ball of anxiety, fear and anticipation wrapped in the cloak of a “secure support partner.” About 80% of her laboring happened at home when we finally got in the car to head to the birthing center. Trying not to hit the breaks, speed without getting a ticket and keep my mouth shut, we pulled in and got all settled in for the grand arrival. 

Again, surreal. 

Confidently instructing a handful of us on how to support her, Janny was stoic. Not long after we got to the birthing center, our little Rosie arrived in my arms (quite literally!) and we snuggled as a family of four for the first time. 

As I began to process what had just unfolded in front of my eyes, I was struck by the sacredness of the whole birthing event. A women is able to grow a baby inside of her body (with a TINY bit of help from a man), have a full grown baby come out of her body and then offer it all the resources it needs…with her body. 

There is something sacred to this and I don’t think it gets celebrated or near the attention it should. 

When God created humanity, we were made in God’s image. The very nature of God was inscribed on us as God had serious plans for the role humans would play in the Creation Story. There was no sin. No fallenness. No vision for us to become subservient to the constructs that would be assembled around us. In fact, to be fully human was to be quite divine. 

Of course, we know there was a break in the Story. Selfishness, infidelity and violence started to corrupt what was originally created to be in perfect union with God. 

While our faith tradition affirms the reality of sin, it also affirms the reality of God’s image and design being central to who we are as humans. After the Reformation (think John Calvin, Martin Luther and a lot of angry church folk), this portion of our tradition didn’t get as much press, but it is just as true as ever. 

That brings me back to what I saw and experienced in that birthing center. I got a glimpse into a rightly ordered creation. I saw -- quite tangibly -- the way God created us to function…and it was remarkable. It was worship. It was a reminder that the God who created us hasn’t given up on us. No, in fact, he is still very much with us, we just need to have the eyes to see it.

One of our dear friends and neighbors is a couple weeks out from her due date. After losing her first baby a few months into her pregnancy, these moments leading up to arrival seem a little extra sacred. Having lost our first baby at 5 months along, Janny understands the mental, emotional and spiritual weight of carrying a baby to term after such a tragedy. 

As such, Janny transformed our upstairs bedroom into a little haven of blessing, encouragement and renewal. With candles lit and soft music streaming quietly through the space, she invited this woman over for a facial. Having gotten her friend settled into this space, Janny started to reveal a series of surprises that turned an ordinary facial into an experience with the divine. 

One of our other friends came in the room with her harp and began to play next to the bed. Then, one-by-one, women from our faith community came into the room and offered blessings over mom and baby. Instead of leaving after their blessing, most stayed and began massaging her feet and arms and belly. 

Tears were shed, burdens were carried together and the hope of new life became palpable. 

I often talk about the idea of a thin place; a physical space where heaven and earth seem to collide. A place where God’s kingdom is made real.

In this instance, it was a place where we got a glimpse into what it means to be fully human again. A place where God’s intended design actually came about. 

In a world where heroism, success and order are most often defined by men projecting their insecurities on society, I thank God for women. And for far more than childbirth (that just happens to be what deeply moved me recently).

For their leadership.

For their compassion.

For the way they show us what sacrificial love actually looks like.

For the way they guide us to the stuff that actually matters most.

For they remind us that rightly ordered humanity isn’t about who holds the most power, but who is most willing to give it away for the sake of another.

Because, for me, women show us how to be fully human again. 

When Good News Looks Like Something: 5 Ways to Engage Your Neighborhood

StreetFair3I love my neighborhood. It’s not that it is all that glamorous or cool or “safe” or whatever. It’s that it is full of people who actually want to experience some kind of community together. There is a building sense that we all have some skin in the game and that our thriving is somehow connected to the thriving of our neighbor. Whether talking with fellow parents at the park, young students at the dive bar or our friends in the local Mexican bakery, words like community, neighborhood and integration seem to be finding their way into our everyday vocabulary of conversation.

It’s not always been this way in Golden Hill.

It wasn’t too long ago that our neighborhood was known as “Heroin Hill” because of the drug presence and violent activities that regularly surrounded it.

Before that, it was known as the “Garbage Dump” because our numerous recovery homes would house societies “garbage.”

Well, there is a new narrative bubbling to the surface on our streets, storefronts and in our homes. It is a narrative of new life, renewed hope and a common vision for a shared future. 

Just two weeks ago, we had our second annual Golden Hill Street Fair. The same streets that have endured years of crime, segregation and hopelessness began to spring to life. This early Sunday morning, like a garden showing its first signs of germination, 25th street (which is right outside our front door) started sprouting to life as tent after tent took their place. Stages were being set up and the smell of a dozen different ethnic foods began to fill the air. The beer garden was taking shape as three local breweries brought out their finest, and resident volunteers were running a million miles a minute, the majority of whom had huge smiles on their faces.

The anticipation was palpable.

And then people started streaming in. By noon, there had probably already been about 5,000 people that had come through and by the end of the day, close to 20,000.

20,000 people. That’s more than our neighborhood’s total population.

IMG_6317I volunteered to work the event (with my 3 year old by my side watching Dora the Explorer and dancing to the mariachi bands) selling customized Golden Hill t-shirts. As the line grew with each passing hour, I realized something about my neighbors and the neighborhood we share. Golden Hill was receiving a new identity. No longer a place to be ashamed of or viewed only as a holding area until we could afford to live some place better, our neighbors were proud of our neighborhood. Not because our real estate values went up or because our crime levels had dropped, but because we were sensing the type of community humanity is designed for.

We were moving towards a common good together and that made the impossible seem possible. These types of spaces encourage the lonely widow to experience the joy of new life. They allow the single mother to realize they aren’t alone. They create space for isolated families to engage with one another and dream about shared life.  

For a number of years now, I have been apart of a community of about 30 people who all live in Golden Hill seeking to stumble towards Jesus together. We don’t have it all figured out, but we deeply care for our neighbors and our neighborhood in general. Between all of us, we have established hundreds of relationships within these 7 X 10 blocks. Over the course of the day, I saw nearly every person we have experienced life with over the years. From a distant acquaintance to a dear friend. From the liquor storeowner to my community league basketball buddy. From my farmer’s market colleagues, to local pastor friends.

Within each interaction, there was a common spark in our eyes. A spark of celebration of what has been unfolding and anticipation for what is to come. 

Having helped start our neighborhood Farmer’s Market a few years ago and now finishing my first full year on the board of our Neighborhood Council, my perspective on what is unfolding in my neighborhood is much different than at any other time in my life. These kinds of Kingdom moments don’t just happen randomly. They are not moments we can simply sit back and hope create themselves. No, these are sacred moments the Community of God is called to be right in the middle of.

Here are some ways we can begin to engage our neighborhoods redemptively and link arms with others for the common good:

1. Stop spending so much time at church

Before you walk me down the Plank ‘O Heresy, here me out. I’m not saying we stop gathering as the Church. No, no, no. What I am saying is that, 1. It is easy for Christians to think the best ministry happens at a church building. As a result, we get so busy going to a building (that usually is not in our neighborhood) to do ministry, that we don’t have any time to share life with those right outside our front door. In the words of my friend, Jer Swigart, “We can live in our neighborhoods without actually ever living life within it.” 2. See your neighborhood as your local parish. These are the people you have been called to live, love and lead alongside. Having hosted many formal church sponsored events in my day, I can’t tell you how freeing and transformative it was to help host an event that wasn’t put on by a church, but could be intimately engaged by the Church. People don’t know me as “Jon the Pastor,” but as Jon the dude who plays basketball in the rec center or Jon the guy who works at the farmers market or Jon on the Neighborhood Council. We don’t have to have a “Christian” title to do ministry. In fact, those titles can often be the greatest hindrance.

2. Identify the assets in your neighborhood

What does your neighborhood already have to offer that you can simply come alongside and support? We don’t need to start our own “Christian” version of things, we simply need to follow Jesus into the places he already is at work and join him there. What are the public spaces where your neighbors already gather? Join your local sports leagues, take your kids to the same park everyday, shop at the same businesses, build relationships at the local pub/bar/coffee shop, support the local church in your neighborhood (even if you don’t like the preaching or music or whatever), etc…

3. Connect with influencers in your neighborhood

Whether they are long time residents, business leaders, local politicians or artist, there are people who carry a lot of influence in your neighborhood. Seek them out and take them to coffee. You will be surprised at how thrilled they will be to hear of your common heart for your neighborhood and begin to form a collaborative relationship. They will give you access to people and systems that would take you years on your own.

4. Immerse yourself in the areas of brokenness

We are taught to only see either what is right in front of us or what is pleasing to the eye. If we are to follow Jesus into our neighborhoods, we must be agents of reconciliation. This means we have to intentionally walk off the beaten paths and see what is happening below the surface that is in need of healing. This may be a hidden population in your neighborhood who is either being oppressed/forgotten (whether intentionally or not), a political or economic injustice or a sociological reality like isolation, depression or workaholism. These must take a human face. Immersing isn’t simply identifying a problem, but entering into it redemptively (think Incarnation).

5. Contend for the broken to the point of restoration. 

Jesus followers are to live in the reality of Resurrection. Even though things may look impossible and the hope of New Creation far off, we must remain in the game even when things get tough. While things will not always end how we’d hope, we are to walk with people and systems with a vision for restoration. The Good Samaritan didn’t put a Band-Aid on the broken down pilgrim and walk away. No, he walked him, sacrificing his own good to the point of restoring the pilgrim back to community. This is where most of us want to jump ship, but this is where the world needs us most.

In the late 1800’s a poet had a vision for my neighborhood beyond what most could see at that time. It is a picture that lifts our site line from a broken past and gives us a glimpse of a hopeful future.

As the sun rolls down and is lost to sight,

Tinting the scene with its golden light,

The Islands dim and the fading shore,

The ebbing tide through our harbor door,

The drooping sails of an anchoring fleet,

The shadowy city at our feet,

With the Mountains’ proud peaks so lofty and still,

‘Tis a picture worth seeing, from Golden Hill.

 

Raising Children to be Global Citizens

It’s not often that Janny (my wife!) and I write a blog together, so it was especially fun writing this post for Allison Buzard’s current series asking how to live out the radical way of Jesus while raising kids. 

Our Daughter Ruby w/Afghan Family

Our Daughter Ruby w/Afghan Family

Before we had kids, we loved to travel, had worldview stretching experiences and were all together creative in how we lived the lives we had been given.  For us, having the right kind of experiences meant far more than have the right kind of house, car or other possession that could be associated with “success.”  As we reflect on our development individually and as a couple in the context of marriage, it is clear that these experiences (and resulting relationships) have shaped us more significantly than any classroom or lecture series.  It has been the classroom of real life relationships that have formed us into global citizens who follow a Jesus with a global reign.  

And then we had kids…

Having heard that we would finally have to “slow down” or change our unorthodox way of life with the wee ones around, we were feeling a bit anxious about this new stage of life.  Would the most life giving elements of our life quickly be swept away in exchange for dirty diapers and trips to the laundry mat?

Well, they could have been, but we quickly realized that the very best gift we could give our children is to live the kind of life we would desire them to live as faithful followers of Jesus.  In other words, if we are to be role models to our children, we need to live the kind of life we’d hope they’ll live someday.  

So, we figured we’d just keep on living the unorthodox way of life and bring ’em along with us.  That’s why God made front packs and folding strollers for crying out loud!!

We are far from having things figured out, but here are a few key learnings we aspire to embody…

Read the complete post on Allison’s blog here.

 

Welcoming Rosie with a Community Blessing

When a new child is born into our community, we have a tradition of taking time to pray blessings over the new life as a way to acknowledge their sacred role not only in the life of our family, but in the life of the community we have entrusted ourselves to.  This is not a new tradition we came up with, but one that stretches back to early parts of our faith tradition.  It is a time to acknowledge that as members of the family of God, Janny and I don’t raise little Rosie on our own, but alongside a community of people who are commited to follow Jesus together.  Having been part of a community like this for a few years, we have found it to be one of the most important gifts we can give to our children.  

Yesterday, among neighbors, family and community mates, we were able to have a time of blessing over our newest little gal, Rosie.  With tears filling most of our eyes, prayers of blessing over Rosie were showered out from all corners of the room.  It was indeed, a thin place; a place where heaven and earth are only thinly separated.  Here is the blessing Janny and I prayed over our newest addition:

Today we celebrate Jesus being resurrected as the 1st of new creation. Gods dream for humanity begin to unfold in the gift of new life.

Rosie, you bring new life not only to your parents and sister, but to this whole community. You are a reflection and reminder of the innocence, purity and reliance humanity is to have on Jesus. 

We bless you with not only with family, but with community. We commit to daily offer you the gift of a community of people that are committed to following Jesus together. 

We bless your eyes that you may always look not through the lens of ethnicity, nationality or title, but through the lens of a shared humanity who shares the image of God. When others aren’t viewed in this way, we bless you with the courage to stand up for those experiencing oppression and reassign them their dignity. 

We bless you with the courage to teach us as we commit to be your students. We except and anticipate the ways you will teach us how to better live, love and lead in a way that honors God and neighbor. 

Lastly, we bless you with a committment to stand with you, cry with you and celebrate with you (even through the terrifying years of adolescence). 

It is with much joy and sacredness that we anticipate your future, little Rosie Lillian Huckins.

Amen 

Jesus’ Name is Alecia. Really??

Ruby and I were going for a long stroll as Janny put in one of her last long days of work before going on maternity leave.  Because I know that our time as a family of three is quickly coming to a close, I walked hand in hand with my little gal with a bit more sacredness.  

She stopped regularly to smell flowers, sang songs and was convinced it was Janny’s birthday, so she made sure to pick the perfect bouquet of flowers (most of which were just pretty weeds) to surprise her mom with when we got home. 
 
As we yet again stood on the sidewalk stalled by another “distraction” -- this time it was the plants growing out of the dirt in the cracks of the concrete -- I saw an older woman walking towards us with two shopping carts full of all sorts of useful contents.  Getting closer to us, I noticed that she had to push one about 20 yards and then walk all the way back to the other and pull it up even with the first.  This happened over and over and over.  It was her reality.  There was nothing strange about it to her, it was just one of life’s necessities.  
 
With Ruby still captivated by these mini-gardens sprouting from the concrete road, I said hello and we shared a smile.  Ruby then looked up and said hello as well.  Ruby and I were in no rush (clearly!!), so I asked if I could pull one of her carts for her as she slowly trod to her next destination.  She didn’t hesitate for a second as she nodded her head smiling. 
 
Ruby pushing her stroller, the women pushing a cart and I the other, we slowly moved down the streets of our shared neighborhood.  She didn’t speak English, but quickly asked if I spoke Spanish.  I knew enough tell her that I didn’t know it well, but would love to give it a shot.  As we walked, we stumbled through a conversation that ranged from what I do for work to how old her six kids are and where they live.  Ruby never seemed to flinch at the surprise interaction and remained focused on her newly important responsibility of pushing her stroller.  
 
Pulling in front of one our neighborhood coffee shops, I told the woman that Ruby and I were going to head in and I asked if she’d like a drink.  Extending a beautiful, almost transcendent smile, she shook her head and we began to part ways.  Mustering up my best Spanish skills, I asked her name and formerly introduced myself and Ruby.  Her name is Alecia. 
 
Alecia, Ruby and I all share a neighborhood.  In many ways, we share life together even if we don’t often realize it.  As Ruby and I sat in the coffee shop, I realized the significance of knowing our neighbors names.  For some, it is act of being known.  For others, it is an act of assigning dignity to one that may otherwise not have much offered to them based on their race or socio-economic reality.  It is what it means to see all people through a shared humanity.  A humanity illumined by the image of God resting within each one of us. 
 
It is sacred ground.  It is Kingdom ground.  It is learning the many names of Jesus that we choose to engage or ignore in our everyday coming and going.  
 
I started a note in my phone called “Names to Remember” after our interaction.  Because next time Jesus walks up to me with a one too many carts to push on his own, I want to be able to call him by name and celebrate our time together. 
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