Monday, February 20, 2006

A glimpse of the past

From time to time, the Lord sends someone to the corner of 9th and McKinley who has been there before ... maybe someone from the earliest days of the building when it was built more than 90 years ago.

Recently, Mrs. Dorothy Cooley McLemore filled in a piece of the mission's history. After a chat with her friend, Jeannie Spence, about the volunteer work she does at Cross & Crown, Mrs. McLemore realized this mission was located in the building where her mother grew up going to church!

She also remembered a special keepsake that she had - an ornate presentation plate stamped with a picture of the building. She knew it must have a new home. She beautifully framed it and recently presented it to Paul Whitmire at the mission where it now hangs on the wall in the office.

Here's what the back of the plate says:
The Second Presbyterian Church of Oklahoma City was organized May 1, 1904, and held services on West Main Street until it moved to the present location in May 1910. Services were held in the basement rooms until completion of the sanctuary. The cornerstone was laid in October 1910, and the sanctuary and building were completed and dedicated on December 17, 1911.

Here's what the placard on the wall next the picture says:
The plate was donated to Cross & Crown Mission by Dorothy Cooley McLemore, daughter of Orenda Elizabeth Lutz Cooley. Orenda was born May 14, 1904, (the same month and year the Second Prebyterian Church was founded), in Manchester, Massachusetts, and moved to Oklahoma City with her parents and brother whuile she was an infant. She was an active lifelong member of the Second Prebyterian Church. All four of her children attended church with her, and sometime later, two granddaughters and one grandson attended.

These glimpses into the past of this building serve as proof of God's faithfulness, and shows how a building that had been forgotten, that had it's very foundation crumbling just five short years ago and was doomed for demolition, can rise up again to proclaim the Lord's favor and to serve His people.

Getting a share of Sharefest

What an honor to be included as a project for Sharefest. Cross & Crown Mission will benefit later this spring when Sharefest holds its annual work day.

Check out Sharefest to see if your congregation is taking part or how you can be involved in this mighty work as it seeks to "demonstrate the love of Christ to our community."

Let your light shine before men,
that they may see your good deeds
and praise your Father in Heaven

Friday, February 17, 2006

An era of grace

Rock Star Bono (of U2) spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2, 2006, in Washington DC. A very compelling and poignant speech, if not surreal to think that an Irish born rock star was preaching to some of the most powerful policy makers in the world, about the seriousness of poverty. If you haven't seen it elsewhere or heard about it on the news, read his speech here. Read what Bono has to say about love, mercy and God.

Mr. President, First Lady, King Abdullah, Other heads of State, Members of Congress, distinguished guests…

Please join me in praying that I don’t say something we’ll all regret.

That was for the FCC.

If you’re wondering what I’m doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I’m certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It’s certainly not because I’m a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I’m here because I’ve got a messianic complex.

Yes, it’s true. And for anyone who knows me, it’s hardly a revelation.

Well, I’m the first to admit that there’s something unnatural… something unseemly… about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the South of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert… but this is really weird, isn’t it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind. .

Mr. President, are you sure about this?

It’s very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned—I’m Irish.

I’d like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I’d like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws… but of course, they don’t always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you’re here.

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here—Muslims, Jews, Christians—all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

Yes, it’s odd, having a rock star here—but maybe it’s odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was… well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays… and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land… and in this country, seeing God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash… in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment…

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.

Perhaps because I was a believer.

I was cynical… not about God, but about God’s politics. (There you are, Jim.)

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick—my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the Millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world’s poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord’s call—and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic’s point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.

‘Jubilee’—why ‘Jubilee’?

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lords favor?

I’d always read the Scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)…

‘If your brother becomes poor,’ the Scriptures say, ‘and cannot maintain himself… you shall maintain him… You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.’

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he’s met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he’s a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn’t done much… yet. He hasn’t spoken in public before…

When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,’ he says, ‘because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.’ And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour, the year of Jubilee. (Luke 4:18)

What he was really talking about was an era of grace—and we’re still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate—in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn’t a bless-me club… it wasn’t a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions… making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.

But then my cynicism got another helping hand.

It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called A.I.D.S. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The one’s that didn’t miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children… Even fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself Judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move.

Mercy was on the move.

God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet… Conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS… Soccer moms and quarterbacks… hip-hop stars and country stars… This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!

Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.

It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened—and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even—that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying… on AIDS and global health, governments listened—and acted.

I’m here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. “If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places”

It’s not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It’s not an accident. That’s a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. [You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.] ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.’ (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here’s some good news for the President. After 9-11 we were told America would have no time for the World’s poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it’s true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have double aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund—you and Congress—have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here’s the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There’s is much more to do. There’s a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.

Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad.

Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, “mother nature”. In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It’s annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren’t they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, “Equal?” A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, “Yeah, ‘equal,’ that’s what it says here in this book. We’re all made in the image of God.”

And eventually the Pharaoh says, “OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews—but not the blacks.”

“Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man.”

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than two million Americans… left and right together… united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.

We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King—mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market… that’s a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents… That’s a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents… that’s a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That’s why I say there’s the law of the land… and then there is a higher standard. There’s the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it’s OK to protect our agriculture but it’s not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that’s what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won’t, at least. Will yours?


I close this morning on … very… thin… ice.

This is a dangerous idea I’ve put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God… vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.

And this is a town—Washington—that knows something of division.

But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the Scriptures call the least of these.

This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Luke 6:30) Jesus says that.

‘Righteousness is this: that one should… give away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.’ The Koran says that. (2.177)

Thus sayeth the Lord: ‘Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.’ The jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.

That is a powerful incentive: ‘The Lord will watch your back.’ Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it… I have a family, please look after them… I have this crazy idea…

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you’re doing.

Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what He’s calling us to do.

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to ten percent of the family budget. Well, how does that compare the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than one percent.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing…. Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is one percent?

One percent is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

One percent is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. One percent is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. One percent is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. One percent is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This one percent is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

One percent is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism towards Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than one percent now. Were asking for an extra one percent to change the world. to transform millions of lives—but not just that and I say this to the military men now – to transform the way that they see us.

One percent is national security, enlightened economic self interest, and a better safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, one percent is the best bargain around.

These goals—clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty—these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a Globalised World.

Now, I’m very lucky. I don’t have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don’t have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don’t have to make the tough choices.

But I can tell you this:

To give one percent more is right. It’s smart. And it’s blessed.

There is a continent—Africa—being consumed by flames.

I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did—or did not to—to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Rocks of Rock Island

Are those rocks going on our Rock Island house?
Praise God for progress! Remember this new house for Cross & Crown's youth ministry started going up during a building blitz last July? God has faithfully sent materials, contractors, money and volunteers to keep the construction going!

The rock is a huge step!

This beautiful new structure in the neighborhood is drawing lots of attention. It's so exciting to talk to passersby who ask about it and we say this is for the teenagers of our neighborhood. A safe place to hang out, be mentoried, receive personal prayer and learn about their Father.

Yesterday, Lizzie, one of the regulars during the Thursday night connect time walked by the new house. When asked if she was excited about the house, her bright smile conveyed her thoughts perfectly! YES!!!!

So many generous hearts. So much love is going into this house. Praise God.

Until Rock Island is open, the teens meet on Thursday evenings in the "Underground" area that's designed for the younger kids at the main mission building. Contact Ron if you want to volunteer to help on Thursdays, or on Tuesday after school (3-5) with the elementary age kids. You'll bless and be blessed.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Shout to the Lord

George picked out this scripture to read last Sunday night at the mission.

Psalm 100
1 Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs. 3 Acknowledge that the Lord is God.
He made us, and we are His -
His people, the sheep of His pasture. 4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him and praise His name. 5 For the Lord is good, and His love is eternal;
His faithfulness endures through all generations.

A gift of grace and peace

Many of the children who were at the mission this last Sunday night went home with a special gift. A handmade cross crafted by Clyde. When asked why he wanted to make them and give them away, he said he made them that afternoon and wanted to give them as gifts representing God's grace and peace. Earlier in the evening, he mentioned that he also was hurting from some old injuries and ailments that he received in the military that still afflicted him all these years later.

Some of his pain in the joints of his hands. Yet, it didn't hinder him from fashioning crosses out of pieces of trim and twine and yarn.

Clyde presides over the Lord's Supper communion table that is available each Sunday night. Unwaveringly, he waved his crosses throughout the worship service, singing the choruses that Ron was leading, especially the chorus of "Blessed be Your Name." His deep voice rang out through the sanctuary ... "blessed be your name, on a road marked with suffering ... when there's pain in the offering. Blessed be your name."

Thank you God for Clyde, and let those children who received his gift of a handmade cross treasure it all of their lives. Priceless.