Wednesday, December 3, 2008

God Bless the Broken Road

I am not one for traditional or the normal on anything faith based, not that I don't respect tradition, I do, but my faith road is a little crooked. So, it's no surprise my songs of Thanksgiving would be unusual.

The Rascal Flatts song, Bless the Broken Road is my song of Thanksgiving. Giving thanks for the twisted road that brought me to where I am now. At this time of Thanksgiving, I want to get to the point of being Thankful for all of the hard times, and disasters in my life that has led me to where I am. That’s the point of the song. Thanking God for all of the hard times in love and life that led to the one person who makes you complete; for the bad experiences that prepared you for the best times of your life. At this time of year, the week after Thanksgiving and days before the anniversary of one of the worst days of my life, I want to share a stretch of my Broken Road.

At age 15, I was having a lousy year. That summer, I wrecked my moped at thirty or so miles per hour and landed in gravel on my knee. I spent 45 minutes with my Dad holding my hand, as they cleaned gravel out of the knee joint, I kid you not with a toothbrush. Due to that I missed Football camp and pretty much ended my career (not a huge loss, but at the time . . .). In the fall, I contracted pneumonia and spent weeks at home sick, causing me to almost have to repeat my Sophomore year of High School.

Later, the day after Thanksgiving, I was helping a new wrestler learn a new move. I was 10 lbs of weight loss (easily something I could lose in the next few weeks at the time) away from joining the Varsity Team in only my second year. By the way, earning me a new car from my Dad when I got my varsity letter, something every 16 year old would love. In the process if doing the move, he shattered the bone in the center of my foot into five pieces. I got to spend the next few moths, literally up until my 16th Birthday in a cast and ending my season (no car for you). But a little over a week and a half later, what had been bad, turned into one of my worst days ever.

My father, who survived being shot, blown up by a grenade, two helicopter crashes, a plane crash, a fire that melted the section of his ship, etc. in 22 years of military service had just retired. All the time he was in the military, we knew what him dying would look like. We knew because that was one of his duties in the military, telling families their loved one was not returning. We knew that a government car would pull up, two men in uniform would get out, one usually a medic (my Dad) and one may be the base chaplain. They would walk up to the door, get invited in, and the regrets of a nation, etc would be given.

But on December 8, 1983, that couldn’t happen to us. Dad had retired and worked in a lab for the City of Akron Health Department, while he finished his undergrad degree. His biggest day to day danger would be a needle stick. But, on his lunch hour that day, he went shopping for Christmas presents, and died in a car accident. He died instantly when he blacked out, for unknown reasons, and I found out not by the military car pulling up while I played outside, but as I limped in the door and saw my Mom in tears and shock with our family friend, a doctor.

Now, you’re asking yourself, how can I be thinking of this as Thanksgiving. Well, that whole year, that seemed like hell to me, was preparing me for losing my Dad. I got to spend lots more time with him: holding his hand in a way not threatening to a teenage boy; spending time together as I healed from two bad injuries and one bad illness. We got to spend more time together in that year, than most of the previous 14 years. And thanks to the missed school which gave me tons of homework to make up and the crutches, I was not in the car with him when he blacked out driving on a shopping run I was originally invited to join.

Still, grateful for my Dad dying? Well, that’s harder to get to. However, I would not be the man I am now without that time. I would not be the compassionate person I am, having never experienced that loss. I would not be the husband who values every second I get with my wife, whether it would end at year eleven (where we are at now), twenty or so years that my parents got, or another fifty years. I would not be the Father I am now without his example. I would not be the lawyer I am without the fighting spirit, devotion to causes, and ability to annoy I inherited from him. Were it not for the insurance he bought and the scholarship I earned due to his death, my family would not have had the means to help me become a lawyer. Not worth the life lost, but what I life I gained.

So, as the 25th Anniversary of this "worst day yet" approaches on Monday, God Bless the Broken Road that led me straight to you, my friends, my church family, and my wife.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Kirtan Chanting

Awhile back a friend invited me to come to her yoga studio for some Kirtan chanting. I am not an expert on Kirtan -- just knew there would be some chanting, drumming, dancing (optional) and good vibes. It sounded fun, so I went. It was cool. I felt more peaceful when I left than when I arrived.

However, because I am a church planter who can rarely ever turn it off, I could not help studying the crowd and the event and trying to discern what was going on. This is the definition of Kirtan that was on the flyer for the event:

"Kirtan is a group participatory experience of sacred chanting that will open your heart and build deeper connection to yourself, others and the Divine. This practice cultivates energy (Shakti) and joyful devotion (Bhakti). Kirtan is considered, in India, to be one of the surest paths to enlightenment. It's fun and anyone can quickly learn to chant."

While there, I heard the leader give an invitation something like this: "when we chant, the spirit in us connects with The Divine Spirit, and in the experience we are connected with one another too. And we all receive positive energy in this shared experience." Fair enough. The experience proved true.

The experience also reinforced another truth for me: people in our world are longing for ways to connect with the divine. We know that the values of our culture are shallow and materialistic. We know that we are spiritual creatures and there is more to life. We want to connect with our own spirits, with God/Spirit, and with other people.

In terms of the music and chanting of Kirtan, it has power and movement. The words, Sanskrit I think, meant little to me. But in the music, there was a pattern of calm, then heightened energy, and then a return to calm. The pattern was much like that in a good Gospel song, or a chant from the Christian monks in Taize France -- even much like a good Christian rock band -- engaging the crowd. Music has the power to draw us beyond ourselves -- and connect us to one another.

In the end, there was nothing particularly remarkable in Kirtan, in itself. It is a means, like so many other means -- an inviation, if you will -- for us to settle our spirits, and connect with the Divine Spirit who created every one of us. Kirtan is a practice. Prayer is also a practice. So is meditation. Kirtan could be called an experience of communal worship.

I do not mean to diminish the power of Kirtan. It is not my purpose to offend. I am glad that persons who are spiritually searching, can draw closer to the Divine using this means.

I suppose, as a church planter, I just have to ask the question: why aren't more of our churches creating spaces for persons to settle into their centers, and connect spirit to Spirit? How did we lose that revival spirit that spread across this country when it was young, and birthed so many churches? And why are 'church people' mostly unable to be moved by the Holy Spirit?

As I ponder the planting of The Village -- as a movement -- I am inspired to do better -- to create safe spaces where folks can meet the Divine in authentic ways. I am discouraged at the state of the church today. I believe we can do better. This is my vision for The Village. This is my prayer.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Scarcity & Six Year Old

As I sit here today, fear and anger in this country is getting to palpable. We are mad at our leaders for not hopping into fix a financial mess, we are angry at greedy people who took and took and now we must pay. We are afraid of tomorrow and whether we will have the money we need when we need it. We want our leaders to do something but we have differing opinions on how to handle it.

As I was driving with my son, James, I was trying to translate the problems, which he did notice, into terms a six year old (in 40 days on election day he will be 6) could understand. Lately, his favorite breakfast food is Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bars. He will eat only those out of a three pack of flavors. Surely, I thought that only having one of these precious bars would convey the idea of scarcity and the fear of it. Sure enough, he got that not having a bar for him and his sister would be a bad thing and he might not be happy if he was told it was the last bar. But, then he answered in a way guaranteed to make any Christian parent happy. He didn't say he would be fighting with his sister to get the last bar. No, his response was, "Dad, we would just have to cut the bar in half and share". I thought immediately of the early Christians and the Book of Acts.

In the Book of Acts, we see the early Christians doing just that "[t]hose who owned fields or hoses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person's needs". Acts 4: 34-35 from the Message translation. God has always found a way to provide to the people. Joseph and his dreams to warn the Pharaoh and ensure that food would be stored. Manna from heaven to feed the wandering people, etc. But the message has also been, don't hoard, share, take only what you need. Wouldn't it be nice if we Christians actually lived like that now, today.

By the way, I didn't try hard enough with the cereal bar analogy. When I made it the last piece of candy, well then the gloves were off and the bidding war was ready to begin.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Prayer is the way to stay in love with God!"

In Unbinding your Heart: 40 Days of Prayer and Faith Sharing, Martha Grace Reese writes: "Prayer is the way to stay in love with God" (p. 37). I am a self-identified progressive, AND I love Jesus. I've been told by some, that those two things don't always go together. That puzzles me. But that's a post for another day. . .

My entire life, I have struggled with having a daily prayer routine . . . doing it for awhile, and then falling off the wagon and failing to do so for awhile longer. About 3 years ago, sitting on my front porch (I'll try to post a picture here), I had a deep experience of prayer that changed my life. I came to love Jesus and not be afraid to say that outloud. I'm still the same Cheri -- with a passion for justice and making the world a better place for all -- and now I also have a passion for taking the time to meet God, and rest in God, and listen for God's nudgings. And so, yes, I would have to agree with Martha Grace Reese: "prayer is the way to stay in love with God."

I know that my life is more balanced, and I am more content and centered, when I pray every day. And yet I find this discipline a challenge. (I never really liked that thing: "discipline.") Still, I find myself hungering for a spiritual rhythm -- a practice -- that draws me closer to God on a daily basis.

I'm starting another 40 day prayer practice today, much like the one I did in the Fall of 2005 that eventually led to God showing me a vision for The Village Church. I'm putting this commitment on my blog and inviting my friends to help hold me accountable. How about you? Do you find that prayer helps you stay in love with God? Is the practice of prayer, on a regular basis, a challenge for you?


Saturday, September 13, 2008

The film "Traitor"

Last night I saw the film "Traitor" with Don Cheadle. What a great film! Cheadle is fantastic. This film shows the complexities of religion and what it means to love God. In a compelling story line, we see how fundamentalism, in any religion, CAN lead to fanaticism and terrorism, but does not have to. The simple truth of the film is this: there exist in our world both Muslims and Christians who love deeply and who show great compassion for other human beings. This film is an invitation for all of us to learn and value what it means to be citizens of a global world.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Does DOING Weigh you Down? Come Spend a Day Just BEING!"

One of the founding principals of the Village as a community of faith is going to be balance. Ensuring the proper balance in our lives is a key to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus did not just go out and do good deeds. He took the time not only to pray himself but also taught his disciples how to pray (the only thing they asked him to teach them - Matthew 6: 5 onward).

This fall, our Retreat Day will focus on finding a BALANCE in "being quiet" in the midst of our "busy-ness of doing so many things." On Saturday August 23rd, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. , we will gather at Park Church, 1456 Harvard Blvd; and retreat across the street to Walbridge Park (weather permitting). Children are welcome and will have their own leader with activities just for them! Cost: $25 per adult; $15 per child, with lunch included.

To register send a deposit of $10 per person, to: Village Church, 2547 Robinwood, Toledo, OH 43610; include your name, phone number and e mail address. Deposit must be received by August 15 to reserve your space.

Our leader is Breta Gorman, Spiritual Director at Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center in Fremont, OH; Master Reiki teacher; and pastor Cheri's Spiritual Director and friend for the past 12 years. Cheri calls Breta, "The coolest nun on the planet."

The leader for the Children's program will be Heather Utsler, BGSU Education major. The children will play and discover the beauty of God's creation.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

We Serve

Jesus, in the gospel of Mark, laid out what his disciples could expect as a follower of his. The way was not going to be one of power and glamor "43 It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. 44 Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. 45 That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served-and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage." Mark 10: 43-45, from the Message translation of the Bible.

Jesus was not the kind of leader his people were expecting. The people of the time expected the savior to be a great military leader, a great speaker, a power broker without compare. Instead, what they got was a leader who served all. Someone who thought that the only path to true leadership was to serve.

That's the kind of life I am trying to lead. It is, I pray daily, the life I am modeling for my kids. Almost every day, daily is a little too ambitious for me, but I am working on it, I utter a prayer asking God to make me God's servant. Not make me rich, make me powerful, make we wise, help me save the world, etc.

The word the guides me on this path is from Japan. Translated to English, it means literally "We Serve". However, if you don't know Japanese, you could be forgiven for thinking that "Samurai" refers to a group of sword swinging warriors from Japan, and believe me, they were. But the Samurai's job was to protect the peace and safety of the kingdom and serve the Empire by doing so. That meant that when needed they were cops, ditch diggers, diplomats, and yes, sword wielding warriors.

So, as you begin to think about your journey, and as we begin ours as the Village, think of "We Serve", because that is one of our main things around here. We are a community of servants. By the way, if you need a visual symbol, that's the symbol at the start of this post.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Ok, when I start seeing social commentary in Pixar movies, I am in deep. I have to confess I am an animation nut. I love Disney movies, I love Pixar movies, with a few exceptions, I love animated shows. I just had the kids to stop the strange looks at movie theaters (ok, I really have always wanted to be a Dad). Thankfully, the Spirit has used this gift to help make the worship at Cheri’s past churches and hopefully the Village as well more relevant (talk to the people in the language of the culture is what the early Christians did to spread the Gospel).

Pixar’s latest effort, WALL E, by the way awesome movie, has me thinking about our culture and where it is headed. WALL E is a robot left on Earth in the future to clean up the planet. Our rampant consumerism has littered the planet with garbage and the Big N Large Corporation has the solution. We will all go on a five year cruise, leaving an army of robots to clean things up. One problem, the planet is just too trashed, the robots can’t get it done, in fact WALL E is the last one standing. Meanwhile, what to do with us, well, we are pampered to the point we can barely walk, bombarded with entertainment, and no one notices that hundreds of years have passed, or even the ship they have grown up has pools. At the start of the cruise, everyone plays golf, tennis, swims, etc. Seven hundred years later, they have robots do it all for them. Why chew? Food is delivered in flavored shakes.

So, could this happen? Well, our five year old told me this week he does not like the outdoors much and really just wants to play video games in doors. Fortunately, he does like sports, and does not have his father’s waistline, yet, despite that statement. Our kids are presented daily with bad food choices, too much entertainment (no I don’t want to totally junk U.S. pop culture, just clean it up some), very little emphasis on movement.

Could we get to the point where we are controlled by food, entertainment, and a general plenty? Well, it’s only been done throughout human history. Let’s hope we don’t trash the planet and ourselves to get there. God gave us this planet, let’s see if we can give it back to God in some shape.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Lately, I have been so grateful for "Call." Call sustains me when I hit obstacles. I have a sense that God is active in my life, and has been preparing me for my whole life to plant the new spiritual community I have come to know as The Village Church.

There are times, in answering the call to plant a church, when I have hit walls in places that I expected to find encouragement. This quote from TS Eliot has sustained me. As I begin this new journey of "blogging" I share this encouraging word.

T. S. Eliot from The Family Reunion

In a world of fugitives the person taking the opposite direction will appear to run away. If the truth has made us odd, if we have not accommodated ourselves out of all recognition, then it will appear to some people that we're running away, that we're living an escapist existence, that we're outsiders, even outlaws -- whereas the truth is that we're the insiders, because we're bearing God's reality, not the world's. We are the true establishment, because we are building and inhabiting God's basilica, the commonwealth of eternity, not earth.

I look forward to being on this journey. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about Call and whatever else . . .

Cheri Holdridge

The Great Adventure

For those of you just joining us, and since as I type this, the only subscribers are the contributors, you're joining us in progress, welcome to the great adventure of the Village. My dream for the Village is church worthy of that title, the church. As a twenty something, I had given up that any organized religion or church was really worthy of it's charter from God. Religion had become about maintaining institutions, not being the change God wanted in the world. I never doubted the existence of a benevolent, creator creature. I never doubted the God had a son, Jesus. I just doubted that any of the "alleged" spokesmen on Earth, really spoke for God any more. It literally took dating a pastor, and since I am married to her now I tend to frown on that as a technique to get people in the door, to get me in the door of a church.

I have seen glimpses of what God wants a church to be, Ginghamsburg UMC in Dayton, OH but they have some theological leanings I didn't like. Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC, but never anyone where I lived and never one that would agree with my belief that I am the political persuasion I am, liberal on most issues, because I am Christian, not inspite of it.

I want a church that lives, not just talks, the message God love us all and asks that we love each other and God. The Village is going to be that church. We are about creating the kingdom, the reign, whatever your language, of God on Earth.

What will that look like? Everyone (black, white, hispanic, asian, gay, straight, rich, poor, literate, illiterate, powerful, powerless, believer and non-believer) is a beloved child of God. We all contribute to each other and the world. We change each other's lives, our families, our community, and our world not to score points to get into heaven, but because that is what you do when you love and are loved.

So, with nothing more than a dream, we are starting from scratch. Setting out on a frontier.

Wanna come along?