Monday, September 9, 2013

Update and Some Genesis Thoughts

I've kinda hated the story told in Genesis 22.

For starters, it's one of those dark stories of the Old Testament that has the power to scare people who don't know God away, it can easily be interpreted in very unhelpful ways, and it somehow got elevated to the top tier of flannel graphs in order to traumatize the kiddos, too. This isn't to say it doesn't have anything to teach us or that it isn't useful, but it does mean that this passage comes with a lot of baggage for me and a lot of other Christians. But before I delve into some thoughts on the scripture, I want to make a brief update on what's been going on in my life.

As I have mentioned before, I'm now employed at Connecting Caring Communities. In the six months I have spent at CCC, I have been blessed to visit many different churches from many different neighborhoods. I've experienced and joined in worship with sisters and brothers in Christ who have very different ways of approaching the throne of God than the ones to which I have become accustomed. Though a wonderful few months, this season of frequent visitation is drawing to a close, though I still plan to make monthly visits to congregations around Abilene.

Amanda and I need a church to call home. A place to be ministered to as well as a place to use our gifts for the sake of the world. After prayer and consideration, we ended up at Highland Church of Christ. (I know! Another Church of Christ!) The focus of the church on issues like eliminating homelessness in Abilene along with embracing women in leadership roles in worship were big factors in leading us to Highland, as was their partnering in two neighborhoods I deeply care about: Butternut/Chestnut, which is a neighborhood I'm focusing on through CCC, and College Heights, the neighborhood I felt called to move into in order to work for community development with the St. Ann Community.

Yesterday morning, Amanda and I attended Highland. While Amanda was at a grad school meeting that evening, I joined worship at Grace, the offshoot of Highland in my neighborhood. Jonathan Storment is the Preaching Minister at Highland, and delivers the same sermon at both services. I'm not typically the kind of person that relishes digesting the same lesson twice in a row, but I really like his content and style of presenting. Also, it's given me a chance to listen and think critically more than when I only hear a message once. And so, as I was listening to the sermon about Genesis 22 for the second time in about six hours, some interesting things seeped into my mind that I thought were worth considering.

Firstly, Jonathan said a lot of great things that I won't get into, because he said them really well and there isn't a lot of need to rehash it. If you're interested, check out his blog over at I do want to pick out one of the points he made that stood out to me and expound on how it has played out in my own life.

Jonathan noted that asking Abraham to sacrifice his son was asking him to sacrifice the promise that God had made to him. Abe had been told by a messenger of God, "You and Sarah are going to have a son, and God will make the world a better place through him." That's a pretty dang sweet promise, especially when you were measured as a person based on your family back in the day. And so it happens, they have a son, and name him Isaac. But a few years later, God says to Abe, "Yeah, about that... Go kill Isaac on a mountain for me."

God promised Abraham something great. Something wonderful. Something life changing. And then God switched things up on Abraham, leaving old Abe a choice: do I cling to the promise that God made to me, or do I cling to the God who made the promise. Abraham chooses God over the promise, and is rewarded by God keeping the promise, too.

This makes me think of four years ago, when some college kids were gathered by God in a neighborhood. We didn't know what we were doing, we were just following where God was leading us. In some small ways and some huge ways, God showed us a glimpse of God's vision for the neighborhood. Somewhere in those crazy first few months, we could discern a promise from God, that we would be able to join in with what God was already doing in College Heights.

But the avalanche of activity slowed to a crawl after a while. Though there were certainly milestones along the way, perhaps most notably our group relocating into the neighborhood and setting down roots, I felt like we weren't fulfilling what we had been promised yet. It wasn't until yesterday that I realized that in some ways, I had replaced God with God's promise. It was a subtle shift, but those can be the most insidious. I had made an idol out of a promise.

I don't have a well-thought out plan for returning things to how they should be, but I think it starts by acknowledging that the promise isn't God. God is much bigger than the promise made to a few believers, no matter how good that promise is. With some positive progress on the dream in the last few months, I think it was crucial to be reminded to focus on God, not the promise.

Another thought brought on by listening to lots of Genesis 22 was that Sarah really got the raw end of the deal in the story-telling process. God chats it up with Abraham, let's him know about the whole "sacrifice your only son" thing, but it makes no mention of Isaac's mom. the entire section is called "Abraham Tested" or "Abraham and Isaac." Later in the New Testament it seems like every writer wants to get in on crediting Abraham as righteous because of this whole turn of events. My question is, what about Sarah?

I would like to think that Abraham would talk to Sarah about it before he left the next day, though he doesn't have the best track record of telling the whole truth. If he did tell her, I bet it was not a fun conversation. "Hey babe, what a day... Three sheep wandered into the canyon, that lion was prowling around again, and *begins trailing off* God told me to kill our son tomorrow... How was your day?"

(Discussing this with Amanda, she posited that Abraham probably didn't tell Sarah. That would make sense in a highly patriarchal society.)

If Abraham told his wife, she would also have to have incredible faith to allow her husband to take away her only son. In fact, I would argue it's even harder for someone in her position to have faith. If God tells me something directly, I'm doing it. But if God tells someone else to do something that will affect me, things get dicey. If God clearly tells me to move to the Antarctic, I'm heading there. I'm probably going to complain a heckuva lot, because I'm morally against weather below 60 degrees, but I'm going. If God tells Amanda that we're supposed to move to the Antarctic? I'm going to be much more diligent about looking for alternative interpretations of what she was told. (Maybe there's a neighborhood here in Abilene that is nicknamed "the Antarctic"?)

Here's what I'm driving at: there and tons of people who hear God calling them to a place, to a ministry, to wherever. Props to those who are called and answer, for sure, I believe God blesses that. But I think too often we forget the people who love the called who sacrifice along with them. It's one thing to trust God calling you somewhere. It's an entirely different thing have faith that God is calling someone else, and to follow them on that journey. Sarah could be a great example of that, if we knew her part of the story better. But she is by no means the only person caught up in such a story.

I've heard tons about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lately, what with the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington. But I rarely, if ever, hear the story of his wife. Certainly, Dr. King sacrificed immensely to follow the dreams God put on his heart. But his wife walked with him through so much of it, and had to endure God knows what, up to and including Dr. King's assassination. And yet I don't know anything about her. I don't even know her name.

How many missionaries have heard the call to go overseas, and have brought their spouse along for the ride? Certainly, some of those couples both felt the call equally, but I'm sure there have been many couples in which one says, "God is calling me to mission," and the spouse says, "I'm called to be with you, wherever that might be."

I think about my own wife. I heard the call to ministry and community development, and I knew God wanted me in this neighborhood. Amanda didn't hear that, but had enough faith in God to go along with me. Things looked really bad for a while, especially when we were renting a house I was certain we were supposed to buy, but the buying process was falling apart while renting was eroding our finances. My certainty came easily, because I felt like God told me to do it. Amanda hadn't received any clear signs that everything would work out, but she had faith anyway anyway. In my mind, her faith without seeing was a much bigger deal than me trusting enough to do what I was told.

I'd caught a glimpse of what what coming, and I trusted that God could and would make it happen. Without seeing it, Amanda had faith that God would make good come out of the situation.

What I want to challenge us to do is to look for and listen to the kinds of faith stories that aren't as flashy. The stories that get lost in the shuffle. The stories of people who quietly live out their faith, especially when those stories don't have a remarkable moment of clarity of vision. It's easy to make the mistake of overvaluing certainty and undervaluing stepping out in faith without assurance. I think we will be blessed when we look for and listen to those stories of faith.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Church of Christ and Where I Am

For most of my life, my home church has had the words "Church of Christ" in the title. I have many fond memories of Churches of Christ: several have employed me, I graduated from a university affiliated with the CoC, and a Church of Christ even served as my home for a semester.

During my life, I have tried to do my best to notice the positive aspects and encourage them within my stream of faith. On the other hand, I have often noticed what I consider discrepancies between what I believe and how the Church of Christ functions as a body. For the most part, I have quietly continued to work within the church structures that I call "home," seeking one-on-one or small group discussions, rather than confrontation. This was always a difficult choice, because my desire to be a voice pushing for positive change is and must always be tempered by my desire for unity.

With that said, my church situation has changed, and with it my situation. My time as Youth Intern for Buffalo Gap Church of Christ ended amicably this month as I transitioned into a new job. Amanda and I were brought to the front and prayed over as we begin a new phase of our lives. For the first time in my life, I am not affiliated by membership or employment to a Church of Christ, though I will certainly be visiting many of the local congregations.

As you might have read on facebook or in the last blog post, I was recently hired as a Community Coordinator for Connecting Caring Communities, a local, Christian nonprofit. While there are many facets of my position, one of the tasks I was most excited about was visiting churches in the neighborhoods I serve. This allows me to meet many different people and participate in a myriad of different worship styles.

What does this all mean?

Well, for starters, here's what it doesn't mean. It does not mean that I am exempt from promoting unity within the body. It does not mean that I will start popping off about what frustrates me most about the Church of Christ. It doesn't mean that I love my brothers and sisters who live and love in the Church of Christ any less.

What this does mean is that I can now gently and thoughtfully push for more conversation and consideration on issues that I think are important. This means that I can do so without fear that my views will be mistaken for the views of the elders or ministers who lovingly serve at a church I attend. It means that my words can be my own, and I can harbor less fear of them causing disunity.

This newly found freedom is a blessing I do not take lightly. I hope to use this freedom to spark authentic conversation. I hope that conversation blesses those who participate, myself included. With that said, I'm excited to see where this takes us.

Blessings, friends!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Connecting Caring Communities

It took eight years to finally get a degree in something I cared about. Last May, I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ACU graduate, happy to be holding a diploma that indicated that I was trained in Sociology and Christian Ministry. It was good times to be sure, and even in a struggling economy, I believed that my degree, combined with my skill set and experience, would help me land the job of my dreams.

Unfortunately, I didn't actually know what that job was yet.

After my final summer at Camp of the Hills, I was no closer to finding a full-time ministry or nonprofit job. Things were not quite as rosy as they were in May. I set out to find a job to pay the bills while my sweet wife went back to school. As we tried to not only make ends meet, but begin working towards buying a house, I knew that I had to find a full-time job, even if it wasn't what I wanted to do long term. Delivery Driver for Office depot fit the part.

Truth be told, I did not enjoy my job at the Depot. Being a people person, I was not well suited to driving around alone all day. As someone much more attuned to relationships than details, I wasn't very effective in certain aspects of the job. If it weren't for kind supervisors and fellow employees, I would not have lasted. I will forever be grateful to them for believing in me and giving me chance after chance.

As the calendar flipped to 2013, I was faced with a dilemma: I desperately wanted a job that maximized my gifts/minimized my weaknesses, but could not afford to lose my job at Office Depot that was enabling our family to stay afloat. Thankfully, I had stayed in contact with Lori Thornton at Connecting Caring Communities since my final semester at ACU. Though she did not have any openings in the spring of 2012, she encouraged me to keep in touch with her and to apply when/if a position opened up.

I can earnestly say that I have never been more excited to interview for a position than I was in February as I sought the Community Coordinator job. Lori called me at the end of a ten hour day of deliveries as I was unloading extremely heavy office furniture. After hearing that I had the job and accepting it, I felt like I had the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders. And the weight of the world is even harder to carry in bulky boxes of copy paper.

For the past two months, I have done my best to learn the ropes around CCC, and I have to say, it is a joy. Though I will describe my job in more detail in later posts, let it suffice to say that when people ask me what I do for a living, my simple response is, "I get to know people."

Life is good, friends. Life is good.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Greatest Stories

“You read and write and sing and experience, thinking that one day these things will build the character you admire to live as. You love and lose and bleed best you can, to the extreme, hoping that one day the world will read you like the poem you want to be.” Charlotte Eriksson
I think I value stories more than other people. I do have a blog called "Stories," after all. Nobody else I know of has a list of there favorite stories saved, on the off chance someone might want to pick one, sit back, and listen.

With that in mind, I'd like to ask for some input. I tried to narrow my ever-growing list of stories into the very best of them. But more than just my personal favorite stories or the ones I most enjoy telling, I want to know which my friends and family like most.

With that said, here's your task, should you so choose it. Below is a list of most of my stories, organized by broad categories. (A few have been strategically omitted for various reasons. Some tales need to be told only at the right time.) I would love for you let me know which of them you like best. If you haven't heard/read any of these stories, or if there are a few unknowns that pique your interest, feel free to mention them as well. My desire is to hone my story-telling, both oral and written, and I want to practice by telling the most compelling and memorable. (For those of you who were forced to listen to my stories during Wednesday night devos the last two years at Camp of the Hills, those are italicized! You're welcome!)

Personal Injury:
Rock to the Head, Snake in the Canoe, The Rope-Swing Incident, The Bike Ramp, The Shopping Cart, Spinal Meningitis, Chain-Link Fence, Downhill Cliff Paddle-Boating, The 4-Wheeler, Christian Zone Roof, Street Luge, B.B. Gun Rambo, Why I Shouldn't Dance, Peanut Butter Skit, NFL Defensive End and the Burnet Emergency Room, Shovel to the Face, Week 3, 2009, Joey New, Kirby Punch Hug,

Girl Stories:
The Proposal, Wedding First Dance, Thai Food Dance, The Hand-Hold, The Cardboard Cut-Out, I Wanna Be, Homecoming 2003, Prom 2002, Prom 2003, Prom-blems (Prom 2004)
the Summer 2006 Camper Letters, the 10 Hour Drive, Painting the House, "Allergies Be Darned!" Crushed Up Crystals, The Accidental Note, Summer 2009 Narrative, Snaturday, First Time Ros and I met Shannon

Cambodia 2009, How We Became a Part of St. Ann's, Killagarden, Blake Box,
Gerald’s Mustang,

Miscellaneous Stories:
The Rattle Snake, "I'm Afraid of Bugs!", Drew's First Day at Camp of the Hills, The Ninja Escapades, Week 7 2004, Week 7 2005 Wednesday, Turtle Watch 2004, The Liaison Days, Chiang Mai Night Market, 648, The Pillow Fights of 07, Cave Writings in the Tomb, the Flood of 2007, The Freshman Year Debauchal, Final Day of Camp 2005, The Quandre Experience, Dead Man in a Culligan Truck, The Princess (Skit) Diaries, Halloween Costumes (Aggie Dad, Braveheart, and Leonidas) Waterfall Losses, The Wolf Den Prank War, The Epic Bonfire, Last Day at JM, Wipin' Butt and Gettin' Beaten, Summer 2007 Crucifixions, Why I Hate Hay, The Story of the Vince Dive, Lesser Known Camp Fire, Nalgene Bottle and Explosives, Harlem Shake-Off, Giant Hamster/Pancake Narrative, The Beast, B1/B2 Celtic Games, Cherokee Indian Basketball, Astros Rally Underwear, Bungee Jumping, Obstacle Course, Pocket of Sushi,  I'm a Seoul Man, GATA Formal '09, Journey Air Band, Natural Disasters and Ambulances (Week 1, 2009), Memorial Day Kayaking (The Best Day Ever), CotHiosis Epidemic, Dining Hall Fire, Mono, Kayaking with Rosten and the Kirbys, “Chris fell in the poo,” Tug of War 2012, Winter Wonderland Prank, Toad in the Sidewalk Crack, Pneumonia! You’re my Kryptonite!, Office Depot: Delivering Disaster,

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Oh, SNAP! Day 3

Do you ever do things that you immediately regret? Sometimes, I do. For instance, a few days ago I told my friends Keith and Durran that I was going to jump over a metal gate that was about chest high, and ended up landing rear-first on the cold, hard ground. Why did I mention anything out loud? Because I knew my sense of pride would make me go through with it once I had said it. By verbalizing my ridiculous stunt, I eliminated my choice of not performing what I had decided to do, if at some point in the future I thought better of it.

That logic heavily informed my reasoning behind choosing to broadcast the Bowen family trying to eat for a month on the budget of a family on SNAP benefits (previously known as Food Stamps). As soon as Amanda signed on, with gusto I might add, I typed up the previous blog post. I'm not sure how many people read these musings, but those who do are typically people I greatly respect. You are the sort of people who would either call me out directly to ensure I was keeping up with commitments, or at least would casually ask how the project was going. The embarrassment of having to explain that I had backed out served as a good deterrent when I later faced the inconvenient realities of the coming weeks.

With all that said, Amanda and I have gotten started well. I'll have some thoughts on how it's going later in the process, but for now, I want to better explain some of the details. We're facing the task as if Amanda and I both lost our jobs, and immediately went out and got SNAP benefits. We'll be trying to stretch the funds (about $4 per person per day) over the course of the next four weeks, through the first Saturday in February. We would have started at the beginning of January with David Smith, but our trip to Abu Dhabi made that difficult. By the time we got back to the states, it was mid-week, and we were both up to our eyeballs in work and school, so we decided to start Sunday the 13th and go for four weeks.

Some friends have already been asking how group meals work. For instance, the Kaczmareks wanted to have us over for a meal to catch up, but didn't want to impede in our month of meals. We assured them that we can be guests for meals just as real families on SNAP benefits can enjoy meals at the homes of their friends and family. In fact, leaning on their communities is an important part of life for many living in poverty. And though our budget won't allow us to bring expensive food to the proverbial/real table, we are excited to help by bringing something affordable to the meal, even if it's simply some rice or beans.

Additionally, we're working under the assumption that all the food in our pantry is available for us. Leftovers and such are fair game, too. We felt like this would be the case for two people who just lost their jobs. We did not, however, stock up on food beforehand. We felt like that would be cheating, since I doubt most people know the day they're getting laid off.

So, we're three days into our month of SNAP benefits. I'm excited to share more about what I'm learning later in the month!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Setting Down Roots

In case you were anxiously anticipating big family news from the Bowens, I'd like to make an announcement. After years of praying about where and to what God was calling us, after months of intense negotiations, near misses, and heartbreaks, and after we had given up hope as to how we would be able to make it happen without an intervening miracle from God, it happened.

Less than an hour ago, Amanda and I closed on a house in the College Heights neighborhood of Abilene, Texas.

After struggling with the idea of setting down roots in Abilene for a long time, God made the path clear for us to become a part of a long-term ministry with and among our new neighbors. We haven't gotten everything figured out yet. We're not sure exactly what the ministry will look like in the coming years. But we are at peace knowing that our passion for this community is one shared with God.

We look forward to sharing more on this big news in the future, but for now, we look to celebrate what God is doing in this city, in this neighborhood, and in our hearts!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Oh SNAP! (31 Days of Eating on Food Stamps) - Prologue

David Smith is a good man. In addition to being a much more regular blogger over at than I am here, David also presided over the wedding of Amanda and myself. (The wedding probably deserves some retelling here on the blog, so maybe around our anniversary I'll retell some of the best stories from the experience.)

So when David Smith messaged me a link to his recent blog post, I immediately decided that it was a terrible/wonderful idea. As with almost all ideas that fit into that category, I ran it past Amanda before officially signing up. Thankfully for my hopes of joining in this grand social experiment, my wife shares my love of people in poverty and enthusiastically agreed to join.

As someone who professes to care about the poor, I'm looking forward to experiencing a little sliver of what it's like to try to plan a month of meals as if we only had SNAP (aka food stamps) benefits. I'm going to miss those Taco Bell Cantina Burritos something fierce, that's for sure. As a person called to love the people Jesus calls "the least of these," I hope this experience helps me grow in empathy for those living in poverty.

We're still working out a few of the nuances. For example, we won't be doing it for just January, since we'll be visiting family in Abu Dhabi for the first few days of the year, so we'll spill over into a bit of February. I'm already excited about this adventure, and the new perspective it will bring. I'll be doing my best to chronicle my thoughts and experiences here, so get excited about reading along, and feel free to try it out! I'd love to hear from more people

Additionally, be on the lookout for some exciting news next week! We're still waiting for final confirmation, but it looks like Amanda and I will have something really cool to share with y'all Monday. (Note: Before people start jumping to conclusions, no, this is not a kids type of news item. Seriously, people.)