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People sometimes ask me what it means to be a community curator at a place like Union. Thank God, it includes going to stuff like this:

It smelled like sweat, lady shampoo and Barefoot Wine in a basement theater of Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University as Ten Bitches (no, they weren’t all women) took the stage on the last day of classes at midnight. Their goal:  present 30 plays in one hour, selected in random order by the audience. Also they wanted to surprise, break down the 4th wall, dance, laugh and draw mustaches on everyone in the audience.

The show was light and fast. As soon as one play ended, audience members shouted out the number for the next. This breakneck pace kept a bunch of stressed out, ADD college kids engaged. The plays varied but were consistently creative.  #12, The Grinch, featured Cindy Lou and the dog, Max, bedside to a hospitalized Grinch. A doctor enters the scene to deliver the bad news: Grinch isn’t likely to make it because of the complications caused by his heart growing three times its normal size. #28, Basement Dancing, invited everyone up on stage to dance to an audience members favorite song. Actors interacted with crowd members throughout and the audience sometimes played unscripted roles that built upon the evening. During #24, Free After Ten, an actor said, “I need a new man,” prompting a guy in the audience to shout, “amen.”The Grinch

The banter cut quickly during #8, Ledge Talk  (brilliantly written by Mei Mei Pollitt).  In fact, the room went silent. A brave actress stepped onto stage, wearing nothing but bra and boyshorts. She sat on a ledge, with a man standing off at a perceived distance. “What does it do to you to see so much flesh” she asked the man or maybe the audience. The two actors raised questions about commitment, sexuality and God. This led to the only awkward moment of the night—not because things got serious. The room needed a dose of serious to break up the train of frivolity. The awkward moment came when the actors shouted scene and no one wanted to shout out another number for the next play. They just wanted to applaud or wipe away the unexpected tears.

I’m not an SMU student, but I help run Union, a coffee shop nearby to SMU and some of the actors for Ten Bitches are regulars. They show up at Union’s events and it seemed right to show up at theirs. I came to Ten Bitches to support some friends. I left with insight into the weird subculture that is The Meadows School of the Arts.

These students instinctively know how to take care of each other. There’s no extra credit or graduation awards for putting on a performance like Ten Bitches and a Stage. They filled the stage on the last day of classes to do for their fellow students what theater does best—Sabbath. Ten Bitches gave fifty students the chance to breathe, laugh, dance, celebrate and mock the world that threatens to define them.

If you hear rumors of ten bitches taking the stage again, grab a friend, wander around the basement of Meadows until you find them and enjoy what the bitches have to offer. You won’t be disappointed.

10 Bitches and a Stage

The latest stage for the debate over homosexuality, religion and culture has taken up to roost in the land of deep fried chicken and I think it’s time we all took a breath. The inevitable backlash against the hype is growing and in the midst of this chicken fried kerfuffle, I’m left wondering…what is God up to in all this?

Dear Democratic and Republican Extremists…

Extremist Democratic city mayors, please stop it. Stop it right now. Since when did the party that encourages civil liberties become the party that bans restaurants because of what their owners believe? Does the owner of a Chili’s have to submit to a personal beliefs inventory before opening in Chicago, San Francisco or Boston? What you’re doing is discriminatory. Shame on you.

Extremist Republican pundits, please stop it. Stop it right now. People boycotting Chick-Fil-A because they disagree with the organization is supports isn’t restricting anybody’s free speech. If people were boycotting the news organization for airing the interview or if they were suing Mr. Kathy (it feels weird to write “Mr.” followed by “Kathy”) for what he said, that would be a violation of free speech. You can protest the protesters all you want, but let’s own up to what this issue is about.

Straining at Pennies

Let’s just be honest about this. Those who have chosen to boycott Chick-Fil-A are people who do no want a portion of a penny from their lunchtime purchase to support causes that are discriminatory against the GLBT community. They aren’t protesting Mr. Kathy’s ideas (well, some might…but I don’t get the impression that’s what this is about). They just don’t want their money to go to something with which they disagree. This is an act of conscious–not an effort to limit someone’s free speech.

Those who do continue to eat at Chick-Fil-A are people who are okay with a portion of a penny going to support causes that are discriminatory against GLBT community. While I do not discount the hurt felt by many in the GLBT community (and I am deeply appreciative of Rev. Eric Folkerth’s blog for raising the ways in which this can be hurtful to many who are GLBT), not everyone who eats at Chick-Fil-A wants gay people to suffer, nor do they necessarily want gay people to be discriminated against. Their brain has just decided (consciously or not) that they are okay with a portion of a penny going to causes that act on the belief that homosexuality is wrong. While I acknowledge the hurt this causes for some folks in the GLBT community, I’ve also seen posts like these from gay friends of mine whom I respect:

I ate at McDonald’s today—not out of protest…I just had a hankerin’ for the best French fries that I can find. If I think about it, my $4.63 went to a lot of places.

  • A couple pennies went to support the 2012 Olympics
  • A portion of a penny contributed towards Brazilian deforestation
  • A portion of a penny supported Ronald McDonald House that affords parents of sick kids the chance to be with their children over extended hospital stays
  • Several pennies went to McDonalds marketing which is responsible for significant increases in childhood obesity, early onset of type II diabetes and Lord knows what else.
  • A couple pennies supported jobs for unskilled workers who will likely cycle out of their job in the next 6-12 months
  • Several pennies went to make really rich people a lot richer while their minimum wage employees are paid a pittance and can barely scrape out a living
  • A portion of a penny went to a potato farmer and his family.

The reality is, all of our purchases have an impact on our world. In our increasingly globalized economy, our money trails grow longer while the world gets smaller. Chick-Fil-A’s decision to provide money to discriminatory organizations is just what has our attention right now.

Our money spreads through the globe–some of it doing good things, others doing bad and sometimes I’m paralyzed by the weight of responsibility that flows out of my wallet. I can’t possibly keep track of it all! Sometimes I just want to throw my hands up in the air, make my own food and live on a commune.

Sometimes I wonder if our efforts to strain at portions of pennies is like straining at gnats. Rev. Frank Drenner spoke of it well on his blog:

There will still be the command of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves, and there will still be folk who question, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer will have nothing to do with fast food.

The Sad Thing

A very tiny percentage of purchases at Chick-Fil-A go to support these controversial organizations.

If McDonald’s announced that tomorrow, 1% of all revenue would support clean water initiatives in Africa or to build Domestic Violence shelters around the world, would we see lines like we saw at Chick-Fil-A?

For all I know, 1% of McDonald’s revenue might already support non-profit organizations. Sadly, I don’t believe we’d see that kind of turnout. Even so, I’m staking my ministry and money (and other people’s money) on the notion that we can call people to something better.

What God is Doing

When I look at this controversy, I give thanks to God–not for one side or the other, but for the debate as a whole. There is clearly a growing desire among people to know where their money is going. People are waking up to the awareness that how they spend their money is both a spiritual and moral matter. Thanks be to God! That sounds like the kind of thing that the church and Jesus can work with! The challenge to the church: can we address this growing sense of financial responsibility and morality? Can we find ways to preach about this tomorrow and engage people with economic spirituality while the spirit is moving?

Shameless Promotion

I’m not interested in straining at economic gnats, but I am deeply interested in supporting businesses that put money to kingdom work. That’s what we’re trying to do with our new kind of new church start, Union—a coffee house that will adopt different causes every quarter with 10% of all revenue (not profits…revenue) going to non-profit agencies that do good things. Good things like:

  • Addressing Domestic Violence in ways that assist children, victims and abusers
  • Helping the homeless in Dallas
  • Eradicating Malaria
  • Rebuilding communities after natural and political disasters

We’re not straining at pennies. We’re talking about quarters and dollars from every purchase. By 2015 we hope to donate over $200,000 to non profit agencies. We’re hoping that Dallasites will consider where they want their moony to go and will choose to purchase their beverages and food at Union.

Every purchase also helps to sponsor ministry with young people in Dallas so that the community can benefit from positive interaction between the established church and surrounding culture.

Union isn’t the first to do this. Newman’s Own, Tom’sand others have taken up such endeavours. I pray that we have more businesses like them where significant portions of our funds can support causes that make a significant positive difference in our world. I pray that Christians can encourage such positive business development so that the marketplace can be a place of justice, of hope and of love.

Union is a new kind of new church start in east Dallas that seeks to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through outstanding coffee, significant community and engaging causes that make a positive difference in the local and global community.

I want to ask you to forget something for a second:

forget, for a few seconds, that the MTV show, Jersey Shore, ever existed. Forget Snookie, J-Wow, the Situation and any other stereotype that this show has put in your head. For just a few minutes, I want you to wipe the slate clean so that I might paint a different picture.

One of the things I miss the most about being in New Jersey is the shore. I didn’t live on the shore, but I grew up there. That’s where I spent time with my dad: fishing and crabbing and getting stuck in sand bars. I got seasick all the time and usually would prefer playing Atari, but that didn’t make the time any less special. I grew up, learning from my dad how to appreciate life, take care of what was given to me and how to sacrifice what I wanted for family time. He showed me how to love,respect and fear something at the same time.  I grew up on the shore.

I saw my first real sunrise on the shore. I have to confess that I belong to a group of people in the world who believe that a sunrise doesn’t count unless you stayed up all night to watch it. I was fourteen years old and after a night of hyperactivity, the anxious buzz that dominated my insecure life was stilled. I sat on the beach of Ocean Grove with my best friends and was overwhelmed by eternity unfolding before us.  I grew up on the shore.

The shore is a guaranteed way to make anything better. Prom weekend always involved a trip to the shore because that was guaranteed to make the weekend epic. Guaranteed, 100% you can bet the farm. Want to make a date special? Add a trip to the shore to walk along a boardwalk or a beach. Kissing along the shore always tasted better. Every woman that I’ve loved…I’ve kissed on the shore. I grew up on the Jersey shore.

New Jersey can be a tough place to live. The cost of living is high and salaries are low. There are practically no stay-at-home mom’s because no one can live off a single income. Houses are on top of each other, traffic sucks and everyone knows that the state government is corrupt. Schools are hit or miss, the state university system is far below national standards and EVERYONE struggles, but EVERYONE can get to the shore. Look to your left or right and it’s beaches all the way.  Look ahead and it’s rolling waves forever. There are no oil rigs in the distance, but if you’re lucky you might see dolphins or boats or airplanes dragging long banners across the sky.  No matter what happened, I could escape to the shore. I grew up on the shore.

Sometimes people wonder why the Shore matters to those of us native to New Jersey. As usual, “the Boss” speaks for all of us native New Jerseyans:

‘Cause down the shore, everything’s all right
You and your baby on a Saturday night
You know all my dreams come true
When I’m walking down the streets with you

The shore was the place where everything was all right. Everyone should have a place like that.

A PRAYER in REMEMBRANCE of 9/11

With light, in three voices

Preparation

Set up a table or altar with 100 lit candles (tea lights are easy) and 1 Christ candle in the middle (bigger than the rest).

Arrange for 3 readers.  Position them around the room.

Arrange one acolyte to extinguish candles in the appropriate places.  You will want to line up an additional few acolytes for the last section.

 

 

Prayer

<extinguish six candles>

1:

On September 11th, 2001, 2,626 people died while they began their day at work in buildings so tall they scraped the sky. 125 died in the Pentagon—the only military personnel to die that day.  246 died aboard airplanes that no longer lived in the sky.  Nearly 3,000 lives were lost in a matter of hours. 

2:  For all those who suddenly lost their life.

3:  For all those whose prayers rose up and were suddenly silenced

2:  For those who made one last phone call goodbye

3:  For those who did not have time for that last call or who never got through

1:  For the innocence lost that day

3:  For images that are burned permanently in our minds

2:  For the questions that rise out of the ashes

3:  For all who mourned and continue to mourn.

3:  Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

<extinguish six candles>

2: Since September 11th, 2001, 5,000 American soldiers have died in Iraq and at least 1,700 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan.

1: For the family members of those who have lost their lives

2: For those families that wait with constant fear of bad news

3:  For those families who live with constant anticipation of any news

1:  For those who watch  their friends die

2:  For those who are willing to die for their passion

3:  For those who carry the weight of death

1:  For those who live in fear and distrust, never knowing which un-uniformed civilian intends them harm

2:  For those who live in the shadow of death

2:Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

<extinguish six candles>

3:  Since September 11th, 2001, roughly 16,000 Afghani civilians have died. 

<begin rapidly, but reverently extinguishing candles until only the Christ candle and a few others are lit>

3:  Since September 11th, 2001 countless Iraqi civilians have died at the hands of insurgents and coalition forces.  Conservative estimates place the death toll in the neighborhood of 60,000.  An estimate put together by researchers from Johns Hopkins, Cornell and an Iraqi University place the actual death toll well above 100,000.

There will be no websites with memorials to every victim, nor will there be plaques on walls.  For most will remain nameless in the eyes of the world—only known by the other members of their village as a father, mother, son, daughter, co-worker, friend.

1:  For those who have lost a loved one in sudden death.

2:  For those who have died with no relationship to the cause of violence

3:  For those who have given their lives to a cause they did not want

2:  For those who want the cause but not the cost

1:  For those who held a loved one in their arms

3:  For those who struggle with guilt following the death of the innocent

1:  For all the soldiers who have offered mercy

3:  For the soldiers who have not offered mercy

2:  For all those who have begged for their life

3:  For those who are in harm’s way but do not know it

<begin lighting candles again>

2:  For the church who struggles to find its prophetic voice in the midst of a changing world. 

3:  For Christians, who struggle with questions of conscience and loyalties between religion, ideology and patriotism

1:  For Muslims and Jews who struggle with questions of conscience and loyalties between religion, ideology and patriotism

Lord in Your Mercy

Hear our Prayer

3:  For the leaders of our world

1: For the terrorists in this world

2: For our bishops and the leaders of other churches

3:  for the pope

1:  for President Obama

2:  for Foreign Prime Ministers, Presidents and Dictators

3: for Ban Ki-Moon and the United Nations

2: for the soul of Osama Bin Laden

3: may he rest in peace

1:  For wisdom

3: for peace

2:  For discernment

1: for peace

3:  for restraint

2: for peace

1:  For justice

3: for peace

1:  for mercy and understanding

2: for peace

1: for peace

3: for peace

2: for love   <pause>

3: Lord in your Mercy

Hear our prayer

1: We humbly ask that you would bless us and keep us in the palm of your hand.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

We offer this time of quiet, praying that your mercy would fall upon us.

<wait at least two  minutes…TIME IT>

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

I’m a cynic, Jesus follower and a bit of a populist.  I view most big businesses with a pretty negative eye.  I’m used to corporate greed.  I’m not used to Home Depot.

We pulled into Home Depot to pick up some supplies—yes, I said pulled in. Three weeks ago, the tornado’s malice turned Joplin’s Home Depot into rubble.  Macabre winds made a victim of the store’s manager as well.

“I lost my house.  I was afraid I had lost my job too,” said one employee.   As soon as it was over, Home Depot, began rebuilding.  I asked a couple employees why and their mission was clear ‘we have to rebuild so that we can help others rebuild.’  In the two weeks it took to get an operational drive-through, Home Depot told all of its employees not to worry—you have a job, take 3 weeks and know that you will be paid as if you worked for those three weeks.    All 97 employees received three weeks paid time off.

Thanks, Home Depot, for doing the right thing.  I hope that others follow your lead.

I’ve never seen trees with scars—if we can call them that.  Scars seem to suggest that the majority of the skin is healthy with only the occasional mark.  What do we call skin that is nothing but scar?  That’s what the trees are like in Joplin.

But not just the trees.  The landscape is like this too—all scars.

I didn’t understand the word devastation until I came to Joplin.  Most people marvel at the statistics:143 deaths.  I marvel at the opposite.  I examine the homes and instead marvel that anyone survived.  The tornado swirls a home into a pile of splinters.  How do you survive that?

Under mattresses, in basements, clutching to loved ones.

Most residents of Joplin call themselves and their town lucky.

-lucky that they survived

-lucky that their family is alive

-lucky they found their daughter’s favorite Dora

-lucky that the tornado hit during graduation, when much of the town was out of the tornado’s path (the high school was not)

Some weren’t lucky.  Some were downright cursed.

The people of Joplin are scarred by their memory as well.  For now, most choose to look at the healthy skin that remains.  And that inspires me.

I I took this picture on the second day of work in Joplin.  We met a man at a pile of broken lumber, twisted trees, insulation and possessions.  Three weeks ago it had been his home.  Our mission: find baby pictures.  The tenant’s son died (not in the tornado) at nine months old.  The father had found the urn.  We were searching for pictures and personal affects so that the parents would have something to remember their son by.  These were his son’s shoes.  They had made their way out of a box and on top of the rubble.  It took four hours, seven volunteers and one crane (to remove two trees), but we found three pictures, these shoes and a copy of the newspaper with his son’s obituary.  The father  celebrated.  I hid my tears.

Joplin, MO

 

 

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