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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 730 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 12 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


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Guest Post from Cole Yoakum

As read on our old intern, Cole Yoakum’s blog:

I was at a communi-D barbecue the other day.

I had some friends who were at their first barbecue ever. They had heard me talk about it a little bit, but this was the first time we were all able to come out together.

When they got there some of us split off to go play ball, others sat down with a group of young girls and paint nails, another sat and had good talks with some of the other kids who were interested in neither.

I started to notice how cool this was.  Here were some kids who were playing football with some guys who like hanging out in that community.  These little girls were having a couple older girls in their early twenties having a great time painting nails with them.  And others were sitting around enjoying hot dogs with their neighbors.

It was a cool thing because all of us just showed up and immediately gravitated toward the things that we loved and good at.  It was a lot like church that way. We showed up and were able to just go where we felt our gifts were best used.  For some that was football, others were gifted for the grill, others were called to paint nails.

No one was competing. No one was saying, “real ministry looks like grilling.” or “Football is for stronger Christians, nail-painting is for lesser Christians.” There was none of that.  We were just playing in a park, people going where they felt gifted.

It amazing how often what you are gifted for is also what you enjoy.  The guy at the grill wasn’t standing there saying, “This stinks.”  He was there because he was good at it and it is what he wanted to do– what he enjoyed.

This is how church should be.

I heard a story once about a guy who was hired to change a stagnant congregation into a force for Jesus in their city. Ministries were competing, folks were thinking of church as a job instead of a community. The first thing he did was bring all 100 full and part-time staffers into a room and tell them that they were fired, but that they may apply for any job at the church, whatever job they wanted, and if the job they wanted didn’t exist, write up a job description for it.  After two weeks, everyone had been hired back, but into jobs that they wanted and felt called to. From there the church erupted into the community, spilling over the love of Christ everywhere they went.

Church isn’t meant to be competitive. Ministries not meant to fight or gossip. Kingdom work is like the park.  You show up, you find what looks best for you, and you put yourself there to love others.

A “typical” barbecue

Sometimes people ask me to describe what a Communi-D barbecue is like. Usually they imagine an outdoor soup kitchen: line up, get served, sit, eat, leave. I tell them that is hardly the case, that we enjoy getting to know our friends in each location, there is no server-served, sometimes there is music or inflateable slides for kids, or tons of balls and sidewalk chalk. Sometimes people bring their pets. Sometimes the three-year-old little girl walks to the barbecue by herself. It’s never as predictable as lining up and never as bland.

But, for those who are curious, I did my best to take mental notes of everything I could so I could do my best to lay out what a “typical” barbecue is like.  I hope this helps and I imagine that these feelings will be echoed by anyone who has been to a barbecue.

Friday night Mike Schmitt and I were watching the Tigers game at Rochester Mills. In between games of pool and cheering on the Tigers/Brandon Inge I asked Mike what barbecue he was planning on going to. “Detroit,” he said. “I am taking my little cousin. She has been interested in going for a while and she finally has a free weekend to go. You?”

“Hazel Park. Jenny hasn’t been to that location yet, so I want to take her there and show her that.”

“Cool.” Mike said, pulling out the triangle and racking the balls.

I picked up my girlfriend at noon, fought a strange amount of Saturday traffic and drove to Hazel Park. We climbed out of the car at Green Acres Park and walked toward the pavilion that Elevate Detroit commandeers every month.  A couple of guys were had just lit the grill and were spraying lighter fluid on it laughing.

I walk up to Jim Sterner, one of the organizers of this location and a friend from Kensington. We hug and I introduce him to Jenny.

Jenny and I walk into the pavilion where there are already 30 people sitting and talking. We find a table and sit down. We are only in place for a few moments before Jenny jumps up and runs over to pet a fat Chihuahua that someone had brought with them. She fawns over the dog and they share a few dog stories.

The limits of Jenny’s love for animals was quickly tested when a man from the neighborhood walks across the park with a colorful Macaw on his shoulder. Jenny loves animals, but hates birds. She quickly retreats saying “the bird was looking at me.  Made me uncomfortable.”

“Hi! Are you Josh?” Another neighbor has walked up from the far side of the park, pan in hand.

“No, I don’t know Josh.”

“I brought brownies. Do I need to tell someone?”

“Well don’t tell too many people, because I want to make sure I get one!” I said.  She didn’t get it. But I showed her to the tables where we set the food.

“I made these this morning!” She exclaimed, very proud of her batch. “I have never been to a barbecue before but my neighbor down the street, she can’t be here today, but she told me about this and I said, ‘ooo I can make brownies! So I did!”

“That’s great!” I said. “Hope I can get one!”

She nodded and smiled really big. “You better hurry there are delicious!”

Walking back, Jenny and I passed an elderly couple.  Both were well-wrinkled and beginning the bend that seems to come with time. They were sitting at a table with some others, telling stories. They were the life of the table!

I noticed that they were both wearing Obama 2012 hats. I slowed down and leaned in, “I like those hats!” I said.

She gave me a big non-toothy grin and launched into a story about getting a life-sized cardboard cutout of Barak Obama from one of his old campaign headquarters. She said that she had called her son to come over and put it up in the living room on a hook on the wall.

The punch-line was something about her son having some objection to “hanging Obama.” The table erupted in laughter.

Jenny and I took our seats next to a woman who had been passing around petitions. We looked over her petitions and signed the ones we agreed with. Then we started talking about her family. This lady had grown up in Hazel Park and had a grown son who lived in Hazel Park as well. She was, however, a little upset that her other son has decided to move to Sterling Heights, so far away.

This reminded me of the moms I knew back home who were upset when their kids moved the ten miles from Beebe to Searcy—a similar distance. It was neat to see, the day before mother’s day how mom’s are the same wherever they are.

There was a family sitting behind us that were Iraqi immigrants. We met the month before and it was great to see them again.  They bring their newspapers in Arabic and read while their kids play with the soccer balls that we bring every time. I waved and them and we smiled at each other.

I was lucky enough to get a brownie. I don’t like touching my food so I went to cut it with my plastic fork. This was immediately thwarted as my fork broke in half as well as three prongs busting off. We all laughed at how hardy these brownies were.  Jenny laughed at me because I had to suck it up and touch the brownie. And it was delicious. But hardy.

We went to leave after some time. I shook hands with Jim again and we were walking out.  I noticed there was one more brownie so I ate it. I doubled back really quick to find the girl.

“Hey! It looks like all your brownies are gone!  You should bring more next month!” She was overcome with excitement and ran over to the pan. Peering in to confirm it, she grabbed her pan and held it out. “All gone!”

Bugs and Aliens: A Nelson follow-up

A month ago I wrote a post about a man I met at Elevate Detroit’s Communi-D barbecue in Hazel Park. I didn’t ever get to post it on Life After Death (to self) but you can read the original on the Elevate Detroit blog.

The story was about Nelson, an older man who was slow to talk but began pouring his story out to me. Some of that was interesting autobiographical information: where he lived, his family. Other parts were a bit odder: defending the world from alien invasion and being offered the medal of honor.

Ultimately it didn’t matter what he was talking about. He was just filled with joy that someone was interested in listening. That was the point.

I have been asked about him several times now and every time I have to say, “I haven’t seen him in a month, there hasn’t been another Hazel Park barbecue.” Well, Saturday was second weekend, which is when we host the barbecue there so I was excited to get back and find him again.

We walked up a little early, the grill was just getting started and people were beginning to gather. He wasn’t there yet. That was okay. We were early.

I waited around a bit. I looked around for some time, but there was no sign of him. I waited. Eventually the grill was cooking, we went through the line, talked to a lot of other people, but I didn’t see Nelson at all. I was a little disappointed. I was honestly looking forward to sitting with him again, hearing more of his stories.

Or, I thought, maybe I want Nelson here for some other reason…

It was true. I wanted Nelson to be there for reasons bigger than being friendly and fun conversation.  I wanted Nelson to be there to show me that barbecues were working. I wanted him to be there to confirm that we were really bridging gaps, enhancing life for people in that community, having some earthly (and by extension heavenly) impact.

It was a moment of real humility when I looked around at the 50+ people who were having fun, eating burgers, petting each other’s pets, speaking different languages, serving each other and realized I was wondering if what we were doing was “successful.” I had set up Nelson as a litmus test for success that was unfair and inaccurate.

I just shook my head and had to smile.  I sent up a small apology prayer, took a bite of my hot dog and began a great conversation with the woman at our table who was passing around political petitions. She told Jenny and I about growing up in Hazel Park, how lucky she was that all of her children were in the area still and that many of her friends have lived her for 30+ years. She began pouring her life into me, just as Nelson had.

Nelson did show up that day. He walked up and sat down at the table with us. “Nelson!” I said. “How are you?”

“Did I meet you here last time?” He said, looking a little confused.

“I… um… yes,” I said, sticking my hand out, “I am Cole.  This is Jenny.”

My litmus test for success didn’t remember me. But for the second month in a row, Nelson came to a park where neighbors, kids, pets, people and friends all converged for food, a good time, great friends on a beautiful summer day.


We Blew Up a Birthday, God was Pleased

This Saturday I was at Elevate Detroit’s barbecue in Pontiac.

If you didn’t know, basically Elevate Detroit just starts barbecues in communities in order to create events and spaces for neighbors to meet each other, churches to serve together and community to grow. Pontiac is the location that I work with the most since I am going to be moving there soon and starting M6C. It tends to be lower-income, mostly former blue-collar workers who have been laid off from any one of the many factories that used to be here, but that’s a different story.

The barbecue was going well. We had plenty of food and the kids were playing on the giant inflatable slide that Kensington brings out for each event. People were standing around talking, a lot of us were playing with kids. It was a good time.

People were beginning to leave and we were starting to run out of food. We were clearing off tables and discussing taking down the slide—another great barbecue accomplished. About that time, two cars pulled up and parked on either side of the park. One was a family with a few young kids. It seems like eight people climbed out of the small car and looked around a little confused.  You could tell they were surveying what we were doing in the park and weren’t sure what to do. But eventually the dad reached in the car and pulled out two balloons and a foil pan: they were having a birthday party in the park. It was obvious they weren’t expecting a huge crowd to be in the park at the same time. They skirted the park and headed toward a vacant picnic table.

The second car was a woman in a beautiful red formal dress. She explained that she had some food, but wasn’t able to stay since she was on her way to her neighbor’s Confirmation ceremony.  I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with any more food since we were starting to pack things up, but I told her I would take it off her hands. We walked to the car and there, in the back seat, was a birthday cake.

“Is this for the confirmation?” I asked.

“No, that’s for the barbecue.” She said, handing it to me.


I took the cake and walked over to the family that had just walked up. “Are you here for a birthday?”

“Yeah,” they said, “Do you need us to leave?”

“No, not at all.” I said.  “Actually I was going to see if we could share anything with you?”

“How do you mean?” the mother asked.

“Well, it seems like you’re having a birthday, and I happen to have a giant birthday cake, a couple cases of pop and a giant inflatable slide if you’re interested.” The little birthday girl’s eyes lit up. She had been surveying the fun on the slide since they pulled up.

“Can I?” she whispered.  Mom nodded and the little girl was off.

I brought over the cake, the cases of pop and extra plates, napkins, silverware and other party necessities.  Before they knew it their table was full.  The girl enjoyed a couple of turns on the giant slide before we had to pack it away and I hope had a better birthday because of it.

I love that God is a party guy.

Often you hear people make jokes about God at a party or Jesus wearing a tuxedo t-shirt. Usually it is in jest, but I think there is some truth to that. God likes a party. You’ll recall it was Jesus who brought the wine to the wedding, God said he wanted a big band playing in his house (the Temple) and Jesus hosted a 5,000 person fish fry.

The bible also says that when the Kingdom is spread on earth, there is a party in Heaven.  That means that when I give a guy a ride, when you help a friend in need, or when a little girl’s birthday party gets a shot in the arm from a group of strangers in the park, God is partying in Heaven.

I want to live a life that continues to expand the kingdom on earth, which will continue the party in heaven.

Barbecue, Bugs, Aliens

I went to the Hazel Park barbecue this week. I missed the kick-off for various reasons, but wasn’t going to miss week two. So, after work on Saturday I hopped in my car, grabbed a couple cases of pop and some cupcakes and drove down 75 to Green Acres in Hazel Park.

I worked my way around seeing all of the different things that were going on. A lot of families had brought balls and games: soccer balls, cones and bats for small-scale baseball, a bean bag toss.  It was a beautiful day so many people from the neighborhood had brought out their dogs so I made sure to meet the ones who were friendly (the dogs that is).

Eventually I settled at a table with a burger and a hot dog in front of me. After a moment I was joined at my table by an older gentleman who kept his eyes straight down, but was obviously feeling me out for conversation.

“Hi,” I started. “I’m Cole.”

“Nelson,” he replied and he cautiously shook my hand.

“Nelson, do you live around here?”

“Well,” he said, eyes shifting. “I don’t know if  I should tell you.”

“Okay…well, um… what do you do for a living?” I was obviously jumping to the next question in the rolladex to inspire deeper conversation.

“Disability,” he said, which isn’t uncommon.

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that.” I said.

“They said I am not fit to work!” he said, pointing to his head. “But I don’t want to talk right now.”

“Okay,” I said.  “We don’t have to talk.”

Without missing a beat, Nelson said, “I live down that street.” And pointed a block away.  “But I shouldn’t talk about it.”

This is how conversation went with Nelson for some time. He would shake his head, tell me he didn’t want to talk, then launch into another conversation point. Once that was exhausted, he would again tell me he wasn’t interested in talking.  Eventually it just became a natural part of the conversation, like a sigh or a hand gesture.  Despite not wanting to talk about it, Nelson told me about his wife, kids, his career in food service and the mental disability that he believes came about as the result of stress after being help up in a store robbery.

He also told me about summers in Hazel Park where he would have to fight off alien invaders. These alien invaders have the whole world fooled into thinking that they are insects called cicadas, but he knows the truth. He told me that the whole world has him to thank for stopping the invasion. He was offered the medal of honor, but refused it because it didn’t seem right for some reason.

Of course, if you’re reading this you begin to understand that Nelson has some issues that I can’t diagnose. But that is okay. From the time Nelson sat down to the time I had to leave was about an hour and a half. I wonder when the last time was that someone was willing to sit and listen to him talk about whatever he felt like and be engaged and ask questions about his fantasies.  It may have been a very long time.  I believe it was because his whole attitude, body language and demeanor changed over the course of our conversation. He became more open, his eyes were more engaged and his attitude totally changed.

I began to realize, or rather reinterpret his “I don’t like to talk about it” to mean “no one likes to hear about it” because it was obvious that he liked to talk about it.

After lunch, we parted ways.  I told him that I hoped to see him next time and he said he would like that very much.