Broke Not Poor

Poverty, poor, welfare class.  I grew up that way.  I lived that way for a while until at 25 I decided that I wasn’t going to cooperate with poverty any more.  I broke free.

There was that time in ’08.  I was technically homeless.  I blamed it on my divorce, which I blamed on me.  I was unemployed. I blamed that on the recession.  It was a short time, relatively speaking, but seemed to last forever.  On the other side of that brief period of time I was no longer unemployed or homeless. I was a successful craftsman and business owner.  My family was well cared for and we even went out of town for long weekends at Great Wolf Lodge. Life was good.

I married my best friend.  I guess I am lucky that way.  She too had been through financial hard times. She told me that being poor was a state of mind, while being broke was a state of finances.  That made sense to me.  I let those words sink into my brain. I embraced all that it meant.  I can point to both in my past, poor and broke. Sometimes they  came at the same time. Other times I may have had money and been poor, or been broke and been rich.

Perhaps it is because I was forgetting where I came from.  Maybe it was the human tendency to judge others.  At some point, though I had compassion, i became aloof from those who were broke or poor.  I felt that somehow it was always their choices that led them into that state. I felt as if it was always somehow their own fault.

I left a very successful business to move to an area that was financially disadvantaged. Maybe even poor in some regards.  People thought I had lost my mind. I couldn’t tell why I was led, but I can point to several markers that indicated it was Divine leading that brought me to this place. Then it happened. I became broke. It brought me back to some realities. My financial difficulties were largely brought on by the choices of other people, and not necessarily honest ones. I had not protected myself or my family from such events. Does that mean it was my fault?

To be honest, I have placed several things in motion that will prevent me from being broke.  I thought they would activate before things got to this point, but there is a 90% likelihood that they will activate and I will stop being broke.  I see an end.  But in the middle it is hard to see the end. At least it’s that way for me. And, I may be broke, but I am rich in so many ways.  If you want to know how, read some more of my blog.

Leaving my business and moving to the mountains brought a great deal of relief. There was relief from the long work weeks, the relief from dealing with contractors that all had some problem or another preventing them from doing what they agreed to do, and relief from the stress that comes with handling large sums of money and being responsible for so many lives.

Being broke comes with stress too.  I guess I forgot that.  There is the stress of having to count the items in your grocery cart and putting things back in order to fit into your tiny budget.  There is the stress of phone call after phone call from people wanting their money.  There is the stress of letter after letter threatening legal action. There is the stress of looking at a wife who has been used to having enough to not have to count to see if there was enough.  There are the late fees that add up that if you could afford you wouldn’t have been late in the first place.  All of that stress is real.  I don’t get to go home and try to forget it in the evening like I used to.  It never leaves me or goes to sleep.It is awake every moment that I am.

My time of being broke will come to an end.  I am looking forward to it. It was and is very painful. I don’t know about you, but I  really prefer pain free.  That said, however, I am committed to never wasting a pain.  If I have to feel it I want some advantage from it, so I am letting it teach me.  I think that the lessons here are not how to never be broke, or how to protect yourself from unscrupulous dealings.  I am pretty sure the lesson is more on how I look at others who are going through it. Maybe some of them cannot see an end like I can.  What keeps them going? How can I add hope to their lives.  I think the lesson is more about who I am than what I have.

I think that going forward I am going to be more likely to pay for the groceries of the mom in front of me who is counting out her change.  I think I am going to be more patient with that guy who is yelling at people for no apparent reason, but is carrying a load on his back invisible to the human eye.  I think I am going to try to love even more, and even better, those who cannot ever return the blessing. I can probably think of a number of ways my pain is going to instruct my future.

So please don’t send money.  I am, in some odd way, grateful that I am broke.  It reminded me to be more like Jesus.  We are, after all, His hands and feet here and now. It reminded me that God is my source, even during those times when it seems like I am.  It reminds me that faith is an easy word to say, harder to live.  It reminded me of what it means to love well.

What Makes it a Missional Outpost

Our little corner of the world, Yondersea Men’s Grooming and our cozy little apartment above we call the Sea Loft are more than just spaces for living and working.  To us they are an expression of our faith as Christ Followers and extensions of our desire to live life ‘on mission.’  We call them Missional Outposts.  I sort of stole the term and modified it from denominational history.  ;;

Since I hung that title and displayed it for everyone who cares to look, I thought I should explain what I think a missional outpost is or should be.  I am not an authority and this isn’t the ultimate truth. This is just what we experience.  The one thing I have to make perfectly clear; I did not plan this out.  It happened.  Maybe more believer stuff should just happen. Maybe it does.  That is the sort of stuff I like to be around.  Its cozy, warm, and human.  I have tried to do stuff in the past.  Good stuff motivated by good intentions.  Never really worked for me, so this organic, home grown type of believer stuff will have to do anyway.

To Be Missional meant we had to have a mission

Well duh?  OK, ours started out with a personal mission of being fiercely committed to loving God and loving folks (Mark 12:30-31) Believing that I was disqualified from ever serving in “a ministry” I was still committed to granting God full access to my life to use “in ministering” however He would choose.  Since recent events had eliminated all distractions like a house, a car, or a job, it was easy to change things up.  I chose to align my work life in such a way as it would allow maximum availability.  I chose a career path that was accessible, scalable, and portable. The training and licensing requirements were accessible.  It was something that I reasonable thought that I could do, and there was a universal demand for those services.

To be missional meant we needed to position ourselves on the frontier

One thing I struggled with for years is the thought that the best place for me to exercise my ministry gifts is inside the church, both the organization and the building.  Since that no longer seemed a possibility I took my gifts to the edge of the world of unbelief.  I applied my trade and allowed my gifts to flow through that to the people that trade brought into my presence.  I like the mission statement of Christ The King Community Church; To create an authentic Christian community that effectively reaches out to unchurched people with love, acceptance and forgiveness so that they may experience the joy of salvation and a purposeful life of discipleship.  They do that by attracting the unchurched to their place of doing ministry, and it is working.  We do that by going out into the marketplace and going to them and that seems to be working as well.

To be missional meant we needed to be self sustaining

Our mission is not something done in addition to our trade, our mission is the reason behind it.  No one was particularly interested in hiring a failed and divorced pastor to work in their church, nor was there any great clamor to throw money at the idea of being a missionary to America.  Not that I asked, I just assumed. Still, it worked out just fine being self supporting.  The results often take a long time to bring about.  All the while we still want to continue eating semi regular meals and sleeping indoors.    Our trade supports those habits and allows us to continue using our lives in service to Christ and leaves us to try whatever means we come up with to accomplish mission.

To be missional means we keep everything on the ground level.

Even in the most welcoming of churches there is a visible hierarchy.  Even the unchurched can see that pastors seem to occupy the higher seats, progressing down through the various servants, the regular to casual members, with the unchurched visitor being on the bottom.  Some churches do such a great job of hospitality and negate the negative perception of the hierarchy, but it is still there and obvious.  I think being missional takes away the hierarchy. Everyone who enters our missional outpost is on equal footing with those of us who provide our services. It feels safer that way.

Being missional means being committed to community.

Community is both relational as well as geographical.  Community consists of people in relationship, doing life together.  Being missional requires relationship.  It is not optional.  Access to lives is not assumed, it is earned.  Relationship grants us access to speak into hearts when the time is right.  We don;;t ever feel like we have to check off the “witnessing” box.  Relationship allows the time for hearts to open and allows events to unfold to speak Spirit words into.

Being missional, living life on mission and surrendering your life completely to mission is a hard choice in most cases. Like I  said, I had nothing left to loose.  It took that much for me to give myself over to this thing.  Like the Children of Israel in the wilderness we looked to God’s pillar of fire or smoke to lead us and we looked outside our tent and gathered enough manna just for the day. The flaps of our tents are open and welcoming to the wanderer. Our model is hospitality and our guiding principles are loving God and loving people.  It is working.

The Community Phenomenon

img10How this became, what it is, and how it fits into God’s plan.

My wife and I have the privilege of presiding over a wonderful expression of community located in the old downtown area of a mid sized city in the Northwest.  It is nearly everything that I ever had a vision for in all the years that I have given myself over to visions.  It is rewarding on personal, professional, and spiritual levels. I want to write a book, sell a million copies and spend winters in Hawaii, but I really cannot take credit for any of this.  If anyone had given me instructional steps in order to arrive at this destination I would likely have never followed them.  I am pretty sure that this wonderful place and community that has risen up has been orchestrated, without much help from me, by the loving and creative hand of the living and loving God.

To start with, my early experiences as a Christ Follower were in and through expressions of community. More specifically, I first became a Christ Follower when I spent time with a group of crazy in love with Jesus types who chose to live in the same place, sharing their lives with each other and the people they came in contact with.  They loved me, lived out their faith openly, and eventually invited me to live with them.  That is where I accepted Jesus and first learned what it meant to be His disciple. That experience is indelibly etched into every part of my mind.

While community is a major part of my spiritual DNA, I have not always cooperated with it.  For years I allowed myself to be controlled by others desires.  I wanted approval and acceptance.  I had experienced it through community even before I became a part of community and I was hungry for that.  Outside of community, and I suppose inside some, acceptance was based upon a level of performance.  Rather than being a part of a living and vibrant community I allowed myself to be led through phase after phase of hoop jumping in order to receive what I craved. I had some success but it felt like I was performing rather than living inside the real.  I left my barbarian  roots and became domesticated, like a tiger trained to perform in the circus.

It has been said that a person cannot consistently behave in a manner inconsistent with who they are.  I paced back and forth inside the cage of my domesticated Christian life and longed for the wild. Eventually I blew up my life. Nearly every person close enough to be in the blast zone chose to remove themselves to a safe distance.  I stood willingly at ground zero and allowed myself, the person that I had become, to be blown to bits. With no one left to influence I embarked on a season of healing.  My own toxicity was exposed and I was slowly being nursed back to health.  I made some choices in the early days that were deliberately crafted to allow myself to be fully engaged and fully compliant to whatever God might have in store for my future. I gave up my commercial driving career and trained in the simple craft of cutting hair. After a couple of years of recovery, one in which I stayed mostly hidden from anyone I may have known before, my core DNA, my hunger for community that could only be sated by meaningful connection, began to emerge.

After a bit of time working with other barbers I opened my first barber shop. I opened it inside a sporting goods store appropriately named Mayberry, after the small town in the 60s TV sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show.  It was the owner’s desire to create the same small town atmosphere that he grew up with.  He sold a variety of goods from clothing to sportswear and from toys to fishing poles. He even had a soda fountain inside with inexpensive old fashioned milkshakes.  With the addition of my barber shop his vision was complete. Now all that was needed was the community to begin to show up.

Inside my little corner shop I kept my head low and worked hard at becoming the best barber I could possibly be.  Over time my old, affable personality began to surface.  People began to come into the shop just to enjoy a visit as well as to get a haircut. My overhead was low, graciously low, so I was able to charge less than most of my competitors.  That helped get the word out but there was something more that seemed to be drawing folk in.  We were doing well inside the shop, outside, not so much.  The store was big and open with high ceilings and a concrete floor.  There were other places nearby that sold virtually everything that was offered and because of their longevity were often able to offer them for less money.  The soda fountain was intended to be a break even business to draw people inside to shop, as was the barber shop, but people would come to the barber shop or sit at the soda fountain and often times did not purchase any store items.  Things were tight for the store owners and their vision wasn’t panning out like they had hoped.

Things were going so well for us that we decided to expand our business.  Since the store was unwilling to rent us any img12more space we ended up signing a five year lease on a 1200 square foot building in an old part of town.  We moved in and decorated, added some additional rooms for treatment options and opened up a salon.  It was a disastrous move.  From the very beginning the people that we hired took advantage of our divided attention between the two business.  Our staff began not showing up for appointments, helping themselves to products we purchased and using them to earn money at home, and simply pocketing cash payment and writing those appointment as no shows.  It was my first time ever having to fire someone.  I didn’t like it.  It wasn’t fun, but it was necessary.  Now I had a commercial building with a lease and no one to work inside.  We closed the doors to the business and contemplated our next steps.

After having the new location closed for over a month I decided to reopen it as a second barber shop.  I had a barber that had been working for me since the previous year and my stepson had graduated from beauty school and was working in the shop doing a great job. Since it seemed that everything was in place I did a little bit of redecorating and began to cut hair in the new place.

Things in the new place were painfully slow.  I barely made overhead for the first couple of months.  I was open four days per week and worked the other three days of the week in the old shop so that I could continue to pay rent and food at home.  It was during a lull in the action at the old shop when the owner of the store took me aside.  He told me their business was loosing too much money and that they would be closing the doors.  I asked how much time did had before they closed the doors and he told me, “Three weeks”.  In any other setting that would have been a death sentence for our business.  Three weeks was not enough time to even find a suitable location, let alone set up, furnish, and let your clientele know about the move.  Providentially we didn’t have to worry about that. What seemed to be an anchor on our moving forward now turned out to be a lifeboat!

Things began to pick up pretty soon after we moved full time into our new location.  We had five times the room that we had previously and we moved around and tried different variations.  Our goal and vision wasn’t just for a barber shop.  That longing for community stuck deep inside my wife’s spirit and mine as well.  We talked out and vision cast various ways in which to be missional in our community.  We thought of ways to empower small group ministry using our facility. We thought of giving the open space over to youth ministry.  We thought about opening a coffee shop and using that to reach out missionally to our community.  All the time I was shifting and moving things around trying to find ways to best practices for reaching out and creating community.  All the time I was trying to find the right thing to do, God was busy just doing.

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Within one year of opening the new shop as a full time barber shop things were starting to pop.  We never spent a dime on advertising.  We just didn’t have it.  Even without a marketing budget or strategy, people began to talk about our shop. People were giving us kind and encouraging reviews on the internet, making us the top reviewed shop on Yelp, Tripadvisor and Google.  King 5, a Seattle TV news organization rated us number 5 in all of Western Washington the first year and number 8 the second.  That was competing with shops in cities like Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Everett.  One after another guys would come in to get their haircut for the first time.  When asked how they heard about us they would often tell us that a friend, or a room mate, or a coworker had sent them.  People talked about us in the community.  Guys would notice other guys haircuts and ask where they got theirs done and they would send them our way.  Business was growing.

I am not a businessman, I am a doer.  My wife and I both love showing hospitality and I also love cutting hair.  The craft as well as the interaction fires all the right neurons in my brain making it the most rewarding activity I had ever participated in.  I am energized by the conversation and the connection between myself, the barbers that work with me, and the wonderful array of diverse men, and a few gals, who come and sit in our 100 year old barber chairs for some tonsorial ministry.  It seems to be working.  People come in and more come in each week.  Now that talk isn’t just about the quality haircut, it is about the feel, the vibe, the sense of community they feel.  Our latest configuration of the shop puts the barbering in a 300 square foot area in the back and makes about 800 square feet available for common areas.  It is becoming a place where people like to be, a place where people connect with us and with each other.  Somehow, in spite of my best efforts, community began to happen and it happens daily.

Back before I blew up my life, back when I was following what I knew was the call of God to become a pastor, I had a pretty clear vision of what being a pastor meant.  It meant that you were the guy that stood in the front of the little box with the cross on top and taught people from the Bible.  You met with them, listened to their problems and offered some Jesus ways to health and wholeness.  It all looked pretty much like every other pastor I had ever seen.  After the “big bang” I felt, and was told, that I was not longer qualified to be a pastor.  That was ok with me.  I loved Jesus a whole lot, but I was pretty well ticked off at his fiance and didn’t want much to do with her.  Barbering was fine with me.  The hours were more predictable, the customers much more agreeable, and the pay was better too.

Had you asked me at any given point while I was an official pastor what I wanted to accomplish, I would have given you the following list;

  1.  I wanted to be a friend to sinners, perhaps influencing them to consider Christ for the first time
  2. I wanted to engage the newly converted, influencing them to become full on, crazy in love disciples of Christ
  3. I wanted to influence disciples to consider giving their lives over to the mission of Christ outside of the box
  4. I wanted to be influence by and influence the movers and shakers out doing the work.

During any given week I will spend 15 quality minutes with those who haven’t surrendered to Jesus. We talk about everything under the sun, establishing a base of trust.  When the time is right, when the need is there, when the heart is soft, I point them toward Christ.  I have prayed for the terminally ill in my barber chair.  I held the weeping and grieving as they cried out their despair in that same chair.  I have offered advices, direction, and a hundred different stories to the newly converted and seriously committed disciples of Christ.  Interns and beginning vocational types have sat in my chair to receive prayer, encouragement, and perhaps an insidious thought or two sparking a hunger to perhaps think outside the box.  I also get to spend the time with the leaders of more than a dozen churches ranging from 50 to 5,000 members.  I make their hair look great and share what is on my heart.  They share back and we are both encouraged or challenged.  In all I would have to say that my regular congregation and visitors are so numerous that I have become more of a success as a pastor behind the chair than I ever had behind the pulpit.  Church happens, ministry happens, and I don’t have to make it happen.  I simply pick up my clippers and my comb and I jump right in to whatever God is doing on a given day.  It is an amazing thing to take part in.

I used to tell people that no matter how far you stray, the center of God’s will is one decision away.  I think about Israel in the desert. The followed the pillar of smoke or fire that was the Presence of God whenever and wherever it moved.  Each and every day they walked outside of their tents and there was enough food for the day.  It didn’t matter how much they gathered our how little, it was always enough and it spoiled if you tried to save any for the next day.  Each day was a matter of trust.  One decision, the decision to follow.  I don’t know what the future holds for my family.  An old neck injury has caused loss of feeling in my right hand and a great deal of pain on those busy days.  My volume is down, but my spirits are up.  We may look outside the tent one morning and see that the presence of God is moving.  We are committed to follow this adventure until the chapter closes on our individual adventures and opens to the adventures of our children.  We have had two precious little boys during our journey into this life we now live.  We also have two grown children as well as a number of surrogate children who we offer love and share our lives with.  We want to remain passionate about following God wherever He leads and joyful in wherever He stops.  There are people out there to love.  For now we have a community.  It didn’t really seem possible to me at the beginning this is what was going to become, but it is an amazing thing to be a part of.  I have great company on this journey.  My wife, Angela, is the first one to make me believe I didn’t have to live my life they way others thought I should.  She hitched up her wagon for the ride and makes sure that I am always looking beyond what is and into what might become.  My boys are full of life and personality.  They are both growing up in the barber shop, surrounded by the community of creation that is all around us.  I hope that they will become to love God and love the people that God loved so much that He gave His one and only Son.  I believe for them to be a gift to their generation.  I will keep you posted as the journey continues.

Pastoral lifestyles and co-living

A lot of thoughts are in my mind these days.  Some I am sure are placed there by the Holy Spirit. My only struggle with that is that most thoughts come in the same timbre and  sound of voice as the one I use to speak to myself.  The chatter up there can be deafening sometimes, making it hard to be clear which voice is God’s.

Yes, I hear voices.  I talk to them sometimes too.  The volume and the shear quantity has multiplied as my heart has softened toward God and toward His fiance.  My heart has softened through this whole adventure to the point that I am willing to consider serving in any capacity, even if that means serving in a pastoral role. While being a pastor had its successes, it was also a place of great injury to myself and a bit to others as well.  It was the one place that I swore I would never again return.  “Yep, that went well!”

In a bit of a shift from my previous life and pastoral calling I am beginning to open myself up to a pastoral lifestyle rather than a positional pastoral “ministry”.  I prefer the lifestyle measure of ministry effectiveness as opposed to the rubrics usually applied to a more classical pastoral ministry.  Rather than counting the nickles and the noses I am simply being there, being available and letting the relationship be as the Holy Spirit chooses rather than defining it as such.

The result of letting the Holy Spirit direct and quantify His use of my life is that I have had several people come into my “orbit” needing a pastor, or co-pastor in various degrees.  Some have needed personal counsel in life skills in addition to their identity in Christ, while others simply need some encouragement or to know that they have been heard.  This diversity is broader and without nearly as many conceived walls as I encountered in the role of Pastor.

One thought that has been sort of threading its way through the tapestry of envisioning and praying about the future is the concept of pastoral ministry through co-living.  I have been processing this idea with my wife as well as in prayer.  My first thought is that it looks a lot like my early days as a Christ Follower.  I got saved through an outreach of Youth With A Mission and I early on moved into a co-living situation that was modeled after a typical YWAM base.  Basically it was a medium range life commitment to living together for the purpose of training for outreach.  Even though I failed in the discipleship process by leaving early I find that the very core of my life as a Christ Follower was formed and is still influenced by the good and the wholesome aspect of living together with a common purpose.

My wife has a different perspective on co-living than I do.  Mine looks like YWAM, worship, community and outreach with the focus on processing through discipleship, internship and into leadership.  That places the focus more on single folk who are by nature more flexible in their lives and lifestyles to follow Jesus by moving into a co-living discipleship program.  My wife’s looks more like a long term or even lifetime arrangement of people of faith living cooperatively in close proximity.  Both examples have merit.

This pastoral lifestyle has led me to believe that God will bring ministry our way as we are both fit and dependent on Him to offer ministry.  Co-living or any other form of pastoring will come in the form that He chooses.  While a staff position might be nice, simply being available has it’s own advantages as well.  As a couple redeemed by Christ, we live by faith.  It is not because we are super spiritual.  We don’t know how to live successfully any other way.  We have finally found success in this sort of a serendipitous walk through the new life we enjoy in Christ.   Trusting that we will come out of our tents each and every day and find just enough of His providence to make it through the day has never once disappointed.