Monday, July 25, 2011

Living in Tension

In a class I took this semester a professor said that the role of the pastor is to live within and be comfortable with tension.  What he meant was that pastors need to be able to see the ideal and recognize the way that things should be while at the same time recognizing that things are not, in fact, the way they should be – and to learn to be comfortable working in that ‘in between’ space of knowing what should be but never quite seeming to be able to get there.

As I’ve mentioned before one of the things I do at Degage Ministries is help in the ID program that helps people get state-issued ID’s when they’ve lost or don’t have the proper documentation.  We help them get what they need and most of the time it’s not being able to come up with the $10.00 that the Secretary of State charges to get one.  So we upfront the cost and ask them to ‘pay-back’ some or all of that cost when it arrives.  Most agree to pay $3-5, some agree to pay it all, and others insist they can’t pay any.

Sometimes coming up with the money is really a big deal for these folks and sometimes it isn’t.  Tension.   Why can a person not have 10 bucks for a state ID but can ask to leave to go outside and have a cigarette from a pack that cost them at least 5 of those 10 bucks that they don’t have?  Tension.  Why can one person who really can’t afford it be so grateful that we are willing to help them out that they say, “I’ll find a way to come up with $10, I’m just grateful you’re here for me right now.”  Tension.  Why when I’m working in the kitchen is one person thankful for the free donut and the next person walks away in disgust because we ran out of muffins before he got there?  Tension.

Tension is all around us.  It’s what makes us calloused toward helping others who seem like they aren’t interested in helping themselves.   It’s what makes us want to help those who need it while at the same time wondering if we’re being taken advantage of when we do.

The folks at Degage have learned to live and work in that tension.  They do what they can to mitigate being taken advantage of but the struggle – the tension – still remains.  And they are constantly wondering what to do about it.  But it doesn’t stop them from helping and helping well.  They are still meeting the needs of the poor and homeless and meeting them well.

Living in tension comes part and parcel with living the Christian life.  It’s part of the already and the not yet.  It’s part of knowing that God’s kingdom (in Jesus Christ – the already) has come but not fully (in the Second Coming – the not yet).  So we live in this space in between – filled with tension and navigating it’s swirling waters is challenging.

Living in tension means helping someone who really needs it, and if that means helping someone who maybe doesn’t it – well, so be it.  It is God who justifies not me. 

In the meantime, I’ll do what I can for the ones who need it.  And, if along the way, it means helping someone who doesn’t – well that’s part of the tension and I’ll continue to watch out for that too.  But not, I hope, at the expense of the least of these. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pics from Funeral–read the post below this first

For some reason I can’t add these pictures to my previous post.  But I made it down to the church and captured a few images of Betty Ford’s casket and motorcade leaving the church for burial.  Quite a powerful sight:




Two Interesting Events

Event #1:  As I write this, I’m watching the eulogy of Former First Lady Betty Ford on television.  The funeral is occurring at Grace Episcopal Church on the corner of Plymouth and Hall less than two miles from our house.  If I finish this blog entry in time, I might take my bike down there and see if I can catch a glimpse of the motorcade as it leaves the church and heads to the Ford Museum where she’ll be buried next to her husband.  In case you hadn’t guessed, Gerald and Betty Ford are from Grand Rapids.

So currently, less than two miles from my house sits Dick and Lynne Cheney, Former First Lady Barbara Bush, and Former President Bill Clinton.  Pretty strange for a guy who grew up on the Great Plains of Iowa and Minnesota. 

Event #2:  Last night I went to prison – the Robert Handlon Level 2 Correctional Facility in Ionia, MI to be exact.  Why?  To play softball, of course!  Each year, our church gets a group of guys together and take on the prisoners in a game of softball on the sprawling grounds of the prison. 

It was the first time I’d ever been in a prison and it was fascinating.  I was like a kid at a museum.  I had so many questions and couldn’t stop looking around at the electric and barbed wire fencing that towered above me on all sides.   It was eerie and fascinating all at the same time.

When the 11 of us first entered through security, passed the automated bars and had our ball gloves and bats inspected the grounds were eerily quiet.  It’s a large complex and there was a soul to be seen anywhere.  It was somber, quiet, sad.  We got to the field and started warming up.

After a few minutes, the prisoners were all let out for their evening recreation time  and an army of orange shorts and white shirts made their way toward the far end of the grounds for our annual match-up.  Suddenly, there was smiling, laughter, jokes, and more than a little competitiveness. 

We played two games – we won one and lost one – and had a blast.  The men were so appreciative that we came and repeatedly thanked us for being willing to come and offer them a few hours of diversion from what is otherwise a dull day of routine under the watchful eyes of guards.   They were on their best behavior because they knew that getting to play softball with someone from the other side of the barbed wire was a unique and special privilege. 

They were profoundly grateful that we came and I was glad I went too.  We put smiles on faces that don’t smile often just by playing a game of softball. 

Oh, and by the way – I still do OK wielding a glove at first base, if I do say so myself!

Well, it looks like the service for Betty Ford is about over.  Time to get on my bike and see what I can see.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

One Year Anniversary

Today marks exactly one year since we arrived in Grand Rapids to start this new adventure.  As I look back the Lord has truly blessed us.  Earlier this week, I wrote a letter to the congregation at Faith CRC in Sioux Center recapping God’s work in our lives this past year.  I share that same letter (slightly revised) with you here, and thank God for all of you too.  Thank you for your prayers and support – we have felt and needed them and continue to need them.  To please consider this our thanks to God for all of you:

Today is exactly one year ago that our family said goodbye to many of you and made the 700 mile journey to Grand Rapids driving a minivan and a 26-foot Penske truck loaded with all of our worldly possessions. It has been a year of many changes and a few challenges, but also a year filled with blessings from the Lord.

The Lord has blessed our transition immensely so I want to begin this letter by saying thank you for your prayers, words of encouragement, and support – we do truly thank the Lord every time we remember you. I hope you will allow me to share with you some of the ways the Lord has blessed us in the past year while also updating you on our family.

Zachary and Bethany both had great years at their new schools, which is something we were very concerned about initially. We continue to be so appreciative of Christian education and have been wonderfully blessed by the Grand Rapids Christian School System. In addition to providing a quality Christian education to our kids it has also provided our family with some income as Jessica substitute taught at the elementary school quite often throughout the school year. In fact, she was often requested by several teachers. Next year, Zachary and Bethany will both attend the middle school and they will both now be able to walk or ride their bikes to school. We are praising the Lord for providing for us in this way.

In addition to finding good part-time work, Jessica is enjoying meeting with a group called SoulCare which meets weekly during the school year for Bible study, fellowship, and a time of sharing with each other the joys and concerns of being pastor’s wives. She has also become involved with a MOPS group at our church.

Alex is doing great as well, and is proof that the ‘terrible-twos’ are so-called for a reason! He is asserting his independence regularly and is expanding his vocabulary even faster. He is loving being able to be outside, go for walks or bike rides in the neighborhood, and has already proven himself to be quite adept in the water. He is fearless when it comes to swimming and I think he is convinced that he can breathe under water no matter how often we tell him otherwise.

My first year at seminary was truly a blessing. After some initial hurdles of trying to find the ‘rhythm’ of being a student again, my year finished on a high note by doing well enough in Hebrew to be exempt from the final exam, getting an ‘A’ on my first research paper in over 12 years, and ending with a first-year GPA of 3.8. My knowledge has been expanded and so has my personal library! God has truly blessed my studies for which I am very thankful.

During the school year I volunteer with a Friendship Ministries group (a ministry to individuals who are mentally impaired) on Tuesday nights at a church near our home. I am working with a mentally-challenged young man named Marcus and he’s been a delight to get to know. He isn’t able to talk, but (as many of you know) I do enough talking for the both of us!

This summer I’m interning at Degage Ministries ( in downtown Grand Rapids. They provide a number of services to the poor and homeless in the area. My primary work is in their dining room where they offer low-cost and free meals, their ID program where they help individuals who don’t have proper ID’s obtain a legal photo ID, and I lead a small Bible study on Thursday mornings. Degage is a very unique ministry that does some very unique things and I’m glad to be a part of it for the summer.

The rest of our summer plans include taking in some of the sights and sounds of Michigan. We’ve been bike-riding in Grand Haven, visited the shores of Lake Michigan (no fishing expeditions, though!), and are planning to do some camping at some highly recommended campgrounds along the lakeshore. I’m also doing some work in the seminary admissions office which I thoroughly enjoy and have been doing some pulpit supply.

I delivered my first sermon ever on Sunday, May 22nd and felt very comfortable doing so. I delivered it at Seymour CRC which has become our new church home. All of us have become involved in a variety of ways there – Zachary is in Sunday School and Cadets, Bethany is in Sunday school and GEMS and sings in the Children’s Choir, Jessica is in choir, serves on the Nursery Committee, and does some other volunteering, I serve as ‘liturgist’ about once a month and meet regularly with the pastor who is my mentor during my time at seminary, and Alex has his well-deserved reputation as the ‘most fun (read, “craziest”) kid in the nursery.’ In addition, Jessica and I are part of a small group Bible study that meets once a month. Though we miss you all, we are deeply thankful for our new church home here as well.

I’ve preached four times so far this summer and have really enjoyed doing so. It’s been a very affirming experience for me each and every time. I consider it a privilege that the Lord has blessed me with gifts that will allow me to study and preach his Word on a regular basis to His people.

So, I hope you will join my family and me in praising the Lord for his goodness to us. It has been a powerful year of God moving mightily in our lives. Please continue to keep us in your prayers and as we continue to follow God’s call.

I took a class this summer and in it we were asked to talk about a passage that has been meaningful to us. As I think, study, learn, and prepare for a career in ministry these words from Ephesians have sustained me and I want to leave you with them as well, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever. Amen!” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Grace and peace to you all.

In Christ Jesus our Lord,

Michael, Jessica, Zachary, Bethany, & Alex Ten Haken