Friday, October 31, 2003

People seem to be breaking out of the daze they've been in around here for the past few days. The fires continue to burn to the east of us, but some favorable weather has helped a lot. We're actually getting some light rain in some areas.

I was running around yesterday looking for a missing horse. There are several hundred of them being temporarily housed at the county fairgrounds. I also went to the doctor yesterday - it seems I have developed a case of the shingles. That sucks. I think I have a mild case, because it's not as painful as I've heard it can be. It's just uncomfortable and annoying at this point.

Sounds like the people who are trying to buy our house are wanting to play hardball with us since we pulled out of escrow. That's annoying too.

I'm working to maintain perspective in all of this. Things to remind myself of:
a) Even in the middle of all of the devastation, I live in a ridiculously wealthy and comfortable place where needs are easily met.
b) I have innumerable opportunities all around me to extend grace and love to those who are hurting.
c) These are situations in which Jesus can have the greatest impact on people. I get to help just by hanging around him.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow morning. I get to get out of town for a few hours with Jason and Eddie. We're going up to OC to hang out with Josh Dulaney. It'll be good to clear my head a little. Plus, it'll be good to see Eddie again before he leaves SoCal to be a part of the Jesus folks out in Columbus, OH.

On another note, I was thinking the other day about how incredibly devastating September 11, 2001 must have been in New York City. Here we've had over 1500 homes destroyed by fire, so that's at least a few thousand people directly impacted - it seems like everyone knows at least one or two people who lost something. But these are just homes. Thankfully only a few lives have been lost. September 11, though was so much worse - image bearers of God himself were destroyed. Those lives cannot be replaced.

posted by Steve at 6:38 AM
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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Michelle and I returned to the ashes of the house where she grew up yesterday. The air all around San Diego county was dense with smoke. It's kind of like being in thick fog, except with a dirty yellow tint. Michelle walked around, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing when she'd see some random object that didn't burn. I realized how incapable I am of relating - my family moved at least 11 times before I was 18 years old, but Michelle had never moved once until she married me.

We've received so many phone calls, e-mails, etc. from people wanting to help. Right now we're just trying to figure out which end is up. It's really cool the way everyone is there for us, though.

O.k., here's an experience I had the other day. When I returned home late Sunday afternoon and saw the blackened ground all around my house, a crew of about 25 people from the California Department of Forestry was sprawled out on the corner of my property taking a break after having saved at least 20 houses. I went down to them to thank them and see if they needed anything - ice water, a restroom, anything. I approached a lady who looked like she was in charge, and began talking to her. Then I looked down at the uniform she was wearing - the embroidered badge on her shoulder didn't say "California Department of Forestry," it said "California Department of Corrections." Then I noticed that all of the people hanging around her were women, and that some of them looked a bit rough around the edges (even more so than firefighting would have made them look). My home had been saved by convicts, not professionals. The freedom and comfort I enjoy was in some way made possible by those who have willingly forfeited their own through their unlawful behavior. It gave me a new take on grace and servanthood.

++Jesus, I am a lawbreaker also. Please give me the grace to serve others in a way that draws them toward you.

posted by Steve at 2:00 PM
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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

These are challenging days. The fires of Southern California have altered many many lives - ours among them. The blaze that swept through my neighborhood has now consumed over 200,000 acres. I contributed one acre of my own. The flames came to within 20 feet of our house, but the structure was saved. We were evacuated on Sunday morning. We got the cats and a few items of value, and went to Michelle's parents' home, about 10 minutes away. Witin a couple of hours we would be evacuated from there also. Before leaving our house, my sister offered for us to come there, about 20 minutes away . . . she too would eventually be evacuated.

We were more fortunate than many in that we were allowed to return home by the end of the day. Coming here was amazing. The whole area is black and gray, with only the off-white and beige stucco of the houses to add color. Only one home was lost in our area. It was a fitful night of sleep - getting up every couple of hours to look out at the hill immediately to the east of us, less than half a mile away, which was still on fire.

Yesterday morning Michelle, her dad, and I drove down Highway 67, to see if we could get to their house. The California Highway Patrol had the road blocked. It was frustrating for her dad because the house is only about 2 miles down from the road block. After talking to the officers for a few minutes, they agreed to let us go by their barricade on foot. So Matt (Michelle's father) and I started walking. All around us on the hillsides that had yet to burn we saw smoldering embers in the bushes, sometimes catching fire, sometimes just creating smoke. We had walked to within about half a mile of the house when some Sheriff deputies came driving the other way stopped us and told us that we shouldn't be there because the whole area was about to light up. They agreed to drive us the rest of the way to the house because we had a vehicle there that we could drive out. We turned down their street off of Hwy. 67 and saw a couple of houses, and then nothing but rubble. We got out of the car and walked up to what used to be home for Matt, his wife Marge, and my wife.

Nearly 30 years ago they moved into a tiny two bedroom home. Matt and his brothers had built onto the house in different phases and made a totally different house out of it. The chimney is the only verticle structure left. We were only able to stay for two or three minutes before the deputies told us gently that it was time to go. We haven't been able to go back yet.

I drove us out (they had parked a vehicle in an open area, so it was salvaged), not knowing what to say. The whole area looked roughly like a mountainous version of the moon. Barren, gray.

Life has changed radically in a very short period of time. We have pulled out of escrow on our house sale in order to allow Matt and Marge to move in. They will live here with us as long as they desire. I'm glad to be here for them. I wish I could do more. It seems that they are going to learn the discipline of simplicity in a radical new way.

As for us, this may mean a change of venue for the new church start. It's unlikely that we will be moving to the area where we thought we'd be starting. Many unanswered questions.

My sister, her husband, and their three kids were able to go back to their house yesterday evening. Over 300 homes in their immediate area are gone.

There are thoughts and lessons here. They will come out over time. God is still good. His power and glory are unchanged. I have the opportunity of learning how to live the Kingdom life in the middle of chaos. Following Jesus and inviting others to walk with me will take on new levels of challenge and blessing.

I do not grieve for the loss of structures or possessions. I do long for God's Kingdom to fully come on earth as it is in heaven.

posted by Steve at 11:05 AM
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Saturday, October 25, 2003

I've admitted before that I'm a pop culture geek. Thus, how could I not like the two new VH1 series - "I Love the 70s" and the follow up "I Love the 80's Strikes Back"? That's the show where witty celebrity types remember and then mock the cultural products and people of a given year within those decades. They talk about clothing styles, television shows, movies, you name it. Fun stuff.

As I was out mowing weeds on our property this morning, I was thinking something like this: "Hey, what if VH1 did a show called 'I Love the Christian Ghetto?'" What things would they remember with fondness? What would they mock? What would they have serious disdain for?

I haven't put much thought into what would be on my list, but it would probably include Focus on the Family, Davey and Goliath, WWJD, Jabez, the Gaithers, Left Behind books, those quilted Bible covers with zippers, Bullfrogs and Butterflies, and Stryper. Let's start a list and see if maybe they'd put it on TBN. If you have any suggestions, pop 'em in the comments thingy.

posted by Steve at 10:13 AM
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Thursday, October 23, 2003

Whew! Busy week around here. Mostly busy with the right stuff, but still not 100%. Something happened a couple days ago that pleased me, though. I worked at the coffee shop early in the morning, but business was slow and we were overstaffed, so I got off work early. I had another meeting scheduled for later in the morning, so I just hung out at a table outside and read. I had my Bible out, and was reading a book by Thomas Merton. I was there for about 45 minutes. During that time frame I had something like six or seven decent conversations with different people - all of them were regular customers that I have gotten to know by name since I've worked there. In almost every case, they asked what I was reading and we were able to talk about life.

Now, let me just say that I suck at evangelism (and wouldn't you know it, none of them "got saved" while we were talking). Also for the record, I didn't have my Bible and the other book out there so that I could be noticed. But because of the relational connection I've already had with these folks, I was able to talk to them openly and freely.

I'm pretty happy about that situation because it somehow proved the value of getting the job at the coffee shop in the first place. Sure I could be making much better money somewhere else, but I've been able to get to know dozens of people - maybe not enough to know the names of their kids or what their favorite flavors of ice cream are, but enough to be able to trigger a decent conversation when the opportunity presents itself. This is a big deal for me, in part because I suck at evangelism (or at least what passes for it). Hopefully I'm increasingly in a position to take customers and make friends out of them.

posted by Steve at 5:04 PM
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Monday, October 20, 2003

Well, that didn't take long. We signed a contract to sell our house yesterday. Escrow opened today. Heck, the realtor didn't even have time to put up one of those silly signs in front of our house. We now have 45 days to figure out where the heck we're gonna call home. Sofas, spare bedrooms anyone??

In preparing to put the house on the market, Michelle and I each arrived at a price for the house. We approached the price from different flows of logic, and came up with the same number. When the buyers made their offer, it was the same number. It's a good thing. We're still really bummed about leaving this place, but we know that our home is with one another, and not simply located in a physical building.

It's a lot like church. So many people are hung up on the notion that the life of the church resides in a specific building at specific times of the week. But the community is something far more significant, and cannot be (or at least shouldn't be) contained in those parameters.

posted by Steve at 12:29 PM
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Saturday, October 18, 2003

Michelle and I made the difficult decision to put our house on the market the other night. Even as I write, there are people walking through the place, evaluating it for its worth to them. I want to tell them to go away and not come back - even if they come back with a wheelbarrow full of $100 bills. We love living here in so many ways. And yet we know that it's time to go.

posted by Steve at 2:23 PM
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One of the things I enjoyed most about the Unconference a few weeks back was being able to meet and hang out with Palmer. He's experiencing the grace of God right now in a way I wouldn't want to, having lost his wife to cancer recently. I've rarely sensed the peace of God rest so fully on one person before. Here is an example.

posted by Steve at 2:17 PM
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Friday, October 17, 2003

Over the past three months I've watched my personal spiritual rhythms take a beating. The easiest thing for me to point to for my difficulties in consistency is my job at the coffee shop. On days when I open the shop, my alarm starts beeping at 3:40a.m.

About seven years ago, just before getting married, I took a new job at a local university. Prior to that I had worked a swing shift job, but the new job required me to be at work at 6:30a.m. I found that the best way for me to have a consistent "quiet time" (that's what I called it back then) with God was to get up at about 4:00a.m. I continued this practice for the most part up until the time I left my staff position with the church this April. These were good times. Despite not being a "morning person" I thrived in the dark and quiet hours before my day began. The routine gave me the place to encounter scripture, meditation, prayer, and spiritual readings that challenged me in my following of Christ.

When I took the job at the coffee shop, that routine ended. My schedule is different from one day to the next, one week to the next. Some days I'm at work at 4:30a.m., some days at 9:00a.m. My "real" job as a church starter plays out in part as I meet people at the coffee shop, which I enjoy a lot. But again, my own spiritual life has suffered.

It's been very easy for me to become discouraged and blame my work schedule for my difficulty. But having called in sick this morning because of an ugly and uncomfortable eye infection, I sat down for some time with God. I read scripture, prayed, and confessed my frustration to Jesus. Then I picked up a book and read these words by Thomas Merton in Contemplative Prayer:

"Those who imagine that they can discover special gimmicks and put them to work for themselves usually ignore God's will and his grace. They are self-confident and even self-complacent. They make up their minds that they are going to attain to this or that, and try to write thier own ticket in the life of contemplation. They may even appear to succeed to some extent . . . "

With all the best intentions, and certainly some healthy and God-honoring results, I have come to rely on a "program" in my life. It did work for a time. That time has come to an end, at least for the time being. In its absence I realize that I've become far too reliant on it, and not reliant enough upon the wooing of the Spirit of God to spend time alone in the quiet spaces with him. My routines have been interrupted and my lack of desire for the presence of Jesus in my life has been exposed. I have dreamed that I could manufacture spirituality in my life by getting up at a certain hour of the day and reading, praying, meditating in a certain order, with certain results.

My opportunity now is to walk daily, hourly in the presence of Jesus, allowing him to direct me into the moments where I can do the good things of meditation and focused prayer. They may be shorter in length, random in order, but these moments exist all around me if I will ask Jesus to lead me there.

I do long for the day when I can once again develop a fairly predictable spiritual routine and rhythm. But when it comes, I want to use it as a gift and a joy, and not as a program.

posted by Steve at 9:00 AM
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Monday, October 13, 2003

And a very good weekend it was. Michelle and I enjoyed the Equilibrium experience. A lot of it was your basic intro to the modern/postmodern shift yada yada, but I think it was better than most, since it was in the heart of a pretty postmodern city, and part of the experience included walking around in it. We spent time on the border of Chinatown and Little Italy Friday night. Had dinner at Mona Lisa's in Little Italy - this is the kind of place where you have a sneaking suspicion that someone might get whacked by the end of dinner. Great stuff, though. We did a walking freestyle meditation in the city's botanical gardens Saturday morning, hung out in a "session" at Dieter Zander's place, and then went to the Paige Street center for lunch.

As with most other events of its kind, the real value of this gathering was in the conversations over dinner and walking around. Michael Toy and Sean Blomquist were there - I met them last year at Seed Stories. We also got to hang out a bit with some fellow bloggers, Joshua and Kristen from Dallas.

Michelle and I stayed at the home of Mark and Lisa Scandrette. They live in the Mission district of the city in really cool house built in the 1920s or something. We really enjoyed hanging out with them and laughing a lot. We walked to a Thai place for dinner. My mouth waters just remembering it.

I know I've said this before, but I'm really stoked that Michelle was there with me this weekend. I think she enjoyed the conversation, and I know she added to it a lot. I write more this week about some specific thoughts that were shared, but both she and I had some things confirmed for us, and we're still happy to be on this journey of following Jesus. It helps so much when we spend time with people who embrace an honest look at life and culture and the kingdom of God.

posted by Steve at 11:43 AM
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Sunday, October 12, 2003

Home again. Super tired. Long drive from San Francisco. Hard to think in complete sentences. Need sleep. Write more later. Rest now.

posted by Steve at 7:19 PM
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Thursday, October 09, 2003

Headed out of town once again tommorrow morning, thankfully this time I'll have my amazing wife with me. We're headed up to San Francisco for a learning experience with the REimagine folks. I'm looking forward to it a lot. It'll be a long drive, but that's part of the draw for me - I love driving long distances with Michelle, just talking and seeing the world in a different way.

I went to the seminary library again today - had to take back some books that I'm sad to say I didn't get very far along in. But I'm happy to say that I picked up some new ones too - Hauerwas, Wright, Peterson, and Merton!

posted by Steve at 3:52 PM
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Tuesday, October 07, 2003

I did not vote today. I still have nearly five hours left to vote. I will not vote. It's not that I'm apathetic about the recall election of California's governor. Quite frankly, like an apparent majority of Californians, I don't like him. It would not sadden me to see him bounced.

However, I'm not voting because I'm in a process of reconsidering what my role and participation ought to be as a citizen of California, and the United States. I'm not angry or ashamed of my citizenship, as some might be. It's just that I've been embracing my primary citizenship as part of the Kingdom of Christ. I have a desire to think of myself first in those terms, and in other terms later.

I have a good friend who became a U.S. citizen a couple of years ago. He had the option of retaining citizenship in his country of origin, but chose to renounce it in order to fully embrace America as his home. I respect that position. I'm trying to see how it plays out in my own scenario. I am still in process of landing on all of this, and I don't know where I finally will touch down. But until then, I guess I'll be on the political sidelines.

posted by Steve at 3:39 PM
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Monday, October 06, 2003

Ahhh, back home again. I went to a house church retreat this past weekend at Jenness Park, a retreat center north of Yosemite. It was a long drive up on Friday and a long drive home yesterday, but well worth it. I met some cool folks doing house church in the San Francisco bay area. Most of them were either current students or recent graduates of one of my denomination's seminaries.

Joe and Debbie Boyd came out from Las Vegas to lead the retreat. Lots 'o fun. Joe's an improvisational sort of guy, who is full of contrasts. Here's a near quote from his own mouth: "I have long hippy hair . . . but I wash it. I'm a vegan . . . but I drive an SUV. I live in a commune with 12 other people . . . but it's in a gated community." I've followed his blog occasionally for the past several months, so I enjoyed hearing his story firsthand. He tried hard to edit himself for the sake of some pretty conservative people in the audience . . . but he did manage to drop one "f" bomb during an illustration (perfectly appropriately).

One big highlight of the weekend for me was meeting Jade. She's from China, and talked to us about her recent experiences with the house churches in her homeland. She said that the house church movement in China is characterized by three things: the importance of prayer, regular experiences of miracles, and women in leadership - starting new churches and multiplying them. Cool stuff. There are underground seminaries in certain areas with up to 1500 students (mostly young people). There is a growing burden among our Chinese brothers and sisters to send missionaries to Iraq.

Good times . . . and now back to work.

posted by Steve at 1:53 PM
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Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Hey, the October edition of Next-Wave has gone live. I haven't gotten a chance to read through all the articles myself, but it looks really good. My review of the film Bonhoeffer is up - read it here.

posted by Steve at 3:19 PM
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spirit farmer data

I'm Steve Lewis. This used to be my blogging home. My online home is now at When this blog was my active online home, I lived in Seattle. Now I live in London, UK. I follow Jesus (poorly most of the time), worship simply, read a lot, watch culture, go to school, listen to music, write, enjoy art, and drink a lot of coffee.
e-mail me:

seattle spots

victrola coffee
zoka coffee
university of washington
church of the apostles
quest church
sanctuary church
shoreline vineyard

sites i visit

off the map
nt wright

a few of the blogs in the feedreader

jason evans
joe boyd
kevin rains
alan creech
chris marshall
bill bean
eugene cho
jordon cooper
dwight friesen
john chandler
amy palmer
ryan bolger
rudy carrasco
ryan sharp
sings in the sunshine
rick bennett
scot mcknight
karen ward
alan hirsch
dan kimball
petey crowder

i'm reading it

colossians remixed
africa unchained

i finished reading it - 2007

generation me
jesus and the restoration of israel
god's continent
globalizing theology
gustavo gutierrez: essential writings
jesus and the eyewitnesses
garlands of grace
twenty poems to nourish your soul
the black swan
dancing in the streets
made to stick
signs in contemporary culture
hit the bullseye
the politics of jesus
readings in christian ethics
toward old testament ethics
the kite runner
principles of conduct
velvet elvis
the irresistable revolution
they like jesus, but not the church
the great omission
charisma: the gift of grace, and how it has been taken from us
the starfish and the spider
a perfect mess
the world cafe
the new faces of christianity
leaving church
journeying in faith
the creed
transforming mission
metaphors we live by
foolishness to the greeks
personal knowledge

states i've spent time: 2007

british columbia
oh yeah, denmark, too

i wrote it

managing conflict in the 'new world'
music review: over the rhine
film review: bonhoeffer
music review: fighting jacks
film review: the passion of the christ
how reality tv changes lives
the best tv article you've ever read
corks & caps: a wine lover's story of change
america's idols
random, disorganized thoughts about life after the katrina disaster
missional . . . plain and simple
on becoming post-gnostic

i blogged it

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