Opening Our House to Strangers

April 14, 2017 is the fourth anniversary of one of the scarier, more intense moments of my time living in Chancellot.

As a house, we believed in the verse in the Bible where Jesus said, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” We might have even been a little scared by it. If what we did for others was what we did for Jesus, then we were at risk of excluding Jesus from our community if we didn’t let everyone in—so we kept the door unlocked at all hours. “Don’t knock, just come in,” we told our friends. They would come in and watch Netflix or basketball games, play Nintendo 64 or cook breakfast. It was a wonderful way to keep our house from becoming a clique, because we loved spending time with each other but we didn’t want to shut out people who didn’t live in the house. Even our neighbors in the halfway house began to come over and visit. One of those guys would often ask us for money. Instead of offering him cash, we’d offer him a ride, or invite him in to eat dinner with us. After a couple offers, I finally got him hooked on my gourmet mac ‘n’ cheese. He asked to take a bowl home with him. Things got complicated when our friends from the halfway house would try stealing our stuff. Once, we caught a guy trying to sneak an Xbox controller out the door. But we believe that God gave us everything even though we had nothing to give him back, and so we kept our doors unlocked and kept inviting them to eat and play video games with us.

Until April 14, 2013. We had been living in Chancellot for two years and had added some new people to the house after grabbing the side of the duplex Jed used to live in. One of those new members was Elliot, who quickly became good friends with Caleb, if not mainly because of their shared penchant for sleeping at odd hours. At three in the morning they were walking back to the house after a late-night run to the Dunkin’ Donuts on the Corner. Both of them have extremely quirky humor, perhaps as quirky as their sleep schedules, so they were laughing riotously as they came to the door of the apartment. Caleb stopped laughing, finding himself frustrated because someone had borrowed his laptop and left it in a random backpack outside the house. Grabbing it, he went into the house with Elliot close behind. Immediately they were struck by the thick smell of tobacco permeating the house. Who was smoking indoors? Elliot and Caleb wasted no more than a split-second on this thought because their eyes met with the mess in the living room: another backpack stuffed with some more electronics, this time not just a laptop but a random selection. We were being robbed and the people doing it were probably still here. Elliot began screaming. “WHO THE <expletive redacted> IS IN OUR HOUSE?” Travis was sleeping in his room when he was awoken by the screams. He opened his eyes just in time to see someone steal out of the room. Caleb grabbed the first thing he could find to defend himself: a metal spatula for grilling meat. Elliot was clutching his can of Mace with a death-grip. He carried it because he often walked home alone from work after getting his paycheck and he knew co-workers that had been jumped. Caleb and Elliot heard the intruder run from Travis’ room into Caleb’s room, which he shared with Ephraim. Ryan, awoken by the shouting, called down the stairs to Caleb. “You guys need to come up here. There’s someone in your room.”

Together, they moved up the stairs, where Ryan joined them. The three of them marched in military column into the room where the intruder was hiding. “There are people in the bathroom!” Ephraim hissed. So, there was more than just one…Ephraim was sheltered from detection by the loft bed, which he was sleeping in when the intruders came into the room. “GET THE <expletive redacted> OUT OF OUR HOUSE!” the trio shouted. The people in the bathroom began scuffling. Click. The door unlocked and creaked open slowly. Two intruders crept out and began walking towards the doorway that Caleb, Ryan, and Elliot were standing in. One was black and one was white, both surprisingly young, probably the same age as the people living in the house they were robbing. Walking closer, they eventually burst into a run trying to get past my housemates. Caleb grabbed one’s sleeve but promptly let it go after an image of the intruder slicing his wrist open with a knife popped into his head. Elliot turned and pursued him with his Mace and sprayed it at him as he bolted down the stairs. After hitting the burglar with a burst of the stuff, he ran into the very same cloud of Mace that he had just dispensed and his eyes began to burn. That intruder got away, albeit marked with a swollen face that must have burned like Hades. Ryan grabbed the other intruder and put him in a Full Nelson hold. This guy was surprisingly docile, perhaps because he was doped up on something. As Ryan held him there, Caleb called the police. Later on, the guy Ryan was holding began whining. “Come on man. Treat me like a human being. Look me in the eye.” Caleb was furious and filled with adrenaline. “You broke into our house and you are asking us to show you respect?” Not much was said as they waited for the police to come. After so much happened so quickly, the room felt a little awkward.

Finally, the police showed up. A lady cop came up the stairs and began questioning the burglar. “This is the only thing I took!” he protested as he held a Kindle up in the air. Some defense. During this conversation, Ryan heard some more rustling. “I think there’s another person in the bathroom,” he said. No one paid much attention. BANG—outside a loud crashing noise. There was a third intruder and he had jumped out of the second story bathroom window onto the hood of Ryan’s car below. Elliot was downstairs when this happened and he pepper-sprayed the guy, this time making sure not to accidentally get himself. This guy took off, though disoriented from the blast of Mace to the face, causing him to slam into Sam’s car on his way. The police officer took Ryan, Caleb, and Elliot through the house to document missing items. Eventually they got back to Caleb and Ephraim’s room and kicked down the bathroom door, which had been locked. Inside they found a can of Mace, and a butcher knife that one of the intruders had taken from the kitchen. Had they tried to enter the bathroom earlier, they very well could have been stabbed. They got no sleep that night. In the morning, the rest of us were informed about what had happened. Later investigation revealed that an additional intruder—making it a four-man job—had been posted outside the house when Caleb and Elliot arrived, likely the owner of the backpack containing Caleb’s laptop. We had a house meeting and agreed to close the blinds and lock the doors after midnight or if no one was in the house.

Written by John Shelton

The Ballad of Already and Not Yet

I’ve been struggling to craft a gripping yet encouraging essay on Christian life in the wilderness—about how even though we’re thoroughly dissatisfied by this “already, but not yet” crap, we can cling to the Lord’s promises of new, deep, satisfying streams in the desert. I find I’ve produced a disjointed journal entry instead, and I’m okay with that.

I’m wandering in the wilderness, clumsily navigating the dichotomous life of the redeemed:

“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!”
– Romans 7:22-24

I’m quick to quote Uncle Screwtape’s 8th letter to Wormwood when encouraging other believers on their own journeys through the undulating wilderness sands:

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
– Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

Even still, earlier this week, I found myself in the Kroger parking lot informing God that it was time for Him to switch up how He uses me to further His Kingdom. “Father God, my ‘very particular set of skills’ has been used quite well in the past, but I’m ready for You to ‘complete Your good work in me’ and use another person with their own ‘very particular set of skills.’ I didn’t consent to this plan and it’s not really working for me anymore. Thanks. Amen.”

“Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm…” (Job 38 and onward)

I appreciate the reassurance that God is glorified by our obedience in light of His apparent absence, but the thing is, sometimes I don’t obey. I see traces of the Lord, but decide to ignore them. I hear His voice in the distance, but I don my Bose headphones and wander off in a different direction. What then?

Here’s “what then”:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
— Luke 15:20

When wandering, I’m often graced with the desire to seek (and therefore I find) encouragement in St. John of the Cross’ contemplative re-working of the Song of Songs, Spiritual canticle of the soul and the bridegroom. Here, the human soul expresses her deep longings for her Beloved and eventually arrives at the long-awaited marriage supper of the Lamb. It’s helpful to view the whole journey at once rather than pixel-by-pixel in the way we live our lives.

Deep longings:

I. Where have You hidden Yourself, and abandoned me to my sorrow, O my Beloved! You have fled like the hart, having wounded me. I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.
IX. Why, after wounding this heart, have You not healed it? And why, after stealing it, have You thus abandoned it, and not carried away the stolen prey?
XI. Reveal Your presence, and let the vision and Your beauty kill me, behold the malady of love is incurable except in Your presence and before Your face.

Eventual arrival:

XXII. The bride has entered the pleasant and desirable garden, and there reposes to her heart's content; Her neck reclining on the sweet arms of the Beloved.
XXXII. When You regarded me, Your eyes imprinted in me Your grace: For this You loved me again, and thereby my eyes merited to adore what in You they saw

Several of my favorite worship songs are based on this same work: “Wounded” and “Vision of You” by Shane & Shane and “Vous êtes mon cœur” by Güngör.

The streams that the Lord forges in the wilderness (Isaiah 41 and 43) seem slow to deepen at times. Often the source of His provision is bitter and hard to swallow (Exodus 15) compared to the imitation milk and honey that other wilderness natives have settled for, rather than venturing further into His vast unknownness. If I have my choice of sustenance in a barren land, I’m all too often more likely to choose the one that tastes better right away, rather than the one that will “Capital Q” Quench my deepest longings for good. How do we hold out for the transformation of bitter streams into deep, quenching floods?

One day at a time.

The day is nearly over,
Tomorrow will come in its own time,
and God is on the throne of your heart.

Written by Adam Rice

Community After College

Thirteen months ago, I graduated from college—qualified, credentialed, and confused. I remember the flood of well-meaning encouragement from friends and family: “the opportunities are endless”; “the world is your oyster”; “you could do anything you want to.” Each sentiment rung more hollow than the last, because, beneath all the excitement and potential lurked an almost paralyzing uncertainty. I had learned in InterVarsity that my life was meant for more than the American dream, and I believed it deeply. I wanted to serve God and others with my vocation. I knew I was meant to be deeply involved in the life of a local church. But life after college was something entirely new, and I had no idea how to actually do any of this. And for the first time in my life, there was no obvious next step.

Most of us, sometime soon after graduating, experience a kind of relational, financial, and vocational whiplash. Even those of us who have transformative experiences in campus ministries, as many Chancellotians do, often graduate deeply unsure of how to faithfully navigate the very new terrain of life after college.

Books and sermons on the topic are plentiful. What I learned this year, though, is that the kind of wisdom young adults need in order to transition out of college well cannot simply be taught—it must be modeled, embodied, and practiced in community. Christians like me don’t leave college confused because our churches or small groups or campus ministries failed us—it’s just that as we enter a new phase of life, we need new mentors to walk alongside us, new examples of mature faithfulness to study and imitate, and new communities in which to reflect and process and serve.

I’m now convinced that one of the things we young graduates need most is to begin imagining ourselves in seasons of life we haven’t yet seriously considered, and to learn from our communities what faithfulness looks like in each of those stages. In the next decade, it’s possible that I will be a student, a teacher, an employee, an employer, a single man, a husband, or a father. It’s possible that I will lose a job or a close friend, or begin fundraising my salary, or take a public leadership role, or move into a poor neighborhood, or develop a disability. I can’t know which combination of these are in my future, but I can pay attention to the people God has placed in my local church body, and learn from those who are currently living faithfully in each of these situations.

The more I reflect on the last nine months, the more I realize that the richest lessons I learned were modeled for me by a diverse and intergenerational community of Christ-followers. This year I had the privilege of building real relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ from every possible age group. Every week I attended a bible study of twenty-somethings led by a thirty-something, a fifty-something, and a seventy-something. On Thursdays, I would wake up to a six-year-old practicing piano, spend an hour talking with a sixty-five-year-old mentor over coffee, attend a class taught by a 40-something professor, have lunch with a college-aged friend, and tutor a fifth-grader at a local elementary school. Though I didn’t always realize it in the moment, I was constantly learning by example, soaking up the gloriously ordinary wisdom of Christ-followers living lives of unglamorous faithfulness, in every stage of life.

Helping young adults transition to life after college is not merely the work of campus ministers and theology-of-vocation specialists. It truly is the work of an entire church body: a community giving generously of their time, their resources, their homes, and their wisdom. I am deeply grateful to have been loved, served, encouraged, and sharpened by such a community this year. But the true challenge of making this transition well is not simply finding this kind of community and clawing our way into it; it’s to play our part in creating it. Our call is to take what we’ve learned in our campus ministries and churches and houses, and establish new communities formed by sustainable practices of intergenerational discipleship, in which we are continually both giving and receiving mentorship.

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.
— Philippians 4:9
...and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others also.
— 2 Timothy 2:2

We all need older friends to receive wisdom from, peers to process it with, and younger friends to pass it on to. We are each called to be what William Barclay called "a link between two generations.” This is one reason why Chancellot strives to be a cross-class community—not just for the sake of preserving the house community, but because it models, within the microcosm of undergrad life, the patterns of intergenerational discipleship that should form our entire lives. Seek out this kind of community from your church body. If it’s not there, do your part to create it. Always be a mentor and a mentee; a teacher and a student; a host and a guest. And when the path you walk feels dimly lit, take comfort in the knowledge that the intergenerational body of Christ goes before you, behind you, and beside you.

Written by Sam Speers

Story-Telling as Faithfulness

We sat around a table, taking turns reading and enacting the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian oppression. Spicy horseradish, sickly-sweet Manischewitz wine, and unleavened bread brought the various scenes to life as we wept over our past sufferings, celebrated the faithfulness of the LORD, and longed for the return of the Messiah. This was my first Passover meal and the pungent burn of the maror caught me off-guard; I had to choke back welling tears. Still, I was even more surprised by the words we spoke: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Mitzrayim, and then Adonai our God brought us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” The audacity of such a thought: We were there! We were delivered! In telling the story we had become its characters.

Perhaps it was too audacious for me. With some creative anachronism, a modern Jew could claim to have been there, to feel the Egyptian slavery ache deeply in her bones. But what right did I have, Gentile that I am? I felt that I was verging on callous cultural appropriation, like a white American pretending to have been personally wronged by chattel slavery. Yet Paul, himself a Jew, is unabashed to make such a scandalous claim for Gentile Christians: “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea” (1 Cor 10:1). Though we Gentiles are unnatural branches grafted into Israel’s story, this engrafting re-determines our past and future. In Christ, in the Messiah, we receive a new history and a new destination: his Jewish history and his destination as the only one whom sin cannot hold.

As a people who now participate in the bewildering story of Israel, we have much to learn from our Jewish sisters and brothers and the Holy Scripture we have received from them. That we Protestant Christians have written off the Jewish concern for ritual is a grave tragedy of history. While we are certainly saved by the grace and blood of Jesus Christ alone, there remains a deep and abiding importance to ritual—even under the new covenant. Ritual is the way that we participate in our own history. It is the way we inscribe stories deeply into our being, into our sinews and tendons. The logic of the Passover is one and the same as the logic of The Lord’s Supper: salvation must be remembered. The Exodus, the Passion and Resurrection, these events must be remembered because they change everything. By remembering and celebrating what God has done for us in the past we learn how to hope for God’s good future with greater resolve.

I am not saying that every Christian ought necessarily to celebrate Passover (though it’s not such a bad idea). I am saying that we ought to take story-telling very seriously, because we remember who we are and what God has done for us through story-telling. In my own Evangelical tradition we have an analogue to Passover: testimony. Much like Passover, our testimonies are stories about an event that happened in the distant past: the Word became flesh, was crucified, buried, and three days later rose from the dead. Yet, like Passover, we know in our bones that we were there, actors in the passion play—for our sins are there, nailed to that tree. Though the bulk of the story of our salvation took place some two thousands years ago, we have faith to believe that it is just as relevant to us now as it was to the Apostles then. Contrary to all the protests I offered as a young Christian when asked to share my testimony, this practice is not “stupid”; story-telling is essential to faithfulness. If we are not convinced of each other’s testimonies, our faith will most certainly fail.

Since I’ve already defended the often-embarrassing practice of sharing testimonies, I’d like to quickly speak up for two other stereotypically Evangelical concerns. The first is reading Scripture. As important as our testimonies and our subjective experience of God’s work are, they are nothing if they are not wed to the story of those who have been faithful (and unfaithful) in the past. It is impossible to think that we might understand our own story if we have not first understood Scripture’s story of God, the world, and God’s people. To borrow a metaphor from N.T. Wright, we Christians are actors in the fifth section of a play. Though the Bible provides the script for the first four sections and a rough idea of how the play is to end, there is no script for the fifth section. In order to succeed in this last act, we must study the scripted acts (Scripture) deeply and innovate in consistency with them.

The second concern is related to the first. We must be careful about the media we consume. This is not legalism but—to extend the previous metaphor—the mark of a good actor. If we are not vigilant in this, we will distort the story by importing contradictory themes—or worse, replace the divine plot with a twisted one. There are manifold dangers and snares here, but for the sake of brevity I will mention just one: pornography. With or without words, with or without even the most rudimentary of plots, pornography impregnates our minds with a false story about the world. Pornography ensnares us with a deeply visceral story about what our desire is for, how we are to be fulfilled, and how we ought to relate to one another as sexual beings. Pornography, as well as many other forms of media, is a siren song that will dash us upon the reef and consume us if we do not resist its alluring call. But the only way to resist is to bind ourselves hand and foot to the ship that is salvation: the Gospel. In the end, the only way to break the power of a false story is by cleaving to the true story, proclaiming its truth and power for us and for all of history. We must be bold enough to proclaim: “We were there! We were delivered!”

Written by John Shelton

Seeing With New Eyes

Before I learned to trust God, I learned to trust the world he created. By repeated experience, I came to expect the sweetness that accompanied sugar-coated Chex in the morning before school. I was introduced to the sting that asphalt brings when it meets my knee, and the fullness of heart I felt when holding a pretty girl’s hand. The world taught me what it meant to sense, to know, and to understand. It taught me to see.

If we know Jesus, we now know there are things unseen that—despite being hidden—demand our attention:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
— Romans 1:20

We see God’s created world and yet we don’t recognize him in it. His gentle whisper reaches our ears,1 yet we often don’t understand what he says. We begin to investigate the depths of God, searching for him using the only tools we’ve been given: our physical senses and our capacity to reason. Scripture tells us that if we attempt to know God in the same way that we know the world, we are bound for frustration.

It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given...seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
— Matthew 13:11-13

The certainty by which we know worldly things is not the same certainty we should initially expect in our walk with Christ. We are sensitive to spiritual truth only after we’ve been calibrated to understand it. This calibration happens as we struggle to reorient our lives around the simple yet earthshaking knowledge of Jesus Christ and him crucified.2 However, even when we gain such spiritual awareness, watching and listening to God can still feel like walking with a bum leg. Putting these new senses to use requires us to flex a muscle that has atrophied from frequent neglect. Like any other learned skill, strengthening this ability takes time.

It is often the frustration of uncertainty, beyond the uncertainty itself, that keeps us from seeking God. Unable to clearly articulate the question “God, why don’t you show yourself?”—much less find an answer to it—we stop looking for God altogether. C. S. Lewis delicately captures this sentiment. In Til We Have Faces, Orual feels the gods’ dim presence as they draw near to her, only to pull away again. Near the end of her life, she is given a chance to confront the gods for teasing her with their ephemeral presence. After bringing her grievance before them, she discovers:

The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered...I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?

Rather than letting our sense of uncertainty become an immovable obstacle to our walk with God, we are often called to simply endure the statement “It’s okay that I don’t understand” and diligently pursue God3 in spite of our not knowing or understanding. We belong to a God who reveals deep and secret things.4 He leads us through the fog of doubt slowly, step by step, if only we'll agree to follow.

1 1 Kings 19:12  2 1 Corinthians 2:1-16  3 Hebrews 11:6  4 Daniel 2:20-23

Written by Caleb Gross