It's Not Easy Being Green.

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As Kermit the frog once shared in a ballad of intense emotion, it’s not easy being green. And I really feel for the guy. He sings about blending in with his green surroundings. He feels ordinary. He blends in. He doesn’t feel like people really see him. But by the end of the song, he realizes that there are, in fact, beautiful things that are green. And maybe, just maybe, if green is all he can be, maybe green isn’t so bad after all.

While Kermit comes around pretty quickly to his positive thinking, that is often not the case for most of us when we feel down, depressed, or anxious. Instead, it’s easier to let the sad, mad, frustrated, overwhelmed emotions overtake us. Instead of recognizing that being green, or having depression, or having anxiety is just an aspect of us at times, we begin to believe that being green is really all we are. It’s a scary place to be. But what’s scarier is its also the reality for so many people in our communities and our larger culture today.

As we near the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to draw our attention to the reality that those dark spaces exist. They are real and raw and so very very difficult for so many people. And if you’re feeling them, I see you. But I also want to draw our attention to the fact that the lies we can sometimes tell ourselves that we’re in this alone or that no one is fighting for us are, in fact, just that--lies. They aren’t true. We aren’t destined to fight alone.

Whatever season you are in, don’t wade through the “green” alone. Check out these three prayers to help calm your anxious heart and remind you just how mighty your Father (and greatest advocate) is.

Pray for Peace

God, when my head is spinning, bring peace. You are the God who calmed the storms and the rushing waters. I know that the crashing waves of my thoughts, emotions, and doubts are no more of a challenge for you.

You are a God of peace. Help me take refuge in your peace. Help me remember that there are things I can not worry away. Give me a peace that calms my soul, even if I don’t have all of the answers and I’m not sure what tomorrow, the next hour, or the next minute will bring. May your peace bring calmness, even if everything still feels so unclear.

Amen.

Pray for Security

In a world filled with problems that feel way bigger than I even know how to handle, God, bring your shelter. Spread your wings over me and cover me with your security. You are my home and my safe place. Whatever harm or hurt I have experienced in the past to shatter my sense of security, I pray that you will continue to remind me that I am not in this world alone. You are my refuge.

Amen.

Pray for Strength

Father, replace my worry with perseverance, my doubt with certainty, and my weakness with your strength. You are omnipotent, God. Instead of continuing to live in this pain, remind me that today is a new day. Yesterday has passed away, but today you bring renewal and life and hope. Renew me with your love.

Amen.


Written by Kelli Gilmore

The Persistent Low

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In response to May being Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing a blog previously published on the Network, an online resource of the Christian Reformed Church. This piece was written by retired pastor Louis Tamminga in 2016. You can read the original blog here or below.


Do you feel vaguely unhappy almost all of the time? Are you burdened by a sense of gloom that you cannot explain or fully account for? But you feel the weight, there is no escaping it. You wake up at night and it is there. It may have been your guest for years.

Henri Nouwen, who lectured with great acclaim in most major university centers across the continent, knew this heaviness that sometimes assumed the reality of a deep depression for which he knew no explanation.

Here is what he wrote:

“It was the most difficult period of my life…a time of mental anguish, during which I wondered whether I would be able to hold on to my life. Everything came crashing down – my self-esteem, my energy to live and work, my sense of being loved, my hope for healing, my trust in God…everything. Here I was, a writer about the spiritual life, known as someone who loved God and gave hope to people, flat on the ground and in total darkness. I had come face to face with my own nothingness. It was as if all that had given my life meaning was pulled away and I could see nothing in front of me but the bottomless abyss. (The Inner Voice of Love – A Journey through Anguish to Freedom – Doubleday)

There was an additional ironic element about this siege of mental pain: it should not have happened! Nouwen had spent many years at centers of learning where he had lectured, had found acclaim, but where he had never completely felt at home. And then he became a member of L’Arche community of men and women with mental disabilities, just north of Toronto. In that community he had been received with open arms and been given all the affection he could ever hope for. It had offered him a safe and loving place to grow spiritually as well as emotionally. “Everything”, he wrote, “seemed ideal. But precisely at that time I fell apart. Just when all those around me were assuring me that they loved me, cared for me, appreciated me, and yes, even admired me, I experienced myself as a useless and despicable person. Just when people were putting their arms around me, I saw the endless depth of my human misery and felt that there was nothing worth living for. I felt absolutely homeless…I felt that God had abandoned me.”

I think that most of us, perhaps in a milder manner, can personally relate to Nouwen’s experiences.

This article is not meant to address your possible sadness or even depression, light or heavy as they may be. 

But there are two themes in Nouwen’s book on which we may wish to reflect.

For our mental health we need to keep whatever contact we can find with trusted people in our life, even though we may find it hard to seek their presence. We are meant to live in community. Much of our mental health is connected with the way we can relate to people close to us, to accept and be accepted.

And also we must remember that we have a faithful God. He loves us. His love is, as we say, unconditional. He reaches into the depth of our hearts with that love. In that depth He invites us to say ’yes’ to Him. Where we so confess Him, in our inner being, our burden has already begun to dissolve. We are not alone.

Written by Louis Tamminga

Disrupted

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It was Ash Wednesday and there were seven of us gathered in a living room, reading scripture, and praying in earnest for our community.

It was Good Friday and there were 14 of us eating dinner together and reading through the familiar story at the downtown market.

It was Sunday morning and there were around 50 of us gathered in a hotel event space sharing in worship and communion.

These are not the scenes of church I grew up knowing. Church is supposed to happen in a building we call a church, right? But this is what a church plant looks like. This is the disruption of my routines that my walk with Jesus needed.

I have spent my whole life going to church. It was very normal and incredibly important, but it also sometimes felt monotonous. It turned into the cliché “going through the motions.”

When we began coming to City Chapel it felt different. This is a place that isn’t bound by the phrase, “this is how we have always done it” because frankly, they have never done it before. There is freedom to take the normal Lenten practices outside of a church sanctuary, partially because we don’t have one. There is freedom to question the why behind normal church practices. There is freedom to be more than a congregation member, instead becoming a part owner of the experience, helping shape what this community looks like.

I am by no means saying that routine and tradition are bad things. They can bring a lot of richness to our lives. However, I think we all need moments where we ask why questions. Why do we do it this way? Is there a different way we can be doing this? Are we unintentionally putting up barriers to others because of how we do church? I think just saying, “because we have always done it this way” is not an acceptable answer and we need to strive for better. We need to disrupt the routine every once in a while to discover the real heart behind it.

I think Jesus was in the business of disruption. When the adults asked him about faith, he turned to the children as an example. When his disciples sat down to dinner, he did a servant’s job and washed their feet. When he needed leaders, he turned to the overlooked and forgotten. When he was put on trial, he stayed quiet. When everyone thought that death had won, he got up and made breakfast.

The gospel is real and gritty. This story we love happened on dusty roads and in people’s homes. It happened on stormy waters and over dinner with friends. It is not something that needs to be protected, but instead is something that can withstand the doubts, questions, and messiness of real people. While it is alive in the buildings we call church, it is not contained there. It should be disrupting and engaging every part of life, not just an hour on Sunday.

So here I am, happily living in this season of disruption. Allowing my faith to become a part of my every day. Allowing the gospel to become real and alive to me again. Asking the whys and striving for better.

Written by Elizabeth Bosscher

Endurance

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.


There seems to be a lot going on these days. What I mean by that is, there seems to be headline worthy news every week (if not every day). And this can get tiresome. The idea for this blog was sparked from this article written by NBA player, Kyle Korver. You should read that article first. It’s good. And, it’s important.  


Did you read it? I hope so. In it, Kyle writes this:


“As white people, are we guilty of the sins of our forefathers? No, I don’t think so.


But are we responsible for them? Yes, I believe we are.


And I guess I’ve come to realize that when we talk about solutions to systemic racism — police reform, workplace diversity, affirmative action, better access to healthcare, even reparations? It’s not about guilt. It’s not about pointing fingers, or passing blame.


It’s about responsibility. It’s about understanding that when we’ve said the word “equality,” for generations, what we’ve really meant is equality for a certain group of people. It’s about understanding that when we’ve said the word “inequality,” for generations, what we’ve really meant is slavery, and its aftermath — which is still being felt to this day. It’s about understanding on a fundamental level that black people and white people, they still have it different in America. And that those differences come from an ugly history…not some random divide.”


James (you’ve maybe read some of his blogs here, too) sent this article to Anna and me. After we all read it we were mentioning how it can feel like we keep rehashing some of the same things.  And, for Anna and myself, we can ignore these issues. I can ignore issues of inequality for women, too. And, one thing James said really struck me. He said he feels, “like we’ve just begun to have real conversations about it,” in regards to racism and how the talks can feel tiresome at times because it seems like we aren’t anywhere.


As a white man in America, I have it the easiest. Now, hear me out if, for whatever reason that sentence made you mad. First off, relax. No one attacked you. What I mean is, yes, it is true that white men can have it hard still in America. Very hard. We just don’t get discriminated against for the color of our skin or our sex. That’s all. We get two free steps ahead of everyone else from the start. That doesn’t mean life won’t be hard for us. We just get two free steps ahead.  


And, that’s when it struck me. If you know me, or come to City Chapel, at some point you’re going to learn that I’m a “Paul guy.” What I mean by that is, I read Paul’s letters in the Bible more than most parts. Maybe it’s because I was a math major and went to seminary. Who knows. I just love his letters. It’s my own “canon within the canon” (As my Professor Dennis Voskuil used to say) if you will. But, one part Paul repeatedly wrote about I never fully understood. I knew what he meant, I just never experienced anything that required me to know it. Until James said how it’s tiresome but it feels like we’ve just begun to have real conversations for the first time. We need Endurance. Patience. Long-suffering. Whatever you want to call it. Paul writes in Romans 5 that “. . . endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame…” We need endurance.

“Racism was fixed with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War” Ha.

“Racism was finally solved with the Civil Rights Movement.” Nah.

“Racism ended in America when we had a black president.” Still nope.


The green bar is SO short. So short. And, I’ve only been alive for a fraction of that green bar myself. And, it only feels like we’ve just now begun to finally have conversations about it.  


We’re just starting. And to those of us who have lived with privilege our whole lives--whether because of our skin color or sex or anything else--equality will feel like oppression to us. Because we’re used to privilege. To cops assuming we’re alright, as opposed to a threat. That, we’re able to do any job, not just the “easy” ones. That we belong, and not hear, “where are you from?” everyday.


This will take endurance. Paul says in Colossians 1:11, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” And the writer of Hebrews says that we, “have need of endurance.” We do. But, this isn’t an inactive patience but an active endurance. It’s not an endurance of waiting by sitting down. It’s an endurance like a marathon runner.


As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote while locked up in a Birmingham jail, just as Paul was locked up when he wrote most of his letters:

For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights…

… There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”  --MLK Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail  


And, as Kyle Korver wrote in his article, “I believe it’s the responsibility of anyone on the privileged end of those inequalities to help make things right.”


And, as Kyle writes, those of us in a privileged place need to shut up and listen more to those who are--and have been for hundreds of years--telling us things aren’t right.


Or as James, the brother of Jesus writes, “Be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to get angry.” I pray that we are quick to listen. Eager to pray. And full of endurance.  


“Time for me to shut up and listen.”




Written by Pastor Ron Radcliffe

My Why for City Chapel

I've been asked many times by friends and co-workers about City Chapel. The questions come in all the usual shapes and sizes. What denomination is your church? Where do you guys meet? How many people come on Sundays? Typically generic and perfectly fine questions to ask. They're icebreaker questions, good enough to have general information, but not deep enough to feel like we're prying. I've found that it's also a status thing, as in, "You tell me where you go to church, and I'll decide if my church measures up" type of thing. It's West Michigan, so it's basically expected that you attend church somewhere on Sundays, if even you really aren't all that into it.

The question I don't get asked very often is, why? Why City Chapel? Why, of all the churches in West Michigan, would your family choose to be involved there? Why is your church different?

Honestly, I'm not sure how different it is. It's not a competition. City Chapel isn't better than other churches. I've been part of a church culture that measured itself by putting other churches down. It's quite bizarre. That's not what this church is about. I'm curious though, as to why I'm not asked, “Why City Chapel?” more often. I wonder why I don't ask others why they chose their church. Maybe we don't always know why we go to church, or maybe we don't want to give an answer in response.

I'll be honest here, I don't really consider myself a "church" person. Not really anymore, at least. I grew up going to every church function possible. If the church doors were open, you can bet that my parents would be there and I undoubtedly would be tagging along. Surprisingly even to myself, I worked at a church for five years. Shoot, I lived on church grounds for multiple years, because the church I worked at owned the apartments next door. Trust me, I know what it's like to be fully absorbed in a church bubble.

To be real, it makes me want to gag when I look back on all of that. Why? Because I did it all for the wrong reasons. I did it because we've bred a culture where if you say you're a Christian, the more doing church you do, the better treasure you'll find in heaven. The more you indoctrinate yourself with worship and preaching, the better off you'll be. We've told ourselves that more church can't hurt. And if done right, church shouldn't hurt.

So, why City Chapel? You know what it is? It's people, it's our community we've built. It's the trust we're developing with each other about who we are and what we're all about. Sunday mornings are great for hearing a good sermon and singing meaningful songs. They're also a great time to recharge and reflect with people you've grown to love and really rely on. We don't do church for simply the highs. We do it because we know there will be lows, sometimes deep lows. We are a young church, less than a year old officially, but we've seen some things already. We've already been hit with job loss, cancer, and death, just to name a few painful life situations. Through all of these, we've walked together, cried together, and in some instances, simply sat together.

Why City Chapel? Because it's a safe space, and it's a dangerous space. Safe because it's a space where we can ask questions and admit our shortcomings and acknowledge that we all need Jesus. Dangerous because we might have to listen to a call God places upon us. Dangerous because it isn't enough simply to come to church on Sunday and check it off the list as a task completed. City Chapel is a community of people who strive to live like Jesus and truly care about each other and the community of Grand Rapids. And, if I’m going to come close to calling myself a “church guy,” it wouldn’t be with any other people than our City Chapel family.

Written by James Gilmore