I love my hood of Bowness, and there is no other place I would rather live in our city of Calgary. It is a quircky and eclectic place where the rich and the poor live in close proximity to each other. It is a place of beauty, generosity, and diversity. No two houses look alike, and we have verdant green spaces with tall mature spruce and pine trees!
Yet my love for my neighbourhood was not a ‘love at first sight’ kind of deal. The truth is when we first felt the nudge to move here, I fought the idea. Bowness was known in our city as one of the rougher hoods, and a place that you would want to move out of as quick as possible to a safer part of the city. When we moved in there was a biker gang called the Grim Reapers based in the hood with a fortified club house to boot which a few years later became part of the notorious Hell’s Angel’s crew. There were youth gangs including the Indian Posse, grow ops, drug deals, frequent B & E’s, and folks living on the margins because of urban poverty.
Jesus loves to show up in what we think are some of the most dodgy, dangerous, and dark places!
Bowness in many people’s minds was an undesirable place to live compared to the new burbs popping up around the city that had the outward appearance of looking squeaky clean and safe. I wanted to live close to the university and start a church with young college age kids who were cool and trendy, or plant in the suburbs where there were young middle class families with money, and where I was under the illusion we would be safer.
Somewhat begrudgingly, I moved into the hood with a wheel barrel full of hubris mixed with a smidgen of good intentions. We would swoop in and save this poor and needy place. I had, though I would never vocalize it, some kind of slightly twisted, grandiose Superman complex. I thought God needed me on His dream team to parachute into Bowness like the elite Navy Seals, and rescue it. Instead, my story has been mostly about how my neighbourhood has saved and changed me.
That is not to say that we haven’t had a few things to contribute and offer during our years here, but I can truly say I have received far more from my hood than what I have given back in return. Over the years what we have tripped into is an incredible place to live with hidden beauty, outlandish generosity sometimes from people who have very little, and an ongoing story of redemption where out of the ashes, pain, poverty, and brokenness my neighbourhood is being transformed. God has been at work here long before we ever showed up! I’ve simply been invited to go along for the ride, and in so doing I’m being changed and saved.
Here is how I’m being saved by my neigbourhood. Through my time in the hood I’m becoming more human, more humble, and more hopeful!
Becoming More Human
Many of us so called Christians, including yours truly, can tend to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good! We often come across as weird and abnormal for all the wrong reasons. We get caught up with talking about religious stuff in a lingo that not many understand or relate to. We can be so uptight about ‘evangelizing’ people causing folks to be suspicious about our motives for friendship. Many of us are not comfortable being outside the comfort zone of our church turf and circle of friends. We become anxious or withdrawn in settings where we are not in control.
The amazing thing about Jesus was that He was both God and human. This collision of the divine intersecting with our messy humanity is true spirituality, and what makes Jesus so appealing to me. An example of this from the life of Jesus is that his first miracle was not done in a church meeting, but at the normal, human, everyday event of a wedding where they ran out of wine. He took water and changed it into wine, and I dare say that it was alcoholic, though some may disagree with me. I wonder if some of the folks by this time in the wedding party were not already a bit tipsy! How much more human can you get! When was the last time you were at a wedding, and they ran out of wine or beer and a follower of Jesus turned some water into beer or wine…just sayin!
In my early days of being a pastor, and running the church, I was so busy trying to be Superman saving the world, and running the church that I had no time to do some of things that I love.
My interests and hobbies that people can relate to, and that would connect me to folk inside and outside the church were squeezed out of my life by what I thought were higher priorities. I thought that these normal activities of life were not quite as important, or spiritual as prayer meetings, church services, and organizing programs to keep people coming to church. I had become abnormal.
In the last 10 years, I have gotten back to coaching my son’s hockey and soccer teams, back to hunting and fishing, and back to being normal. Re-connecting with these very earthy and human activities has brought me such joy, fulfillment, new friendships, and a better understanding of who Jesus is, and where He would show up.
Where my thinking and action has changed is that Jesus is present at hockey or soccer game as He is in a church meeting.
Another aspect of becoming more human is to be rooted in a place. As a missionary kid who gets wander lust every 3 months, to stay put in one place for so long is really foreign. Living out the daily, and at times overwhelming, mundane routines of driving kids to school, owning a house, paying a mortgage, mowing a lawn, and shuttling kids to sporting events on week nights and weekends is where most people are living. Walking out the reality of Jesus showing up in these daily experiences makes me more relatable, and gives me more credibility than all the grand stories of my international travels.
If I don’t live and experience hospitality, vulnerability, sharing, conflict resolution, pain through loss, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption in my hood on a regular basis in the rhythms of normal life, then my message has no meaning for life in the now. I end up telling 10 year old stories of my encounter with Jesus and His Kingdom breaking in, but have no fresh stories of how Jesus has shown up in my life and neighbourhood in the last week.
I have the privilege of traveling and speaking a little bit in different places about neighbouring, community, and mission. The temptation is to get on the circuit and not be present and involved at home. Thus I’m learning to say no to some really good things and opportunities so that I stay grounded and real. It’s a juggle sometimes. I don’t want to be a disconnected itinerant speaker with an intergalactic vision traveling the world, yet to busy zooming in and out to walk out these ideas in my own backyard! I don’t want to wait till after I die to experience life to the full in the here and now!
I’m a more rooted, healthy, and real person today for all the hours of simply being present with these friends in the hood doing the things that I love!
Becoming More Humble
I used to think that to be effective we the church had to have all the resources of knowledge, money, and people to transform my hood. I thought we had the corner on Jesus, and owned Him and His Kingdom. My blinders were that somehow His Kingdom was contained within the church, and that the church was the only vehicle through which Jesus would work to change our hood. This translated into an attitude and approach towards my hood whereby we would coming charging in like modern day crusaders to save Bowness with all the answers and solutions. It was a subtle arrogance that needed to crumble.
Throughout history when the church has been at the center of power, or tried to control the message on what is truth, we have been guilty of the sin of ‘colonization by violence’. We are so slow to learn from history, and end up repeating the same sins in the present.
Like most leaders, I like to be in the power position. In our culture power rests with those who have knowledge, money, or position. I like that feeling of importance that comes with having all the answers and being the guru. I dare say that most leaders are a bit narcissistic. We like to be at the center and feel indispensable.
I like having all the resources to dispense to those without. I don’t like to be in the place of need where I become vulnerable, and need help from others. Especially us leader types need to open ourselves up to receiving, and not always be in a position of giving. When people feel like they have nothing to offer you it is demoralizing and breeds an unhealthy dependency that constricts the 2 way flow of resources. This is the problem with much of the work to overcome poverty both in the developing world and here at home! When giving is a one way street it weakens the relationship.
Yet it is in that place of need when others can give to us that we experience true healthy relationship. I call this lateral giving and receiving versus top down giving. This is the Kingdom way of sharing. It is not that we all have equal resources, but we all have something to give, and we all need to receive.
The last 10 years have been a humbling journey of loss and letting go. I have come to the place where I have as many questions as answers. My posture has changed to one of being a fellow seeker of truth, a broken person needing grace and healing, and a sojourner looking for some friends and a community to go on the journey of life with. Together we can pool our resources. As we offer up the little we have, God can multiply it to change a hood. No one agency, church, government program or person can do it on their own.
I have watched God work through all kinds of people and agencies including, but not exclusively through the church to transform our hood. The Good News is that even when I, or we the church make a mess of things God is not flustered or panicking! He is saving our hood, and simply invites us to come along and watch what He can do. He doesn’t need me on His dream team, but He really likes to hang with me. When we all offer up the little resources we have amazing things begin to happen.
After 13 years of coaching some of the same boys and girls in spring and winter, I have had the privilege, honor, and invitation to walk with these kids and their families as they have celebrated big and small milestones such as a first goal, or making it up a mountain that they didn’t think they could climb. Together we have suffered through some hard times like the flood a few years ago, the trauma of a receiving the news of a family members illness, or the tragic break up of a relationship. These children and their families have changed me. Coaching kids in sport has brought healing in my life as I’ve re-connected with my childhood passions, and rediscovered the pleasure and sheer joy of carefree play with friends found through sport .
Over the years I have seen Jesus and experienced His upside down way of forgiveness, generosity, hospitality, and serving through folks inside and outside the church. The humbling part is that we have received as much if not more than anything we have given. For example one of my neighbourhood friends invites me every winter to his cabin to hunt in prime moose country, and in the spring phones me up to going fishing on his boat for lake trout. I can’t afford to own a cabin, and I don’t have a fishing boat, but my neighbour generously offers me hospitality, friendship, and opportunity to do what I love.
When my wife was diagnosed with cancer last year we were surrounded by friends inside and outside the church who walked with us, supported us, ran for us in cancer charity runs, brought us meals, and loved us through. In our position of weakness when we didn’t have much to offer, we were saved again and again!
Becoming More Hopeful
With all the bad stuff happening in the world, it’s easy for me to fall into despair and hopelessness, especially when terrible things happen to family or friends for no rhyme or reason.
Hope is being honest with the present situation of problems, pain, and poverty while imagining and working towards a better future with God’s help!
Today I can testify that beauty can come out of ashes, and light can pierce the darkness. My neighbourhood is being transformed, and I’m being changed with it. I have watched the lines between the churched and non-churched folk get blurred as we serve together to make Bowness a better place to live.
During the flood a couple of years ago that devastated parts of our hood, I experienced voluntary serving like I have never seen before. The flood did not discriminate between the rich and the poor. I saw wealthy people in need and receive help when normally they would not ask for, or need help. The poor serving the rich and rich serving the poor, church folk and not churched folk pitching in to make meals, clean out sewuage filled basements, rip out dry wall, and just be there for people who had lost so much. Hope filled my heart.
Other signs of transformation are the Bowness run, and a parade every year where we celebrate together what an awesome place this is to live. There is a bike repair shop where folks can gather to fix their bikes and old bikes are re-cycled to give away to kids who can’t afford one. The number of people who give of their time and energy to serve with no pay is incredible. I see community gardens popping up, and this month we are having a neighbouring day where there will be block parties, and all kinds of creative ways of connecting that are simply highlighting what’s going on throughout the year. The downtown of Bowness is being transformed as new businesses move in.
Crime is starting to go down, and our youth are being given a vision of hope for today and tomorrow. It is becoming a safe place for all. I love how green our community is, and the desire and action being taken to protect our green spaces.
My neighbourhood is becoming a desirable place to live. Young families are moving in, the price of houses are going up, but more importantly folks in my hood are hearing the song of the Kingdom with the resounding themes of beauty, peace, justice, reconciliation, and transformation. God is at work through whomever will hear this song of the Kingdom, and respond whether inside or outside the church.
Has Bowness become utopia? No! Have I been fully perfected. My wife would say surely not. There is still a lot of work to be done. What I do know is that my hood and I are being saved.
I am tasting of a little bit of heaven coming here on earth in my neighbourhood, and in the process I am becoming more human, more humble, and more hopeful which I think is what it means to experience this Jesus idea of Peace – a total sense of well being in every area and sphere of my life and the life of Bowness! Excerpts from Isaiah 60 below sum up the vision I have for me, my family and hood. As you read the text below, let the seed of hope grow in you by loosing your imagination, and then diving into your hood and joining others who want to see your neighbourhood transformed. In doing so you will be saved!
Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight.
God’s bright glory has risen for you.
The whole earth is wrapped in darkness,
all people sunk in deep darkness,
But God rises on you,
his sunrise glory breaks over you.
Nations will come to your light,
kings to your sunburst brightness.
Look up! Look around!
Watch as they gather, watch as they approach you:
Your sons coming from great distances,
your daughters carried by their nannies.
When you see them coming you’ll smile—big smiles!
Your heart will swell and, yes, burst!You’ll know that I, God, am your Savior,
your Redeemer, Champion of Jacob.
I’ll give you only the best—no more hand-me-downs!
Gold instead of bronze, silver instead of iron,
bronze instead of wood, iron instead of stones.
I’ll install Peace to run your country,
make Righteousness your boss.
There’ll be no more stories of crime in your land,
no more robberies, no more vandalism.
You’ll name your main street Salvation Way,
and install Praise Park at the center of town.
You’ll have no more need of the sun by day
nor the brightness of the moon at night.
God will be your eternal light,
your God will bathe you in splendor.
Your sun will never go down,
your moon will never fade.
I will be your eternal light.
Your days of grieving are over.
All your people will live right and well,
in permanent possession of the land.
They’re the green shoot that I planted,
planted with my own hands to display my glory.
The runt will become a great tribe,
the weakling become a strong nation.
I am God.
At the right time I’ll make it happen.”
By Tim Schultz