For those of you who have been keeping track of our transition to Arizona, you know it’s been a bumpy ride. There have been a series of setbacks and surprises making our move all the more adventurous, to say the least.
I honestly haven’t had the heart to blog for the last few months. I kept thinking I would wait until I was through the “desert,” so to speak, but I realize I am living in the freakin’ desert now, so I might as well get on with it.
First of all, many of you are aware that we have filed papers for our very own non-profit ministry called “Restore Soul Care.” It is our dream to eventually run a retreat center where people can come to find healing, hope, rest and restoration for their weary and worn-out souls. We are taking little steps toward this dream and continually praying about the how, the when, and the where.
Second, I have taken a part-time ministry position as Worship Pastor at a church in Anthem, Arizona (in the foothills to the north of Phoenix) called The Crossroads Church. It’s been great to lead worship with a talented group of musicians amidst a really friendly and vibrant community of Christ-followers.
In addition, I am trying to earn extra money by driving for Uber, a ride-hailing company with a very large presence in Phoenix. I work lots of late nights, often leaving the house at 7 pm and returning to my nice, cozy bed around 4 am. Uber says they are “finding better ways for cities to move, work, and thrive.” After giving 268 rides in the last 2+ months, I can say that’s a pretty accurate description. There are a lot of people taking advantage of the low-cost option of Uber to get to various points around the city, especially when drinking is involved. I would imagine any city would thrive in the long-run when drunk drivers rely more and more on alternative means of transportation to get home from a fun night on the town.
Uber – “An outstanding or supreme example”
When I first started driving for Uber, I was really blown away at how many people I was meeting, people who would typically never darken the doorsteps of a church. I hear things in my car…boy, do I hear things…things I couldn’t repeat…things I wouldn’t repeat…things I shouldn’t repeat. That’s just the way it is. People get in and start talking with each other about the club they just left, the people they were hanging out with, the server, the bartender, the girl who got mad at the other girl for giving the guy her phone number, and on and on and on.
Sometimes they engage me in their conversations. “Hey Uber, have you ever been to (insert name of strip club that I didn’t even know existed)?” “Hey Uber, how’s your night going? Any crazies get in your car tonight?” (Yeah, you.) “Hey Uber, is this your full-time job? What else do you do besides drive?” That last one is my favorite. Depending on the time of night and the level of intoxication, I will occasionally ask, “Do you really want to know?”
The Struggle Is Real
Not every one who gets into my car is intoxicated. I’ve picked up a woman going to her cancer treatment, a 17-year-old boy running away from his parent’s house late at night, dozens of college students all trying to figure out their future, a twenty-something single woman who just got her car stolen the night before, a hard working single mom whose Driver’s License was suspended, and a blind man who needed to get to the state assistance office.
So many different and difficult experiences. So many people who are struggling. Financially. Relationally. Emotionally. Physically. Vocationally. Spiritually. And this is just a tiny cross-section of the masses of people my God happens to love.
I will often pray the Jesus prayer as someone gets out of my car. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Sometimes I’ll put their name in as well, but mostly I will just say “me” because I realize I am right there in the ditch with them. I’m experiencing the messiness of life, too. And I take great comfort in knowing we aren’t alone. We follow a Savior, fully God and fully human, who entered into the pain and the messiness of our experience as the greatest act of love history has ever witnessed.
I used to lead worship for a church whose stated purpose was to win the man to Christ. It would stand to reason that if the man of the house started going to church, then the whole family would come as well. I was told not to sing phrases like “I am desperate for you” because men feel uncomfortable with that type of language of dependency and weakness.
Now I call B.S.
I witness the desperation of our existence every day. I witness people’s desperate attempts to fill a void, a longing for meaning, with everything but God. I witness desperate measures to forget, if only for the evening, the pain of failure and loneliness. I witness desperate people trying to do whatever they can to prolong their lives, impress their peers, express their freedoms, and escape the darkness that lies just beneath the surface of their awareness.
I’m trying to make sense of the shift in my own heart as I continually serve people who are broken, people who are hungry for hope, people who are thirsting for deeper relationships, people who are scared, people who take no delight in easy answers and smug certainty. It’s literally breaking my heart.
In Matthew 23:37, Jesus stood in the hills overlooking Jerusalem and lamented over the state of his people. “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” I get a sense of what Jesus might have felt as I engage in this strange “Uber” experience. We sing “Break my heart for what breaks yours” as if it is possible for us to carry the weight of Jesus’ burden. It’s too much. It’s too heavy. None but Jesus could stand under the weight of humanity’s dilemma. None but Jesus could suffer the agony of rebellion and lostness and pain and struggle. Still, it is a sign of our own spiritual formation when compassion and empathy override our preoccupation with self.
Experience With Experience
Jesus’ mission was to bring God’s Kingdom rule and reign into reality, and he did just that. He promised abundant and eternal life. Yet, we live as if that is all a distant pipe-dream, a reality that we cannot enjoy until this earthly existence is over. THIS is the burden that I am learning to carry: the weight of broken dreams and promises unfulfilled, the sheer number of wounded and dis-integrated souls, the global longing for authentic and loving community, the hope of wholeness and flourishing in our present experience, not just in the age to come.
Here’s what Philosopher and radical theologian, Peter Rollins, said about our uber experience in a recent podcast interview:
“Eternal life is not simply the continuation of this life into the next, because that would be terrible. Heaven would be millions of people screaming for annihilation. But eternal life is a transformation in the very way that we taste life, in the very way that we experience life.
“That’s how I interpret rebirth. You don’t experience your birth – your birth is what allows you to experience. I don’t experience my life – my life is what allows me to experience. In the same way, for me, religious experience is not the experience of something. You know, I’ve experienced 10 things and now I’ve experienced 11 things because I’ve had a religious experience. Religious experience is what transforms your experience of everything. It’s not so much that you feel it, it’s that you feel nothing in the same way…
“There is a depth and density to life. The sacred is not something that you love, it’s what you experience in the very act of love itself.” (The Liturgists Podcast, Episode 29)
My car becomes a sacred space whenever I turn on my Uber app and start picking up people who I don’t even know but I love them anyway. It’s as much an act of worship as anything I will say or sing on Sunday morning. And you can be sure of one thing, I’ll be singing “I’m desperate for you” with every breath that I breathe. I am desperate for God to transform my everyday existence as I truly pass through death into life, a life worth living…
…an uber experience for the ages.