When someone is shot on your block

Last night, 22-year-old Howard University student Omar Sykes was fatally shot and a friend was assaulted in what looks like an attempted robbery. Apparently, it took place about a half hour after I got home and was already asleep, having tuned out the fireworks that were happening in the back alley. (See news reports here, here, and here.)

Fairmont StI went out this morning and talked with a police technician and detective who were still finishing up at the scene, but didn’t have anything to add. A little while later, a fire truck came by to clean up some blood on the sidewalk a few houses up.

It’s a little surreal seeing your street on the local news and knowing that you’re inside the police tape; and it’s jarring that something like this could happen only twenty feet from your front door. Normally, there’s a posse of neighbors playing dominos on the front porch across the street late into the evening, but last night was one of the rare nights they weren’t out, and I can’t help but wonder how things could have been different.

This isn’t the first instance of violence that’s led to death in our neighborhood in the four years I’ve lived here — and almost every victim has been a young person, which is so tragic and infuriating. My neighbor Rebecca, who lives around the corner and whose daughter is a Howard student, said, “Why would someone do that? How awful to be the parents of that young person, getting a call late at night telling them that their child is gone.”

My heart breaks for the families of Omar Sykes and his friends. My prayers go out to them (and I hope you’ll join me). It’s in times like these that I’m reminded of my call to this place as a pastor, as a neighbor, and as a Christian living here: to love God with everything I’ve got and to love my neighbor as myself.

To love my neighbor means that I’ll pray as Jesus prayed, that God’s kingdom would come, and that I’ll work to see that happen — not just in some abstract, hyper-spiritual, ethereal sense, but in tangible ways: that we would work toward a society where people don’t need or choose to rob others, where people no longer choose to inflict harm on others, where people are able to live in safety and security, redeemed and reconciled and in right relationship with one another.

The prophet Micah spoke of a day to come when God would reign fully: “people shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of Yahweh of hosts has spoken.”

That is my prayer, a reminder of what I long for and what I’m called to be a part of bringing about: when guns give way to things that give life, when people can sit on their front porch or walk along a street without being afraid, for God is over all.

Amen.

This weekend was a doozy

After the busiest month in recent memory—including Lazarus Sunday, preaching two weeks in a row, Easter weekend, leading worship, performing at a coffee shop, and more—I was given most of the week off from church duties. So I didn’t have to lead any of our Leadership Community’s organizing training, nor did I really have to do anything in the service this morning.

And yet this weekend was a doozy. I felt uncentered, my mind was all over the place, my spirit was unsettled, and my thoughts and emotions were out of control. For a couple of days, it was as if I’d entered a completely different existence.

Taking the time to think and pray about it, I realized that my busyness had replaced my centeredness. Doing things for God had replaced living life with God. I had come to a place where I was operating out of a desire to stay occupied than out of a deep grounding in the love and presence of God.

And so when a couple of occurrences this week sought to push me off course, it was never going to end well.

But this—I suppose you could call it a ‘crisis’ event—was, I think, providential in that it prodded me to a point of realization and recognition. I came to see that there were healthier and more intentional decisions that need to be made in order to set up a more beneficial and God-centered way of living. I came to realize that I needed to spend some quality time reconnecting with God and recentering my life on him.

I spent much of this evening with a baby in my arms. For much of the night, I held Natalie, walking in circles around the kitchen, rocking her back and forth until she finally stopped fussing, closed her eyes, and fell asleep. And as I wore a groove into the tiles with my pacing, I prayed, reconnected with my Father, and was brought back to the path I’d so easily wandered from.

Like I said, this weekend was a doozy.

Not easy; but definitely right

Hey friends,

Sorry for being incommunicado the last month—as I alluded to in my last email, things began getting a little busy with the addition of my ONE job; and they really didn’t let up in March. Here’s a quick update on both fronts:

  • ONE: we were aiming to have 250 signups for our Lazarus Sunday campaign (check the last email for an explanation), and have been overwhelmed by the 1,500 we got! Now the big task is following up with all of these churches and pastors, and making sure that at least some of them follow through with the event! Meanwhile, I’ve absolutely LOVED working there—awesome work environment, awesome people, awesome mission. (And I get paid.)
  • TDC: I led worship in mid-March, and preached last Sunday (“What Mary Did,” now available on iTunes and the church website; as usual, would love to know your thoughts and feedback). The small group I’ve had the privilege of leading has been going fantastically well: again, awesome people, and I think we’ve really been able to build some solid community there. And serving with Young Life at Cardozo High School has been a great experience as well—glad to be building some good relationships there, too.

I’ll end with a little anecdote: Aaron preached this morning from John 13 about “The Authority of Service,” about the difference between power and authority, and how Jesus’ authority was evidenced in his service. Now, in mapping out our Gospel of John sermon series in January, we didn’t plan it this way at all: we had no idea that John 13 would fall on this day, nor did we have on the calendar the three service opportunities that will be going on these next three weekends: Columbia Heights Service Day this coming Saturday, our Kids’ City Festival next weekend, and the 3-on-3 basketball tournament the weekend after. It’s sort of amazing to see how God weaved it all together. Just another reminder that God’s been in control, and even when we’re not totally sure what we’re doing, God does!

So life has been all kinds of amazing. Several times in the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by a strange sense of peace,  something I’ve understood as divine affirmation that I’m in the right place, doing the right thing, being who I was supposed to be. There have certainly been challenges, ups and downs, and difficulties—I’ve been pretty tired, and I don’t enjoy the numerous consecutive days of not getting home until after 9 or 10 because of dual responsibilities and activities. It definitely hasn’t been easy; but it has definitely been right.

And I pray the same for you, wherever you are: that you might walk where God leads you, and though those paths might not be easy, that they would be right.

Peace and love,
Jus.

My First Sermon

Previously on “Justin @The District Church”

  1. Washington, DC: Chapter 2 (October 11, 2010)
  2. Beginning November (and the Leadership Residency) (November 1, 2010)
  3. Why The District Church? (November 18, 2010)

Dear friends,

Well, I did it: this past Sunday, I tried something new … I preached for the first time ever!

I gave the second message in our Advent series, focused on joy and peace, and you can listen to my message, “Wanted: Some Joy and Peace, Please,” on the Media page of The District Church’s website.

I got a lot of good feedback and constructive comments, which will give me stuff to work with whenever I next get the opportunity to preach. For now, I’m just glad I got to engage in another part of what I feel God has called me to.

Have a listen and let me know what you think! I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and feedback. (Be warned: I start speaking a little quickly! And, apparently, I acquire a different accent.)

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

It took a lot of work; there was a lot of stress involved; at several points it looked like it wasn’t going to work out, and at others, we were tired enough of it to want to quit. But the inaugural Columbia Heights Christmas Tree Lighting was a resounding success given our limited resources and time. A lot of the folks in the community were very appreciative of our efforts and for the tree itself. The lighting took place this past Monday, which was windy and chilly (in fact, I think with wind chill, the temperature was about 14ºF)!

Anyway, you can read a couple of recap blogs (complete with photos) here at Prince of Petworth and No Limit, Just A Line. And here’s a pic that I took:

Prayer Updates and Asks

Your thoughts and prayers have been appreciated. To recap:

  1. The routine of life was just beginning to fall into place when Christmas season arrived and blew it all up with long days and late nights, especially working on the Christmas tree (see above). Hopefully in the new year, things will settle down again!
  2. An opportunity has come up for me to potentially babysit a friend’s kid—which would, if it works out, be an additional source of income. Will be talking it out this week, so I’ll have news one way or another by the time of my next update.
  3. No update on finding a house in the neighborhood for the church just yet. But we’re still praying and looking. Please also pray for the continuing fundraising as well so that at some point soon, I’ll be able to give Aaron and Amy their basement back. They’ve been most gracious hosts and I love living with them, but I also want to be able to give them some of their space back!

Moving forward, I’d appreciate prayer for the following:

  1. Our Christmas Eve, Eve, Eve (Eve3) service, which will take place on—you guessed it—next Wednesday, December 22. We want to invite people from around the neighborhood to celebrate Christmas with us, so please pray for our outreach, for me as I prepare the music for the evening, and Aaron, who’ll be speaking.
  2. Rest this holiday season. The last couple months have been amazing and extraordinary, but also exhausting, and I’m really learning my limits! I’ll be heading to Pittsburgh for the Christmas weekend to spend some time with some dear friends. Then I’ll be back in DC to ring in the New Year. Let me know if you’ll be nearby or in DC for the holidays—would love to see you!

Support Update

Out of the $30,000 I’d budgeted for the year (November to November) for rent, utilities, health insurance, food, transportation, etc., I’m now up to $13,400 or 45%, which is pretty stellar considering it’s only been two months since I started raising support!

As mentioned above, if the church were to be able to buy a house, this would help immensely, since it’d cut about a third of what I need to raise (for rent). Also, this potentially babysitting gig may not be substantial, but every little helps, so thanks to God for that possibility! Thanks also to all of you who are supporting me in love, in prayer, and in dollars!

For those of you who have given, I’ll be getting in touch soon (probably in the new year or when I get back from my Christmas break) to ask you to connect me with somebody you think would be able, interested and willing to support me!

Wishing you all joy and peace this Christmas time (and if you listen to my sermon you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about),

Justin.


If you’d like to support me, you’re most welcome to do so via the church website. Please make sure to select “Leadership Residency” when it asks you to “Choose a Fund.” All gifts are fully tax-deductible.