Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Missing Lunch

My lunch was gone. I went to the fridge in our kitchen at Bud’s Warehouse to retrieve the pizza I brought in from home. It was missing in action. Recently, this has been happening with regularity and my emotions flashed. What am I going to do for food? I had planned to finish some work while eating at my desk. Now I had to burn 45 minutes in the quest for something to eat. I announced to one of our key managers that stealing food should not be tolerated anymore. If someone was hungry and asked…the pizza would be theirs. But if someone can’t be trusted with honesty in little matters, when no one is looking, how can they be trusted with the big things?

While that is certainly true and an important point of teaching in our job-training program, it isn’t the end of what we can learn from a missing lunch. I was able to drive to Chipotle and solve my hunger problem by purchasing a Mexican steak salad. For many around the world, unexpected events thrust hunger upon them with little chance of being resolved quickly. Hunger comes as an unplanned guest and makes itself at home.

After finishing my lunch, I felt a bit of the heaviness of the world. I may never know hunger or poverty, but I know in a small way what it is to be in want. We all know. There is a hole in all of us that screams to be filled…a place that will only be satisfied by God. It’s a hunger that we mistakenly try to fill with other idols like work, success, relationships, and the list goes on and on. These things lead to brokenness. But on the first Christmas, God shared in the brokenness of the world by limiting his omnipotence and becoming a little baby destined for a date on the cross some 30 years later. Jesus shared in the hunger of the world in order to offer the only thing that truly satisfies…a relationship that transforms eternity.

I may have missed an opportunity to share in the hunger of the world in a small little way by going without lunch. But I think I was reminded to tread lightly with grace. We are all beggars in need of the grace of God.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Broken

Brokeness is often the path to rebirth. We live by that wisdom in our faithventure business Bud's Warehouse. In a CNN editorial, Chuck Colson, who went to prison for Watergate crimes, shares how brokeness led to a changed life. He captures the spirit we try to share with individuals rebuilding lives from alcoholism, addiction, felony conviction and homelessness. When we reach the end of ourselves, through failure or sin, we find God. Chuck Colson went on to found Prison Fellowship, a group we have worked with at times over the last 10 years.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Splitting

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my family set out in our van for the mountains to join our friends in the annual quest for a Christmas tree. It was a picture-perfect Christmas setting: a steady snow was falling as we hiked up the trail from the forest service parking lot where we paid $10 for our permit. We spread out searching for the best tree. This quest was more like undertaking an Easter egg hunt with 50 other people competing for the perfect tree. We found our tree, posed for a picture and then proceeded to cut it down. Before we started the hard work of hauling it to the car, my kids started counting the rings to determine the age of the tree. It was 30 years old. In Colorado’s arid mountain environment it took 30 years for the tree to grow to the perfect height of 12 feet. There were wet years where the tree grew fast and there were dry years where the tree hardly grew at all. But one couldn’t help but feel like the hunter who took down Bambi’s mother. This tree was now split off from its roots and headed down the mountain for a short stint as a Christmas decoration. Ok, ok…the bark beetle is ravaging the Colorado Mountains so the tree would be dead on its own in two years. We’re doing the forest a favor. But bear with me as I draw out a metaphor of two dimensions of splitting.

Fist of all, like that tree, we have become cut off from our roots by the reality of sin entering God’s perfect creation. God intended for humans, created as image-bearers, to have a dynamic and intimate relationship with Him. But Adam and Eve had other ideas. They couldn’t trust that God wanted the best for them by drawing boundaries around prohibited behavior. So they made that fateful choice allowing sin to come into the world. Sin literally means separation from God. And like the Christmas tree in the forest, we became separated from our life-giving and intimate relationship with God.

Human history then tells the story of sin’s ugly impact on relationships and the created order. And so much of human striving has become related to the desire to become reconnected to some sort of life-giving root. Sin often tells the tale of individuals striving to find that root by substituting created things for the place that is best filled by God. So we have people trying to fill the void through addictions, career, relationships, power and money. Ultimately, the only way back to the life-giving root is through the work of Jesus on the cross and a relationship that seeks to follow his example in rebuilding God’s reign in the created order.

Secondly, we can become split in another dimension when we fail to own up to our own complicity in the sin of the world. Jesus spends a great deal of his time teaching about how important it is for the inner-self to align with our public self. We are natural hypocrites that are prone to have a two-faced approach to the world. What is inside does not match up with the public face we put on for others.

In psychology, an extreme version of this tendency is called splitting. When working with felony offenders, this can be a fairly common occurrence. It shows up when a person stops seeing the relationship between punishment and individual action. Instead, they see themselves as a victim of the legal system with little connection to past behavior choices that resulted in the punishment. Freud may have seen splitting as psychological behavior but it is fundamentally a spiritual condition. We are all guilty of some aspect of splitting in our own lives. Unless we actively undertake regular times of prayerful self-examination and confession of sins, we can all remain blind to the inner split that exist in our own soul. We are good at telling lies to ourselves.

Once again, Jesus is the method by which that split is healed. Our faith in Jesus allows us to step out into the light with our secrets and trust that his grace will begin the healing process in our lives. Over time, our life will become a unity with our inner self matching up with the outer in the image of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Revolving Investment Fund

Belay Enterprises established the Ascent Fund a few years back to provide micro-enterprise funding to faith venture businesses in the Denver metro area. Unfortunately, we found that domestic micro-enterprise is an extremely difficult undertaking. It’s hard to find entrepreneurial opportunities in our community where a relatively small financial investment will make a difference. Unlike in international micro-enterprise, domestic micro-loans are unable to take advantage of currency exchange rates and lower costs of living rates. So a two hundred dollar investment in Kenya makes a big difference to a business while an investment of $2000 in the United States barely provides any positive impact for the domestic enterprise. As a result, the scale of money makes it a costly proposition in the United States for the micro-fund with a much lower probability of generating revenues to perpetuate the program. Over the years, this reality has caused us to change our focus from micro-enterprise to incubation where we internally nurture specific business start-ups.

Even so, I remain committed to a goal of creating 100 new faith ventures over the next five years. This requires us to decentralize our approach and to partner with other individuals with the same vision. And the top problem facing faith venture start-ups remains the issue of finding funding sources for growth.

I was excited a few weeks ago to learn about an international venture fund that was investing funds in overseas faith venture businesses. I had the chance to share breakfast the other morning with Tom Beck who explained more about the fund. I’ve always wondered how such a fund handles domestic securities law. Tom explained that regulations allow individuals with large net worths to pool funds for investment purposes. This is a big regulatory issue for any type of faith venture fund. Without the net worth standards, many other regulatory hurdles will have to be overcome in order for such a fund to be viable and legal.

For this particular fund, individuals pool their resources and then invest in particular international faith venture businesses. The loans have a short repayment schedule of two years and then revolve into future business investments. The fund offers redemption periods when investors can choose to redeem their investment but all participants have decided to leave their investment in the fund. The fund does have investment expenses that are not recovered by investment returns.

Interestingly, the biggest challenge facing the fund isn’t the issue of loan defaults; it’s the tendency of business owners to focus on the business at the expense of the faith venture mission after they receive a loan. It’s the challenge that all faith ventures practitioners face: the issue of maintaining proper balance within the double bottom line of the faith venture.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Celebration as a Spiritual Discipline

It’s that time of year again for annual holiday celebrations. But this year, many companies are forgoing or cutting back on the annual party in the interest of saving money during a recession. For some, it seems wrong to celebrate when so much is bad in the economy and many people are hurting financially. I have to admit that I wrestled with whether it was a good idea to have a party this year. But we decided to celebrate because, as a faith venture, it’s important to gather as a group, eat good food, have fun and remember what God has done for us.

Indeed, in the Bible books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, you see several points where God asks his people to set aside time to gather as a group and celebrate God’s blessing with a feast. In particular, Moses urges the Israelites in Deuteronomy 14: 26-27 to set aside a portion of money and time to “buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.” Dallas Willard, in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, calls this activity the spiritual discipline of celebration. It is a practice that helps develop our spiritual muscles much like the other more familiar practices like solitude, fasting, service or prayer. Willard defines corporate celebration as coming together with others “who know God to eat and drink, to sing and dance, and to relate stories of God’s action for our lives and our people.” (Willard, “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, p 179) He argues that it is a practice that becomes even more important in times of trouble:
…this world is radically unsuited to the heart of the human person, and the
suffering and terror of life will not be removed no matter how “spiritual”
we become. It is because of this that a healthy faith before God cannot be
built and maintained, without heartfelt celebration of his greatness and
goodness to us in the midst of our suffering and terror. “There is a time to
weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance”
(Ecclesiastes 3:4) It is the act and the discipline of faith to seize the
season and embrace it for what it is, including the season of
enjoyment. (Willard, p 180.)
This past weekend, Belay Enterprises had our Christmas Party for all of our staff at Bud’s Warehouse, Baby Bud’s and Freedom Cleaning Services. Over the years, this has become the main celebration event for our organization where we gather to remember what God is doing in our midst. Even though the holiday season is colored by the economic anxiety spreading throughout our country, it is important for us to remember together what God has done for our organization. He has blessed us in many ways this year. I hope you will remember to set aside your troubles and gather with your faith community to celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas season.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wired for Success

I have been participating in monthly meetings of the employment committee of Denver's Road Home program. This group is the job development part of Denver's initiative to reduce homelessness in the community by 75% over 5 years. The committee is made up of various community nonprofits that serve the homeless community.

One topic frequently discussed is the issue of finding employers willing to hire felony offenders. At a recent meeting, I was excited to hear of a new program that trains felons for high-wage technical jobs for the Denver metro area's growing green energy industry. The Rays of Hope Program is providing high-tech training and job placement services to 500 individuals with non-violent felonies. Turnabout, a nonprofit career and education program, is administering this program through a Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) grant, from the U.S. Department of Labor. I am hopeful that this program will be a good next-step for many of the non-violent felons in our Bud’s Warehouse job training program.

Unfortunately, the issue still remains of what to do with felons with past violent offenses. We want offenders to succeed after prison to reduce rates of recidivism yet we systematically close job opportunities to felons with past violent crimes. There is a need for entrepreneurial faith venture solutions to assist felons in rebuilding lives.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Hood Check Joy

Every Wednesday morning at Bud’s Warehouse, the staff gathers for our weekly hood check. This is a time where each person “pops the hood” of his or her life and let’s everyone peer inside. It’s a powerful time of sharing that is largely responsible for enabling the business as ministry Bud’s Warehouse to succeed. When you throw a bunch of people together in a faith venture who are rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness, or felony conviction, the hood check provides the environment for grace and understanding. It allows the workplace to succeed. I often argue that all businesses need to practice the hood check. I am convinced they will see benefits when staff members understand each other better.

Last week, we started our time together by listening to the passage in Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV) where Paul urges: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” In particular, we reflected on the word “rejoice.” Rob Bell, in his fantastic November 16, 2008, sermon, “I Will Say it Again and Again and Again,” noted that the word “rejoice” (“Chairos”) in Greek comes from the root “charis” which means “gift.” So rejoicing was the process of remembering the gifts that God has provided.

After listening to Paul’s reminder to rejoice, we went around the room and asked how God had gifted each individual. Men rejoiced in their wives and families, some thanked God for the gift of a job, one was thankful that he was blessed with unexpected freedom from jail, and many were grateful for faith. We then asked each person to share what they weren’t thankful for-- what they were complaining about to God. With great difficulty, almost everyone struggled to share his or her complaints. Some because they really didn’t have any complaints and others because they felt like it was odd or difficult. One had a painful complaint about having to spend Thanksgiving in jail away from his family because he was serving a work-release sentence. After sharing blessings and complaints, we discovered a little more about God.

Our conversation then naturally turned to the idea that in our daily prayer life, many of us find it easier to complain then to be thankful. But Paul seems to understand that and calls us to a new approach. He wants us to cast our anxieties onto God and to rejoice. When we establish habits of remembering how God has blessed us, we create an environment in our life ripe for rejoicing and free of the burdens of worry and anxiety. That’s a gift. Rejoice!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Life as a Story

I was headed out the door to grab a bite for lunch because someone had eaten the soup I had stored in the fridge for lunch. I guess they needed the soup more than I did…just another day at Bud’s Warehouse. On my way across the parking lot I noticed an older gentleman looking lost after riding his bike up to the building. That’s how I met Eugene.

One of the great dangers of leadership is becoming so busy that there are no margins for the unexpected encounters with others. Eugene wanted to meet with someone at the Good Neighbor Garage but they weren’t expecting him and wouldn’t be back for an hour. I asked Eugene if he wanted to wait around until they got back. He asked if there was a restaurant nearby. I suggested he join me for lunch. He jumped at offer and joined me in a short car ride. That’s when I learned the story of Eugene. And what a story it was.

Eugene spent time in the Pacific theater during World War II. After the battle of Okinawa, he borrowed a boat for a short tour and rowed up to the journalist Ernie Pyle by accident. Ernie found out that he knew how to run a camera and soon he was on the job taking pictures of famous dignitaries and military officers. This launched his career as a freelance photojournalist. He was on the road taking pictures of presidents-- he was particularly fond of Harry Truman-- and other celebrities. His pictures appeared in numerous publications including Life Magazine. Eugene’s career took a brief hiatus in the late 1940’s when he spent time as an actor in Hollywood appearing in commercials and a few movies. Eugene spent time in Brooklyn so I asked him if he’d ever watched Joe DiMaggio. “Watched him…heck I took pictures of him.”

I lost track of time as Eugene shared his story. He remarked it was time for me to get back to work. We drove to Bud’s. He gave me his card and asked me to call. I suggested lunch in the future and he thought that was “a super idea.”

After three conversations with 80 year-old individuals over the past week, I am reminded that we all need to slow down and listen to the stories of others. I’ve learned of families hiding Jews from the Nazis, business owners fleeing to America to escape Hitler, and an individual with a unique role in capturing the photographic history of America. The greatest generation has a lot to teach us but their voices are quickly fading away. I am convinced that God created humans because he likes good stories.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

I want to add my voice to the growing chorus of people amazed by a new movie in limited release. Slumdog Millionaire has jumped to the top of my all-time favorite movies. I would be surprised if this movie doesn’t sneak up and become the best picture for the upcoming Academy Awards. I saw the movie two nights ago and I have been unable to shake the storyline, images and music from my mind. It’s a brutal modern Oliver Twist meets Who Wants to Be A Millionaire that captures the deep contradictions of the culture of India where social class clashes with middle class mobility. It’s jarring but it’s also deeply satisfying in that it speaks to that deep human desire that wants to know that deep injustices will be made right and that love will overcome. India is a country on the rise but it’s also a place that needs faith ventures and saints like Mother Theresa.

Belay Venture Partners Program Selects First Founder

I’m excited to announce that Belay Enterprises has chosen Brittany Marlett as our first participant in the Venture Partners Program. B...