Friday, November 24, 2023

Living in a Dream

I am not showing you my food. This is not one of those Instagram moments where I show you my bougie food. It is bougie food and I am showing it to you but, I’m not. I promise.

Did you ever step inside someone’s dream? This is what separates (usually) a local spot from a chain restaurant. Look at that food! And I ordered a salad! And it was delicious. Those “flowers” are slices of radish!

At most chain restaurants, you can feel the corporate discussions and decisions about decor, menu, pricing. At a local spot, like Lucille’s here in Modesto, you don’t feel that. Of course, they want to make money. But you just know when your dining experience is a labor of love. The shop is named after the owner’s grandmother and you can feel the honor in every corner, place setting and bite. It’s worth the little extra you pay.

Have you noticed that our family really loves going to Disneyland? Both Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm here in California are places of profound inspiration for us (ok, Knott’s is more for me…built by another dreamer named Walter.) Now, the corporate side of Disney, I could do without. There’s good and bad in every organization and I’m not interested in getting into any discussions about that. But when you step through those gates, there’s something undeniable. You’ve stepped into someone’s dream.

Now, think of the last time you took a walk through the woods or sat beside some quiet water or noisy water for that matter. Think of the smell of a tomato plant or a crackling fire or mountain air. Who’s dream are you inside of then? 

In all that’s good and perfect, in turning and in rest, in quietness and trust, there is a dream being realized, a longing fulfilled, a tree of life. And, beautifully, with these kinds of gifts, the joy is compounded when we share them with others. That is the true dream…a garden, a walk in the cool of the evening, vulnerability, abundance, intimacy, refreshing, good work and peace.

Not long ago, I was a part of a community concert. Our friends put together a family band to put on a fundraiser to help get their son to his dream, a mission training school in Ireland. I sang a goofy song and played guitar for another but as I did, I could feel that I was inside a dream, mainly my friend’s dream to play music with his sons and friends. When friends play music together, dance together, create together, joy is compounded. A lot was raised to get our friend to his goal, but the money was almost an afterthought. 

We are being called back to live inside the Dream. Not buying and selling but giving and receiving. Where costly gifts and free sacrifice compound joy and welcomes others in.

Let’s step inside it, let’s live inside it, let’s take it out to forgetful and forgotten places. 

By the way, I never once had this thought unwrapping a McDouble. That salad was really good!

Tilden Park's Redwood Valley Railway and Golden Gate Live Steamers!


Saturday, January 22, 2022

Jesus Feeds The Crowd from John 6


In our reading through of the Gospel of John, we have arrived at chapter 6 where Jesus feeds a large crowd. They had followed Him out to the countryside because of all the healing miracles he had been doing. John tells us that Jesus was sitting with his disciples and they saw the crowd coming.

Jesus is the one who brings up feeding them….and it's to test Phillip specifically. John even tells us that Jesus knew what he was going to do already. I wonder when John found this out? What it at some later storytelling time around a fire with everyone laughing and Jesus comes out with the news…”oh, by the way, I knew what I was going to do already!”

Freaked out at this thought, Phillip immediately dismisses the idea saying they would have to work many months to feed this crowd.

Then Andrew pipes up with the silliest idea. I’m sure he was just spit balling, looking around for any possible solution and he suggests that there is a boy hanging out that has some fish and bread.

In this telling, Jesus doesn’t respond directly to Andrew, he just says “tell the people to sit down.” But He definitely locks on to Andrews impractical and silly idea. He starts to distribute the tiny lunch this by has (a bit carb heavy for me) and he feeds the whole crowd…at least 10,000 folks or maybe more! And they had leftovers.

How does this apply to 25 people who eat pizza together on a little corner of a little, dusty town in the Central Valley on Monday nights?

Well, May has given testimony on a few occasions of food stretching before her eyes to feed just enough of the folks that her and Cleo encounter along the way.

I could tell you about several times over the past months since taking over the budget where things were dipping down and an unexpected check or amount shows up just in time.

I could tell you about help that shows up right when we need it or ways that I am privy to people stepping up and taking care of one another.

We are Phillip, doubting we could ever make anything work here.

We are  Andrew, spitballing stupid ideas that just might have something to them.

We are the little boy, surrendering what we have so that Jesus can make it so much more.

We are the crowd, receiving abundance without even knowing where it’s coming from.

We are the fish and bread (some of us a little more fishy than others), having the potential, in the hands of Jesus, to go farther than we ever thought possible.

And we have the mind of Christ, with the ability to see potential in the smallest of things to stretch and grow into ways to bless thousands.

We are the body of Christ, called to sit with others and help them to see the Kingdom of God as it plays out in everyday life at lunchtime, supper, a conversation on the porch, a phone call, a gracious word, shared bread, care, prayer and 10,000 different ways.

It’s not a great time to gather with 10,000 others or even 25 others (this too shall pass) but it is always a good time to connect with others and let Jesus take our small portion and make it go farther than we ever dreamed.

Whether we’re in this building or not, we are the body of Christ. It’ll be good to gather together again, but in the mean time, do some spitballing of your own and see if Jesus doesn’t respond. 

Let’s surrender the little we have together and watch Jesus make it stretch to bless and heal and bring grace to the people around us.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Pearl of Great Price

What is the joy of the secret kingdom?
To find the field where the treasure is hidden
To give everything for the priceless pearl
To see through the door to an untold world
Eyes to see, ears to hear
Dancing stars, musical spheres
An unknown frequency hiding in static
To push through the membrane, a tear in the fabric
There's joy and light and song in dark places
From broken hearts and through lines on faces
We limp and we fall and we curse the clock
The very gifts, the keys that unlock
Surrender and grace and space and deep time
Harmonics of angels, infused paradigm
Enchanted with Presence and power and knowing
Through atoms and quarks and galaxies flowing
Above all and through all and in all pervasive
Unstoppable tide, incalculable graces
O taste and draw and fall into this Well
Kicked open and broken are the gates of hell
And infinite shores of delight awaiting
Inviting and joyful, surprising, creating
Universe undercover, a rose through a fence
The pathway is narrow that leads to immense
Fields full of treasure, oceans of pearls
Glory and wonder filling all worlds


Monday, June 10, 2019

A Pivot

I have been listening to a new(ish) podcast called The Pivot by Andrew Osenga (a fantastic musician) and he always includes the tag line, "Stories of people who have made a change." These are conversations about seasons in life, the pain of letting go and the grace that can be found in stepping out into unknown territory. You can find that podcast HERE.

For quite a few years, I (Chris) start out January at a prayer retreat with pastors and leaders from my city. We go away for 2 days of reflection, singing, meals and listening. Classically, this has been in a location with little to no cell reception.

Two years ago, while at this retreat, we were taking a few hours to spend in solitude and meditate on a scripture in Isaiah, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?" 

While pondering this in my room, in very spotty cell reception, a text came through from a friend of mine. He was on vacation in Nevada. The message basically said, "Do you want a job? I think you'd make a good activity director for our care facilities."

I knew that something was coming. Change was in the air. Our friends that we started YWAM Modesto with were all transitioning. Also, I knew that we were about to lose half of our personal support due to budget cuts at one of our supporting churches. I also had the feeling that more cuts were to come.

It took a while for me to "perceive it" but in June of 2017, I began part time employment that grew into full time employment by October. I've been working as an activity director for people with serious mental illness. I took the job, seeing that this was God's provision with the council of close friends and our board of directors.

The people in the facility are much like the people we have been connecting with on the streets. Many have struggled with addiction and have lived on the streets. It is definitely an extension of what we have been doing all along. I am able to lead Bible studies, sing with residents and create fun, hospitable activities to enrich suffering people's lives. I even do a once a month "Cafe" for our residents. It is truly rewarding.

So, we are in bi-vocational ministry. YWAM Modesto is still operating. We are still on 9th Street Friday mornings and, as a family, we continue working with youth in our neighborhood. Also, Amie works with our local refugee community and, partnering with lots of folks, we have opened a hospitality house for refugee families.

I am also still on the leadership team for Mission Greater Modesto, connecting regularly with pastors and leaders to pray for the city. We are still able to host teams to the area as my work is providing me with flexibility to do this. And, we continue to offer hospitality to visiting artists and missionaries, hosting creative events for the community.

We are still serving with a congregation at New Hope Church.

The change is that all of our personal support is now coming from my work with the care home. It is enough to cover what was lost. But, while earning a paycheck is nice, the sense of calling to broken, wounded, outcast people is still the motivation.

I often think of a quote from Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) when I think of the work I am doing. 

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.” 

Now, God didn't make me fast, but he did make So, when I am laughing and driving and bowling and watching a movie and swimming and singing and sharing food and praying and shopping and walking with our residents, I feel his pleasure.

I wish I could show you pictures. We have a lot of fun. And really "bi-vocational" is a bit of a misnomer. It's not 2 vocations (Vocation...taken from "voice"...think "calling"). It's one vocation, several different jobs. But they are so connected that it's hard for me to tell the difference sometimes. 

When a basketball player pivots, he's still playing ball. He just needs to change direction to move the ball forward. When a dancer pivots, she's still dancing, the pivot adds nuance and beauty and grace.

And that's what this pivot has done in our life. Far from easy but lots of grace and beauty has come to our lives because of it. I think I'm beginning to perceive it.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Mourning and Celebration

Yesterday morning, my Father, Albert Whitler, passed away from this world into the light of God. He finished his course. 
He has been lovingly cared for by my sister, Christianne and her children in their home for many years as he suffered through dementia and physical deterioration. He was surrounded by the ones he loved and who loved him so well as he passed.
Our family will be joining them in mourning and celebration this week. Pray for safety as we all travel and take care of preparations. There are a lot of details and timing that need to work just right. Pray for grace and provision.
Already a few things have come together that hint at the Strong Hand of Love helping us through this time.
We are grateful for your support and friendship.
For all us Whitlers,

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Thoughts after viewing "The Nine"

Last night, our YWAM Modesto team went to see the local premiere of the documentary film "The Nine." This has been a much anticipated release as its subject matter is the South 9th Street community of our city. Photographer Katy Grannan and her team have made a beautifully shot, shocking glimpse into life around and under the 9th Street bridge in Modesto.

A friend texted me this morning asking me what it was like. Here is my short response..."Profoundly sad, very well done, uncomfortable, beautiful and terrible all at the same time. A very vulnerable film. Not much commentary, just an observation of an addicted prostitute's life on 9th Street."

Those words, "addicted" and "prostitute," are not the only words that define the films principle subject,"Kiki." She is also kind, hopeful, despairing, sad, lonely and beautiful. Grannan lets us see complex people in difficult situations without a lot of heavy handed narrative. This is a film shot by a photographer. There are long stretches of stillness that are poinagnt and uncomfortable.

When I heard someone was making a documentary about South 9th Street, where we host our twice weekly Ninth Street Café, I was hesitant. Who is this film maker? Are they going to exploit people's brokenness? Are they going to romanticize "the poor?"

This film was made because the film maker engaged in friendships with a few on S. 9th Street while working on a photography project. She cares about them and told their story with humility. Humility isn't always easy. It can be defined as "an honest evaluation of the way things are" and that's what this movie strives to do.

There are moments that come across as set up. There are scenes that could be trimmed. Some of it seems to go on too long. There are times when I felt like Kiki was too vulnerable, an intimacy not meant for me. But mostly, it gives dignity to the suffering people of 9th Street by showing their real lives. 

I was glad to hear Grannan say that this was not a story about Modesto, it is a story about America, an America that is often hidden and ignored.

There were a few ill informed questions at the Q & A for which the producers, Kiki and a few others pictured were present at the end of the evening. A few good questions too. But all of those interactions were made beautiful by Kiki herself and the obvious love there between her and Ms. Grannan.

This is not an exposé on "the homeless problem" or "the poor." This is a movie about real people. People we've shared coffee and bread with. We watched the movie with those real people in the room with us. They went home that night back to their lives that we had just witnessed. It was full of raw vulnerability and forced our community to take a hard look at a way of life only blocks away that most of us would just as soon ignore.

If you see it, you should know that it is hard to watch. It is unrated but if it were, it'd be rated R.