He Apologized First

Recently we held a memorial for Phil, a long-time member of the Network community. As we went around the room for a time of open sharing Sam quietly expressed, “He was my best friend. We had a lot of fights but Phil always came back and apologized first.”

He apologized first.

Throughout this year one of the strong themes around our community has been the grace and power of friendship. I’m convinced that the gift of friendship is the mortar that holds the bricks of Network together.

In my best long-term friendships there are times when I have contributed to a fracture by saying or doing something careless or offensive. Strong friendships require the work and discipline of forgiveness and reconciliation.

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul encourages the community like this, “Be kind to each other, be tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God through Christ forgives you.” (Eph. 4:32)

One of the pastoral tasks around Network involves setting boundaries. When a guest compromises the safety and dignity of the community we have to give them a time-out. But as we do this, we always invite them to come back and reconcile with the person or people they’ve offended. Humble efforts at forgiveness and reconciliation are central disciplines within any beloved community.

Asking forgiveness can be humiliating. It makes us feel vulnerable and powerless.

What does forgiveness and feeling vulnerable and powerless have to do with Christmas? Christmas reminds us of how divine power chose to enter earthly existence… in the form of a vulnerable baby. In fact, the way Jesus came into this world and exited it was in a very powerless expression of humility. Both Christmas and

Easter reveal that vulnerability—being willing to change for the sake of love—is the route toward long-term redemptive relationship.

In the business of forgiveness here’s a sample of the questions that allow the rubber to meet the road:

“How have I hurt you?”

“Has there been a time when I’ve shut down your voice?”

“Do you feel heard by me?”

Asking these questions then opens you up to hearing responses that are not easy to absorb. This is the way of friendship – the way of Christ.

If we’re interested in keeping the Christ in Christmas let’s start by strengthening our friendships through the work of forgiveness. How sweet it would be to one day hear these words, “…he always came back and apologized first.”

A most joyous and meaningful holiday to you and yours.

You are seen. You are known. You are loved.

Lost Friends and Family

Today we’re getting ready to gather for a memorial for a man named, Phillip, who had been a part of our community for many years. Over the years I’ve watched how Network becomes a surrogate family for so many women and men who have for one reason or another detached from their family of origin and this happened to be the case for Phil. It’s our privilege to declare Phil as one who came from God, embodied the divine image in his own unique way, and now has returned to the reconciling Source of love. 

As I prepare for the memorial my memories are shifting back three years to another gathering we held for a man named Michael Lee Marshall. Michael was a fixture here. His smile, laughter, his love of music, and his gratitude for his Network family were just a few of the many fond memories we hold of Michael. 

Michael battled an illness called paranoid schizophrenia and the majority of society was unable to respond to Michael with a heart of acceptance and compassion. Whether it’s psychological challenges, drug addiction, or simply the reality of being unhoused our society is not known for taking the time and necessary energy to pause, acknowledge, and creatively help restore dignity to the many women and men who have been de-humanized by their pre-occupied neighbors.

This is why our work at Network is vital. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you so that you can be where I am.” (John 14:3) We are in the business of preparing a place—a warm place where beloved community flourishes, a place safe enough to be yourself, a place where the experience of welcome overshadows any sense of judgment. 

A large part of being that beloved community among marginalized sisters and brothers has to do with preserving and re-calling memory. Today we re-member the precious life of Phillip Hodgkinson and while we're at it we see you too, brother Michael Lee!

Green Bean Casserole

I can’t remember when I had last indulged in the magical dish known as Green Bean Casserole. Recently, I found myself at a potluck dinner. I passed by all the standards – the dependable mashed potatoes, the faithful coleslaw, that loyal bucket of KFC chicken – and then I spotted it. Just the sight and smell alone triggered a choir of angels to sing the doxology in my mind as I was instantly taken back, back to church potlucks as a kid and back to my own childhood dining room table. I don’t particularly love the taste of Green Bean Casserole, but that All-American entree has an undeniable power about it, a power to warm my heart and help me feel at home.

For the many women and men who live on the streets of Denver opening the door and entering into the living room of Network on a frigid winter night is a lot like Green Bean Casserole – a taste of home (without the French onion breath). As I stand beside the coffee machine and welcome newcomers, who fill up their cup, they release a hefty sigh of relief and say, “I’m so glad you guys are open. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Then there are our regular guests who make Network feel like a homecoming. Teresa brightens our day with her big smile. Gary, per usual, is giving everyone a hard time. Wayne stops in for a refill and a meaningful conversation. Max hits me up for a time of personal prayer and blessing. Tim, one of our regular volunteers, recently said, “I can’t tell you how much I need this place for my soul to feel sane.”

The words of Jesus echoes throughout the room here,

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Jesus knew about the power of a place where the primary agenda is restorative rest and redemptive relationship. Jesus knew about the transformative power of Green Bean Casserole (or in our case a strong cup of dark roast).

In a world of chaos, lack of trust, and constant hustle Network is in the business of making up for lost time. If you didn’t have a childhood worth remembering or any early experience of safe and loving relationship, this community seeks to offer a new imagination and a new normal – one where trustworthy relationships are offered day after day after day.

As we approach the conclusion of another year, all of us here are thankful for you. Your support, donations, and prayer don’t just keep the lights on and the coffee hot, with your help you provide a community that many overlooked and lonely sisters and brothers call home.

Our prayer is that you experience the restorative rest and redemptive relationship of Christ throughout this holiday season.

You are seen. You are known. You are loved.

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