First Responders…with a dash of hope

Sometimes terrible things happen and there’s absolutely no reason why. Sometimes there are reasons. And sometimes it just doesn’t matter. I don’t know much about this story, I’ve been watching from a distance and am unfamiliar with many of the details, and…well, I’m not sure it matters. Our local newspaper, The Columbian, writes about it here: and here

Essentially my friends had a shooting happen not only in their neighborhood but in their front yard. What was so amazing, what was so beautiful was that my friend is a firefighter. So as the person to call the police and as the first person to make it to victim who had been shot six times he was fully prepared to care for this boy in ways that you or I would not have been. Even further, however, my friends family (including his wife and boys) are people who have spent the last many years learning to respond with love, grace, and compassion to anyone and everyone who comes their way. So not only was he equipped to deal with the physical stuff (and it looks like the young man is going to survive!) but their family has been an overwhelmingly amazing ‘first responder’ to the family and neighborhood’s needs as well. From coordinating meals for the victim’s family for a month to now coordinating a neighborhood-wide effort to honor the family through inviting a communal voice of hope with chalk (I’ll explain in a moment) they are finding ways to be responders with hope.

Once again, The Columbian writes about it here:

So here is what I’m getting to. If you live in Vancouver or Portland, I want to invite you on August 21st from 10:00-1:00 to join the Hough neighborhood to “Chalk the Walk“. Chalking the walk is a Vancouver tradition (and a very cool one at that) but this year at 1114 W 21st, Vancouver, WA 98660 it’s going to be a tradition marked with a deeper message when neighbors and friends counter the senseless violence that happened with messages of hope, life, and togetherness. Want to join?

Here’s the thing. I’m tempted to end this blog by saying something like “It’s not about Nate and Jasmine and how they’ve responded. It’s bigger than them. It’s about the neighborhood, it’s about you, its about…” but you know what? You know what the reality is? The reality is that we have so much to learn from this family, from Nate, Jas, and their boys (yes, their boys seem to always be a integral part in leading the charge as well!). If it were not for their posture of responsiveness to their neighbors none of us would be entered into this story. If it were not for their families core of love, grace, and compassion none of us would be invited to be ‘second responders’, if it were not for them this story would look very differently. So, you know what?, while this blog would probably feel better if I expanded it here at the end to include all of us as the ‘moral of the story participants’ the reality is that we’ve got to be learners here! We’ve got to learn from the Cook fam’ how to be first responders with a little dash of hope.

While we cannot (and should not…and I WILL NOT) try to pretend like any form of response at this point will dull the pain and terribleness of the situation–our hope, as always, is that God can transform shit into something beautiful. That’s what he does when we allow him to enter into our story. He doesn’t always get rid of the messiness (oh how I wish he would) but he is willing to enter into our narrative and do something magically beautiful. None of us know where or how this story is going to end, but because of this families willingness to enter into the fray we all are being invited to bring a candle of light into the bleak narrative in hopes that light might one day shine through it.

So will you join with us on August 21st from 10-1 at 1114 W 21st, Vancouver, WA 98660 as a second responder of hope?

Heavenly Thoughts…

One of the most important tenants of the Christian faith is the hope of resurrection. The Jesus message brings huge value for today because it invites us into a story that challenges how we do life: beckoning us to a way of life that is marked by compassion for the outsider, hospitality toward the stranger, mercy toward the weak, dignity for all, love to each other, sacrifice as a means to life, and so much more. But without resurrection these ways of living come to a violent end marked by death–and end that is not fitting with the story being told. Because the reality, clearly, is that our bodies and this world are decaying. They are. But in the story of Jesus there is a promise of new life, a promise of a restored and renovated creation where everything will be brought back to its original purpose and intended beauty.

This is the day I live for.*

That day…

I dream of a day where my body won’t hurt. Where going to the bathroom won’t be a chore (yes in that day I’ll still be going to the bathroom because…)

I dream of a day where everything I eat will be exquisite and deliciously fresh. Where the food that goes into my body makes my body and my tongue satisfied beyond belief. Food will forever continue to be the gift God intended it to be but without all this extra jiggly stuff added on.

I dream of a day where fighting will end, where peace will not even be something we fight for because it will be our one and only reality. There will be nothing outside of an existence where people are not stepping on other people to gain, destroy, and control. Peace will control us.

I dream of a day where we laugh a lot and laugh often. Where the tears that stream down our face are from good jokes rather than sorrow, pain, or grief. I imagine that we’ll discover that God gets more of our crass jokes than we ever gave him credit for–that’s the day I dream of. (cards against humanity anybody?)

I dream of a day where everyone is welcome around the same table to feast on the aforementioned food. There is no exclusion based on race, economic status, sexuality, or politic. We will all feast together because we have all been invited to the same exquisite table to feast around, because we all belong, because…because we’ve all accepted the dinner invitation.

I dream of a day where creation isn’t falling apart. Climate change, hurricanes, hail storms, they will all be relegated to a place of grief over our past rather than a worry in our future.** Creation will be what it was forever intended to be except it will be more alive now than ever before. New colors, new trees, new animals will fill the horizon as we experience life unabated.

I dream of a day where our choices are not marked by destruction. We will no longer make choices that destroy ourselves, destroy our bodies, and destroy our hearts. Instead our choices will be marked by exploration, by intrigue, and by love and fascination of self and otherness.

I dream of a day where I will be married to my wife forever. We will live and walk in unity, keeping the commitment to each other that we so desperately do not ever want to break. We will continue our exploration of life, romance, and otherness together as we journey deeper into eternity.

I dream of a day where there’s time to read–where there’s always time to read.

I dream of a world where reality television has been unmasked for what it really is: cheap programing.

I dream of a day where orphans and widows have a seat of honor and are cared for with extra respect and dignity.

I dream of a day where i can ride a bike again.

I dream of a day where we still have cars. Better cars. Cars that don’t break down as often.

I want to dream more. I want to dream lots of things. I want to dream bigger than what I’ve shared above. And I know, (I’m banking on it), that my dreams won’t even touch the amazingly beautiful reality that we’re going to be invited to enter into one day…now that’s something worth dreaming about!


*  Though, if you know me and my wife and my family and the lives we try to live I hope you’ll know that I have not fallen out of the boat on this side! I have not given up on the truth that in living for today we have the gift of truly seeing and experiencing every day as a glimpse into eternity. I truly believe that we can bring pieces of that futur reality into today. So lets not miss that when I say that I live for that day because much of that day can be brought into today! (talk about good news right?)


**  Yes, in my future dreaming there is still a place for some grief and sorrow. We cannot live a new existence if we’ve forgotten who we are or where we’ve come from!

In the Hero’s Journey Nothing Is Wasted

I don’t understand how school teachers do it. Granted, most teachers are not being taxed by cancer in their bodies, but wow did speaking yesterday wear me out! Five to six hours of constant dialog with high schoolers about death wears a guy out! Oh, I should back up and say that yesterday I was given the opportunity by my wonderful friend (and newly famous poet) Jenney to speak to all six periods of her high school english class. They had been spending a great amount of time studying a literary device called The Hero’s Journey which, if I understand it correctly, is a commonly found pattern or way of crafting a story. It is marked by the invitation to adventure or to take part in a story, by trials along the way, it says that you receive help from friends along the way but that they cannot solve the dilema, and leads to eventual freedom where you can then help others…at least I think I’m somehow capturing it.*

So Jenney invited me to share some of my story because of how it so directly connectes to The Hero’s Journey concept. The kids were forced to read some of my blogs (I’ve got to drive traffic somehow right?), they crafted an amazing set of questions, and then invited me to dialog with them.

As a recovering homeschool nerd speaking in a high school is a pretty foreign context. Can I say naught words? Can I wear a hat? Can I talk about my catheter? Can I mention Jesus? How honest can I be? Do I need to be ready to do a song and dance to entertain the teens? So many questions–and yet, in the end, we all just talked. We talked about death. I talked a lot about my children and my wife a lot. We all cried quite a bit. The students wanted to know how my life changed, they wanted to know how I’d live differently if I survive, they wanted to know if I’m afraid to die, they wanted to know what gave me hope, they wanted to know about reincarnation, they had so many good questions. I was very impacted by their ability to be present and emotionally available for such a deep conversation.

It was strange to find myself, near the end of every period, talking about the kingdom of God. Ok, so I didn’t actually say “kingdom of God”, but it’s what we talked about. At some point in every class we talked about hell, about how we all know hell in our lives or in the lives of those around us. Whether it is through divorce, sickness, addiction, or broken relationships we’re all experiencing the reality that this world is not right. I invited them to call it what it is, to recognize that cancer sucks but that there is hope for every single story (the Hero’s Journey). There is hope that every single story can be redeemed, that beauty can come from ashes, that what God does is he turns shit into something beautiful. I told them that even a story of death can be one of love and beauty if we’re willing to enter into it fully and allow it to become so. This doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck, it doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly hard–but it does mean that nothing has to be wasted. This is all Kingdom of Heaven stuff. Essentially we, as a class, talked and dreamed about God’s ultimate reality coming to earth and eventually being fully realized post death. Kingdom.**

As I sit here knowing that literally 10’s of thousands of people are praying for God to heal my broken body I cannot help but cling to that kingdom idea: nothing is wasted. If prayer works how I think it works then I will most definitely be healed. But I’m not convinced that prayer works how I think it works (shoot, even using the word ‘works’ with regard to prayer clearly shows that my natural tendency is to use it as a tool rather than to see it as a dialog. I want to wield prayer like a magic wand more than anything else!). I’m not convinced that my theology on prayer is correct. I am convinced, however, that God is good. Everything builds off that. And speaking yesterday with those amazing students reminded me yet again that

  1. This world is broken (some of those students have tragic stories!)
  2. Things don’t always get reconciled in this world how we’d like (though we fight bravely to make it so!)
  3. That God desires to enter into every story and make it a Hero’s Journey where absolutely nothing is wasted
  4. Our hope ultimately is in a new body and restored world where everything is finally as it should be–as the Hero originally intended.

*If someone has some insight here and wants to post with more clarity I’d greatly appreciate it!

** I’m not going to lie, if you’ve heard me speak in different settings or if you’ve read my blog much…this is my spiel. I say this same thing in different formats over and over again…and yet I still feel like I’m needing to hear it myself. So my apologies if you’re wondering “haven’t I already heard Ryan say this?” ’cause the answer is a resounding YES!

Jesus Doesn’t Belong in an Egg…that’d be awkward.

Did you do it? Did you practice Lent this year? Did you give up something that you value or enjoy for 40 days (remember that Sundays don’t count)? There should be a large cloud of people who will finally eat a piece of meat today, who will order a beer with lunch, or who will sign back into Facebook. The idea, right?, is that for 40 days you’ve been living in the reality of a dead God. God died for three days and during Lent we honor/grieve that reality through our own small attempt at giving up a piece of life. All throughout Lent Sundays are a break from that because Sundays are resurrection days, they’re the days that we celebrate the good news that God is no longer dead and that we have no fear of death.

So today, on Easter Sunday, the final piece to the lenten puzzle, all you fast-ers finally are set free from the grief of a dead God (and the loss of your TV time…or whatever you gave up). Congratulations! You did it! God’s not dead anymore and neither is your apetite!

Let me be honest and say that I didn’t give up a single thing for Lent. It just seemed foolish to give up one more thing when I’m already struggling with so much being taken from me. I know that’s not a very spiritual approach…but it is what it is. (insert lots of jokes here about giving up cancer for lent, giving up chemo for lent, etc. Those jokes are always funny…seriously) But the celebration that happens on Easter Sunday is becoming more core to my heart and my identity than ever before: resurrection.

If we don’t have hope in resurrection then what do we have? Because of Easter I’m freed to anticipate a new body that doesn’t suck, a restored world that is no longer broken, a continued life that isn’t marred or marked by death, an invitation to live this life free from the fear of death, an invitation to bring to this world what I know will be true in the resurrection: peace, harmony, love, community, beauty, etc. If I know its going to be true then than I have no reason not to invite that reality into today’s world–to live into that reality today. For example, if I know that in God’s intended and promised future that ALL peoples will be gathered around one table (a metaphor) then I know that if I live into that today there is no space for prejudice, racism, and exclusivism. What I know to be true later I can try to make true today. It’s an invitation to live differently, to live into the future in the way that Marty McFly did in Back to the Future (sorry, bad illustration).

Anyway, it is important that those who are following Jesus don’t get caught up in trying to make Easter a Christian holiday. It’s not. Easter (as a holiday) is about family coming together, candy, bunnies, and eggs. It takes too much work to try to find a way to spiritualize eggs, bunnies, and candies. Dont’ do it. You look funny when you do. Easter is an awesome time for our families and neighbors to come together and have fun, don’t ruin it by attempting to argue and push Jesus into those little plastic eggs. Jesus doesn’t belong in an egg. Candy does (everyone knows that right?).

Instead we need to embrace and celebrate the end of Lent. Call it Easter Sunday if you want, call it whatever you want, but today (for those who are following the Jesus way) is a day to remember as fully as you can that you’ve been given the greatest dual invitation ever:

  1. Freedom from death through the promise of resurrection
  2. Living into that, as of yet, only partially realized promise today through “resurrection living” (i.e. showing hospitality, impartiality, a commitment to peace, etc.)

So don’t miss the Easter egg hunts: they’re too much fun and of too much value.

But also do not miss the end of Lent: it’s too beautiful to waste.

Does Hope Live Paycheck to Paycheck? Seriously? Does it?

If you watch Hulu at all you’ve probably seen this video. I don’t want to say anything negative about Rethink Church ’cause I know absolutely nothing about them and I don’t really have a practice of talking bad about churches–even churches that I might disagree with, it just does not seem very productive to speak poorly about my family (Right? Even if your family sucks you still don’t shame them publicly)

But in the video one of their big questions is “Does hope live paycheck to paycheck?


What does that mean?

Does it really live paycheck to paycheck?

…I’m not reasking the question rhetorically, I’m seriously wondering if it does. I don’t know?  Does compassion live paycheck to paycheck? How about kindness? Does kindness put more money in savings? How can we help hope stop its overspending?

Or maybe the idea is that those with hope literally stop living paycheck to paycheck–once they find hope they start making better decisions and start saving more money. Is that the idea?

Or is it a metaphor for how we live our lives when we have no hope. If you’re someone who has little hope in your life do you find that you “live paycheck to paycheck”? Or, in other words, do you find that you’re living moment to moment, expending everything you have as and leaving little legacy behind?

Hmmm…neither of those two options really resonate with me. One would suggest that once you give your life to Jesus you’ll save more. But the reality is that following Jesus invites you to give more and to put your hope in relationship and resurrection not in savings (not that I’m against saving). The other ‘metaphorical’ option doesn’t really resonate with me either simply because it’s tedious and not very clear.

From my perspective here’s what hope can bring (this is by no means an exhaustive list!) Hope:

  • Gives us meaning because it gives us a larger identity that we can find ourselves in
  • Gives us energy because it helps remove that feeling of “what’s the point?”
  • Disappoints. It does. To hope is to raise your expectations and to believe that something beautiful will happen. But on this side of life that isn’t always the case.
  • Is bigger than today. Hope on this side of life disappoints–that’s why those from the Jesus way of life place their hope primarily in resurrection, new life, and a restored creation.
So I still have not solved the mystery before us: what the hell does the question “does hope live paycheck to paycheck” mean! I like hope. I like paychecks. I like that this church is trying to engage in a hope-dialog. I like Hulu. I don’t like commercials. Therefore vis-à-vis, quid pro quo, using the properties of transsubordination, etc. etc. we must deduce that the definitive answer is yes.