Monthly Archives: August 2015

Why I Love Springfield

parkcentralsquareIt’s no New York City. And yet, it’s no New York City. Heck, it’s not even Atlanta or Seattle, but you can actually afford to live here. You can get a great education that won’t take you decades or the life of your first born to pay back. Some of the best espresso drinks you’ve ever had will cost you less than $3. And though it’s a small, midwestern city, thanks to its several universities and colleges, there’s plenty of diversity to explore as well. There’s only a few spots in this great country of ours where you can find street preachers, massive belt buckles, boots, hipsters, skateboarders, folks of the more friendly variety holding hands, and topless women (no joke) all within steps of the same city square–Springfield is definitely a card carrying member of that very small, exclusive club.  It also won’t take you more than 20 minutes to get anywhere in town you may want to go, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised on how many even more intriguing finds you’ll pass on the way there.

Hammons_HallYeah, it’s no Los Angeles or Miami, and the closest swimmable beach may be more than 600 miles away, but you’ll find some of the nation’s finest lakes and fishing just minutes from town. It’s probably no surprise, then, that this “Queen City” is also home to Bass Pro Shops. But if you’re not the outdoorsy type–no worries, as there’s plenty to do inside as well. Hammons Hall serves as home to the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and an impressive selection of traveling Broadway theater presentations as well as community arts initiatives and performances featuring talent from Missouri State and the surrounding collegiate community. This small Bible Belt city is also home to a community theater and event center called The Shrine Mosque (though it’s history is tied to the Masonic lodge, not to Islam). Not to be forgotten is the 11,000 seat John Q. Hammons Arena that serves as a home to Missouri State athletics as well as a host of other entertainment events. The historic Gillioz Theater, restored in 2006, has become another magnet for great entertainment events and concerts. The new O’Reilly Family Events Center on the campus of Drury University serves as the home of the Drury Panthers and another venue for select events and concerts throughout the year. The 8,000 seat Hammons Field serves as the home of the Springfield Cardinals, the AA Texas League affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.   Evangel University is also home to a couple performance venues of note including the Ashcroft Activities Center and Evangel Chapel. And last, but not least, is the 3,500 seat (4,000+ for concerts) W. E. Dowell Fieldhouse on the campus of Baptist Bible College (also known to students as “Life Change U”) that serves as the home of BBC Patriot Athletics. It boasts a new state-of-the-art fitness facility and also serves as home to the annual “Fellowship Week” meeting of the Baptist Bible Fellowship. Needless to say, with all of the venues available (and I’m sure I missed a few), there is no shortage of events or entertainment in my new hometown.

IMG_8395Also serving as the headquarters of two significant Christian denominations (Assemblies of God & BBFI), there is no shortage of houses of worship. Here you’ll find everything from small, country-style churches that have been around for decades as well as large, flagship representatives of their denominations (High Street and James River are examples) and everything in between. The culture wars are also alive and well in Springfield. As home to a large state university (25,000+); a progressive, youthful population; and plenty of representation from that “old time religion”, my new hometown can be an interesting clash of cultures. If you’re looking for a good place to see where both extremes of the culture wars clash and, interestingly enough, seemingly coexist–Springfield is a great study (and example, perhaps) in many aspects of modern sociology.

Springfield boasts a strong economic engine with a diversity of employment opportunities in healthcare, education, transportation, manufacturing, telecommunication and finance. In addition to the sizable employment available through the Queen City’s multiple educational systems, it also serves as the headquarters for Prime Trucking, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Bass Pro Shops, the Cox and Mercy Health Systems as well as a number of call centers for the telecommunications and finance industry. With all that, the area also boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the region (currently 4.7%) and nearly one full percentage point lower than the current national average.

One of the most understated benefits to the region is a diverse and equally interesting topography. Being from New England (not known for its large, open spaces), I find the large open spaces to give a sense of unlimited potential in proportion to all that available sky. Being well situated in the Midwest, there’s no shortage of wide open plains, but yet, sitting on the northern foothills of the Ozarks, while they’re no Rockies, there’s plenty of vertical to climb and explore as well. You also have to love the 4 seasons weather. There’s a little something for everyone, and if the old saying is true, “if you don’t like the weather, just stick around a day or two, it will change”–Springfield embodies that old saying as well as anyplace I’ve ever lived.

You can hardly mention Springfield without thinking about some of the most unique dining establishments you’ll find anywhere. Of course there’s the long standing Lambert’s (home of “throwed rolls”-literally, they throw them at you). Then there’s an instant classic that’s hit the city in the last couple years called Hurts Donuts. I can promise you, you’ve never seen a donut shop quite like this. Located in downtown Springfield, just one block from the square, you’ll find the most unique sugar saturated concoctions you’ve ever seen including a trademark bacon/maple donut (yes, you read that correctly–go ahead read it again and now confess that lustful fantasy). HurtsAnd if you’re looking for burger dives, Springfield has to be on the top of the list. With places like Grad School (yes, that’s the name of the joint) and its signature “Full Ride”, and Casper’s famous Chili Cheeseburger, you can’t go wrong (except for the screeching sound of your arteries slamming shut). If I’ve already made you hungry, check out 417 Magazine’s annual “best of” for more tantalizing tastes with some more upscale and healthier options including some leading “farm to table” features as well. With over 1,000 restaurants in the area, even the pickiest should be able to find something to purr about.

With all of that said, my favorite part of this surprising little city is its people. The people of Springfield come from a variety of backgrounds and in many ways embody the best of what the Midwest, the Southwest and the South have to offer. I’ve found the people here to be friendly without being syrupy (being from New England, syrupy is still hard to get used to), confident without being arrogant, as well as possessing a quiet contentment while being enterprising and innovative in creating better lives for themselves and their community.  I’m glad to call Springfield home, and if you could see what I see, I think you would too.

If you’ve lived or visited Springfield before, what are some of your favorite places and memories? What would you say is most attractive about your hometown?

For more detailed information on what this great city has to offer, visit http://www.liveinspringfieldmo.com/ and enjoy this short video.

 

 

 

Blue Notes

photo by Greg Betza on flickr

photo by Greg Betza on flickr (CC)

“What you do doesn’t matter,” said that subtle, yet unnoticeably evil voice in my head one tragic Sunday morning last year. Most of the time, in my personal opinion, we give Satan far too much credit for many of the evils in our life that we are more than capable of creating ourselves (unfortunately, I know this all too well from experience). However, this morning was different, but I can only see that in hindsight now. At the time I didn’t know where it came from, but it was clear as a bell and I bought it–hook, line and sinker. Much of the back story of this day you can find in my post here (“When I Lost My Faith”).  You see, the day before this, a very dear friend (of the romantic kind) took her own life unexpectedly (having had a rare but recent relapse with the effects of PTSD). Not only was she a romantic interest, but she was a bright hope in what had been an otherwise very trying year for me. She was one of the kindest and most selfless people I have ever known. She loved Jesus and she loved her daughter at a depth that I have rarely seen. She was the poster child for inspiring. But she was gone. Even still, her sweet, precious teenage daughter was left without her mom. Needless to say, I was crushed to the core and so was my faith. Even still, the following day was Sunday, and the voice I heard came to me just as I was rolling into the parking lot to help facilitate the worship of hundreds of people that morning.

All I could think about in that moment was “You’re right. Some people will like what is presented today and some people won’t. They’ll all keep their scorecard in our upscale Atlanta suburb and pat themselves on the back for having done their religious duty, go home to their perfect suburban lives, and all the while my heart is shattered and a precious teenage daughter woke up this morning without her mom.” Of course that wasn’t true either, as some of the most devout believers I have ever known would be in that congregation that morning and most wouldn’t think that way, but some did and Satan always has a way of making ten sound like a thousand. Even in our upscale Atlanta suburb, wealth was no refuge to brokenness. Brokenness can exist in any socioeconomic environment and there were plenty of people hungry to see Jesus that day as well. But I bought it (the lie) that day like I never have before. That one lie started a downhill spiral for me that looked more like a negative “G” roller coaster than any hill I’ve ever seen. It stole my hope, my purpose and unfortunately, even my identity. I shouted questions at God louder and faster than any AK-47 ever could. You see, “sovereignty” sounds great in theory until it touches you or someone you love. “God has a plan…” yada, yada. Really? I wanted no part of that plan.

Fast Forward: God placed some of the best people in my life in the days and months following to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus to this hurting heart. Don’t get me wrong…it took a while and many repeated attempts (along with some really poor decisions), but slowly God opened my heart to seeing Him once again, but this time with new eyes, and better yet–a new heart. Please don’t misunderstand me. I still struggle with what happened that day. I may never completely understand the “why”. I’m still not convinced that it was “God’s plan” either. I believe a battle was lost that day, but I do know Who ultimately wins the war. I am more convinced of that than ever.

In the days following I found myself several times on “the other side” of the platform as just a regular, wounded child of God struggling for faith in a place where I needed to hear from Him like never before—and ironically, the lie that I believed that ultimately led to my downfall–it was its antithesis that ultimately led to my return. I was moved in worship in the most unexpected places. I discovered that brokenness doesn’t care about the style of music or what the worship team was wearing that day or even how cool the lights looked, but it does care about transparency, truth and grace.

There may have been people “keeping score” on those days too, but I was too broken to notice or care. Because some folks decided instead of “doing church” for the power brokers, and instead, being the church for the broken, my life was once again transformed. All I needed was Jesus, and in many cases, Jesus is exactly what I found. I didn’t need the latest from the “worship wars” or the “culture war”–I just needed Jesus.

In music there’s a term for sharps and flats that are not found naturally in the key of the music–they’re called “accidentals”.  In Jazz, sometimes these are referred to as “blue notes”. It’s what gives a lot of jazz and blues its characteristic sound. A great band leader knows how to use these “accidentals” to create and respond with something more rich and moving than the notes normally found within the key. In American history however, these “blue notes” often stemmed from pain and oppression. While none of us would wish for pain or oppression for anyone (especially ourselves or a loved one), take a moment and think about the beauty and colors that have come from these “accidentals”. What if God can take the blue notes of our lives and in return gives us something more colorful and deep from which to draw? Blue notes in the hands of amateurs can sound out of tune and off color, but in the hands of a Master, they can add a richness and depth to the music that wouldn’t have been there without them. Holding on to blue notes by themselves does nothing—they’re just notes with no context, but if looked at through the song of faith in the hands of the Master, they can have purpose and meaning that you otherwise would never see.

So, worship leader (or ministry leader), what you do does matter and it often is messy, but you are the ones who help people give their blue notes to the Master so He can create something better with them. Only, please do it with excellence and grace as if people’s lives depend on it–because they actually do. But you don’t bear that burden alone. Just show them Jesus and walk with them on the journey, no matter how messy—God will still make the music.

What “blue notes” is God making music with in your life? Share your story in the comments. Someone needs to hear it.

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If you or a loved one are battling with the thought of suicide, please seek immediate help. No matter how desperate you may feel, this is not the end of the road and God will use your story for your good and His glory. Hang on and please seek help. You can find help from a friend, a pastor or from one of the resources below.

*Resources for PTSD and suicide prevention:

1 (800) 273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Hotline

National Institute of Mental Health

The Samaritan Institute

Association of Certified Biblical Counselors

 

 

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