Category Archives: Personal

Choosing to be a Saint: Why We Chose Jefferson Junior/Senior High School

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Four and a half years ago when we moved to Edgewater, we chose to send our daughters to our neighborhood school, Lumberg Elementary. At the time, I wrote a blog post titled “Sacrificing Our Kids’ Education for the Mission.” In September of 2012, we felt like we were taking a chance in sending our children to a low-performing school. Many of my beliefs about education have changed since that blog post including the notion that by choosing Lumberg we were sacrificing something.

Now once again we are making another educational choice. This fall our oldest daughter Anna will attend our neighborhood school for 7th grade, Jefferson Junior/Senior High School. The best part about this decision is that Anna is involved in this decision and feels deeply about wanting to attend Jefferson. Honestly, Anna is making the decision and we agree with her.

It is important to understand the perception surrounding our high school here in Edgewater. It was once a true neighborhood high school and the top option for our proud, working class neighborhood. But starting in the late 1970s, the perception started to change and with changing demographics, more and more neighborhood families chose to send their children to other high schools in the suburbs. For the last twenty years, Jefferson has floundered as a high majority of students are struggling against the roadblocks of poverty.

The sense in the Edgewater community is that if you truly want the best education for your student, then you should send them to Wheat Ridge High School or Lakewood High School.

If this is the perception, then why would we follow Anna’s desires and choose to send her to Jefferson in the fall? Hillary and I do want the best education for our daughters and that is why Anna will attend Jefferson.

Here are some of the elements of Jefferson that led us to this decision:

Gifted and Talented/Honors Pathway

As we researched Jefferson’s curriculum options, we were excited to find out that Jefferson offers a Gifted and Talented/Honors Pathway from 7th grade through 12th grade. Anna can be in an accelerated track in which she will start Advanced Placement (AP) classes in 9th grade. By the time she graduates, she will have had the opportunity to take at least 10 AP classes and receive college credit. The other great aspect of this pathway is that she will be able to take other elective classes with students who are not in the honors pathway and broaden her relationships.

Value of Diversity and Continuing Relationships

One of the aspects of being part of the Lumberg community is that our daughters are in the minority. For all her elementary years, Anna has always been in the minority. In Champaign, Illinois, a majority of Anna’s classmates in kindergarten and 1st grade were African-American. Our daughters learn from students who are immigrants and who come from family experiences that are different from their own. They develop a heart for others and their eyes are opened to the reality of those who struggle to make ends meet. This has enhanced their learning beyond what they can read in a book. They sat in classrooms the day after the presidential election and felt and heard the pain of their classmates who were undocumented. For Anna, it is important that these relationships continue into 7th grade at Jefferson.

It’s Our Neighborhood School

I can’t fault parents for choosing to send their children to another school than the one in their neighborhood. It’s hard to believe that every school can truly serve all students. But for our family, we deeply value our Edgewater community and this means choosing to send our children to the neighborhood schools. If we want to see our schools continue their forward progress, then we need to be part of the solution. For too long, our Edgewater community has not truly owned our schools. It would be strange to load Anna into the car and drive by Jefferson on the way to a school in Lakewood or Wheat Ridge. And on top of that Jefferson is literally right around the corner from our house. As we live a more urban, walkable lifestyle I wonder if Anna will even want to drive.

In August, Anna will take that leap to junior high and cross Pierce Street to start her six year journey to graduate in the Class of 2023 as a Jefferson Saint. As a father, I couldn’t be prouder of who she is and who she will become as a result of attending Lumberg Elementary and Jefferson Junior/Senior High School.

Our neighborhood, our schools.

 

 

Adventures in Loving Our City

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As I was looking back over my blog posts, I realized that it was just over two years ago that we decided to step away from working at Mountair Christian Church and jump into Edgewater Collective full-time. This made me reflect on the last two years of loving my city in a full-time role. Here are some of my realizations from this work:

People are yearning for relationships

As we have taken part in block parties, holiday gatherings in our home and other events, it is amazing how many people are yearning for relationships. Even in a hyper-connected, online world, people are lonely. Last Christmas, we had our neighbors into our home for holiday dessert and fun trivia. An older gentleman on our block sat and told stories about our street from when his kids were young. It is amazing how community can form by just opening up your home or your front yard for people to come together and tell stories.

Community change starts in neighborhoods

When I started connecting in Edgewater, I had grand dreams of community transformation. The more time I spend investing in our city, the more I have realized that true change starts when neighbors begin to connect with each other. Even small things like connecting with an elderly neighbor and receiving their phone number in case on an emergency can make a big difference. Building relationships with a family on the block can play a role in them sending their kindergarten child to the local neighborhood school.

Cities need connectors

Edgewater Collective is an outlier in the nonprofit world. We don’t have any programs, but focus our work on being connectors and catalysts. Much of my work is spent connecting different organizations and community stakeholders to needs and assets in our community. My role is to empower citizen led initiatives in our city through the community newspaper that Edgewater Collective publishes, the Edgewater Echo. As a connector, my role is to make others look great and not to draw attention to the work that we do. This makes fundraising hard, but it is essential to our role and mission.

Leading an initiative like this takes faith

Though Edgewater Collective is not a faith-based organization, I am faith-motivated. Leading a nonprofit takes a lot of faith. Edgewater Collective is a shoestring operation that exists only by the generosity of partners who believe in our work. This role has taught me to have faith that God will provide, but still realizing that I have a role in telling the stories of what is happening in our community as a result of our work.

I love Edgewater

Our family lives, works and plays in an area that is less than a square mile called Edgewater. We love our city. I love the generational and racial diversity that exists in our city. I love the diversity of opinions that exist here. I love the history of Edgewater and hearing the stories of people who have lived here for years. Throughout the month of September I will be connecting with numerous Edgewater residents at block parties through the city. We have partnered with our local brewery to offer Joyride beer to the block parties along with information about community resources. I love connecting with residents in gatherings like this and hearing their stories. I truly believe that Edgewater can be a community where each person can thrive. If we can’t see community change in a small area like Edgewater, we won’t be able to see it at a state or country level.

If you would like to partner with us in this important work, I would love to connect with you. Send me an email at joel@edgewatercollective.org and I’ll treat you to coffee at our local coffee shop or a brew at Joyride. I would love to take you on a tour of our city and tell you some of the stories of Edgewater. It is through the generosity of people like you that we can continue to do this important work.

 

36 and Counting

Yesterday was my 36 birthday. I’m over halfway to 40 years old and now in a different demographic age segment. Goodbye to being lumped in the 18-35 group. As I grow older and see more white hairs creeping it, birthdays are becoming a time to reflect. This year I am thankful for many things.

Here are some of them:

  • I’m thankful for the stability of our family life. After moving four times in four years, we have found a place in Edgewater to deepen our roots. We took a leap of faith and God has provided.
  • I’m thankful for my marriage to Hillary and the life-giving nature of our relationship.
  • I’m thankful that we have found a church home in Mile High Vineyard and relationships with couples in the area to follow Christ together.
  • I’m thankful for our daughters Anna and Norah. It is exciting to see them grow and develop into caring and compassionate individuals.
  • I’m thankful for a job that allows me to devote my energy to the common good of my city. I love my city of less than one square mile and the relationships that are developing.

As I look to the 36th year of my life, here are some of my hopes:

  • I hope this year brings growth in my trust in the Lord and in his power to change my heart, mind and actions instead of in my own efforts.
  • I hope the Mets win the World Series, the Broncos win the Super Bowl and Jeff Gordon retires with a Sprint Cup trophy.
  • I hope to take a trip to Wales and Scotland with Hillary next summer.
  • I hope to stay out of the political battles in our school district and rally people to work together across political lines to help all kids in our area succeed.
  • I hope for a deepening of relationships with our neighbors on Otis Court. There is nothing better than sitting around a fire pit in our driveway connecting with our neighbors.

I’m excited for this next year even though it means I am over the halfway point to the big 40.

A Decade with Anna

Ten Years of Anna

On March 10, 2005 Anna Mae Newton entered our lives. I can still remember how slowly I drove home from the hospital with tiny, little Anna Beans buckled up in her car seat. Hillary and I had created a little person together and now we were responsible for her.

A decade later so much has changed. Our little Beans who was strapped in that car seat is now ten years old and starting to grow into a woman. Gone are the days when I could pick her up and toss her into the air. Tonight she will get her ears pierced as a sort of rite of passage into womanhood.

As Anna grows into a woman and goes through many different changes over the next decade, this is my prayer for her from the writer Ann Voskamp:

A prayer for a daughter

Father who breathed into this daughter…
I pray for this girl being formed into eternity….

May the wind always be in her hair
May the sky always be wide with hope above her
And may all the hills be an exhilaration
the trials but a trail,
all the stones but stairs to God.

God, clothe this girl in a gown of grace
Grace, the only dress that makes beautiful,
the style of Your spirit.

Nourish her on the comfort food of the Word,
Word, that makes her crave more of Christ,
have hunger pangs for Him.

Enclose her in communion with You
You, Love who makes her love, who folds her heart into a roof
that absorbs storms for souls,
that makes her tongue speak only words that make souls stronger.

May her vocation in this world simply be translation
Translating every enemy into esteemed guest
Translating every countenance into the face of Christ
Translating every burden into blessing

When it’s hard to be patient… make her willing to suffer
When it’s ridiculous to be thankful … make her see all is grace
When it’s radical to forgive … make her live the foundation of our faith
And when it’s time to work… make her a holy wonder.

May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter
May she be thread and mend brokenness and knit hearts
May she be dead to all ladders & never go higher , only lower, to the lonely, the least & the longing
Her led of the Spirit to lead many to the Cross
that leads to the tomb wildly empty.

Oh, and raise me, Lord, from the deadness of my own sins to love this beautiful girl like You do…

In the name of Christ who rose

and appeared first

to one of His daughters…

Amen

My Year Outside the Church

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2014 was my first full year working outside the church since I was 18 years old. It sounds crazy but for the past 16 years I have held some kind of job within a local church or Christian institution. That streak ended in 2014 when I transitioned to lead Edgewater Collective.

I grew up thinking the only way I could truly serve God was to be working in a church or overseas in missions. Working in a local church was a higher calling, or so I thought.

I went to Taylor University and chose the Christian Education major with dreams of becoming a lifetime youth pastor. After college I continued my education at Denver Seminary for a Master’s Degree in youth ministry to cement this decision to invest in the spiritual development of teenagers.

But after serving in four different churches, I felt God calling me away from the church. Though the nonprofit I started is not a faith-based organization, I knew God had prepared me for this role. I sold all my “church” books and jumped into this new career. I soon realized that many of the skills I learned inside the church prepared me to work in education advocacy and community building.

As I dove into learning about public education and building relationships with various community stakeholders, I soon realized that God has uniquely designed me for this role. I came alive in a way that I never experienced working in a church. I also noticed that though this work was outside the four walls of a church, it could still be a “sacred” role.

Our family has also thrived as “normal” church attenders. For the first time in our marriage, Hillary and I were able to pick where to attend church. We could enter relationships and community life without the expectations that come with being the pastor’s family. Hillary has found a role in prayer ministry that would not have come as the pastor’s wife. Our girls have experienced worship in a more charismatic setting and experienced a different kind of relationship with the Lord.

Now my experience is obviously not normative. There are pastors I know who were created to work in a church. But there are also pastors who continue to suffer away in their church leadership role because they can’t see themselves working outside the church. Sadly, they are missing the role that they were created for.

I’ve definitely found that there is no such thing as a sacred or secular job. Every job can be sacred if we view our work as a way of serving God and others. Each job in my journey was very important in helping me learn the skills I use today as I lead Edgewater Collective.

I’m excited for what 2015 has in store for our work and our family!

Looking Back with Gratitude

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A year ago today, I was packing up my office at Mountair Christian Church and stepping out in faith into the unknown. I felt God calling me out of pastoral ministry and into leading Edgewater Collective full-time. We left behind a regular paycheck to jump into fundraising for my salary and we jumped without a lot of committed pledges.

Now one year later, I am filled with gratitude for what this last year has brought our family and Edgewater Collective.

I am thankful for my various work experiences which prepared me to lead Edgewater Collective. I often wondered what God was up to over the last twelve years but it all makes sense now. All these varied experiences prepared me to lead a nonprofit organization.

I am thankful for the over 70 donors who have contributed to Edgewater Collective’s success this year. Without you I would not be able to devote my full-time energy to help kids succeed from cradle to career. Your generosity is making a big difference in our community.

I’m thankful to CityUnite for taking a chance on a guy with a dream for city transformation and investing in our success. Your grant has really sustained us this year and your support for me personally is amazing.

I am thankful for my amazing board members who help lead our organization and whose advice and feedback is priceless. You each bring important knowledge and expertise to our work and I am thankful for your investment in our work.

I am thankful for our Community Partners who have joined this collective impact work and continue to do great work in our community.

I am thankful for the teachers and staff who work in our local schools. The roadblocks to success that they help children overcome are huge yet they keep on pouring their hearts into students.

I am thankful for area leaders like Dave Runyon, Dan Thoemke, Jay Pathak and Jeff Johnson who have freely given me wisdom and insight on how to invest deeply in a community. And much more than that, they invested in me personally. I stand on your shoulders.

I am thankful for my wife Hillary who trusted me enough to let us jump into the unknown of leading a nonprofit. In her role as a paraprofessional at our local elementary school, Hillary offers great insight into the classroom and the needs of our schools. She is my perfect partner in this work.

And most of all, I am thankful to the Lord for walking alongside of us through this season. The Lord only knows how my faith has gone through peaks and valleys even on a hour by hour basis. But he has provided  for us in ways that I know he is there and he wants this work to succeed. I can tell you multiple stories of how checks came in at the perfect time so we could pay our bills and provide for the family.

As we transition into November and the Thanksgiving season, I am filled with gratitude when I think back over the last year and how so many of you have come alongside us in our work. And I’m filled with excitement for what will happen in our work in the greater Edgewater area and how children and families will transition from surviving to thriving.

THANK YOU!

What I Learned From Steve Jobs

From Apple.com

From Apple.com

Three years Steve Jobs and his imaginative leadership left this earth.

I never met Steve Jobs but I was privileged enough to work in an Apple Retail store for two and a half years while he was leading Apple. I started just after the launch of the first iPhone and left after the launch of the iPad. These were exciting years for Apple and for us as employees.

Those years at Apple Retail were more transformative for my life and leadership than my years at seminary.

Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from my time at Apple Retail:

  • Focus on a few things and do them well
  • Give fearless feedback often
  • Enrich lives, don’t just sell products
  • Infuse values into everything that is done and refer to them often
  • Hire for fit on the team, not for qualifications or knowledge

I still remember that day three years ago when I heard that Steve had passed away. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I wanted to go to the Apple Store where I used to work and mourn with my co-workers.

We mourn the passing of those whose life and actions impact our lives the most.

Thank you Steve for inspiring and challenging me to think different.

The Relevance of the Resurrection

The Garden Tomb - from Wikipedia

The Garden Tomb – from Wikipedia

As a pastor’s kid, I was immersed in Christianity from an early age. But only recently, I realized I was missing a very important part of the story.

I was missing the importance and relevance of the Resurrection.

Growing up in a religious culture, we each pick up narratives about who God is and how he interacts with the world. For better or for worse, some of these narratives are false or show just one side of the story.

Around Easter, I have tended to focus on Jesus’ death as an atonement for my sin, which it is. He took the punishment that I deserved. Too often though, if I focus on this true narrative, I view God as a judge who loves me when I obey and punishes me when I disobey.

But there is another part to the story that must be viewed in tandem with Jesus’s death. Today we celebrate it, yet for many years, I didn’t see the power in it.

In the context of Martha’s brother Lazarus dying, Jesus tells her,I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Then Jesus demonstrates his power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead.

Soon after Jesus himself dies and rises again to new life.

For too long I focused on Jesus’ death and missed the power and relevance of Jesus’ resurrection.

The narrative I missed was that Jesus’ resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit enables me to begin living life the way I was designed to live. This has amazing ramifications. It is no longer I that lives but Christ living in me. When God the Father sees me, he doesn’t see me with my sin, but he sees His Son Jesus in me. God the Father smiles when he sees me. I am his creation. We are all his creation. He takes pride in his design.

Our new church community at Mile High Vineyard puts a lot of weight on this piece of the narrative that Jesus is alive and living in us today. The Spirit that Jesus gives us speaks through believers in prayer. Prayer is no longer a one way conversation but a two way conversation where the Spirit engages with us and speaks truth.

And the Spirit enables us to join Jesus in rolling out his Kingdom that is breaking back into our current reality. We don’t just sit back and pray for Jesus to come quickly, we engage in Kingdom work through the Spirit’s power. This Kingdom fights injustice, brings equality, humbles pride, lifts the poor and restores our world’s original design.

Too often I’ve sat in church and wondered, “Is this all there is? Is this what Jesus died and rose again to create?” There seemed to be something missing, and I am beginning to realize that what I was missing was the Resurrection.

Jesus rose again to give us Life.

The Life we were created to live.

The Life that we can’t live on our own but only through the indwelling and filling of the Spirit.

Easter is about a death AND a resurrection AND a kingdom that is unfolding that we can participate in.

Why Do We Have to Go to Church?

This morning, as we were getting ready for church, our eight year old daughter blew up in frustration and yelled, “Why do we have to go to church?”

Instead of responding with a quick answer, I was actually glad she asked the question. I would rather have my daughters ask good questions  and learn to think for themselves.

After leaving a full-time church job a few months ago, our family hasn’t really had to attend church. Each Sunday we have a choice whether to attend or not. And our girls know that.

So why do we attend church? Even the author Donald Miller has written about his personal struggles with attending church.

This month we are focusing each week on one of our family values. This week we are focused on the value of faith and answering Anna’s question of why we need to go to church is definitely part of the conversation. Notice it is really about why we NEED to attend church instead of HAVE to attend.

So here is my attempt at how I would answer the question of why church attendance is important to our family. Read the rest of this entry

Jeffco Schools and the Search for Leadership

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I am a parent of two daughters in a Jefferson County elementary school. My wife is a paraprofessional at that school. I substitute teach in Jefferson County Schools on occasion. The nonprofit I lead trains and mobilizes reading tutors to work with K-3rd grade students who struggle in reading.

Though I am not a Jeffco graduate myself (Go Arapahoe Warriors!), I care deeply about Jeffco Schools and want to see all 85,000 children succeed in school and in life.

Since the election of three conservative Board of Education members in November and the early resignation of Superintendent Cindy Stevenson this weekend, things are starting to get interesting.

The divisive climate of politics has become local and it is very hard to stay in the middle. The camps are forming. Either you are supportive of the new board majority or you are not. You are with the unions or you are not.

The sad part is that many of us are in the middle. We don’t think charter schools are the magic antidote for education and we support our neighborhood schools.

But we also think that education is due for some reform. Any organization or company needs to remain on the cutting edge to innovate and keep ahead of a changing culture.

I also believe in education innovation when I look at our Edgewater schools. At our three Edgewater schools, over 90% of the children receive free or reduced lunch because of poverty in their families. Yet when you compare the test scores at these three schools with three schools in southwest Littleton where we used to live, you see a big achievement gap.

This is a moral wrong. Children growing up in poverty have every right to a great education. The achievement gap should not exist yet in reality it does.

We have some great teachers and school leaders here in Edgewater but we can do better. I believe that if we can rally our community around our schools and change the education paradigm, we could see the achievement gap bridged.

Continuing to do things the way we always have done it doesn’t cut it anywhere. My daughters’ friends deserve better. Don’t lower your expectations just because we are poor. Right now a Jefferson (our local high school) graduate is on the Colorado Supreme Court, another is a Congressman and yet another is the bodyguard for Peyton Manning. With a great education, imagine where the next Jefferson High graduate might end up.

So circling back to the events of the weekend, I am frustrated on many levels with what happened. What I am most frustrated with is that the focus is now away from the 85,000 kids in our district. Union members are spreading fear and rumors. The three board members are demonized and any change they bring up is automatically thrown out. And because this new majority is silent on their agenda, then people assume the worst.

Finding common ground is possible. I’ve seen it happen in Jeffco Schools in the last month. I am part of the Choice Enrollment Steering Committee and have seen people from different education philosophies work together for 85,000 kids in the district. We sit down and listen to each other without jumping to conclusions. We have built relationships and stay focused on the task that unites us.

To each of the current Jeffco Board of Education members, I implore you to lead and focus the district on the common good of 85,000 children. To the Board majority, build bridges and start to dialogue in public about your ideas for the district. Board President Ken Witt has already started to do this by appearing on KHOW on February 11 (listen here). To the unions in Jeffco, don’t fall to the level of spreading fear and speculation. To quote the wise Yoda, ““Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

What we need right now in Jefferson County Schools is a leader.

Someone to unite our community around the common good of 85,000 children with hopes and dreams.

At this point that leader needs to be one of you sitting on the Board of Education.

Ken Witt. Julie Williams. Lesley Dahlkemper. John Newkirk. Jill Fellman.

Which one of you will step up and lead?