The Hunter

by Bob Lupton on

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I like guns. They have always fascinated me, ever since I was in grade school.  With my small arsenal, I loved both target practice and hunting small game. When I got drafted during the Vietnam war, my favorite part of basic training was weapons proficiency. I easily scored “expert” with the rifle. But the real thrill was the more exotic weapons – machine guns, rocket launchers, hand grenades, even the big howitzer cannons. I loved it! I even got assigned to assist other GI’s who required additional training to pass their firearms tests.   

But no adrenaline rush from practicing could match the one I felt using these weapons in live combat. I was assigned to a helicopter unit in Vietnam; most of the action I saw was from tree-top level and above. Thankfully, I was spared much of the bloody face-to-face conflict that other troops encountered. I think for that reason I came home largely free from the emotional scars and tormenting memories that many of my fellow veterans endured.

Still, in Vietnam I started to question my fascination with weapons and the taking of life – any life, animal or human. My justifications didn’t add up. Hunting to supply meat to feed my family? My family didn’t even like the taste of wild game. No, it was not feeding the family that justified the hunt. It was the kill that gave me the rush. Was a decision in Washington declaring a people “the enemy” sufficient justification to hunt down and kill humans? Just doing my duty, I told myself. Then why did I volunteer for combat missions?   Patriotism? No, I enjoyed the hunt.

Part of me loves life, enjoys nature, marvels at creation. A big part of me, really. I so admire saints like Francis of Assisi who seemed at peace with creation and never hurt so much as a fly. When I see pictures of birds eating out of Francis’ hand, I wonder if perhaps it illustrates the unity with nature God intended for earth. But then I observe Gigi, my neighbor’s cat, stealthily slinking into my yard, crouching like a leopard under the bushes near my bird feeder, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting sparrow or chipmunk. Violence is somehow integrally woven into the cycle of life.     

I wish it were different. If I listen very carefully, I hear something deep within my soul grieving when I witness suffering or death. A baby robin that has fallen out of the nest, a child enduring chemo treatments, a victim of a high school shooting, a family whose house has been destroyed by a raging forest fire. It was the wounded spirit of fatherless boys in the inner-city that touched my heart and drew me into a ministry that would become my life’s calling.

How can two, diametrically opposed instincts reside within the same person? It’s like trying to explain how life and death can co-exist within the same soul. Eventually, I have resigned myself to accept the inner tension as a reality of the human condition.

So I am left to face life with these rival forces contending within me. I live with the knowledge that I am capable of doing great acts of love as well as dreadful harm. It’s evidently how I was created. I’m just like Gigi the cat, one moment purring and nuzzling and the next stalking innocent prey.  A big difference between Gigi and I, of course, is that I can choose which instinct to nurture. I can channel my hurtful inclinations (like my desire for conquest, control, self-centeredness) into life-giving behaviors (like compassion, affirmation, encouragement). I have choices. And when I listen carefully to a quiet voice deep within my soul, I can usually discern which choices are the right ones.

The following prayer expresses the heart-cry of an aging person whose sense of identity is undergoing a metamorphosis – a conflicted person who longs to find purpose and meaning somewhere other than in the next achievement, the next hunt. I have made this prayer my own.     

Lord, you are there for me

As you have always been.

Let me seek you out, let me find you.

Or rather, let me be found by you.

In my declining years, as my energy wanes

and my visions no longer compel me,  

let me not center my life just on myself,

but instead find my true self in finding you,

in the joy of service and in regard for others,

in the love of what is true and good and kind.

Lord of my life, sustain me.  Guide me. (author unknown)

-Bob Lupton




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What's The Biggest Change in 15 Years?

by FCS on

by Katie Delp

Early in my ministry career, I heard a veteran urban pastor say, “If you don’t have fifteen years to give to a neighborhood, don’t even start.” My 23-year old self couldn’t hardly wrap my mind around that statement, yet is resonated with me.

This month marks 15 years of living on Atlanta’s south side for me, and I’ve been reflecting on my time in South Atlanta. Most of the people I started this journey with have since moved on. And there are others who have joined in the good work over the years. My husband and I often joke that we are either committed or crazy for having stayed so long. I think it’s a bit of both.

When people learn how long I’ve lived in the neighborhood, they often ask, “How has the neighborhood changed since you started?” It’s easy to focus on the strides of our programs and ministries over the year. I can point them to the 120 homes constructed in our neighborhood. I can give them tours of the businesses we’ve started. Or I can introduce them to dozens of residents who choose to live an intentional life as neighbors in South Atlanta. While we are proud of the hard work transforming our community, the changes I’ve witnessed have been more than programmatic.

I met Joel and Devron when they were about 7 years old. Both where the youngest sons of friends who were living as intentional neighbors. I worked with, worshiped with, and spent hours upon hours with their families.

Joel and Devron both attended the after-school program we led in the early years of our work. I’ve had the privilege of watching both of these young men grow up in our summer camps, after-school programs, and youth groups. They have both worked at Community Grounds, and now they are both thriving college students.

My 8-year old son, Sam, recently attended our neighborhood youth group for the first time. He was thrilled to finally be old enough to attend with other kids on our block. Sam came home all smiles with stories of rowdy group games and youthful Bible study. He told me right away that Joel was there, leading the group.

Last month, Devron sat in my office, sharing his heart to lead our summer camp programs. We strategized together ways for him to take on more leadership of this program that impacted him as a child. I know he will be great because Devron is my own first text message when I need a babysitter. My kids absolutely adore him. (Their affection is only partially explained by his willingness to play video games for much longer than me.)

So what is the biggest change in my fifteen years of ministry? The change is that the kids I once led are now leading my kids. Those sweet 8-year old boys of fifteen years ago are now role models for my 8-year old. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

Listening to that veteran pastor, I had no idea what a 15 year commitment entailed. And walking alongside one neighborhood for over a decade hasn’t been without its challenges. But there is nothing more encouraging than the gift of watching a new generation take the lead. Years of time spent tutoring math, dreaming of a grocery store, and laughing around the table at church potlucks has blossomed into a beautiful present.

And I am glad I am here to see it.

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