This year, in the middle of June, a cyst the size of a goose egg was discovered on my heart. It’s called a pericardial cyst. Tomorrow, I am undergoing surgery to have it removed. More on this in a bit, but first let me tell you about a vision that has been in my heart since way before the discovery of the cyst.
Everything that flows, flows from the heart. The heart is located in the center, the middle. It is the zone 0. It is the heart which pumps and returns all the blood flowing through the veins and arteries to the body, as rivers deliver water to the land. Without the heart, nothing flows. The heart both receives and gives. From it flow many things.
In the ancient world, up to and through pre-modern times, the heart was believed to be the seat of physical vitality. More than just the chief organ, it was also the center of the intellectual, spiritual and volitional life. It was the inner room of the mind’s eye, the center of the feelings, the passions and the will. The heart as a symbol of our core life is a symbol that is present in many ancient traditions in both the east and the west.
The heart is the place from which everything flows, the throne room where God resides, the heart, the center. From the garden of Eden with the Tree of Life in the center, to the garden city with the River of Life found in Revelation 21, all abundance, healing and restoration come from the middle, the heart, the source of life. Hear the words of Jesus quoted in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
However, things are not as they should be. Our world, our country, my city (Omaha), is not the heavenly city we find in the last chapters of the Bible. Our place is far from being a habitation where God’s presence reigns, in place and in the hearts of its people. Please read the previous posted blog "Whole City" to understand more of the problems our city faces. The kingdom of God, the heavenly city, is a place where the air is clean, rivers flow pure, and abundance flows both in healing food and restored relationship.
Instead, we live in a place of polluted land, polluted water, polluted air, and polluted people. The problems are many, the problems are complex, but the solution is simple. In order to heal our land and its people we must begin at the heart, at the center, the only place from where abundance and wholeness flow. So then, if abundance flows from the heart, I have a question: Where is the heart of the United States? Do you remember the Counting Crows song chorus about the heart of America?
“Omaha, somewhere in middle America,
get right to the heart that matters,
It’s the heart that matters more…”
Omaha is the heart of our great country. If anything is ever going to change and heal our great nation, it must start in the heartland, in Omaha.
In 2015 Omaha ranked as the best place to raise a family in the U.S. However, it is a place where the heart of the city is one of the poorest places in our country. Omaha’s middle, the inner city, it’s zone 0, has some of the highest rates of STDs, fatherless homes, violent crimes, abandoned and decaying houses, and not to mention, it is a food desert. It is a place of great scarcity waiting to birth new life and sprout seed. If a kingdom of God reality, a city flowing in abundance from the center outwards, is ever to become a reality it must start here.
This is the vision that has been alive in my heart. If I ever want to see our land and our city restored, the best place to begin is with myself, the place where I live, my own home, my own zone 0. Our vision and hope is that our farm, our home, would become a model for what is possible in our land and in our city, a place flowing in abundance of food, fuel, fiber, medicines, and healing relationships.
In order to fully pursue this vision, I resigned from my position as missions pastor at one of the largest churches in our city in June. Pursuing this vision meant using our home as a place to welcome and equip others, creating a replicable model for what could be in our city and our land, a place where people can connect to God, to creation, and to one another. A place to “come and see, go and do”.
But then something else happened. Now, before I tell you what happened, I do want to say that this summer was amazing, full of learning experiences, hospitality, food, farming, and many new relationships. Since May we have served over 1,500 meals and have welcomed hundreds of people on our farm and into our home. It was a beautiful season full of new life, yet also, decay.
The truth is that in June, I set out with great vision, but I was also full of anger and pride. I knew the way. I saw the light. I was going to make it happen. I ran with vigor. I put my hope in people. And then with time I saw relationships break. I saw too many animals die. So much has been broken and is still breaking; we have lost much. Our home is falling apart, bathrooms, decks, appliances. Our zone 0, our heart is in decay and in need of much rebuilding. I envisioned a dream for our farm and our home far beyond my capacity to realize.
But the problem is showing itself to be even deeper in me. In the middle of June, I was diagnosed with a pericardial cyst on my heart. You would think I would have slowed down and taken care of myself, but instead, I pushed harder. From May through the end of July, I was working outside 12-17 hours per day, 6 days a week, and at least 5-8 hours of the 7th day. I did not stop. At the end of July, right about the time of the end of our farm-hosted Keipos internship, I threw out my back, herniating a lower disk. It slowed me down a lot, but I kept on going. And then my back slowed me down even more, and then a lot more. It is now November and I am still in pain. I am not able to do the physical work that needs to be done. Throwing out my back took away my pride. It took away my ability to accomplish and to build. It took away my ability to keep up with the demands of our lifestyle and to provide for my family. It took away my strength. It has humbled me and continues to expose to me my weaknesses and faults. It has broken more than my body; it has broken my mind, my will, my passion, my drive.
So what about that cyst? I saw our home, our farm, as the heart, the place where restoration and healing would begin. I hoped for it to be a place that would become a ripple, a model for our city, our country and our world. What this season has taught me is that the problem that I see in the world is the same problem that is inside of me. I am the problem. I am a hypocrite who cries for a clean temple, all the while treating my inner temple so poorly. To me the cyst on my heart has represented the sin that is in my own life. My insides hurt. I feel discomfort, pressure and pain in my middle. Restoration is needed in me.
A pericardial cyst affects 1 in 100,000 people. Every person is born with a layer, a sack around the heart called the pericardium. It is kind of like a foreskin around the heart. Fluid can enter the sack and form a cyst. This Thursday morning, the foreskin of my heart will be removed from my breast area, my zone 0, my center. You see, the problem is not our land, our country, our city. The problem is in me. The problem is attached to my heart, a weight that I carry inside of me, a weight that will be removed very soon.
Psa. 51: Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil din your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in aright sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.