Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 Christmas in Walnut in pictures

celebrating 2014 Christmas in Walnut in numbers

There are many celebration stories found in the numbers of this year's Christmas in Walnut!

*Orchard Hill Kids gave $960 that purchased 64 of the Action Bibles given to families yesterday at the Christmas Store.  Youth buying an exciting graphic-novel style Bible for other youth in our community...awesome!

*4 college students took on the wrapping of 400! Action Bibles to give as gifts to each family shopping....that's a lot of wrapping.  This team also secured $3,200 from business partners, as well as start a toy drive at Scratch Cupcakery for the Christmas Store.

*At the Craft workshop upstairs, 195 children made gifts and were allowed to experience the joy of giving them to their family members.    One mom began to cry as she saw the photo craft gift this year...her child's face imprinted on a glass vase with the glow of a candle inside.

*The 6 person prayer team gave the blessing of prayer to many shoppers yesterday.  So many shoppers stopped to be prayed for..a woman who recently moved here to support her brother who is testifying in a murder trial, a woman who recently lost her job, a person recently separated in her marriage,...

*2,333 gifts were donated to this year's Store.  I watched so many families help their little ones deposit toys they bought to the big wrapped box at church.  People generously gave finances to help fund the event yesterday.  Christmas in Walnut is witness to so many cheerful, sacrificial givers!

*100 dozen cookies and bars were lovingly made and packaged to share at Christmas in Walnut.

*490 people were served breakfast...and so many joy-filled servants were flipping pancakes, cooking sausage, pouring orange juice, and waiting tables.

*345 volunteers gave time and talents to the day.  This effort could not be done without the outstanding team leaders and volunteers who own their part in the day.  Amazing to see this in action!

*390 shopping families were given the opportunity to give as well.  By offering an amazing bargain price, these families were invited to choose and pay for the gifts they would buy for their own children this year.  Everyone has something to give, and we want to reduce the "us/them" and encourage the "we" as much as possible in our community.

*1 Great Redeemer came to earth to save us from our brokenness, from our hostility against God and one another.  He came to usher in His heavenly Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom of peace, hope, reconciliation, compassion, justice, a Kingdom of love.  We pray that Christmas in Walnut is just one small piece He uses to reweave and restore our community under His reign.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

the layers of Christmas in Walnut

We’ve already been layering up quite a bit for some weeks this winter.  Sweatshirts, coats, scarves, hats, mittens came out early in November here in the Midwest.  Christmas in Walnut has a bunch of layers too.  There are some layers regarding why we do it and what happens through it.

First layer:  Link Christian Community Development (formed from our partnership with Orchard Hill, Harvest, and Walnut Neighborhood) believes in listening to the community and learning about their felt needs.  One of the felt needs each year at Christmastime is that there are some who express a need for assistance to be able to give gifts to their family members.  We also have people in our community who want to give back and who want to share their resources to meet that need.  One layer of Christmas in Walnut is that it helps us to bring need and resource together in a way of helping that allows everybody to get in the game.

Another layer is that our partnership, which is based in Christian Community Development principles, looks for ways to move beyond charity to a development model.  We hope that one day, there is so much development going on with individuals and in community that parents will begin to say, "I don't need a ticket this year to the Christmas Store."  That's the dream.  Until that happens, though, we believe parents should have the opportunity to shop for their own children and pay something for the gifts (we sell gifts for $2 and $5...about 75% off retail price.)  We also believe those who shop at the store should be given an opportunity to volunteer in the day if they'd like.  Christmas in Walnut is meant to develop community and capacity ultimately so we might become a different kind of community moving forward. 

Another layer of Christmas in Walnut helps us teach the next generation about the blessing of giving.  I can tell you lots of stories here.  A few weeks ago, I watched our older generation spend a day preparing crafts so that on Saturday, children from our community can make, wrap, and give Christmas presents to their families and experience  the joy of giving.  I’ve been listening to how parents and grandparents have been taking their young ones shopping for the purpose of choosing a great toy and then learning to give that toy away.  I’ve seen how our teenagers have given over 300 toys toward the store.  And I’ve heard stories of sacrificial giving, as a college student gave a hundred dollar bill, and one family this year emailed to say that of the three gifts they usually give each child in their family, this year, the whole family decided that the children will receive two, and the third gift is being given to Christmas in Walnut.  

Another important layer of Christmas in Walnut is the chance for the people of Christ to be His light and to testify with our presence and our presents to the Good News of this Redeemer that we celebrate at Christmas.   As the Word became flesh in Jesus, we also are present in the flesh to be His love, His joy, His peace, His hope throughout the morning, in word and in deed. 

Another layer of Christmas in Walnut is that it helps to strengthen our relationships and partnerships. It’s so great to be in the neighborhood with neighbors, Harvest, Boys n’ Girls Club, First Presbyterian, House of Hope, and we’re grateful for our relationship with a couple of elementary schools, Cunningham and this year Irving.  We’re thankful that the work we’re doing in the neighborhood is supported by local businesses such as Visual Logic Toys R Us, Walgreens, Target, and many and others.  We believe Christmas in Walnut is just one way that we hope to continue to link arms to encourage one another and strengthen a neighborhood. 

And finally, I would be remiss if I did not directly mention the deepest layer of Christmas in Walnut. It's another felt need and it is rising up in the cry among millions of our brothers and sisters across our country and the world for justice.  It lies close to the heart of God and it painfully reminds us that things are not as things should be.  There have been –ism’s- racism, classism, sexism- that have kept us separate in this world and that keep us from knowing, and understanding, and loving each other.  Christmas in Walnut, maybe in a very small way, but a critical way, brings us together as people so that we might see the humanity in one another, so that we might recognize the image of God in every person that is present, so that we might stand side by side and care and share together for a morning.  And when we begin to do that, we become about a new ism- Grace-ism, born out of a God who extended His grace to us through His Son who was born, lived, died, and was raised again so that we might, through Jesus, extend His grace and blessing in a broken world.  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

living restoratively

My time in Chicago this past week was well spent.  Eight friends gathered around one of our CCDA sisters, Cheryl Miller, to learn from Cheryl about the critical transformation that takes place when CCDA components intersect with mediation skills and with restorative justice processes and practices.  Real, practical steps toward reconciliation take place when we actively listen, use neutral language, ask good questions, take responsibility, and create safe environments for honest sharing.  

Cheryl provided a handout from Howard Zehr, one of the founders and fathers of the restorative justice movement.  

10 ways to live restoratively by Howard Zehr

1.  Take relationships seriously, envisioning yourself in an interconnected web of people, institutions, and the environment.

2.  Try to be aware of the impact, potential as well as actual, of your actions on others and the environment.

3. When your actions negatively impact others, take responsibility by acknowledging and seeking to repair the harm- even when you could probably get away with avoiding or denying it.  

4.  Treat everyone respectfully, even those you don't expect to encounter again, even those you feel don't deserve it, even those who have harmed or offended you or others.

5.  Involve those affected by a decision, as much as possible, in the decision-making process.

6.  View the conflicts and harms in your life as opportunities.

7.  Listen, deeply and compassionately, to others, seeking to understand even if you don't agree with them.  (think about who you want to be in the latter situation rather than just being right.)

8.  Engage in dialogue with others, even when what  is being said is difficult, remaining open to learning from them and the encounter.  

9.  Be cautious about imposing your "truths" and views on other people and situations.

10.  Sensitively confront everyday injustices including sexism, racism, and classism.  

Friday, November 28, 2014

the language of shalom

I look forward to spending three days with Cheryl Miller next week in a training environment that seeks to help participants learn "the Language of Shalom".  I couldn't think of a better time to engage in this kind of training/learning.

 "The Language of Shalom is a unique communication process combining restorative justice principles, mediation practices, and biblical principles. It teaches people how to effectively address reconciliation and restoration so they can build healthier neighborhoods and communities.

The training offers insight and practical application of the facilitative dialogue process. It brings all stakeholders to the table to discuss conflict, issues or strategic planning. This process brings people together to learn how to understand each other better, build effective relationships, which are beneficial in any social and/or work environment, and help solve community problems." 

Learn a little about Cheryl through this inspirational story:  

"Galatians 6:2 NIV says, 'Carry each other's burdens.'  This language implies the act of holding.  When we listen to others, we should strive to 'hold' their story.  But be aware that holding the burdens of others can lead to strong emotions.  It is important to not allow fear to keep us from reaching out and touching others.  Galatians 6:2 also implies that bearing the burdens of the one who is hurting means going some distance with him or her. Some burdens are heavy and some stories are difficult to hold, but we must be willing."  From Miller's book, The Language of Shalom. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

today's lament, today's hope

In the wake of the Ferguson riots last night after the grand jury's decision not to indict the officer who shot Michael Brown...

In the wake of the millions of tweets and images posted to the web....

I lament this morning.

I lament that race was ever constructed to classify, stratify, divide human beings and has been used across the world on the side of evil throughout history to this day.

I lament for all of the individuals and families everywhere who have been victim to racial injustice.

I lament for the frustration and the anger that is boiling over into rage on the streets of Ferguson and on the streets across our country daily.

I lament the sneaky internalization of superiority and inferiority that racism works into all of our lives.

I lament that the violent protesting will be used to widen the gaps and narrow the road toward healing.

I lament that many will not lament.

I hope this morning.

I hope in Jesus Christ.

I hope in His Word.

I hope in His love.

I hope in His sacrifice.

I hope in His power.

I hope in His peace.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2)

I will look for signs of hope today.

I commit to being a sign of hope today.

Friday, November 21, 2014

what makes local mission so difficult?

(reposting this post from 2011, as this question came up again yesterday in a partnership meeting)

A team I sit on at church asked this question last week. Before I address the question from my personal perspective, I'll provide a brief context.

I'm writing this post from my home in Cedar Falls, IA. Our church recently had a team come back from their third trip to the Gorangosa Region of Mozambique where we partner with trusted leaders and friends with Food for the Hungry there. Members of the traveling team shared how they experienced so many of the development principles and practices that our church is learning about and committing to on this journey of walking with the poor. Mutual Relationships, Christ-centered evangelism and discipleship, Wholistic ministry, Empowerment, Indigenous Leadership Development, Next Generation Focus, Listening, Long-term commitment.

As we were discussing how these principles and practices are transferable in any context and culture, the question came up about why they seem so different and difficult in our own local context. I can't speak for others, but I can share what makes it difficult from my own life's experience.

Our family sponsors a little girl in Gorangosa, Mozambique, through Food for the Hungry. Her name is Maria, and we send about 8 letters back and forth in a given year. We talk about her, my daughter prays for Maria nightly, and our family hopes to visit her in 5 or 6 years when our twins are in high school. Every month, $32 is automatically withdrawn from my checking from Food from the Hungry for the children's program. Every year, our church has opportunities to pray for, learn about, and contribute in beautiful, concrete ways to our ongoing partnership work with FH in Mozambique, some 9,000 miles away. Though my lifestyle and daily choices do affect Maria and countless others across our oceans, God has used my own local context as the most powerful light to examine my life and illuminate His.

Every day, I wake up in my home and help shape my own community. I either live in a way that promotes positive transformation or a way that maintains or creates negative change. As a resident of the Cedar Valley, I am to be a responsible, contributing citizen. As a Christ-follower, I am called to be salt, light, and an co-laborer with Christ in the healing, restoring work He is doing here, especially as he advocates for the marginalized, oppressed, vulnerable, poor. Why is it so difficult then, when the call is so clear for me to be partnering with Jesus on mission locally in my own community?

1. The order of my life. The American Dream, materialism, financial and physical security, media, my relatives' lives around me, racialized society, education, name it, my culture has powerfully groomed me to live a life isolated from the socially vulnerable of our community. I have ordered my days and my life in neighborhoods, schools, jobs, churches, and activities that have kept me separate from people of other races, countries, backgrounds, and socio-economic classes. This order of my life, then, is one thing that has made it difficult because I haven't been aware, listened to, befriended, known, experienced,understood, and therefore, highly valued, people whose lives are very different from me in my local community.

2. Time. The order of my life has kept me busy within the demands of this order. There are many people I love who have needs right within my own relational circles of this order. My family has chosen a lifestyle that also requires time to manage home and property. We are involved in numerous good activities within the order that take our time. Yet, in my experience with those who are marginalized in our community, time in relationship is what is most needed. Empowering social networks are missing among many who are under-privileged in my community. Developing authentic relationships in Christian community, growing disciples, sharing life and gifts together for youth development, jobs, housing, recovery, and other elements of community transformation.. these are needed and require time and commitment. The order of my life causes many separate people and places to compete for the resource of my time, and that is difficult.

3. My needs, my nature. Two of the most basic human needs are belonging and security. It is also in my human nature to seek comfort and pleasure and to avoid suffering and pain. When I primarily seek belonging, security, comfort, and pleasure for myself in anything other than Christ (and our American culture offers me plenty of tempting idols), I will keep myself from many of the people and places in which Jesus locates himself and is calling me. It is difficult to battle these idols and addictions and to step out into a more narrow way, placing my security and identity fully in Christ.

4. Power and control. The systems of our society are structured in such a way that give me privilege, status, and access that others don't have. I didn't really believe this very deeply until within this last year of my life. The history and reality of racist systems in our country have influenced everything about the order of my life....where I choose to live, who I know, how I view and interact with people of color, how I view poverty and the poor, and with no real conscious intent, how I've lived to protect my power and control of a certain kind of lifestyle at the expense of others. Though awareness and repentance have been needed on my part, it is difficult to work for change in the systems that are the very scaffolding upon which I've built my life and are often as invisible to me as the air I breathe.

5. Re-ordering my life. Christ calls me to some re-ordering of my life, and that is difficult. It's difficult to go against the grain of our culture and to fight the status quo. Re-ordering creates a crisis of values, priorities, habits. Re-ordering threatens the familiar and comfortable life I've known, and even now, when I feel called and committed to making some moves in my life, re-ordering meets rejection and causes tension both in and around me.  

 I understand why CCDA's John Perkins has named relocation, redistribution, and reconciliation as the 3 most effective strategies for re-ordering. All three work to break the tight grip maintained by the difficulties I've named in this post. All work in such a way that allow Jesus to integrate our lives and to bring us together with people to restore our communities. Imagine if Christ's people were so sold out for reconciliation to God and one another through Jesus, that they intentionally and strategically began to relocate and redistribute their time, talents, and treasure in order to share Jesus and pursue a redeemed Kingdom community together with people they may have considered other for most of their lives?

I love this vision. But this way is fraught with difficulty. Along this really messy journey of my local life, I can easily find myself losing hope against giants. I can easily find myself in fits of judgment, discouragement, frustration, and impatience...aimed at myself and at others. I can easily find myself defaulting to the world's ideas for comfort, ease, security, belonging. Yet every time I find myself in these places, Jesus seems to drop me gifts and graces for the journey. About the time I want to run or escape, I sniff the sweet fragrance of Jesus along this path. I see the footprints of Christ and the early Church along this path in Scripture, and I'm encouraged to keep following in His way. And always, Jesus reminds me that the re-ordering of my outer life must be coupled with a continued re-ordering of my inner life through an abiding relationship with Him so that I will be able to face all the difficulties with strength and perseverance, but more importantly with His heart of love and grace.

I'd be interested in your thoughts about what might make local mission difficult for you in your own local life. Please share comments.