Tuesday, July 26, 2011

nothing like camp!

Why couldn't life be like summer camp?! Upon hearing reports from students coming home from Wildwood Hills Ranch Camp this summer, I sense the Kingdom of God they experienced while there.... Unconditional Love, Grace, Acceptance. Fun. Growth Challenges and Teamwork. Trust and Honesty. Friendship. Nature and Beauty. Creativity and Expression. Belonging and Serving and Purpose. The story of God through His Word, people, and experiences.

Jesus, you are so good through camp!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

take 3 minutes to fight hunger in Iowa

I'm proud of my friend, Jordan, for the work he's doing as he directs the Iowa Food Bank Association. At a public forum today, Jordan and colleagues spelled out the realities of hunger in Iowa, the organizations in place to help alleviate hunger, and ways that caring citizens can partner to help.

One way you (if you live in Iowa) can help right this minute is to click on Governor Brandstad's website and urge the governor to declare September as "Hunger Action Month" in Iowa. This will allow for greater awareness and education about the state of hunger in Iowa and the part we all can play to ensure that our neighbors' basic needs are being met. Take three minutes to do the following:

2. Click on "Contact" in the upper right corner.
3. Click on "Register an Opinion"
4. Fill out your name and address and leave a message. You can even copy and paste the following message:

This email is in support of the Iowa Food Bank Association and its request to declare September as "Hunger Action Month" for the state of Iowa. A month designated for hunger awareness, education, and action will help to reduce the number of Iowa families struggling against food insecurity and will promote the creation of a healthier, more secure community for all Iowans.

Thank you.

Hunger affects nearly 13% of Iowans. If you'd like to learn more, check out the Iowa Food Bank Association website here or our local food bank's website at northeastiowafoodbank.org.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What makes local mission so difficult?

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, ...you 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 big moves in my life, re-ordering meets rejection and causes tension in my most primary family relationships.

 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.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Sixteen years ago, I was a youth director at a church in East Waterloo. It was a white commuter church located in a neighborhood that was mixed race, but predominately African American. One of our church members was a woman who was white, who lived in East Waterloo, and who was passionate about racial reconciliation. She had started a non-profit organization aimed to bridge blacks and whites, and at various times, she'd come by my office to share thoughts and ideas with me. I distinctly remember trying hard to listen politely but being generally disinterested. I was basically predetermined to dismiss her and thought of her work as "her thing" that had little to do with me.

Four years ago I picked up the book Divided by Faith because I had some friends who were reading and talking about it. I skimmed through parts in it and called it good as I placed it back on my bookshelves and went on to refer it to people because I knew of the impact the book had had on others.

Six months ago, I went to a two and a half day "Undoing Racism" workshop. For some reason, that workshop was a new awakening for me in regards to systemic racism and my place in it. Helping pave the way for this readiness was the book discussion I was in over The New Jim Crow , the learning I had been doing within CCDA over the past four years, and most certainly, the interracial relationships that have been deepening in my life over the past four years.

I recently just finished critically reading Divided by Faith where I hung on almost every word as if this textbook-type piece of writing was a gripping pageturner. On vacation, I reread through Martin King Luther Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" with tears pouring down my face and something happening deeper in my bones.

All of this has me considering the readiness factor. We cannot predict when and how the Spirit of God will choose to move in our own spirit, awakening us to His truth, causing scales to fall from our eyes, challenging us to transformation, massaging convictions deeper into our beings.
Yet, though I cannot predict, I can prepare. I can continue to learn and listen in Scripture, in prayer, in reading, in relationship and experiences with people, and through mentors who are further along the journey. I can be open and expectant and responsive as the Spirit decides and directs movement in my life.

And though we cannot predict a timeline for God's movement in others, or even whom He will tap in the Spirit, we can continue to offer an environment, information, and experiences for others' journeys. And we can disciple people to learn and to listen to the active Spirit of God in all of our lives.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

We the people

I'm currently on a 18 day vacation to D.C. and various parts of Florida. Our family just spent 4 days sightseeing in Washington D.C. One thing our Midwestern kids have noticed is the racial and ethnic diversity of the city. Whether it was at our hotel in Alexandria, VA, where we were staying, the Metro trips into D.C., or our experiences in D.C., our children commented often about the mix of people they encountered. African American, Asian, Hispanic, White. Multiple languages being heard around us from everywhere around the globe.

This rich diversity has caused reflection, then, as I walked through the halls of history and learned more about the founding of our country, the history of slavery, the wars fought, the leadership and decisions made. We had an interesting tour of the U.S. Capitol, and as a part of it, we were able to sit in the gallery of the U.S. Senate Chamber. I looked down from the balcony at our senators as they wandered around the room during a vote. As I looked at this group of decision makers, it was quite a visual contrast to the mix of people we had been observing all around us in the community. It made me curious to find out the make up of our Congress. See below to see the composition of the 112th Congress.

Racial Composition
*Caucasians/Whites: 362 (83.22%)
*African Americans/Blacks: 42 (9.66%)
*Hispanics/Latinos: 24 (5.52%)
*Asians: 6 (1.38%)
*Native Americans: 1 (0.23%)

Racial Composition by Gender & Party
*Men: 314 (210 R - 104 D)
*Women: 48 (26 D - 22 R)
*African Americans
*Men: 29 (27 D - 2 R)
*Women: 13 (13 D - 0 R)
*Men: 17 (12 D - 5 R)
*Women: 7 (5 D - 2 R)
*Men: 2 (2 D - 0 R)
*Women: 4 (4 D - 0 R)
*Native Americans
*Men: 1 (1 R - 0 D)
*Women: 0