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.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

the loss of turtle island

Oh, how I wish I could go back a few days and invite many of my friends into an experience I had last night at the Mennonite Church in town!  Erica Littlewolf and Karin Kaufman Wall, both with the Mennonite Central Committee Central States (MCCCS), facilitated an interactive opportunity called "The Loss of Turtle Island" to explore the historic relationship between Europeans and the Indigenous nations who inhabit the land we now call the United States.  It was such an important exercise.

During the first hour, we stepped as First Peoples onto blankets that represented the land.  We listened as a timeline of policies, stories, and historical accounts were read that described the sentiments and actions that led to land domination and colonization by the Europeans.  Blankets were removed under us as the experience progressed.  Participants holding a variety of cards were asked to sit down at various times to represent the Native people who died from Small Pox, who lost their lives along the Trail of Tears, etc.. In the end, only four people remained huddled on a few blankets that were left in the middle of the room.

The experience was disturbing and sobering as we listened to...

-a short account of the millions of thriving First Peoples before the arrival of Columbus.

-a progression of events that led to the extermination of so many First Peoples, including the spread of disease, even the intentional spread of Small Pox.

-Troubling accounts that described how not only was the land that Native Americans lived on not recognized as theirs, but the Native American was not recognized as a person, a human.  Not until Standing Bear, a Ponca Native, who was arrested and detained for no reason, was there a legal battle to determine whether or not a Native was a human being.

As the trial drew to a close, Judge Dundy announced that Chief Standing Bear would be allowed to make a speech in his own behalf. Raising his right hand, Standing Bear proceeded to speak. Among his words were, "That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain," said Standing Bear. "The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man."[8]
On May 12, 1879, Judge Elmer S. Dundy ruled that "an Indian is a person" within the meaning of habeas corpus. He stated that the federal government had failed to show a basis under law for the Poncas' arrest and captivity.[9]
It was a landmark case, recognizing that an Indian is a “person” under the law and entitled to its rights and protection. “The right of expatriation is a natural, inherent and inalienable right and extends to the Indian as well as to the more fortunate white race,” the judge concluded. (source: Standing Bear-Wikipedia)  

-Troubling all the more was the movement in the late 1800's and early 1900's to "civilize and Christianize" the Native Americans by taking their children away to boarding schools.  This was done to strip them from their culture and assimilate them into the Euro-American culture.  Colonel Richard H. Pratt, the founder of one of these boarding schools, quoted, "Kill the Indian, save the man." 

The second hour of this experience was a critical debrief in the circle of the approximate twenty-five people present.  As we shared around the circle, I heard white people describe the anger, embarrassment, shame, sadness they felt.  I listened to people share new awareness of a history they did not get in public school.  I listened to people talk about how we do not consider our interconnectedness and how our lives and choices impact the lives of others in our world.  I personally thought about how internalized systemic oppression is...both for the oppressed and the oppressor, and how Manifest Destiny still lives deep within to this day.  I think I was most troubled by the actions that were done in the name of Christ, and I also thought about the patterns we tend to repeat and repeat and repeat through history.  Mostly, I wondered what we're doing today (or not doing) that we currently think is okay but is in reality, an atrocity and a continual perpetuation of injustice.  

Another question during the debrief was "How are you connected to this experience or events?"  As I listened around the circle, my connection to this experience was clear.  First, I am connected because I benefit from this history.  I was born on the side of privilege from these unjust actions to take land from people.  Second, I realized again that we can never grow forward into new creation without learning from our history, lamenting, and repenting from these patterns.  I know that I need to keep listening and learning, and I now have the responsibility to invite others into this journey with me.

With that said, Erica and Karin both shared a book that they  recommended I read as a next step.  It's called The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (written by Thomas King).  I already placed my order.   Want to join me?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

why Christmas in Walnut?

In under a month, we will host the fifth annual Christmas in Walnut at Harvest Vineyard and the Boys n' Girls Club located in the Walnut Neighborhood of Waterloo. This event includes a community breakfast at Harvest Vineyard, a craft workshop for elementary age children whose parents are shopping downstairs at the Boys n' Girls Club, and a Christmas Store on the gym floor of the Boys n' Girls Club that is set up with new toys on sale for either $2 or $5.  

Four hundred invited parents will shop for their own children at the Christmas Store and will be able to purchase and place the gifts under their Christmas tree themselves.

Why do we do Christmas in Walnut?  What really happens through this half day event?

1.  Community members voice a felt need for Christmas assistance every single year in the Cedar Valley.  People with financial resources feel especially benevolent over the holidays and often want to bless others.  Why not create an event that allows the two to come together in a way that will help us fellowship, participate together, serve side by side in the spirit of Christ and Christmas?

2.  Christmas in Walnut puts Christmas giving back in the hands of the parent.  It allows parents to choose and purchase gifts for their own children and to put them under the tree themselves rather than being given gifts from a stranger.  This affirms dignity.  Last year, several shoppers were also volunteers at the event.  We are building community and capacity through this opportunity.  

3.  Christmas in Walnut helps bonds of partnership grow.  Harvest Vineyard, Orchard Hill Church, the Boys n' Girls Club, Cunningham Elementary, House of Hope, and this year, Irving Elementary and First Presbyterian join us. We are working to strengthen the relational fabric in and around the Walnut Neighborhood. This event helps us to collaborate and do just that.

These are just a few reasons of many in the layers of how God works through Christmas in Walnut.  I will spend more time in future posts unpacking more of the WHY!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

youth ministry meets business

Try Pie is teaching us so much about the benefits of mixing youth ministry with business! The young women of Try Pie are:

-learning to make a great product.  The pies are getting excellent reviews!
-learning about one another and building bridges.  There's a lot of great time to talk while rolling out pie dough and making pie.  We have Try Pie teens from Waterloo and Cedar Falls who go to three different high schools and three different churches .  
-growing in community.  Working together helps us to build friendships among the students and the adults involved.
-learning about our faith.  Try Pie is intentional about exploring what God's Word says to us and the invitation Jesus issues to each of us to follow Him.  
-learning about financial stewardship.  Try Pie teens are paid $8 an hour and are engaged in conversations and practice of how we give, save, and spend money.  
-learning job skills and entrepreneurialism first-hand.  Try Pie teens are experiencing what good customer service looks like, helping to determine marketing strategies, and have had key roles in the start up of a social enterprise. 

Check out our facebook page at

Friday, November 7, 2014

closing the distance

I spent some hours this week watching and listening to Leadership Network's  "The Nines" while I did some work around home and office.

I want to cheer the Leadership Network for taking on topics such as "Civility in Conversation", "Changing Sexual Norms", "Immigration", and "Social Justice".   Evangelicals should be growing in a sense of urgency to engage these conversations with intention, education, humility.

I want to encourage the Leadership Network to keep diversifying in their leadership community. Though there were some unique voices close to the people most addressed in the topics, it was still a pretty homogeneous collective that reflected distance and disconnect.

A lot of times, I notice that people like myself (and including myself) spend a great deal of time in huddles talking about people and topics, searching Scripture, reading books, strategizing, and organizing programs, projects, events, but all the while we maintain an order that keeps us distant from the very folks we talk about.

Sometimes we seem to think that we only need the Word of God for authority, but even the Word of God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.  Yes, we continue to stand on the Word of God, but if we are honestly doing that, then we should also find ourselves standing with people in our community.

At the very least, we need to find and listen to voices and stories of those closest and most affected by the topics we discuss.

Keep going, Leadership Network, and keep fighting for a diverse demographic within your network.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Willard Wednesdays

I saw a friend in church on Sunday who mentioned to me that she was also a fan of Dallas Willard and was glad that I was referring to him on the blog.  This did two things for me...

-helped me realize there are a few eyes who actually find this blog and read it!   and...

-reminded me that I often stink at consistency!  Several weeks ago I posted that I was going to make Wednesday's "Willard Wednesdays" due to the fact that Dallas Willard is truly a gentle giant in the faith and a brilliant teacher on a life lived in the Kingdom of God.  I think I wrote a few weeks of posts and then got distracted and neglectful.  

So, thanks for the encouragement, M.A-L!  I'm back in!  

“[Jesus] matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weaknesses he gives us strength and and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity." (Dallas Willard in Ruthless Trust - Brennan Manning)” 
“Individually the disciple and friend of Jesus who has learned to work shoulder to shoulder with his or her Lord stands in this world as a point of contact between heaven and earth, a kind of Jacob’s ladder by which the angels of God may ascend from and descend into human life. Thus the disciple stands as an envoy or a receiver by which the kingdom of God is conveyed into every quarter of human affairs.” 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

super zips and the growing distance between the haves and have not's

A fascinating article and further evidence for the need for mixed-income housing developments!

Youth Art Team students are in the middle of a four week session in which they are designing the team's own website.  We're thankful for our partners at Visual Logic who are helping us this session!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

seeing and hearing systemic racism

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I share this post because it is difficult, but critical,  for a person like me to see racism at a systemic level.

Usually, we (white, middle/upper middle class folk) tend to only be able to think about racism individualistically, as a one-on-one prejudice, and we're not able to see very far beneath the surface.

In many shootings of black men over the past few years, I've heard people who've grown up like me justify the shootings by saying things like, "Well, the victim was a thug." "He deserved it because he was committing a crime."  We don't see systemic patterns in play.

In my opinion, the video above is very strong at helping us see and hear systemic racism at work. None of the common attempted justifications can be used to shift the focus away from recognizing systemic evil.

Why did the officer react with such fear and panic when a black man reached into his vehicle?  That's a sign of the system.

Why did the black man, after being shot for no reason, apologize, raise his hands, speak politely with the officer in an attempt to save his own life?  That's a sign of the system.

Why do situations like this happen, repeatedly, across our nation?  That's the system.

Notice the pain felt by Levar Jones as he puts his hands over his face during the interview and shares that he does not want to see the video of the shooting.  This deep pain is felt throughout our African-American community.  May this pain reach all of our hearts and move us to create a new way forward.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

on presence

Alice spoke so beautifully about incarnational ministry, about seeing people, about the value of relationships.  In the midst of her message, there's a powerful five minute video of a friendship that has bloomed between a small group at church and a resident of Walnut Neighborhood.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

taste and travel

We had a great morning in the neighborhood on Saturday.  Guests moved from Harvest Vineyard to three different homes in the neighborhood to hear about God's work with our Haitian partners, our Food for the Hungry partner in Mozambique, and our relationship right in the Walnut Neighborhood.   

Groups formed and traveled to three different homes to hear about how God works through Christ-centered, wholistic, relational development.

Each home offered a cuisine consistent to the culture.  Judy Marshall cooked up some amazing collard greens with smoked turkey.  

The group ended their travel with a potluck at Harvest featuring foods that everyone brought from their own ethnic heritage.  It's good to remember that each of us came from somewhere with ancestors that likely immigrated from another country to settle here in America.  

We are so grateful for our partners!  
Front left to right:  JeanJean and Kristie Mompremier (UCI in Haiti), Halkeno Tura (Food for the Hungry, Mozambique, and Judy Marshall (Harvest Vineyard in Waterloo)
Back left to right:  Kris Hoskinson, Laura Hoy (Orchard Hill Church)  

Friday, October 3, 2014

ccda offers the red pill

In the movie, "The Matrix", Morpheus offers Neo the choice between two pills:

"You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

After reflecting more on the CCDA conference, I feel as if Christian Community Development Association offers people like me the red pill.  

The conference "awakens" me to some deep realities that had not been much a part of my conscious thought for a great deal of my life; a new lens on the powers and principalities at play in our world, a closer look at the operating system of the world.  

With a closer look at the ways of our world, this "red pill" also opens my eyes to the alternate reality and invitation into the Kingdom of God like nothing else.  It invites me to the cross where I die to what I previously thought was life, and it compels me to join the Resistance, the family of Jesus followers, who manifest freedom and real life found in Him via the love found at the cross and the power found in His resurrection.  

I feel braver coming away from this year's CCDA conference; more willing to die to myself and this world in order to be an ambassador of the Kingdom.  This invitation is so much bigger and more compelling than we tend to make the Christian life in our comfortable places.  It doesn't dismiss my need to better learn to love the people right around family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors.  Nor does it dismiss my need to continue on the journey of personal holiness and character development.  But it does invite me into something much larger than myself.  A Kingdom that is advancing against the darkness.  A Kingdom found in the reconciling community of faith-filled followers of Jesus who change the world through living out the Kingdom values of love and justice in the fight against the darkness.  Sign me up.

"You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

How about you?  Blue pill or Red pill?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

ccda day three: engaging CCDA in a LGBTQ conversation

I joined eighteen people for a two and a half hour conversation today about the intersection of Jesus's Church and homosexuality.  Guidelines and boundaries were set for the dialogue, and we had a tremendous facilitator who interjected gracefully, but also firmly, if anyone dominated the conversation or said something disrespectful.

As we introduced ourselves, we could see that people were bringing strong emotions and convictions, painful experiences, questions, and fragile relationships into the conversation.  There were people with conservative views and liberal views, others who were gay, some who had family members and good friends who were gay, one whose roommate had come out as gay and then killed herself not long after.   

Two takeaways for me from this experience:

- It was probably the most respectful listening community I had ever been a part of on such a divisive issue.  No matter one's beliefs and convictions, there were a lot of voices really being heard well around that table.  I thought about how these kind of dialogues are needed in our communities over the tough issues.  It's a sad day when social media wins out over people giving the gift and respect of listening well to one another in the company of one another.  Even when there is a lot of internal wrestling and angst going on, we need to turn toward the angst to pray, read, ask questions, learn, and listen.  This diverse community of believers around the table who offered a breadth of experiences and sharing with one another offered a picture of some hope to me.

-The group agreed that the differing views in the Church were not likely going to come under some unified voice in the future.  With that said, we did begin to ask one another, "How can we find common ground?"  "How can we move toward love and reconciliation in the midst of disagreement?"  "How can we hold Jesus as center, love one another, and show genuine care for the LGBTQ community despite other differences in regard to this issue?"  

I left the conversation both very pensive and very grateful for the opportunity to sit with this group of folks.  Often in situations of listening and reflecting in the hard places, God does a great deal of growing in me.  I welcome His Spirit's work in my life.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

ccda day two debrief

We were able to gather our whole group last night for a brief time of sharing about our experience at the conference so far.  Everyone has much to bring to the conversation, and everyone is taking much in from others as we listen well to such a great spectrum of voices here in Raleigh!  

ccda day two: on progress toward reconciliation

Curtiss De Young spoke at last night's plenary session.  De Young spoke about the first century church when the dominant Roman Christians entered the homes of the Jewish Christians.  They joined the faith community and became marginalized.  People lost family and friends.  They left power and privilege at the door.  The ethnic minority, the oppressed folks were the church leaders. The dominant culture gave up status and joined the community.

De Young shared his narrative of growing up "very white in a very white context" and talked about the turning point in his life when he began to attend and later to preach at an all black church in Harlem in the 80's.   He challenged those who were white in the room to learn from people in struggle.  To be trained.  To come under the submission and leadership of someone of color.  To go and stand with those who are not in privilege and power.

"If we are going to do the work of reconciliation, we need to experience mentorship from the marginalized."

Marshall Hatch also spoke last night.  He talked about why race still matters in America.

"At the heart of the Gospel is Christ the King and the interest of poor is central.  And you can't talk about poverty without talking about race in America."

He urged us to live these three principles..

1.  Put the Kingdom of God first.

2.  Repent from racism with fruit that demonstrates repentance.  "Repentance is never a word you say, it's a life to be demonstrated."

3.  We must pair evangelism and activism together.

ccda day two: action tank

I joined a three hour action tank today for the purpose of "developing processes and steps for implementing conversations on race in our local communities and in CCDA".

With eleven of us in the room, we spent time 1. setting up the space for dialogue  2.  describing the questions and tensions that caused us to enter this conversation  3.  considering what's needed to work toward forward movement in our communities.

I appreciated the comment of one gentleman in the room who responded to another participant's suggestion that one of our points of covenant for the conversation should be to create safety for dialogue.  This gentleman suggested that we can't assure safety with such a topic, and he suggested that instead of "safe space", could we have "courageous space"?   I liked this a lot.

We presented the following questions and tension spots that need addressing in the dialogue:

1.  Why do we use the term "race" rather than ethnic identity?

2.  The absence of the need for indigenous voice.

3.  Working with white organizations who are serving people of color.

4.  How do we break down the power dynamic?

5.  How can we challenge those in privilege to accept leadership from those without?

6.  Where is the space for the immigrant voice in this conversation?

7.  How do we present this conversation with two realities...the spiritual and the structural/societal?

8.  How do stand with those in struggle and confront the privilege/power?

9.  The glamorization of relocation and categorizing calling.

10.  People of color relocating/returning back to their communities.

11.  How can we talk about privilege without trying to gain power?

12.  What is the role of racism in our political/economic structure?

13.  How do we bring Micah 6:8 into all perspectives not just as a conversation.

14.  The Church identifying racialized sin.

15.  What are our theological frameworks for this conversation?

Three hours went quickly.  We didn't solve these fifteen tension points, but I did so recognize my continued need to sit at the feet of people whose life experiences are much different than mine, who continue to educate me about the sin of racism, the effects of racialized sin, and the work ahead toward racial equity, reconciliation, access, voice, power for those who have been pushed down and locked out in our society.

ccda day two: on prosperity gospel

Yesterday morning, a tremendous panel addressed the conference's theme "Flourish" in the context of how such a word/idea could be misunderstood as prosperity theology.

Dr. Kate Bowler, author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel gave us a brief look at the origination and nature of the prosperity gospel.

Dr. Luis Carlo, Vince Bantu, and Dr. Terry LeBlanc all weighed in on questions asked by the panel facilitator, Chanequa Walker-Barnes.  I didn't take many notes but am buying the DVD of this session...such an important dialogue to share with some of my friends back home.

A few quotes I did randomly commit to the notebook:

"When the church becomes the church of the empire, we lose our way.  The Church has lost her identity.  we identify with the wrong thing."

"If you want to be prosperous, someone else is going to pay the bill for it."

"We are part of the sin we're preaching against."

"Who are the exiles?  We are.  Who are the oppressors?  We are."

"Not 'we are' because 'I am', but 'I am' because 'we are'."

John Perkins Bible Study #1

John M. Perkins and Wayne "Coach" Gordon shared from the stage yesterday morning about the centrality of God's Word and about being born again into the family of God.

Perkins talked about how we cannot separate faith and works.  He talked about the dichotomy that came about when we preached only to save people's souls and left their bodies behind.  This lean on proclamation without demonstration accommodated racism, injustice, allowed people to live in poverty, addressed the soul of a person and not the "whole" of a person.

On the other end of spectrum, it's good to remember that good works will not save us.  It is not by works of righteousness...

"We got a lot of people doing CCD without redemptive work. You gotta be born again.  You must be born again.  Gotta be born into the family of God.  The families of the earth failed.  They couldn't do it.  Old Testament families failed to father justice, to reflect God's Kingdom, they killed the God of glory.  You're not going to save the world through your good works.  We have a Redeemer.  The just for the unjust."

I had the privilege of running into Dr. Perkins at Starbucks this morning.  We had a brief conversation about where I'm from, and then Dr. Perkins shared a few words with similar flavor to today's Bible Study.  He talked about his speaking schedule, the critical times we're living in, and though he thinks he should slow down his travel itinerary at 84 years old, he finds it too crucial to be out encouraging the multi-ethnic church plants happening and to instill in them a CCDA DNA so that they don't become so one-dimensional (that one dimension being the worship service). He then jumped to the other end and talked about how those churches can't just go be about works righteousness, either.  I asked Dr. Perkins, "Why do you suppose we tend to keep falling into the polarized places?"  His answer, "It's because we try to remove the struggle.  We try to remove the struggle."  

I love this man.  He embodies the Good News of Jesus and is a living, walking testament of his own words, "We are to be the outliving of the inliving Christ."

ccda day one: on jeremiah 29

I was challenged by Leroy Barber's message on Wednesday evening at CCDA's opening large group session.  He spoke on Jeremiah 29: 1-11, and took us away from "the precious moments" usage of Jeremiah 29:11..."For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

He reminded us that there were two stories at the beginning of Jeremiah 29. The first story is one of Babylon.  Babylon had just won, and it was full of itself.  They had just plundered Jerusalem.  This story is the one of prestige, power, empire, arrogance.  The second story is one of Jerusalem.  The people were beaten, tired, worn, and called to walk to Babylon as exiles, a journey of 800 miles. They had lost most everything; they had family and friends who had died and would not make the journey.

One of these stories would fall, one would last.  To which people did the Lord speak His community development plan, his missional call?  It was to the tired, worn, weary people of Israel along their journey to Babylon.

God tells these folks to go into Babylon- their captors, their oppressors- and to build and settle, plant and eat, marry, make a living, and to seek the peace and prosperity of the land, for as it prospers, so would they also prosper.  In the 70 years that God would require the Israelites to live in exile in Babylon, He tells them to commit to the flourishing of the city so that they too might flourish.  He doesn't tell them to commit to the ways of the Babylonians, but instead to commit to singing the song of peace that they represented in Jerusalem.

Barber went on to contrast power and struggle:

"Power is not friendly.  We can't handle power.  Power conceded nothing until it is confronted.  Power wants to operate from strength.  Power will re-group.  Power offers small gestures and trinkets, not system change.  Power masks itself in our churches and Christian ministries.  Power doesn't wake up in the morning and say, 'How do I share myself today?' We can't handle power without accountability and community.  

Power, however, exerted in sacrifice will lift people to life.  Your life as a follower of Jesus in this world is centered in struggle.  You won't get justice and not have it cost you something.  Salvation is free, not justice."  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

ccda day one: on reconciliation

Cheryl Miller, executive director of Perpetual Hope Home, Inc., came on stage and shared two pictures at the beginning of the CCDA conference in Raleigh, NC.

The first picture was of her recent trip to the border of Texas-Mexico, where she not only witnessed the many unaccompanied children being detained at the border, but also witnessed bitter polarization on the issue, and the polarization was among believers.

In the midst of the polarization Miller sees happening across our country on so many issues, she shared a picture of reconciliation.  She quoted, "When seeking truth meets speaking love, justice can be ushered in."  Miller leads a restorative justice effort in which she's walked with over 1,600 victims and offenders to bring healing.  Last night, she shared the story of Jonni, the mother of a murdered child, and his killer, Chacto, and their visit together in the prison where Chacto resides.

During their visit, Jonni asked the toughened Mexican Mafia member if he was going to ask her for forgiveness.  Miller, listening, was a bit confused as to why Jonni asked that of Chacto because years before, at the end of the trial, Jonni had faced Chacto and told him that she forgave him for what he did to her son.

Chacto received the question.  As tears rolled down his face, he said he was sorry, and he asked her forgiveness, in which she promptly replied, "I forgive you."  They ended their visit, hands raised to touch through the glass, with tears flowing on both sides.

After their visit, Cheryl asked Jonni why she had asked Chacto if he was going to ask for forgiveness from her.  Jonni responded, "I did it for him, not for me."  Cheryl asked what Jonni was feeling that would compel her to do this.  The response, "I think it was love."

Miller went on to say that the law can't bring justice. But love can.

Forgiveness doesn't negate the wrong, but it restores humanity to the situation.

ccda day one kicks off with lament

Leader Noel Castellanos' opening welcome at the CCDA National Conference in Raleigh was not one of cheerleading, affirmation, and encouragement to stay in the trenches, continue the good fight. It was not a ra-ra start. Nope, he opened on the starting line where all followers of Christ should begin.  Lament.  Grieving the broken world.  Hearts broken by the brokenness that grieves God's heart.  Holy discontent.  Looking (literally at photos) at the pain and agony on the faces of God's beloved children across the country and world.

God heard the cries of humanity, and he came down, in the flesh, to engage the pain.  To dwell among us.  To serve sacrificially, even unto death, in order to redeem and make new.  He heard.  He saw.  He grieved.  He acted.

Lament: the appropriate place to begin.