Thursday, December 3, 2015

the world at our doorstep

There's a really great work God is up to in our college community!  I spoke with a friend, Kathrine, yesterday as we were waiting in a food line, and I had the pleasure of listening to a little more of her experience with an international community of friends at UNI.  Kathrine and Paul have opened their home to a growing community of college students that includes both internationally-born and nationally-born young adults who are regularly coming together for Friday night meals and who are cultivating transformative friendships across culture and language.  

In a time in which our media pounds us with images and stories that grow a sense of hostility and fear across our country, we need to hear more of these stories of people loving their neighbor and forming communities of friendship.  Stories of people who are caring and sharing together, breaking down walls, and working together to build peace, hope, and beauty in the places they live. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

truth-telling through history

We stole people and stripped them from their homeland, history, culture, families, and dignity. We were wrong.  

We enslaved people as property, counted them as 3/5 a person, and justified the terrorizing of their lives in the name of American progress and economic gain.  We were wrong.

After slavery was abolished, we worked to shut down African-Americans' gains in education and politics with more injustice and by enforcing Jim Crow laws.  We were wrong.  

We lived by the laws of segregation that worked to keep a hierarchy of power and white supremacy in place.  We were wrong.

We continue today in segregation practices.  We don't tend to believe that history impacts today.  We don't tend to believe that we have internalized superiority or that we need to confess, repent, or heal.  We are wrong.  

I took these pictures as I walked through the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN, a few weeks ago.  My heart was heavy throughout the experience, and I found myself repeating "Lord, make me brave," over and over as I looked at my brave and persevering Black brothers and sisters through the past 400 years. Black lives matter.  Lord, your Kingdom come.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

CCDA Memphis Review: Mary Nelson

Mary Nelson is one of the founding members of CCDA. She's a Christian Community Developer in Chicago...

We don’t need to retaliate.  Look at oppressors and say, "God bless you.  There is another way."

What is it we want in place of what we don’t want?

Isaiah 65 is the Kingdom vision.

Mary’s mother was arrested at age 78 sitting in a boat that blocked a nuclear submarine.  She put her vision into action. She did it for the children of the world.
When Mary would call her mom with problems in ministry, her mom would say, “What are you going to do about it, Mary?”  

Don’t agonize, organize.  

Some of us need to lead differently by standing with.  Some of us need to learn to accompany.  To step back and let others lead.

"When I get to the pearly gates, I want to hear Jesus say, 'Where are your scars?'"  

If there aren't scars, was there nothing worth fighting for? 

Raise the consciousness of people.  Think more globally. What are the places we know we can make a difference?

We must be prayerful, passionate, and persistent.  

We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes.

Monday, November 23, 2015

CCDA Memphis Review: Christena Cleveland

Cleveland began with this beautiful prayer: 

Be still and know that I am God.  Be still and know that I am. Be still and know.  Be still. Be.

Our saviorism gets exposed in the face of setback.

Justice and reconciliation are the work of the cross.  When I put myself on the cross instead of Jesus, I start to feel like I’m being crucified.  Feeling hopeless is a marker of privilege.  We say, “Jesus, I’m the one on the cross.  It’s me.”

We must focus on God’s infinite love.  Your hopelessness is proof that your reliance on Jesus is lacking.  

Resentment indicates how we are orienting our lives.

The first guys through the wall always get bloody.  

Here’s how we should respond to setback:

1. Focus on positive attributes of God not negative attributes of oppressor.  Don’t put the oppressor in the center. Centralize Jesus.  Decentralize the enemy and yourself.  

2.  Check your self-righteousness level.  Bitterness speaks, "You have hurt me.  I would never do that to you.  I am better."  The term is called infrahumanization. We dehumanize the powerful, we dehumanize the other when we say, “I get it and you don't”.  You don’t get to decide who is human or not.  “I’m making all things new.  I can get to their heart,” says God.  

3. Take a break.  Do you find yourself thinking, "If I don’t say it, it won’t be said.  If I don’t do it, it won’t get done."  Maybe the holiest thing you can do is take a nap.  Know when to walk away.  Take yourself off the cross to even hear it.  One of the things that will tank us is when we try to supersede God.  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

CCDA Memphis Review: Alexia Salvatierra

Over the next days, I'm going to share pieces of notes from speakers at the 2015 National CCDA Conference in Memphis a few weeks' back.

Alexia Salvatierra

Matthew 9:35-26  Jesus looked at the crowds and had compassion on them.

Before compassion, Jesus saw.  

To be illuminated is to see the world as Jesus sees.  If you look through Jesus’s eyes, you’ll see the invisible people.  In the eyes of Jesus, we are all visible.

If you see someone only in terms of their need, you do not see them fully.  Are the invisible people in your ministry blessing YOU?

We are brothers and sisters.  We are together the body. They are also our arms...why don’t we feel the pain?  Leprosy is when you don’t feel...and you’re on the outside...could this be us?

Jesus saw the crowds.  We also need to know/see systems. We see the problem and solutions differently when we see the crowd.  

Jesus runs toward the pain.  

Heb. 12:1-2  Fix our eyes on Jesus.  What will keep us going?  The vision of the joy set before Him/us.  Joy awaits. People are not issues, they are members of our own body.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

this creative and joyful good news

Our CCDA Cohort 6 met last night at the home of one of our cohort members who lives in Memphis.  There is amazing good news coming out of the home of Don and Linda, and it was so fun to see the creative ways they are welcoming the neighborhood into their home.  

Our cohort of about 35 members and spouses was seated in the garage that's been converted to "community center". White boards, tables, large screen TV,...This place serves as meeting room, a Tuesday tutoring center, a fellowship hall.  Last night, it was exquisitely decorated and set up as an Italian restaurant complete with top notch servers who are all a part of the ministry happening in and around that household.  

Don. Linda, and their children have several others living with them in their home, and the sense of Jesus and community and unified mission was palpable.  Don and Linda even put a big screened in gazebo in the front yard to serve as their 'porch' space for neighbors to gather.  

I looked around last night when the decibels in the garage got so loud that I could hardly hear the friend seated next to me.  It was so excellent to be together and to observe so many robust conversations happening around this table of family.

Keep loving people in the love and name of Jesus, Don and Linda! Your enthusiastic witness in word and deed is such a testimony to this New Thing that God is doing!

Monday, November 9, 2015

my need

Nine years ago, after years of serving in our community, I started to see the need to move from a charity mindset to more of a development, relational understanding of service and engaging.   I remember being at House of Hope, spending some time in dialogue with some of the women there, and thinking about how they didn’t have a network of support that worked for them.   I started to understand that relationships were the critical factor for change, and I thought about that largely in terms that they were the ones who needed development.  I knew that I would be mutually impacted by the women, but I didn’t think that I needed a new worldview, or that I really needed the women from House of Hope.  If you cut me open, I still felt like I had everything to give and nothing really to receive. 

Not long after I began to think about transformational and wholistic development, I flew out to Long Beach, CA, for a Renovare Spiritual Formation Conference.  I befriended a local homeless clan while there, and I spent a few breaks and meals with this group of primarily five adults who hung out in the courtyard between two hotels.  While I was eating dinner with my conference friends toward the end of my stay in Long Beach, I watched one of my new friends, Betty, walk up the street toward a public bathroom that she used.  I had a divine revelation at that moment about just how much I was the one who needed transformation and development.  God, in the middle of a lot of spiritual formation messages, some good solitude that week, and my interaction with this group of friends without a home, stopped me in my tracks and revealed something to me at a new level about my need for them. 

Seven months later, I found myself in Phoenix, AZ, shadowing Kit Danley, and I’ll never forget sitting across from her at lunch saying, “We need each other, right?  We’re interdependent, the poor and rich need each other.”  I’ll never forget her look.  It was a piercing look into my soul.  And with very carefully constructed, intentional words, she replied, “You need the poor.  The poor don’t need you.”  I am sure I gave her a nod like I understood what she meant, but the truth is, I was desperately uncomfortable with what she told me, and at the same time, I knew she was trying to tell me something very important that she could tell I did not yet “get”. 

Fast forward over the past 8 years of my life.  God has slowly but surely been helping me to understand what Kit was trying to tell me.  It’s really a similar concept as our coming to Christ.  I can play church, do things for God, try to be a good person, know about God, and more, but not until I recognize my deep brokenness and sin and my desperate need for Jesus, do I really get an “aha” that I have nothing to give…there’s nothing I can do…to earn God’s love.  It’s about seeing myself for who I really am, recognizing my need, and receiving the Savior’s love and work on the cross for me.  When I live in that new way of being and identity, I will give and do, but it’s out of a new way of seeing and being. 

The same is true about reconciliation and justice.  We who are materially resourced and walking among the privileged and dominant culture often read Scripture about doing for and giving to those who are poor or those who are marginalized and oppressed.   Unknowingly, we consider them from a mindset of power, and a mindset of us and them. We often don’t really believe we need them…but we believe they need us.  We often don't believe we have a critical need for them in our lives, that they actually have something very important to offer us, and that their very lives, culture, and voices will help us to see and be in a new way that is critical for the Gospel, for reconciliation, for justice. 

I know I still have a lot to unlearn and to learn about my own internalized superiority and my ignorance and arrogance, but I am now growing more aware of it, and I am convinced that I must have people different from myself in my life to teach me the truth.  Those whom society often discounts and sees as “the least of these” have helped me more accurately see Jesus, myself, and others.  Their voices have helped me to take off blinders and to come out of denial, blame, justifying, minimizing and into a new light of how we’re set up to maintain divisions and stratification.  I’ve been broken and taken down by revelations that were once not apparent to me but that are coming into the light.  This lament, confession, repentance has been the critical intersection for me as I’ve grieved the brokenness in me, in my people group, and throughout history.  And as I’ve grieved for brothers and sisters whose lives have been impacted adversely by injustice.   This lament and place of brokenness and powerlessness is exactly where Christ’s power shows up.  It’s exactly this powerlessness and proximity that is changing the way I view our community.   Though I am still acting and doing and serving, I recognize that if I stopped all the acting, doing, serving, I would still now recognize my absolute need for “the other”…the poor, the immigrant, the prisoner, the minority, those whom society defines as “less than”.

Embedded deep in me is the lie that I am the one that others need.  We often consider "help" only as financial resources and leadership and education and skills and status/power that need to be shared around the world.  Yes, redistribution and sharing are necessary, but I believe God wants me to first understand my place of need, brokenness, humility, and powerlessness.  Several years ago, I sensed that God was telling me, "Laura, this is not about people receiving your gifts but about your journey to receive people as gifts.”  

This is a messy journey.  I know that I won't arrive until I'm on the other side.  But I do believe that spiritual power breaks in at precisely this place of brokenness.  What a beautiful vision to see Jesus as our restorer and reconciler; living in the way of all of us broken, all of us redeemed by Jesus, all of us deeply loved and valuable children of God.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

who are we listening to?

Last night was the fourth week of a race, racism, and reconciliation conversation I've been facilitating.  The conversation has been transformative...largely because the group has both Black and White friends, and we've had the opportunity to listen to one another.  

Part of our conversation last night revolved around the non-negotiable of both lament and hope in Christ on the journey of reconciliation.  The other non-negotiable is for dominant culture folks to recognize their desperate need for "the other" and to learn from people different from themselves.  Soong Chan Rah, in this 31 minute video, describes why we must recognize this as a high priority need.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

enter into the pain

"Great leaders for social change enter into the pain of the people who have the pain, and they bear that pain with the people who have the pain."  - John M. Perkins

We look forward to welcoming Dr. John Perkins to the Cedar Valley the weekend of February 20-21, 2016!  

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Bob Lupton believes strongly that you can't serve a neighborhood out of poverty.  Here's two excerpts from Lupton's new book, Charity Detox:

"Programs don't fix communities; they can't.  They may genuinely help some individuals (often by enabling those individuals to escape the neighborhood), but they don't bring about fundamental community change.  Only neighbors can do that.  Neighbors, after all, are the building blocks of every neighborhood.  When programs empower the best and the brightest neighbors to move out, they unintentionally weaken the community.  'The only way to change a neighborhood,' I told him, 'is through reneighboring.'  It was not the answer he was expecting, but it was the only solution I knew to address the heart of the issue. Without connected, involved, resourced neighbors, no neighborhood can thrive. Without a transfusion of new blood, troubled communities will continue to deteriorate as the capable exit in pursuit of better opportunities.  An infusion of new life, rich with creativity, teeming with fresh ideas and energy, abundant with capacity- this is what invigorates a community.  These nonmonetary riches spawn hope among discouraged residents, giving them a reason to stay. The very presence of vested neighbors committed to ridding their streets of drugs, improving educational opportunities, and restoring homes ignites hope and kindles visions of what the community could become.  Thus a vested citizenship becomes the catalyst for transformation from within."  

"When intelligent minds join with sensitive hearts to devise sound strategies for economically viable community development, foundations for shalom are laid.  And when new, energetic neighbors join in community life with those who have endured long years of hardship, opportunity for the dreamed-of 'beloved community' is within reach."  

the open table fellowship of Jesus

Jesus often used meals around a table to share Kingdom truths.  He often "turned the tables" on societal rules and rituals regarding who was invited to the meal, where they would sit, who could eat together, and who was to be honored.  Mark Moore wrote a helpful two page essay on "Table Fellowship in the Gospels" found here.  

I was at Picnic in the Park today in Lincoln Park.  Looking out over a very mixed group of about 220 people eating, serving, playing, and worshiping together, I recognized that PIP gives us a glimpse of this open table fellowship that Jesus demonstrated on his travels.  My friend, Patti, calls Picnic in the Park a "classroom" to practice Kingdom neighboring and becoming more like Jesus.  

Jesus, thank you for being our host at this meal, and for welcoming ALL people to your table!  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Global Leadership Summit 2015

Willow Creek's GLS was packed full of inspiration and training for leaders.  My co-worker and friend, Ben Patterson, takes amazing notes. And even more, he invites anyone and everyone to read them with a single click!  Did I mention that Ben takes AMAZING notes?  

If you weren't able to be at the Global Leadership Summit, you will get a serious good look at the content offered this year....


Saturday, August 1, 2015

needed on this journey

This was an important article for me to read this week:

Twenty years ago, I was a youth director at a church in Waterloo, IA that sits in the very neighborhood that I believe God has called me back to join in my mid-life.  Twenty years ago, I did not have a systemic lens from which to view racism.  There was a woman in our church, Carolyn, who was passionate for racial reconciliation, and she even started a nonprofit back in the early 90's to promote racial understanding and build bridges with teenagers.  I remember she would occasionally come visit me in my office, and she would share about her work and her passion for reconciliation and justice.  I was a high school youth director, and she was looking for ways we could connect our church's high schoolers into the mission of racial reconciliation.

It's interesting what I remember from our few talks.  I remember feeling at that point in my life, that she was a bit "radical", a bit "over-the-top" on the issue.  My understanding as a 28 year old white privileged Christian was that we're just called to love one another and be kind to one another regardless of race, gender, age, socio-economics.  I did not...and maybe could not even....wrestle beyond a very simple, individualistic viewpoint.  There was not an openness, interest, readiness for me to grapple with deeper nature questions or challenges that might have helped me begin to consider life and social realities differently.  I did not feel like there was a connection or a need for our white youth group teens to engage in what Carolyn was doing.  My greatest goals as a youth director were (1) inviting students into a personal, growing relationship with Jesus  (2) building community with who showed up, and (3) helping youth serve in our church and city.  I thought those 3 goals were separate from the issues and questions that Carolyn brought up to me.  I was wrong.

These interactions with Carolyn have been important for me to remember, as I am quite certain that now I am that middle age white lady who is seen as a bit "radical" or "over-the-top" regarding race, reconciliation, justice.

It's very difficult to know how to help someone like me, with my kind of life experience, walk forward into new understanding and action.  I've often likened my own 'conversion' journey as going from a one-eyed view to a two-eyed view.  Or, I sometimes tell others that these past eight years have felt a bit like taking the red pill in the movie "The Matrix".  I know that as I attempt to speak and to share the importance of this journey with others, I have to attend to the following needs.

Needed is prayer.  Someone must have been praying for me, as I didn't have the knowledge of my one-eyed-ness or the need to see from a systemic perspective.  I believe it will have to be Christ's revelation in people's lives.  The blindness is so pervasive, and it reflects that we are dealing with incredibly stubborn powers and principalities.

Needed is conversation.  I didn't write "needed are more facebook and twitter posts".  That's not conversation. We need to elevate respectful dialogue rather than polarized, emotional responses. This new thing that God is doing will require that white people actually spend some time together with people of color and listen deeply to their stories, history, and perspectives.  Friends of color, however, remind me how painful it is to continue to share their pain and to discuss their frustration and anger with white people who generally stay pretty stuck.  I heard a friend say last week that it's not the responsibility of people of color to put their pain on the table over and over for the sake of educating white people.  White folks have to take on the responsibility of educating themselves.  This is difficult, because many people like me won't even feel compelled to read an article like the one I linked to in this post, or to pick up a book and read on the topic.  It's a maddening cycle of insanity.  I do know that I now have a responsibility to use my voice and to challenge others like me with these questions: Could there be something that people like us are not seeing, not understanding, not owning...but need to be?  And what if it does have to do with us and what if it does have everything to do with the Kingdom of God and following Jesus?

Needed is a strong Scriptural foundation.  Scripture has to be used to both understand the brokenness as well as to understand the heart of God and the vision of Christ the Reconciler who can and ultimately will make all things new.  We have to begin to unpack Scripture that addresses wordly power vs. Christ's power and addresses both personal relationship and social relationship.  And Scripture reveals the only hope that I can find in this very complex mess.

Needed is love and patience.  I know that this an unfair statement to people of color who live with oppression and injustice that affects every aspect of life. I know that I cannot even fathom from a place of my privilege how difficult it must be to love or show patience in this.  I know that I should instead write "Needed is justice.  Period."  or "Needed is a sense of urgency"...because that's true...a sense of urgency for justice is what's needed.  But I also know from my own experience, that when I personally have left love and grace and patience aside on this journey, I have harmed both others and myself and have closed the door more than opened it.  This, then, is the spiritual growth defining moment in my live the way of Jesus...a life toward truth and justice and love, grace and patience right smack in the middle of the injustice and brokenness.  This was His way.  When I begin to leave love, grace, and patience out of the equation, it is often because I've forgotten my own I still see through a glass I still have so far to travel from arrogance and ignorance toward Kingdom thinking and living.  And yet, I can trace how Christ has loved me, shown me grace and patience all while he holds out truth and freedom to me exactly where I am found at the moment.  The litmus test is the fruit of the Spirit...are joy, love, patience, goodness, gentleness, self-control, kindness, and faithfulness increasingly evident in my life as I walk with others on this journey toward just living?

Needed is joy.  A week ago, CCDA's Wayne Gordon addressed a cohort that I'm a part of, telling us to "not take ourselves too seriously."  "you're not important as you think you are."  "you're too serious..have fun."  Though seeking racial reconciliation and justice is the narrow way, I have to remember that there is One who is able; who is Victor.  Joy reminds me that He gives bright spots and good gifts on the journey, and I should receive them and live with joy and gratitude.

Needed are heroes.  There are many saints and heroes that God provides along the way from whom I can learn and gain courage.  Audrey Dubose, Judy Scott, the Emanuel AME families who are speaking the Word of God and choosing love and forgiveness as they bury their loved ones. My community's black leaders who organized seven Jericho prayer marches around our city this Spring and who work tirelessly to bring learning opportunities before our community.  My friends who pastor a small hispanic church in our community and who faithfully serve a congregation that has many daily struggles.  My dear friends at Harvest Vineyard who are in the thick of the challenges present in a multi-ethnic church.  There are many local and national voices who are writing books and articles, speaking, marching, organizing.  I am inspired by their God-given courage and strength, and I am grateful for their lives, writing, teaching, challenges, and persevering spirit to see God's will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Needed are friends.  Lastly, I am so grateful for the Christian community; so grateful that we don't travel alone.   God has faithfully placed friends in my life who are traveling along the same path. Some are further ahead of me, some are at my side, and some are a bit behind me on the road.  I know that I have more to meet, and I am so glad for this companionship!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

making access and power part of the conversation

Last week I was away with a group that spent quite a lot of time in conversation learning about one another's lives and considering the work of reconciliation and justice together.  We were a mixed group of black, brown, and white friends, and I heard one member of the group talk about our need to name and unpack white privilege in our conversations.

After the group dispersed, and I was alone with my roommate that evening, I asked this black friend, "Will you help me know more specifically what you'd like someone like me to do with my white privilege?" This friend graciously shared with me that she'd hope that I would use it to give access to those who do not have equal access to things such as education, jobs, housing, healthcare, and more. She spoke plainly and clearly about power dynamics and using white privilege to work consciously and intentionally toward a sharing of power, a transfer of power so that we might begin to see something other than the power scenarios that seem to replay over and over within the dominant culture.

This was not new information for me, but after this particular conversation, I began to examine very concrete behavior and activity in and around my life and asked the question, "Am I (are we) using privilege to give others access, to help open blocked pathways for others to use their gifts and pursue their God-given potential?" "Do I see evidence of shared power or power shifts?"

Though not enough of this is happening across our country, I do see some examples of this happening around me at micro and macro levels...examples that are not paternalistic...many through the lives of friends and community who are inspiring to me.

One example is BASIC college ministry and employees at Sidecar Coffee who came alongside friends in Jamaica to start up a business called  Deaf Can! Coffee.

I am currently reading Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like if we Cared about Results, Bob Lupton's newest book.  Lupton talks a lot about using power and privilege in the marketplace to help lift people out of poverty through employment.  It's a worthwhile read!

Monday, July 20, 2015

from popularity to ministry

"We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life.  We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for.  The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God." 

-Henri M. Nouwen

Saturday, July 18, 2015

making housing happen

It's difficult for neglected neighborhoods to revitalize without addressing housing. Waterloo's Walnut Neighborhood, once an area of beautiful turn of the century homes, has seen blight and demolition and a lot of stress on the aging homes that remain standing.  For eight years now, a small group of us has been praying weekly for.....

1. physical, spiritual, and social transformation in the neighborhood.

2. that God would bring a developer with a business mind and a Jesus heart so that we might have revitalization in the neighborhood without harming or leaving out those with lesser income means. Gentrification brings eye appeal, it renews and brings economic turn around... but does it change the social fabric and the segregation patterns that exist?   When gentrification and justice and reconciliation are addressed together, there is hope for beautiful new creation at so many levels!

3. that there would be increased opportunity for affordable home ownership in the neighborhood.  More home ownership leads to more stabilized and flourishing neighborhoods.

4. that a group of strategic neighbors would form...both relocators and remainers...who would build community, be involved in good neighboring, and lift up the voices and the assets of the neighborhood...all in the name of Jesus who is the Reconciler of all things.   

Though we haven't found developers who have mixed-income or reconciliation on their minds, God has been faithful to make some housing happen.  Homeowners and landlords have been involved in slowly but surely fixing up houses over the last few years.  Over the past two years, we've seen several houses being sided and roofed in the neighborhood.  We're grateful for this trend, and we recognize God's faithfulness, timing, and mysterious ways in the midst of it.   There are a few houses and open lots available in the neighborhood right now for those whom God might be nudging!

The latest house in Walnut to get a new exterior.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

from relevance to prayer 3

"It is not enough for the priests and ministers of the future to be moral people, well trained, eager to help their fellow humans, and able to respond creatively to the burning issues of their time.  All of that is very valuable and important, but it is not the heart of Christian leadership.  The central question is, 'Are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God's presence, to listen to God's voice, to look at God's beauty, to touch God's incarnate Word, and to taste fully God's infinite goodness?'"

- Henri Nouwen In the Name of Jesus

Nouwen's book so touches the contemplative in me.  He reminds me where 'home' is and  to dip and drink deeply from the well that is Jesus!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Try Pie sends off a teammate

Try Pie celebrates and bids farewell this week to one of our team members, Megan.  Megan and her family are moving to Sedona, AZ, this summer, and we wish her all the best!  In an exit interview, Megan shared the following about her experience in Try Pie:

What did you gain from being involved in Try Pie?
“I definitely learned how to give money and save money.   I learned a lot of teamwork; how to work together with other people.  And I learned about time management-balancing work, school work, and sports.”

Do you have a favorite memory?
“No,  I just liked talking and getting to know the girls better.”

What do you like about the business/ministry model of Try Pie?
“I like that it wasn’t just about making and selling pie.  It was about growing closer to God and developing in our faith.  It was also about giving back to our community.”

Did Try Pie help you break down any walls with people? 
“When my mom first told me that there would be girls from East, I had some fear because of the gangs and violence I hear about in Waterloo.  We don’t have as much of that happening in Cedar Falls.  Getting to know the girls helped me break through some of that fear, and I learned from them everyday.” 

What dreams do you have for Try Pie?
“That it would become a real business in a real building with more advertisement and marketing.  Kind of like Cookie Cart.  That would be cool.”

How would you complete the following?

The thing I love about Try Pie is the community of girls that we get to work with.

Try Pie is a community of girls, faith-based, trying to change the world by their pies

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

from relevance to prayer 2

"Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time, there is a deep current of despair.  While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our success-oriented world."

"From a worldly vantage point, ministers may not feel relevant or competent or needed anymore in our secular world- but under the success, power, popularity, wealth, there is a great moral and spiritual poverty...Is there anyone who loves me?  Is there anybody who really cares?  Is there anybody who wants to stay home for me?  Is there anybody who wants to be with me when I'm not in control , when I feel like crying?  Is there anyone who can hold me and give me a a sense of belonging?"  

"The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there."  

-Henri Nouwen  In the Name of Jesus

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


According to a statistic I heard on the radio this morning, these shells are just a few of the 300,000 items in my house.  Yep, the average American has 300,000 things in their home.  Not sure I'm going to count our possessions...quite possibly because I fear that I'd exceed 300,000 when I add what we have in our garage and outbuildings on our acreage.  

Honestly, I am weary of so much stuff.  The shells in the picture came home with Mike and I from Guam beaches back in 1992 when we moved back to the Cedar Valley after living on the island for two years.  I almost never notice those shells, and if I were to die today, who would even want them?  

Over the next two years, Mike and I are challenging ourselves to a significant downsizing effort. When we actually lived on Guam, we had very little stuff, and it was so wonderful. Our time was not spent managing property or stuff; it was instead spent enjoying meals and card games with friends, going on island adventures, and being attentive socially and relationally.  

Twenty-three years, two homes, and two children later, we are steeped in stuff.  I look forward to the freedom of not having 300,000 items in my home, but it's quite the difficult challenge to know what to get rid of and where to pass it off.   Hoping that if I start now, I can succeed in freeing up some space and time for the future.  

Check out the whole article that referenced the 300,000 items.  It's a pretty stunning list of statistics:

21 Surprising Statistics That Reveal How Much Stuff We Actually Own

Monday, July 6, 2015

bitter sweet

Andy Mineo tweeted this today:  "I’ve found that God often lets us taste how sweet he is in our most bitter moments."

Friends of mine are in the midst of the unspeakable grief of losing three family members in a tragic car accident. I gave them a Communion chalice because when we lost our first child, Aaron, seventeen years ago, it was the Communion cup that best represented for me both the incredible bitter taste of suffering and the incredible sweet taste of communion with Jesus intermingled in the same cup. This intimate fellowship with Jesus found in suffering can only be described as a mystery of God; dreaded yet gift in the strangest of ways that can only be described as an unexpected walk into the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

from relevance to prayer 1

I just finished reading for the second time In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen.  His word to Christian leaders for our time is critically important to heed.  For some days ahead, I will share some quotes and thoughts from this literary treasure.  

"..I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her vulnerable self.  That is the way Jesus came to reveal God's love.  The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God's Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life."  - Henri J.M. Nouwen 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Try Pie congratulates a graduate!

Congratulations to Aquayla, one of the five original Try Pie teens,  for her high school graduation this Spring and for her full-time work at a care facility in our community!   When asked what job skills she gained in Try Pie that she has taken into her new job,  Aquayla mentioned, “I learned how important a smile is and to always be honest and responsible.”

Aquayla also shared that financial lessons taught in Try Pie were critically important for her.  “I learned how to budget, save money, and give back to the community.  I’m currently working with one of our Try Pie adults to set up a plan for my paychecks at this new job.” 

Cooperation skills were also another take-away for Aquayla.   “I learned a bit more about how to cooperate with people when you might not all agree.”  She mentioned that having a good attitude goes a long way in preventing potential conflicts. 

Another highlight during Aquayla’s time with Try Pie is that she got to take her first flight on an airplane to Hartford, CT, to attend a CCDA intensive on “Listening to the Community” that was being facilitated by Laura Hoy.  Laura certainly appreciated the companionship and assistance that Aquayla provided on the trip, and Aquayla got to learn more about the philosophy of Christian Community Development. 

What did Aquayla love most about Try Pie?  “I loved that it’s a business but that we also formed a close bond with one another. “  And of course, making and eating her favorite kind of pie- PECAN- was also a sweet experience! 

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Church at her best

Two days ago, tragedy struck in our church family.  One of our young families was traveling on vacation in Florida when a pick-up going eastbound began to hydroplane and crossed the median hitting the Bartlett's SUV that was going westbound on the interstate.  Ben (husband and father) and two of their three children, Charlie and Bailey, died at the scene, and Erin (wife/mother) and their youngest daughter, Kaia, survived the crash and were taken to the hospital in Tallahassee.  

As both Ben and Erin's parents, and Erin's sister, Brooke, began the journey to get to Tallahassee from Iowa, the fact is, that Erin, who had minor injuries, was likely going to be alone for the next 24 hours at the hospital with Kaia, who was banged up pretty seriously and who would need surgery on both of her hands/wrists.  As the church community back home began to meet and grieve and pray, we asked God to bring His saints in Tallahassee around Erin and Kaia and to minister to them in the midst of such unspeakable pain and loss. 

I just read this facebook message posted from Bill, Brooke's husband:

Text I just got from Brooke-

"I have met the hands and feet of Jesus today, and heard about even more. Heading with one right now to the Verizon store. A local church has "adopted" Erin and Kaia and our family."

Another recent update I read reports this church giving "extravagant care" to Erin and Kaia and the family.  

Yay, Church!  How beautiful are the hands and feet of Jesus! Thank you so much to our brothers and sisters in Christ in Tallahassee, Florida, for reaching out in such a great time of need with the love and comfort and tenderness and generosity of Jesus. This is the Church at her best!

Just received one more update from Dave, who is in Tallahassee now with Erin and Kaia: 

Hank is a deacon at Celebration Baptist Church. God prompted him to follow up on the story he saw in the media about the wreck on I10. God led him to Orchard's website and he heard God say, "Celebration Church needs to adopt this young mom and her daughter." They have gone above and beyond to care for Erin and Kaia. There are so many stuffed animals in the room, Dave knows now why he brought the van down and didn't fly. 

They are also serving Erin in some amazing, personal ways like providing clothing, food, spiritual encouragement, transportation and retrieving personal items from the vehicle. Their lead pastor, Dave Emmert stopped by and met Dave as well.  He was very encouraged by their presence. Thank you God for such an awesome answer to our prayers and thank you for these great people of Celebration Baptist Church.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

a must read

I've been thinking lately about how a church that's 'missional' doesn't always translate into a church that's about justice.  I've been considering writing some words about my experiences in 'missional' and 'justice', but before I do,  read this from Ann Voskamp:

"When You're Kinda Weary of All the Injustices"

Monday, June 8, 2015

the jericho walk

In response to a great deal of violence in Waterloo over the past year, local black pastors have organized a series of peace walks, and they invited the community to join them over a period of seven Sunday evenings so that we together might implore God to move and to break down walls of evil, hopelessness, violence, racism, injustice, and disunity in our community.  

The seven walks are modeled after the Israelites' seven days of marching around Jericho, and they are silent walks, patterned after Joshua's instructions to "not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout..” (Joshua 6:10)

I've been a part of two of the four walks that have occurred; both have been in different neighborhoods that have had multiple incidents of violence.

A few of my observations and impressions from these walks:

*It's been so good and is so needed to have a diverse showing at these walks. Young, old, multi-ethnic, multiple churches represented.

*Union Missionary Baptist's drill team marches in the lead with only the sound of a drum beat to guide the group.  The nearly 200 walkers line up in rows of about 10 people across and hold hands as the group walks through the neighborhood in silence.

*The silence is so powerful.  Many neighbors look out doors and windows or come out to witness the march.  Because of the silence, I am able to really look and see neighbors, see the neighborhood, pray for and consider the possibility of a different future for our community.  Because of the hand-holding, I am able to feel the power of oneness; the power of joining with.

*The crowd gathers in the parking lot after the walk to hear the prayers of pastors, the pain of a community, and the promises of God.  This has been an important time of listening and to hear the longing for a vision beyond our current realities.  The way things are is not the way things have to be.  This is a phrase out of the book Reconciling All Things that I've been reading with a group.  I thought about this phrase and the Kingdom of God so much as I walked and listened last night.

*I thought about how a lot of people don't know what practical steps to take toward reconciliation and peace in the face of such huge problems in our community and world.  This is one such tangible way to listen, join with, and to pray and stand together in the ministry of reconciliation.  

Newspaper article here

The next Peace March is Sunday, June 14, starting at 7:30 p.m.  I will find out this week's location and mention it later this week on the blog.  


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

dorothy day

Whatever I had read as a child about the saints had thrilled me. I could see the nobility of giving one's life for the sick, the maimed, the leper. But there was another question in my mind. Why was so much done in remedying the evil instead of avoiding it in the first place? Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves, but to do away with slavery?

-Dorothy Day

Thursday, May 21, 2015

His grace shall lead me

I don't feel like visiting her.  I watched her over the past year start to throw her life down the drain- again.  I watched Meth take control- again.  I watched her very wonderful husband need to walk away. I watched her neglect her girls. I peered into her drugged up life through her facebook posts.  I read the newspaper article of her arrest.  And I just feel mad, and hopeless, and done.  I don't feel like going to jail to visit her.  Even if she has hit the bottom and is repentant- again.  

And then Grace whispers to me.  And He reminds me of His presence in my straying.  His love for me in my rebellion.   His forgiveness and friendship in my sin.  His mercy and refusal to leave me behind.  His patience in my stubbornness.  Grace reminds me that He is not a limited set but an infinite source of love and kindness and hope. 

And because this is true for me, I will go visit her.  And I will testify to the good news of Christ's grace for us both. Amazing, amazing grace.  

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Romans 5:15

Monday, May 4, 2015

a step toward peace

I want to thank Reverend Whitfield and Mt. Carmel Baptist Church for extending blessing to the community yesterday.  Their invitation to pray over Waterloo’s law enforcement, their gesture of bringing people together in the spirit of peace, in the Spirit of Christ, felt like a little balm of Gilead being applied to some wounds that so desperately need healing.  

“There is a disconnect between our police department and especially the African American community.  We want Mt. Carmel to be the re-connect.  We want to show people we can work together.” 

Mayor Buck Clark thanked Mt. Carmel for welcoming The City with open arms, and he shared points from the morning’s sermon at Orchard Hill regarding blessing a broken world by turning our face toward people, offering grace, and bringing peace.

Police Chief Dan Trelka talked about our common enemy, Satan, who is hard at work in our community, nation, and world seeking to devour, divide, and destroy.   He addressed the crowd saying, “Well, we’re making Satan mad today.”  

Councilman Quentin Hart spoke to the congregation and reminded them that just as Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a day when his children wouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin, he reminded the congregation that neither do people want to be judged by the color of their uniform.

Reverend Whitfield invited Mayor Clark, Councilman Hart, and Chief Trelka, along with other officers and family members, to the front.  Deacons gathered around them, and the pastor prayed over them. 

Some of the officers left after that because they were on duty, but a few others stayed, and at one point in the morning, a deacon stood up, and spoke a powerful word to the officers remaining.  He talked about his favorite movie “Avatar”, and he looked intently at the officers, and said, “I see you.”  “I see you.”   He was speaking beyond the physical “seeing”.  He was in essence saying, 'I see your humanity.  I see the risks you take and the sacrifices you make.   I see your wounds.  I see your strength.  I see you.'

Whitfield used his message to communicate a strong both/and to those listening.  He discussed the reality of crime and needed accountability for criminal acts, but he also addressed a history that is littered with a long string of injustices that continue today.  He talked both of how these injustices can understandably bring people to such great anger, and yet he also talked about how Christians must respond so as not to sin in our anger.  He made three great points:

1.       He spoke about a godly anger that calls for justice but refuses to hate.  He shared from Hebrews 13:1:  Let brotherly love continue.  Whitfield talked about recognizing our differences but working from a common place…the fact that we have one common enemy and one common Savior.  If love is at work in us, we will become more sensitive to humanity, the suffering and pain, and human rights. 

2.       Reverend Whitfield’s second point:  Be careful how we respond to strangers.  We might be entertaining angels unaware.  He spoke about how we have deeply embedded stereotypes, assumptions, prejudices that often make us treat a person negatively.  We categorize people without really knowing them.  We need to be careful how we respond to strangers.   We need to respond to injustice by putting it in God’s hands and never, ever lose the capacity to love every single person. 

3.       And finally, Pastor Whitfield reminded us that we need to share the sorrow of victims.  Injustice leaves people wounded.  Can we bear the pain along with those who have been wounded?  We should galvanize our sympathy to work toward something good together.  

I was thankful Mt. Carmel friends extended an invitation to the community to worship with them yesterday, and I am grateful to have been present with them.    

Click here to read an article from our local newspaper. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

living without enemies

I recently finished the book Living without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence, written by Marcia A. Owen and Samuel Wells.  

In the recent rash of gun violence in Waterloo, and on the heels of both peaceful and violent protests across the country, this has been a timely read.  

"With senseless violence occurring throughout society, people are suffering and communities are groaning.  Fear and not knowing where to begin hold many back from doing anything.  But is "doing something" really what is most needed?

Marcia Owen and Samuel Wells tell the story of a community's journey into deeper dimensions of social engagement.  Through prayer vigils for local victims of gun violence and friendships with both victims and offenders, Owen learned that presence was precisely the opposite of violence- it was love.  Living without Enemies offers profound insights into what it takes to overcome powerlessness, transcend fear and engage in radical acceptance in our dangerous world."  

I found this a beautiful and challenging narrative of a mom who moved toward the violence in her community and discovered a love that transcends fear and death.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

youth art team prepares for urban gallery installation

The Youth Art Team began a spring Urban Gallery project yesterday with a trip to Des Moines to learn about Public Art!

Thanks to David for giving his Saturday to lead us through the Historical Museum and help us to consider aspects of creating public art for our community.

The team stood in front of CARE, a trash receptacle that shares a message with the 6th Ave. Corridor Neighborhood.

An artist in the 6th Ave. Corridor Neighborhood encouraged the Youth Art Team to keep lifting their voices and sharing their ideas with our community.

We came home from Des Moines and met today for our first big learning and planning session.  Thanks to the Behrends Family for making team snacks and decorating them with awesome Scripture and pictures!

Heidi reminded the team what an urban gallery installation is all about.

Waterloo Historians, Bob Neymeyer and Annette Freeseman, led a tour through downtown Waterloo, sharing many interesting stories and pictures from the past.

After the downtown tour, four lifetime residents shared about their memories of Downtown.  They talked of going to the movies, shopping, and what life was like before cell phones.  They also spoke of the power of love to overcome adversity in life, how love can change even the hardest of hearts, and how love can overcome segregation and bring people together.  

Students recapped the day through sketches, lists, and sharing what stories and details had stuck with them from the tour and interviews.  
Our guests joined us in our closing prayer circle and Youth Art Team cheer.

Can't wait to see what God will inspire and create through this team, as they bring a message of hope and beauty to Downtown Waterloo.  Praying that it all points to the one who redeems and reconciles all things- Jesus!