Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Morning Mental Snapshots

1. Our church is located downtown and so we have a large outreach ministry to our neighborhood and other marginalized people in our community. Our vision and mission is shaped by this and increasingly our other ministries are being evaluated through this filter. One way in which our outreach is becoming more of our DNA and less of a "ministry" is what we call Green Tags. Instead of people coming into the office on Monday afternoons for assistance with gas vouchers, utilities, rent money, assistance with obtaining drivers license/birth certificates etc, that is now handled on Sunday mornings. Volunteers wearing green tags are available to assist those coming in with requests. The load is spread from just the outreach minister to a load of green tag volunteers. People are prayed with, listened to, helped, invited to a breakfast time. And that is where the first image comes from. As I turned a corner in the Southwest corner of the building this morning I saw two children between the ages of 5-8 sitting at a table enjoying a hearty breakfast. Their Dad was being helped, their baby sister was being loved on by a volunteer and they had been fed by a few other helpers. Beautiful.

2. I am wrapping up a Christmas Tree Tag project where our church provides gifts for children in foster care. The tree is bare because all the tags are taken. Yet, a widowed man came up to the table today to check how he could still help. The holidays are hard for him, shopping is not his favorite thing, but ensuring that these kids have a good holiday trumped it all. Beautiful.

3. Our focus in worship today was on the abundance of God as our Shield, our Comfort, our Hope and our Provider. We celebrated abundance throughout the whole morning and our worship culminated with a Lord's supper celebration like no other. We had tables set up all around the auditorium with delicious loaves of bread from Great Harvest Bread company and cups of grape juice. People were given chunks of bread and full cups of juice to really experience taking in the body and blood of Christ. It was the final element of worship and so it led directly into fellowship time so people stood around the tables taking their communion in community before leaving. Beautiful.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gift Giving that Grows the Kingdom

This is in response to something I had on facebook today. I am posting a list of the gift giving ideas that I included in the article that I mentioned on facebook. I have taken out all the "waffling" that I did inbetween and this is merely the list. I hope you get some good ideas!

1.Eternal threads -
"We are dedicated to improving the lives of women in poverty by giving them work, marketing their handmade goods and returning the profits to educate girls. Everytime you purchase a tote you help keep a woman employed and educate a girl. Your purchase of a small size tote doubles the family income of a woman for nearly a week and educates a girl for two months."
You can purchase beautiful handmade totes and bags from India along with lots of new merchandise from Nepal, Afghanistan, Madagasacar and Thailand.

2.Christian Relief Fund -
"The Christian Relief Fund is dedicated to following Christ’s example of ministering to human needs: spiritually, physically, and emotionally, by feeding the hungry, healing disease and heartbreak, fighting ignorance and poverty through education and preaching the Gospel through word and deed."
You can sponsor a child through Christian relief fund and literally change the trajectory of someone's future.

3.The Kibo Group -
$49 plants a mvule tree on behalf of that person in your life who already has everything. (That’s actually cheap for a “Christmas” tree these days, and ours are actually alive and growing!). We send you a card. with your tree registration number, which you can use to follow your tree online!A village, with the help of a Mvule Project engineer plants a tree and marks it with a Global Positioning System (GPS) for further monitoring. We are allowing up to 100 trees per village so we need the GPS to keep track of them. Periodically for a year (every month at first) we will return to the trees to monitor their status. Every live tree garners a payment . . . with each payment increasing, sometimes doubling, from the last one. You get the picture . . . the motivation to keep these trees alive is big, big, big! If a mvule tree can make it through the harsh first year, it’s good to grow. At the end of a year, 100 living trees will mean more than $3000 for a village and their project. That’s good money for a village and that’s easy management for us. Because of the economic seeds you’ve planted, Ugandan children will grow stronger physically, spiritually, and academically. And one day, their children will sit in the shade of your mvule tree.

4. Catchall Basket: This beautiful basket starts at just $10, but then again is is made from grass and potato chip bags found littering the streets of Nepal.

5. Elephant Dung Products: It sounds kind of gross but cool at the same time. Pick up stationary sets made from elephant dung. The money helps save elephants.

6. Toms Shoes: Buy a pair of Toms Shoes and the company will donate a pair to a child who doesn’t have any.

7. Envirosax: Pick up reusable grocery bags and know you are doing your part to help the earth. A portion of sales go toward environmental causes.

8. Oxfam America Unwrapped: Give a powerful gift through Oxfam America Unwrapped. $90 buys a pair of sheep, $500 plants a forest.

9. Kikoy Covered Book: Help marginalized women in Africa by purchasing their handmade products like this covered book for just $10.99.

10.Kiva Microfinancing -
"Kiva lets you lend to a specific entrepreneur in the developing world - empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty"


My sweet friend Cassie tagged me and here are the rules:

"find the NEAREST book, turn to page 56, find the fifth sentence, and post the next two -5 sentences. Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or an intellectual book - pick the NEAREST book"

From Learning to Pray the Psalms by James Sire: "This psalm has clear subject breaks between the various stanzas, but, as may already be clear, it has the structure of a reverie more than that of a rational argument. It is like a conversation one might have with oneself upon retiring for the night."

And I tag - Kinney Mabry

Friday, November 07, 2008

A View From Behind

Last night between dinner and the next thing on our "date agenda" David and I were hanging out at Barnes & Noble. William Paul Young, author of The Shack was there - he gave a brief talk and then did a book signing. We found two overstuffed comfy chairs behind the book signing station and just watched the line of people for over an hour. It was incredible.

Person after person walked up to the table, introduced themselves, asked for Mr. Young to sign their book (or books - because clearly lots of Christmas shopping was being taken care of) with whatever inscription they needed. And then, they all began to tell a brief story of why the book had resonated with them. Stories of pain, grief, forgiveness, blessing and gratitude. He stood up from the table, hugged every one's neck and made them feel like he was there for them alone. Amazing.

I guess the thing I walked away with was a reminder that everyone has a story. One can not tell from our well protected and well decorated exteriors what is really going on in the heart. And then here and there, people find a safe place to share the burden or the blessing. I pray that I can be a safe place.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Just a Mom's thoughts on the current situation

There is no way for me to blog about any other topics until I have reflected a little more about what has just happened in the US this week. Wow. I have been overcome with emotion in ways that are so similar to how I felt when Nelson Mandela was elected president of my country more than a decade ago.

I have taken some heat about my political leanings. But I have increasingly found more and more like minded believers. I was not going to post the following long diatribe on here because it seems self indulgent, but my husband suggested I should given that it is my blog and I can share my feelings on it whether readers agree or not.

So, here goes! Let me begin with this ground rule. This is a piece I wrote to a friend who asked me why I think the way I do - it is not meant for arguing against. I am not prepared to banter issues back and forth. I just won't do it. It is a window into my heart and head. And more than that we have all had enough politics to last a lifetime. I have waited until now to post this because I was hoping some of the fear driven emotional responses to the election would have settled down.

Let me tell you a little about where I am. This is so not a party political thing for me, because I think when forced to pick between two extremes, most of us wish we had a scissors and glue so we could construct something that is more of what we want. However, given what we have, I think my leanings are such because of how I would imagine Jesus feeling and thinking. Plus, I am a tax paying permanent resident, but not a citizen - so I don't get to vote anyhow ;-) And given my status in many ways I feel like a guest in this Country and so everything said below is said with respect.

Rarely when opinions are so different is the debate of issues helpful. For example in theology - one may disagree about worship or gender justice in the church, and argue the positions for years which seldom does any good. The usual reason is that one's way of interpreting scripture is different and so until that fundamental thing is aligned all the issue debating in the world will not help. Like wise with politics, I think the issues are just surface. It is more about how one sees the world, how one has been socialized etc.

Some important foundations for me are this:

1. I think when one is born and raised outside of the USA, one automatically has a different world view. Most of the foreigners I know in these parts, could never imagine themselves being Republican. I will not try to presume to understand why that is, because people from different countries have different world views, but there is a common “democratic” bent with them.

2. I do not believe that it is theologically responsible to think that God ever intended for their to be "Christian Nations." This immediately bumps up against much conservative christian right wing politics. I can not reconcile his call to us as aliens throughout scripture with the idea that we are to create some environment here that is conducive to Kingdom of God. I also know for a fact that Christianity thrives when it is not assumed or becomes the Constantinian religion of the time. I also do not believe America was ever intended by the founding fathers to be such. Instead of retyping this, I have cut and pasted an article below to support that idea. (Long article below, read it or not)

"For example, when John Adams was serving as our second President, the U.S. made a treaty with the Muslim country of Tripoli (now Libya). Article 11 of that treaty includes these words: “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Copies were distributed to the Legislature, and the treaty was read aloud on the floor of the U.S. Senate. In June of 1797, the Senate ratified the treaty by unanimous vote, and President Adams signed it into law. In his book, Jews, Turks, and Infidels, historian Morton Borden writes, “What is significant about the Tripoli treaty is . . . its ready acceptance by the government. Not a word of protest was raised . . . Whatever their personal feelings on the question of religious equality for non-Christians in particular states, all concurred that Article 11 comported with the principles of the Constitution.” Following its ratification, the text of the treaty appeared in several leading newspapers of the day. The public’s reaction was hardly a ripple. Why? Because the citizens of our new nation then understood something that threatens to become for us a forgotten truth: according to our Constitution, the United States of America was intended to be a federal republic where people can believe anything they like. Only the rule of law, rooted in self-evident morality, would be enforced. Religious beliefs, provided that they did not lead to the violation of law, could be advocated, criticized or ignored. Either way, all of them would be tolerated. For example, in his Notes on the State of Virginia, written in the early 1780s, Thomas Jefferson includes a short chapter on “Religion.” Regarding various religious beliefs, Jefferson observes: “[I]t does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” One might think his neighbor’s religious ideas are nonsense. But what is the effect of attempting to coerce people to accept what you “know” is the truth? Said Jefferson, it makes “one half of the world fools, and other half hypocrites.” Paradoxically, because the First Amendment to our Constitution prohibited the establishment of a national church, and any form of coercion, religion in the United States flourished. In those early years, devout Americans came to realize that they would have to do by persuasion what other countries had pretended to do by legislation.And persuade they did. But not because they were somehow compelled by their Uncle Sam, but because they felt called by their Father God. As a result, the United States certainly is, in that sense, a Christian nation. In 1819, James Madison, commonly regarded as the father of the Constitution, observed that the religious devotion of the American people had been encouraged by what he called “the total separation of the church and state.” I believe that when it comes to the political state and the church of God, Christians should remember what the Founding Fathers certainly knew: the first axiom of real religion is that it resonates in the heart. It cannot be coerced. Furthermore, according to the Scriptures, the responsibility of training children does not belong to some “Christian nation” and its public schools commissioned to make all students sufficiently “religious” through state-mandated, teacher-led prayer and Bible reading. The responsibility for training children belongs to parents. To the Israelite nation, Moses said, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 NIV). At present, even in the midst of a real or imagined “godless assault,” Christians in the United States face much less hostility and oppression than did the earliest Christians. And yet, at least some of them went everywhere preaching the Word, serving others, setting an example, bringing up their children in the instruction that comes from heaven. Who would argue that under our present laws in these United States, Christians are not free to do the same? God has not been silenced. In these last days, he speaks clearly “by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:2).

3. I am amazed at how Christians remain shocked at how dark society is. Much of right wing Christianized politics appears surprised at the worldliness in which we live. It makes me scratch my head because I want to yell, “what do you expect outside of Jesus?” Instead of being bothered by Hollywood etc, make your corner of the world an outpost of the Kingdom. The fear driven political agenda of right wing Christianity is unattractive to me on every level. And thus I struggle with the kind of thing that Focus on the Family is always trying to push.

4. Given all of that, I find myself looking at positions on:
the migrants
the aliens
the poor
international coercion
the elderly
health care
the environment
leverage of resources in order to force compliance from other countries
.....and imagining Jesus.
He always, without a doubt came down on the side of compassion.

5. With regards to abortion. The water gets muddy because instead of abortion being a moral issue it is now a political one. Thus we are left having to navigate lots of political issues that are wrapped up with abortion. Add to this the ridiculous dichotomy of names we have given the positions AS IF anyone is not really pro-life. Perhaps we should talk in terms of pro-choice and anti-choice. And more times than not the conservative position on the issue seems to be inconsistent to me. I am not in favor of babies being killed, but neither am I a fan of children, teens, young adults or adults being killed. IF ONE IS TO BE PRO LIFE I THINK IT IS IMPERATIVE TO BE PRO LIFE AFTER THE WOMB TOO. Once a baby is born into our world, how pro life are we in making sure that baby has every tool it needs to grow up into a healthy, productive citizen? How do we act pro life in terms of access to resources, health care, education, war......Politics will never cure this issue. Law does not change this kind of thing. Sodomy is outlawed in Texas but it has not prevented homosexual sex. No candidate will ever. No government will. Only living in ways that are Kingdom oriented will. As Christians, if we were standing outside the abortion clinics begging for the unwanted children to be given to us, that would make a difference.

6. I feel passionate about not just leaping to the aid of countries that are rich in resources that the US needs. How is it that we get entangled in issues under the guise of “setting free” “democracy” or even “human rights” but usually those countries are rich in what we need. And thus, The Sudan, Uganda, much of Asia etc go on with horrendous genocide and human rights abuses. Generally it is because they offer us nothing to boost the $.

7. I am also in the midst of a journey toward greater pacifism. I am not a complete pacifist because there are still inconsistencies in my mind. However, I know that I am not a war supporter either, especially under the circumstances of Iraq.

8. I get concerned about the conservative "anti gay rights" movement. I do not understand how allowing gay people in a monogamous relationship to get married threatens the status of my marriage. Heterosexual deviants, heterosexual addicts, heterosexual adulterers in marriages do not threaten the sanctity of my marriage. Once again I think this is a moral issue not a political one. Do we think that God in some way can not distinguish between a marriage that He sets forth in scripture and one that may violate that? Of course he can and does not need us to protect Him from that. And with regards to gay rights, until we are willing to take away the rights of the greedy, the slanderers, the adulterous, the incestuous, those addicted to pornography, the liars, the money hungry, the power manipulators etc, I am not willing to deny rights to gay people. Sin is sin - and I can not make one worse than another.

9. I am not railing against capitalism or wanting communism, but I feel like "sharing" is a closer pattern to how I would imagine Jesus instructing us to live together. That is scary for some Americans because anything socialistic in nature conjures up fear from the US/Russia struggle, I understand.

10. And then finally, I look back at how I believe President Bush has mishandled his presidency and have no desire for that again. I believe the war was pre-emptive, motivated by other issues. I believe he acted in a lone-ranger way ignoring global wisdom. A personal agenda, with a lot of arrogance mixed in won out in that decision.

And so like you in ministry and a disciple of Jesus - we make our decisions. And as far as I can see I believe the life of Jesus lines up more closely with the whole package of Obama - another next to me, tries to line up their views with Jesus and sides with McCain. Complicated does not begin to describe this. Bottom line, Jesus is the only hope - not candidates or parties. And so, when making a personal choice, I can not base it on one or two issues that I do not think are political ones to begin with.