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Seeds of Hope

Yesterday, I made butternut squash soup because sometimes when I don’t know what to do, I just have to create something, anything, participating in the creation process and begging Creator God to breathe life into the dustiness of humanity. It’s a recipe I’ve made over and over again over the past year fiddling and tweaking with just the right amount of half and half to add to make it creamy, but not so creamy it’s too rich.

As I went through the motions of peeling and chopping the butternut squash, I stopped myself from dumping the seeds into the trash because I remember one of my friends told me that she cleaned the seeds added a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted the seeds to add to the top of the soup or a salad or just to have on hand for a little snack. So, I went through the messy process of cleaning the seeds, washing and rinsing the innards of the butternut squash off the seeds. I dried them off and then tried unsuccessful to hold onto the slippery seeds wondering why she had made it sound so easy when it was really requiring a lot of effort to get those seeds to the point of being able to put in the oven.

And I then I thought, this is exactly what I feel like right now in the midst of the last week, the first week in a reality that I’m finding it hard to gain footing in. I feel like I chasing down slippery seeds of hope, trying to grasp them and catch them before they go down the drain or onto the floor.

Because what I know is that these seeds of hope can be planted or roasted to provide sprouts of change or nourishment or fellowship or something transformative that can ground us to community and to love. I know this can happen because I’ve seen it. I’ve tasted these seeds of hope and change and fellowship and communion and I know they are good.

But it’s going to take some wrestling to get the innards of hate and dissension washed off from these seeds of hope. It’s going to take getting our hands dirty. It’s going to take planting those in dirt and watering and waiting for them to sprout them or dousing them in olive oil and salt and pepper and enjoying the sustenance they provide around the table.

It’s going to take work, time, and energy. Don’t lose heart. Seeds of hope lead to seeds of change and new life.

Things Could Change, Things Could Be Different

“Things could change, Gabe,” Jonas went on. “Things could be different. I don’t know how, but there must be some way for things to be different. There could be colors.

“And grandparents,” he added, staring through the dimness toward the ceiling of his sleepingroom. “And everybody would have the memories.’

“You know about memories,” he whispered, turning toward the crib.

Gabriel’s breathing was even and dee. Jonas liked having him there, though he felt guilty about the secret. Each night he gave memories to Gabriel: memories of boat rides and picnics in the sun; memories of soft rainfall against windowpanes; memories of dancing barefoot on a damp lawn.

“Gabe?”

The newchild stirred slightly in his sleep. Jonas looked over at him.

“There could be love,” Jonas whispered. 

The next morning, for the first time, Jonas did not take his pill. Something within him, something that had grown there through memories, told him to throw the pill away.

-Lois Lowry, The Giver

Piece by Piece

I’ve been an avid puzzler for most of my life. I was the one who would drag out the puzzle board made in my dad’s shop and beg and plead with others in my family to do a puzzle, even if it was a puzzle we had done time and time again.

There’s something about putting a picture together piece by piece, bringing order out of chaos, that calms my innate anxiety. There is a big picture we are working to create piece by piece.

This is what I think we have been missing. Rather than working towards a big picture together, we are clinging to the pieces of our individuality in the same way my brother would always hide the last piece wanting to be the one who clicked it into piece completing the puzzle.

A puzzle is comprised of pieces that are interconnected: a little pink smeared on the edge of a mostly yellow package. The top of an i one one piece with the base of that same i on another piece. And as I search for those tiny details, small ways that one piece connects with another, I am reminded of the grave importance of doing the same with you.

Even if we cannot directly connect, I can connect through other pieces, other individuals I have met, other places I have found, other experiences I have had and see that although we might be on the opposite end of this great puzzle we are still connected.

We cannot be whole without each other. The big picture can not be complete without each piece clicking into place. If we aren’t willing to work together, be joined together, be connected together, then there’s no way the big picture will come together.

And no one likes coming to the end of the puzzle and realizing there are pieces missing. No one likes coming to the realization that all the hard work and time and energy spent has only resulted in a broken, fragmented, fractured picture.

We can create something beautiful together if we are but willing to connect, truly and wholly to one another.

Quarrels Among Us

When I share with people that I come from a family of six, one of the first things they ask is, “Did y’all get along?” I always answer yes and no. There were six of us, which multiplied the possibilities of people you could quarrel in what I am sure felt, to my parents, like an unending roll of the dice.

There were certainly times that we had trouble getting along: a phenomenon not unique to our family, which I know because of the invention of the Our Get Along Shirt that I’ve seen on Pinterest. You take one big shirt and put both kids heads through the neck hole and then the each get one arm out. Parents, there’s a little practical advice for you this morning!

There’s always a point when you are living in community together as families or communities of faith or friends that there is going to be some sort of quarrel or bickering or picking at each other. It’s how we examine our own perspectives and how we develop empathy and sympathy for someone else’s point of view. The quarreling brings up issues that are important, but eventually if you want to survive and thrive as a community who is walking through life together, there has to be a resolution to these quarrels.

And this is the point at which we hear from Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter 1 beginning in verse 10.

Hear now the word of the Lord.

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.[b] 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God[c] that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

I have to admit that there’s part of me that is suspicious of Paul’s claim here in 1 Corinthians. Doesn’t it kind of sound like Paul is just saying that the people of the church of Corinth should simmer down with the allegiance to different people so that they are faithful to him? Sure, he uses the argument that we all belong to Christ, but isn’t he trying to undo the power of Chloe and Apollos and then throw himself into the mix just to appear humble?

It would be easy to interpret this passage with that understanding, but there’s something more to these divisions. This is not a Clemson/Carolina or more importantly, a Duke/UNC division.

These are deep quarrels. Quarrels that turn to us vs. them. Quarrels that turn to factions and groups standing on opposite sides unwilling to even hear the other side. Quarrels that divide. Quarrels that can’t be solved with a get along shirt.

Paul isn’t suggesting that there should be no quarrels, but rather that there should be no divisions among us as followers of Christ. We should quarrel. We should discuss. We should live together in community, which means that we have to struggle to be together and be there for each other. When we don’t quarrel and pretend as though we all believe and agree to the same things, then we are missing a huge part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The cross.

The cross as Paul recounts in verse 17 loses it’s power when we cling to our own side of the story or tenaciously adhere to a specific teacher or a political party or yes, even a sports team, because we aren’t willing to sacrifice ourselves as Christ did.

And that’s what Paul is encouraging this community of faith deeply divided to wrestle with. For being a follower of Christ cannot occur until we, like Christ, are willing to sacrifice our body and yes even our blood for someone else.

You know one of the things that inevitably happens when you find yourself in the Our Get Along Shirt with someone is that you have to consider the other person’s needs. If the other person is thirsty, you have to go with him or her to the sink to get water. If that person is tired, you have to sit with them and beside them. Your time and your plans are not your own because you are walking so closely with someone else.

If we did think of others before ourselves, if we looked around us and wondered how can I meet someone else’s need today, then I’d be willing to bet, we wouldn’t have much time for talking and debating whether we liked Chloe or Apollos or Paul better. We would be too busy being the hands and the feet of Jesus, the hands and feet that were crucified on a cross, to others in our communities of faith and in our communities who are in grave need.
Perhaps getting along, or being of the same mind and purpose as Paul puts it, has a lot more to do with walking and living with each other in community, touching shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip and understanding that everyone needs community.

Small Great Things

It just happened to be my turn on the hold list at the library to read Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. It just happened to be my turn to read this incredible book on the week of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday when the title of the book comes from a Martin Luther King, Jr. quotation:

If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.

It just happened to be my turn to read this book that tells the story of a black woman who has struggled against racism her whole life, but has never wanted to admit it. It just happened to be my turn to read this book when women all across the country are preparing to travel to Washington, DC to march and if they can’t go to Washington, DC, then to join together in their own communities to march and walk together.

It just happened to be my turn to read the inner thoughts of a white supremaist who tells his story from his perspective in this book on the week we elect a new president. It just happened to be my turn to read this story of a black women, a privileged white woman lawyer who is a public defender, and this white supremaist and how their stories and lives interact.

It just happened, this week, of all weeks that this story enters my life reminding me that the small things that we do to listen to stories we don’t want to hear, people we don’t agree with, and try to understand each other better can indeed be truly great things.

“What are you doing all the way out here?”

“What are you doing all the way out here?” I asked her as we both shirked from the cold wind.

She started to tell me and then stopped, “Hey, wait I know you. You’re the lady who gave me that bread that you dip into that juice in that tall cup.”

“That’s right,” I smiled realizing I had recognized her before she had recognized me. “You know the cold weather shelter is open tonight. Don’t you want to go there where it’s warm?”

“There’s too much drama there,” she explained.

I hesitated not knowing at all what to say. Wasn’t it worth enduring drama to be warm? It was below freezing outside, surely it was worth dealing with people so that you didn’t have to sleep outside.

“There’s always someone who is looking for a fight and it’s just not worth it,” she continued.

I was trying really hard to understand where she was coming from, to understand the world as she saw it, knowing that privilege was hindering a connection. I was trying to respect her voice and choice, knowing that telling her what she should do would disrespect her humanity in ways she had experienced over and over again.

I had seen first hand what she was talking about, people in desperate situations guarding their reputations and their identities fiercely. I knew she was speaking truth, but I also knew there was no way I’d ever completely understand.

A humbling realization.

She had seen more death than I had seen. She had felt more desperation than I had seen. She had felt more hunger than I had. There was a gap that divided us, a gap I’ve been working for eight month not to eliminate or justify or defend, but simply understand.

But maybe on Wednesday I would see her again and that gap would be bridged for just a moment as we worshipped and fellowshipped and celebrated the Lord’s supper together, side by side.

A Year of Healing

I found myself lying on the floor staring at the ceiling next to a basket of unfolded laundry unable to believe that 2016 is almost over. The day had started with a celebration at Transitions with the youth of New Hope Christian Fellowship and our three kids where we sang carols, drank cocoa, and ate cake together. We fellowshipped and celebrated making it through Christmas, one of the hardest holidays for the homeless population we have been working with over the past seven months. I was thinking about the forty people we had crammed into the big day room and wondered what was going to happen if our numbers continued to grow at the rate we have been growing. This was already the third room we had been moved to because we had outgrown the space in the other two rooms.

But even as I reflected and breathed a deep peaceful breath that all of the planning from Advent and all of the celebrations with family were concluded, the overwhelming thought that kept repeating itself was, “I never thought I’d be here.”

Even though I haven’t been vocal about it, I make a commitment each year to concentrate on a mantra or discipline, something that will stretch and challenge me, something that I hope will bring me new insights and new understandings.

In 2015 I concentrated on new life and on rebirth as I stepped fully into the role of pastor without being a student/pastor. I concentrated on nurturing and feeding the baby that grew within me. It was a beautiful time of recognizing and practicing resurrection helping my first community of faith to see that there is always a new start and a chance for joining in creating alongside of a Creator who walked with humanity in the cool of the evening. It was a year of anticipation and excitement.

2016 has been one of the hardest I’ve chosen because it’s been a year of healing.

In January, I had to acknowledge the impact nine months of pregnancy, hours of labor, including back labor, two attempts at an epidural before one actual took had taken on my body. I learned what my grandmother meant when she said she was “bone weary” as we navigated cluster feedings and growth spurts nurturing and caring for a mini human trying to wake up to the world around him. It’s been a year where I have had to accept more help than I’m comfortable and leave more things undone than I’d like.

It’s been a year that I have wrestled to understanding my story, one that includes spiritual abuse and will always include people who would rather me not tell my story. It’s been a year where I’ve had to say goodbye to a community of faith so influential in my journey as a follower of Christ and pastor.

It’s been a year where we’ve had to wrestle with the question of what’s next for months and months of uncertainty and fear in a contentious presidential election and then attempt to find our footing after the results came in.

It’s been a year when I’ve finally felt strong enough to start running again: running a long race, running old paths. And just when I started to feel my body heal, we were confronted again with how our whole lives can change in a week as our journey of healing moved from me to Sam. I’ve wondered how it be so tiring to give your mind and body time to heal. Isn’t it supposed to be a peaceful and restful process? And the image of Jacob limping away from this wrestling creeps into my mind knowing what the long journey of healing he had ahead of him looked like. 

As I got up and reached into the basket and started folding clothes dividing them into three stacks for our three sleeping kids, I wondered why I had made those late night promises to God to take time to heal in the early part of this year. Why hadn’t I chosen a different word, a different journey for this year? But even as the questions came to my mind, I knew that this time of cocooning ourselves and trying to give ourselves time to heal has been so important.

And as I look to next week, next year I can’t help but wonder has this all just been a part of the metamorphosis to come?

What will 2017 hold?  

Signs from Above

[W]ise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

I know it’s too early to celebrate Epiphany. I know we are supposed to wait for Christmas and then for twelve long days after Christmas, but I need a sign from above now before the Christ Child is even born. I need wise men to tell me that they have seen something remarkable in the sky, something worth journeying and traveling in order to pay homage to a baby.

I need to hear the angels proclaim again and again, “Fear not!” this Advent season. I need dreams, signs, and angelic proclamations to know that the divine is with us. I need the story of the birth of the Christ Child born to outsiders. I need the story of the birth of the Christ Child to a poor couple, unsure and uncertain what their future holds knowing only they have to journey together.

I need to know Emmanuel, God is with us.

I need Christmas to be on a Sunday this year, so I can gather together with our community of faith and we can remember this story together. We need to gather to worship and remember that what we experience the other days of the week doesn’t change the truth and light that we hear on Sunday. We need to gather so that we can strengthen each other to have the courage to that the light of this Christ Child within us.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Your people are waiting, dreaming, and looking for signs.

I Just Want You to be….Kind

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I admit it, I teared up as Handy Manny and his tools delivered gifts to the major for kids whose parents couldn’t afford presents this year. Maybe it was because Ben and I had just returned from Florence where we dropped off presents and bags of food for children who lost their homes or whose parents lost work during Hurricane Matthew. Maybe it was because I am overwhelmed by Santa pictures and Santa Christmas lists and am wondering how as a parent you teach your children to think of the people who don’t have food or toys during Christmas before they rattle off their own lists of wants.

Gross-Loh in her book Parenting Without Borders explains:

In 1970, the primary goal stated by most college freshmen was to develop a meaningful life philosophy; in 2005 it was to become comfortably rich.

This is disturbing because it means our children are thinking first of their own comforts and seeking those comforts whatever the costs. This lack of empathy is part of our culture now and engaging in some of the cultural practices especially around this time of year may just be teaching our children that this is what life is about.

Gross-Loh explains:

[A] survey of high school students from five different U.S. schools asked them to rank what they wanted in life. Did they want to be happy? Did they want to be good, caring for others? Two-thirds of the students ranked happiness above goodness, and said they believed their parents held the same goal for them.

Wow.

Perhaps as a parent, I need to revisit my own rhetoric and refrain from saying I want you to be happy or asking what would make you happy and instead ask what would be the kind response? What could you do to show you care for someone? Perhaps as a parent, offering the invitation for our children to choose between thinking about themselves first and thinking of other first would open up conversations and truths within our children we haven’t seen before. Perhaps it’s within this next generation that hope, love, joy, and peace reside if we but offer the space and place to let them be who they are rather than who we want them to be.

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A Divine Blended Family

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There’s something about the picturesque nativity scenes that have caused to me to ponder this Advent season. The cast of characters are usually the same in nativity scenes leaving out part of the story like the camel-hair wearing, locust-eating voice crying out in the wilderness. He’s just a little too out there. I mean how would we explain him to our kids?

Not only have I been wondering about why some people are included in these scenes and not others, but I’ve also been wondering about the peaceful expressions on these characters. Last Advent was a blur of new motherhood, but even though it is a blur, I know for certain our family certainly wasn’t this peaceful and put together. And as I’ve thought about our family and this divine family, I’ve been struck this year that they were a blended family. Did Joseph worry about whether his son would look at him one day and say, “You aren’t my real father!” like so many stepparents do? How were they going to explain to this baby that he was different than other families?

And as these questions roll around in my head and heart, I realize that although nativity scenes decorate our communities of faith during this Season, these questions of challenging truths don’t often accompany the scenes. Instead, we preach a peaceful, picturesque gospel that sits on a shelf, decorating our lives, but not transforming our lives.

If we really preached how revolutionary this blended divine family was, then we would have to question our nice, neat faith that allows us to worship both the Christ Child and Santa Claus at this time of year. If we really preached how this Christ Child gathered the outsiders and outcasts of society in a barn where animals slept, then we would have to question our pretty, festive church buildings. If we really preached what the birth of this Christ Child means, then we would have to accept the understanding that Jesus’ birth is a celebration and not a way of life for us.

There is nothing picturesque or peaceful about the birth of the Christ Child.