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When We Change the Rules

Yesterday as I was running errands back and forth across Columbia, I encountered five different drivers over the course of the afternoon who pulled a U-turn or three-point turn across a double line. I don’t mean they went up to a stoplight and turned around. I mean they pulled across a five-lane highway in one case, a two-lane road, a three-lane road, a four-lane road downtown, and in one case held up traffic on both sides of the road as they made a three-point turn in the middle of the road.

I was flabbergasted.

If anyone can understand missing a turn or getting turned around, I certainly can. It happens to me frequently because of my terrible sense of direction. When I miss a turn or miss my opportunity to change lanes in order to turn where I need to turn, I turn at a light, loop around a block and make my way back to where I was trying to go in the first place or pull into a business off the road and turn around.

It says something to me to encounter this number of people who not only put themselves in danger but also other drives in danger. I can’t help  but wonder whether we are living in a culture in which people believe the rules don’t apply to them or don’t apply to the particular circumstance they find themselves. Insisting that where we are going is so important that we can’t take the time to take a proper U-turn signifies tunnel vision in our own experience and agenda. It leads to an unwillingness to reflect on how our decisions impact other people and indeed a community. When we see patterns of complaint and patterns of ignoring rules meant to keep drivers safe, we forget the way our actions and decisions create ripples in the waters of our community.

The only way I know how to combat these phenomena is to be kind. Not nice, but kind. It is so easy to fall into bad habits and patterns whether it’s when we are driving or as we are interacting with people at work, school, or in a place of business. It takes active engagement and forethought to renew our minds and create new patterns: patterns or love and peace, patterns of respect and empathy.

I can’t think of a better time to start.

This is the Day the Lord has Made?

Part of our morning routine includes singing:

This is the day, this is the day.

That the Lord has made, that the Lord has made.

We will rejoice, we will rejoice

and be glad in it, and be glad in it.

This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.

In the middle of our singing this song this morning, I heard the news that over 50 people had been killed and over 400 injured and that those numbers would climb throughout the day. I read accounts and listened to interviews knowing that the people who experienced the horrific tragedy in Las Vegas last night would never, never be the same because The Body Keeps the Score of trauma.

This is the day the Lord has made? Certainly not.

This is the day we have made. We have made this day by insisting, demanding, and defending on protecting and preserving our own rights without reflecting or acknowledging how those rights can be transformed into massacre and madness in the hands of certain people; not willing to sacrifice our rights and our privilege for the sake of the common good so people can enjoy an outdoor concert, so kindergarteners can go to school to learn and teachers can go to school to teach, and ministers and congregants can have Bible study on a Wednesday night without losing their lives.

What most of us don’t understand about privilege is that we also can give up or sacrifice our own privilege for the sake of someone else. It isn’t that we lose our own voices, not that we speak on behalf of people whose experiences we haven’t had, but rather that we sacrifice what we think we deserve knowing that by sacrificing we, in turn, give someone else an opportunity, a chance, and indeed hope.

Most of us aren’t willing to do this.

Most of us aren’t willing to give up our privilege for the sake of other people’s safety or other people’s well-being because we’ve been taught in this individualistic culture that is America to stand up for ourselves, our beliefs, and our rights, which requires competing and ultimately trampling other people.

I have a right to bear arms as an American, but I give up that right.

I give up that right out of respect for the families who lost their children at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the ones who survived and relive that trauma in their dreams and in their flashbacks for the rest of their lives.

I give up that right out of respect for the families who lost their loved at Bible Study and the ones who survived and relive that trauma in their dreams and in their flashbacks for the rest of their lives.

I give up that right out of respect for the 59 people killed last night and over 500 people injured, fighting for their lives, and for the ones who survived and relive that trauma in their dreams and in their flashbacks for the rest of their lives.

I give up that right to try to solve the problem of gun violence and the fear and division it causes in our country.

What will you do with your right?

A Culture of Complaint

I didn’t sit outside today at the coffee shop, but rather at the point in the store where customers pick up their drink. I see the barista behind the counter working hard trying to keep up with the influx of Friday morning orders. I see him trying to smile as not one, but one after another, four people walk up and complain about their drink.

“Is this how this is supposed to be?”

“This was too milky.”

“This was too bitter can you sweeten it?”

“Why don’t y’all put the sleeves on the cups anymore? I don’t like having to do it.”

“I ordered light ice. This has too much.”

And I wonder how he does it. Person after person complaining about being served a beverage they didn’t have to make. I wonder about the customers too. Why did they order a drink that was full of espresso rather than sugar and then complain it was too bitter? Why did they order a latte and then complain it was too milky? The cynical part of me wonders if they are just trying to get two drinks for one since the barista patiently remakes and remixes drink after drink while new orders pile up.

We live in a culture of complaint. Our first reaction is to express what we don’t like before we express gratitude to the person who has served us. We expect that when we don’t like something or something differs from our expectations for someone to solve that without question.

Our first reaction is to express what we don’t like before we express gratitude to the person who has served us. We expect that when we don’t like something or something differs from our expectations for someone to solve that without question.

“I’m a paying customer. I deserve…”

Even as communities in Mexico City work together to search through the rubble; even as communities in Puerto Rico wrestle with the reality that they may not have power or water for six months or longer; even as people are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases, we complain about our coffee.

Thanks be to God for a lectionary text about a complaining prophet this week who is angry when God spares a people. May our eyes be opened to our own anger and complaining and give our mouths gratitude first.

Shadow Ships

As I was reading Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, there was an image that struck me. She was giving advice to someone who was wondering what her life would be like had she taken a different path and she suggested that the other life was a ship on the horizon. We can see that ship and sometimes it haunts us because of the possibility that isn’t our current reality.

Then I thought about our shadow selves. The ones that are revealed to us in the dark night of our souls. When we don’t wrestle with our shadow selves and come to terms with the best of ourselves, but also the worst of ourselves, then we can’t become fully whole. We have to come to terms with our deepest desires, our deepest passions, and our deepest, most fatal flaws.

But these shadow selves aren’t the only things that can impede us from living full and whole lives. It’s also our shadow ships. In those moments when our realities are so difficult, we long to be aboard another ship, another reality. We fantasize about what that life would be, the one floating on the boat over on the horizon. When we dwell on that boat, we only see the light cascading off the perfect facade, we don’t see the work required to keep that boat afloat.

Our shadow ships have to be sent out to sea. We have to bid them bon voyage when our realities get difficult. Those shadow ships are on a different body of water heading somewhere else and when we try to get to them, we risk capsizing the reality we are in. Rather than pining away for passage on them, be thankful for the journey you are on, no matter how difficult and how different than what you imagined.

When You Exile the Dreamers

One of the first questions I asked my very first congregations was, “What do you dream this church would be?” In their answer, I saw their passion to help their neighbors in need. I heard their stories of being exiled from communities of faith, but most of all I heard hope.

This past Sunday, I asked the same thing of New Hope. “What do you dream this church would be? What has God been whispering in your ear?” And I’ve heard stories blueprints, ideas of why God had called this community of faith to form. I’ve heard of blueprints drawn up and since abandoned, but most of all I’ve heard hope of being God’s presence in the community.

The physical act of dreaming catches us in our most vulnerable position: unconsciousness. It reveals our passions, our fears, our anxieties, and our loves. Dreams can bring lost loved ones back for a conversation or a hug. Dreams can remind us of friends who we haven’t spoken to.

And yet our society has become one who longs for dreamless sleep. We don’t want to dream and imagine, we don’t want to put ourselves into the vulnerable position of revelation. This is evident in the announcement yesterday about DACA and the Dreamers.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile imagination.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile possibility.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile passion.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile healing.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile gratitude.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile hope

When we exile dreamers from our society, you enter a dreamless sleep of ambivalence and hopelessness.

Why this Labor Day is Different

This Labor Day is different because of the Homelessness Coalition I attended last week where people all over Columbia who felt passionately about helping the homeless came together to learn. We learned about the fair housing, we tried to make ends meet through a poverty simulation (I bet you can’t make it 30 days), and we asked ourselves how we could work together to combat poverty and homelessness in the Midlands.

As a young professional who entered the job market in 2008, I understand the impact the recession had not only on me and my colleagues but also on the baby boomers who were just within reach of retirement only to find out that they had to start all over. I understand the changing dynamics of what it means to work. I also understand the negative impact of the myth of the American Dream.

The average worker has to work one month in order to make what a CEO makes in one hour. 1% of our population holds 40% of all of America’s wealth. 8 out of every 10 people only hold 7% of America’s wealth. 500,000 youth (18+) are homeless. In fact, America meets all three criteria for qualifying as a third world country: poor distribution of income, government run by the elite, political focus on stasis rather than change.

South Carolina is the 8th poorest state in the US. In order to afford housing that is livable and abides by fair housing regulations, an individual needs to between $12.5-$18.29/hour. The minimum wage in SC is $7.25 meaning that a person who is working a minimum wage job would have to work 120 hours/week in order to afford housing that abides by fair housing regulation. This is physically impossible, but again and again, the homeless population is blamed for being lazy and not trying hard enough. Four out of ten homeless people hold jobs and four out of ten have no savings, so when a big expense in transportation, deposits, or medical bills arise there is no way for them to pay for those surprise expenses.

NPR reported today: “Full-time employees have become the last resort. Companies will do anything to hire part-time, short-term, or contract positions.” In addition: “More and more people who are full-time employees need second jobs or side gigs in order to make ends meet.” Our world is not the same as it has been. The changing dynamics of the economy and the changing idea of what it means to work is changing young professionals.

If communities of faith want to be relevant to young professional, there has to be an understanding of the uphill battle they are facing when it comes to finding work and finding reliable income. Our neighbors are in need. What are we going to do to help?

The Aftermath

We are living in the aftermath.

We’re living in the aftermath of a major universal event that many have never experienced. 

We’re living in the aftermath of protests that ended in death.

We’re living in the aftermath of the storm that has destroyed a major city and left thousands stranded and homeless. 

We’re living in the aftermath of a statement from an evangelical group who claim to know what God says about marriage and what isn’t marriage in God’s eyes.

We’re living in the aftermath in which people are waiting for you. They are waiting to see how you will respond. If you will respond with statements of support. If you will respond with donations. If you will respond with silence and awe. If you will respond with a theological crisis. If you will respond with an identity crisis. If you will respond by continuing to live unimpacted and unchanged.

We are living in the aftermath; the ground shifting under us, inviting us to change, inviting us to new insight and new understanding. Will you accept?

On Laying Low

Yesterday, The State Newspaper released an article on the interactions between the homeless community and the new residents of the Main Street community. The article was supposed to report on aggressive interactions between the homeless and these new residents, but the residents who were interviewed couldn’t think of any incidents in which they felt threatened. The article has received pushback for overgeneralization of a population comprised of unique individuals and unique circumstances as well as being poorly researched.

In my experience with the homeless population, I think the question was correct but addressed to the wrong population. The reporter should have asked whether the members of the homeless community had ever had an aggressive interaction with a member of the population who live in homes and apartments (this sounds odd to generalize all the population who live with a roof over their head into one big category, doesn’t it?). His article would have been filled with the stories of people desperately trying to survive and save for a hotel room, an apartment, or a room at a nursing home facility being victimized again and again. Not only do people who are homeless experience aggressive attacks, but then shame and guilt are heaped onto them for “getting themselves into this position.”

But that’s not what the story concluded. Instead, it reinforced the false belief that people who are homeless are homeless because of their choices or laziness. It reinforced bias of a group of people filled with unique individuals with unique situations. It failed to mention that the homeless population in Columbia is comprised of individuals and families who are chronically homeless, situationally homeless, and seasonally homeless.

The bi-product of this article is not only the reinforcement of bias but a reminder to The State readers that they are released from the responsibility of caring for their neighbors in need. The article will have ripple effects for non-profits who are working in and with the homeless community. They will see more critique, reduced funding, and lack of participation. The article will also serve to send a message to the homeless community to lay low: they are being watched. But more than any of these effects, the article will reinforce the privilege laced into our society that created the haves and the have nots.

Until we can come to the understanding that some of us have been given opportunities others have not had and will not have, we will continue to thrive as a people and as a society by exploiting and oppressing other people. 51% of children in SC will continue to be food insecure because they live in low-income situations and over 17,000 people in SC will continue to be homeless 20% of whom are children.

You might be able to sleep at night in your bed when it’s raining outside and not think or worry about the people and children who are trying to find a warm, dry place to sleep. You might be able to look at these statistics and understand that over half of our population in SC is living in low-income situations and say you deserve what you have because you worked for it and they deserve what they get. You might be able to drive by someone begging for money without wondering if they are begging because they didn’t get picked for the limited day laborer pool or because it’s raining and they can’t work construction, paving, or painting today. These realities might be ok with you because they are the realities in which you have a place to sleep and food to eat without concern.

These realities are not ok with me. I think there’s enough for us all. I think when we believe we deserve what we have, it clouds our vision to what we could do if we worked together and shared our resources.

I am only one
by Edward Everett Hale

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.

 

You are special. You are loved. You are God’s child.

Today began our Youth Missions Week at New Hope. We are so excited to be joining with Koinonia offering arts, crafts, and songs to the students gathered this summer. This morning we read God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and were reminded that we are unique and special and that we are all a part of God’s family.

We asked students to complete the sentence, “I am special because…” It was amazing to see how astute they already are about how they are different than anyone else, but as we were working on the crafts, I noticed that the adult and youth leaders began to make their own. Maybe it was the finger paint, maybe it was the book, maybe it was that we all need this simple reminder:

You are special.

You are loved.

You are God’s child.

Desert Longings

The Old Testament lectionary passages have been following the story of Abraham and Sarah and I’ve been struck by these foreigners wandering around in the wilderness as I have prepared to preach each week.

God called Abraham to leave his home and become a wanderer and a stranger. Abraham knew God was calling him to leave, but he didn’t know where he was going except that it was a land God had promised him. He also knew that God had promised to make him the Father of many nations and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, but he didn’t know how that was going to happen since he was old and his wife was barren.

And so we come to Abraham and Sarah in the desert. They are alone. They are living outside of communities and places they know, but as they have journeyed, they have created high places…places that they have encountered God. Abraham is sitting at one of those high places called the sacred oak of Mamre when suddenly there appear three strangers walking towards Abraham in the desert. For the Israelites who would hear this story, their ear would immediately perk up. Strangers who suddenly appear have the possibility of being divine messengers. And so they would listen to this story of Abraham with great interest as to what he was going to do next. In these types of stories, not just in Israelite texts, but also in Ancient Near Eastern stories, extending hospitality would often result in a blessing at the end of the story.

And in the midst of the desert and the wilderness and the uncertainty of where they are going Abraham and Sarah are reminded that God does not forget God’s promises. God even sends divine messengers to us in the desert when it seems impossible that God’s promise will be fulfilled, but too often we are focused on the next step and we forget that welcoming the stranger might just be entertaining angels, angels whom God has sent in order to remind us of the promises God has made.

If you’re like me than your journey of following God includes some laughable moments. Moments when God calls us to believe in the possible. Moments when God calls us into the desert not knowing where we are going to end up, but just that God has promised to walk with us on the journey. Moments when it is hard to believe in anything but the dust and lifeless we see around us.

And I think sometimes we miss these reminders of God’s promises because, like Sarah, we don’t give way to our desert longing. We don’t give voice to the call God has placed on our life, and we don’t welcome the stranger in order to hear the divine message God has for us.

We don’t invite strangers into our homes expecting or believing they might be Jesus or God. In fact, if we are really truly honest with ourselves, we have a hard time inviting strangers into our churches, a place where we should welcome anyone we see walking our way because we have gotten our idea of hospitality backwards. Instead of being welcomed, we should welcome. Instead of being fed, we should feed those in need. Instead of waiting for strangers to come to us, we should be running to greet and welcome strangers.

If we like Abraham welcomed God into our homes, if we got to know God as we sat around our table as served God supper, then our lives would look considerably different, wouldn’t they. Rather than our being the ones to go to God’s house, we would be the ones preparing and serving God. We would be welcoming God instead of being welcomed by God.

When Abraham and Sarah left their home, they didn’t know what lay ahead. Certainly there were enough threats in the desert that could bring their lives to an end and yet they went anyways. When they welcomed the strangers, they could have been bandits or thieves, and yet they still welcomed these strangers, just like the beautiful community of faith at Emmanuel in Charleston.

We have to get to the point as believers and followers of Christ that we not only listen and study the words, but that the study and belief we have moves us to action. We have to get to the point that we welcome the stranger in the radical, generous hospitality that Abraham demonstrated and the radical, generous hospitality that Jesus demonstrated. The radical, generous hospitality that might ask us to give up our possessions, our homes, and even our lives.  

And when we remember that the God of Abraham is Creator God who brings life out of dust and brings life from a barren womb. We are reminded that nothing is impossible with God and as a result we too will offer radical hospitality to the strangers we meet. And when we do, we still start to see a difference in this world full of violence. Instead of hate, we will see love. Instead of hunger, we will see full bellies. Instead of loneliness, we will see fellowship. Instead of helplessness, we will see hope in the faces of strangers we are eating with and fellowshipping with and those strangers might just look a lot like God, once we get to know them.