Fishers of men…

I’m really glad Jesus hung out with fishermen and chose them on purpose(especially since I’m married to one).  Fishing is not necessarily a real cerebral kind of thing-not  theologically complex, and nowdays not always even politically correct.  However, it’s a very real, tangible, practical and ” in this world while still being part of the other one” kind of thing. 

Fishermen spend a LOT of time and energy (and money) and care getting their nets ready.  Certain kinds of nets fish best in certain waters for certain kinds/sizes of fish….nowdays there’s lots of rules to all this Jesus and the guys probably didn’t have to deal with:)  For the past several months we’ve had a garage full of cork line (corks spaced on a line every so many inches), weed line (I think it helps keep weeds from getting in the net?), lead line (holds the net down so the fish can swim into it and get stuck) and several piles of net.  All of this had to be hung (put together) into the appropriate configuration.   A lot of work and several days later it is now loaded into the holds on the boat. 

Why so much work on the net?  It’s all about how fish look at it.  Is it the right color to go with the water they’re in?  Does it ripple right in the water so it’s not conspicuous-does it seem like it naturally belongs there?  The net is really important ’cause it’s a tool to catch the fish, and fishing is definitely about the fish-not the fisherman. 

But as I was watching the final stages of this operation, I thought about Jesus calling some fishermen to be “fishers of men” and follow Him.  And I thought about how if the net doesn’t look “natural” in the water, fish run away from it.  Nobody likes to think of themselves as a fish someone is trying to catch, but some of the evangelism schemes I grew up hearing sure seemed like nets I would have (did!) run from. Lots of hype, pressure, glitz etc.  Nowdays we’re more politically correct and sensitive, but I guess I’m coming to the thought that God knows what fish are made of.  He knows what we are made of, and it’s OK to reach people in ways that are natural-not contrived. 

There are people in my life that I deeply want to see know God’s love.   I don’t know how God makes that happen.  But I think I see some parallels: the need for boyancy (corks), depth (lead line), keeping the weeds out of my life (weed line),  and hanging in the water in a way that is natural-not contrived.  You can learn a lot from fishermen. 

Standing here beside the ocean

Staring at the sea

Wondering how the God who made all this

Could still choose me

And yet, I hear your voice, Lord,

Even as in days of old

Promising a harvest-

More than my net can hold.

 “Cast your net into the water

Put your trust in Me.

Diverse fish in diverse places-

Trust Me and you’ll see.

It ain’t over yet, My child.

The best is still to come.

As I always have,

I still hang out with fishermen.”

 (From a dream, 8/3/01)

Raising Funds for Food

Mae Ra Mo Bible SchoolIt’s harder to ignore a news story or a set of uncomfortable facts when it’s about people you’ve met in places you’ve been.  It becomes personal, not theoretical.  When I asked Steve (World Aid director) today, what would be the best use of any funds raised through a joint benefit some friends from the Quest Life Together Group are sponsoring May 9th, he had an answer ready.  “There are 100 Bible School students at Mae Ra Moe camp who need money for food.  Rations have been cut again through Thai Burma Border Consortium due to lack of funds.  What would it take to feed them?  

truetodeath

The bare minimum:
1 person per 30 days:

1 tin of rice  400 baht,

 salt, fish paste, lentils 400 baht =  Total 800 baht
(present exchange rate = 34.87 to the $) = $22.94 per person per month                  

That’s not much, if you have it.  If you don’t, it’s a lot.

Mother Theresa said, “If you can’t feed everyone, feed one.” 

(Pictures were from a trip to that camp in 2003 where we got to attend a Bible School graduation at Ma Rae Mo.  Many of the graduating students were going back into Burma to bring hope and encouragement to their people).

Domestic Violence Escape Plan

Domestic violence kills people. The following link to a  Domestic Violence Escape Plan  is frighteningly real.  The rules of logic or civilized behavior do not  apply when someone is battering and abusing the people they should be caring for.  It’s hard to decide the “rules of engagement” for this kind of domestic terrorisim.  Someonetimes retreat is the most reasonable option, but retreat to a safe place. 

Yesterday I watched friends deal with an ongoing domestic violence situation.  They had helped a woman and her  kids get to a safe place, and for that service, her husband was threatening to kill them.  I was struck by the similarities between a pastor (shepherd) and a soldier….both on watch, facing risk while protecting their people from those who come to destroy.  As a kid who grew up where violence and abuse of different kinds were commonplace, I was/am moved beyond words to see church leaders like my friends who will stand up, stand in the gap, and say, “No.  Not on my watch, ” instead of taking the easy way out, blaming the victim, or pretending it will all “work out.”    

While abuse degrades, humiliates and makes people unaware of the power and choices they have to affect the outcomes of their lives, care like this, empowers, instructs, encourages and shepherds people.  Some of the most powerful words in English are “I have a choice.”  Those being abused have a choice to get help (hard choice, but God given), abusers have a choice to stop (in that moment before they choose to hurt people they are supposed to love and care for, there is time to stop….it is always a choice)…..the only ones with no choice are the kids, if no one will stand against in the gap for them.

Pastor Deanza did a really good post on some of the statistics on domestic violence….and Dani Moss has a good site with an extensive amount of resources for those trying to find their way  through these issues from a faith perspective.

Global Day of Prayer for Burma

Sunday, March 8th is the Global Day of Prayer for Burma.  

Pray:

  • For political prisoners.
  • For a political solution to the armed conflict.
  • For the pastors, who are often singled out and attacked by Burma army soldiers when they first enter a village.
  • For strength, wisdom, and hope among people of all faiths who live under direct control of the military dictatorship in Burma.  Pray that they will be unified and encouraged by their efforts to serve one another through love and perseverance.
  • For all of the parents who have lost their children due to the Burma army attacks.
  • For the children who suffer the most in the conflict.
  • For a change in the hearts of the Burma army soldiers and leaders.
  • For a political solution to the armed conflict.
  • For those in the areas still devastated by Cyclone Nargis.

Some of our friends from the Karen choir at the Karen church in Kent will be participating in the service at Quest on Sunday.  Below is a translation of the song they will be singing.  Please join them, and us, in praying for Burma.

My prayer

 Alone, I cannot walk the path without you Lord.

All is barren without your presence.

All life comes from you.

Strength comes from you.

Rest my heart

May I rest in you.

Let me know just one thing.

For all in heaven and earth

And my heart is yours.

Let me believe in just one thing

That you will never leave me

And where ever you place me, there you be.

Welcoming Strangers

…A newly arrived local refugee’s 16 year old  friend used her less than perfect English skills and took him to school herself  and registered him after he had waited a month for the caseworker to do it…. there are many of these stories across the country. 
Resettlement agencies have a government contract to do a checklist of things for a limited time (90 days) for the people they resettle.  That’s their job.  They get a contract (and money) to do these things.  Some of those things include:
  1. Meet people at the airport
  2. Finding appropriate housing
  3. Provide furniture
  4. Sign up for Medicaid  & food stamps 
  5. Refer to ESL classes
  6. Obtain Social Security cards
  7. Registering kids for school
  8. Health screenings
  9. Employment referral

 If, due to caseworker overload, complexity of some cases, how long even making a medical appointment at a public clinic can take, or some other reason, it doesn’t get done, people suffer.  I see two approaches to take to this problem-for someone to hold agencies accountable to do what they contract to do, or, maybe, for the rest of us to accept the fact that it doesn’t ALWAYS get done, won’t get done if something doesn’t change and move on to How Can It Get Done and What Can We Do To Help?!  

Churches are the great untapped resource here.  We are called and commanded to love people.  This doesn’t require a great mind or a theological education.  It requires investing some time, patience, energy and creativity.  (Sometimes it’s easier to just give money).  But it’s a long-term investment that pays off no matter what the economy does or doesn’t do:) .

I found an article in the Covenant Companion this morning on creative ways for churches to welcome newcomers to their lives, their churches, and their communities (see the link). Some of her great ideas included: 

  1. Visit a refugee church (you may not understand the language, but you may recognize some of the melodies and sing along)
  2. Ask them how you can help.  Listen for answers
  3. Read to young kids in a refugee family as English practice
  4. Invite their congregation to join you for a potluck meals together
  5. Invite kids to your youth group
  6. Invite women to your women’s group
  7. Pair families by ages of children and make friends in spite of language barriers (kids will figure it out first!)
  8. Take an ESL tutoring class and tutor a family or help with homework
  9. Practice English speaking with people who don’t speak English
  10. Volunteer to take people to doctors and dentists and agency appointments (make the appointments, help with transportation-someone else may have to interpret)
  11. Help fill out forms for jobs
  12. Invite them to your holiday gatherings, go to theirs
  13. Teach computer skills (donate your used computers)
  14. Help people learn to drive and pass the driving test
  15. Help them understand budgeting in the US
  16. Host a refugee congregation in your building (thanks to Kent Covenant Church for renting space to the Karen Community and several other refugee communities!)

In summary: treat other people the way you would want to be treated if you were the newcomer.

Jesus said….”I was a stranger and you took Me in….” (Mt. 25)


Who am I?

I don’t remember  the purpose of the meeting, but several hundred of us were gathered in the meeting hall at  Langley United Methodist Church, during the days when Tom & Claudia Walker were pastoring there.  Different now forgotten things went on during the meeting, but then Tom and Claudia got up to sing one of their songs, “Child of God.”  This was probably 15 years ago, but my life has never been the same. 

“I am a child of God-nothing can shake my confidence.

I am a child of God….no one can take my inheritance.

Never alone I’ll stand, strengthened by God’s own hand.

I am a child.  I am a child, a child of God.

My name is Marie, now I can see

What this relationship’s doing to me

Last night he hit me, I fell on the floor–

Just like he’s hit me so often before.

He says he’s sorry.  He brings me flowers…

Things will go fine for a couple of hours…

He says I’m nothing.  He says I’m scum.

Then he hits me because that’s what he does.

I am a child of God-nothing can shake my confidence.

I am a child of God….no one can take my inheritance.

Never alone I’ll stand, strengthened by God’s own hand.

I am a child.  I am a child, a child of God.

My name is Manuel.  My hands can tell

The story of how you’re living so well.

I work every day but my family is poor

So you can have coffee bananas and more.

The landowners say if I don’t mind my ways

They can find substitute workers to pay.

They say my soul will only be free

In heaven some day, that’s what they say.

 I am a child of God-nothing can shake my confidence.

I am a child of God….no one can take my inheritance.

Never alone I’ll stand, strengthened by God’s own hand.

I am a child.  I am a child, a child of God.”

There were at least three of us who wept and wept, even after the song  and the beautiful, worshipful, expressive  dance Carol did during it were over.  Something had happened….in this song, by the grace of God, we saw a new reality for how God sees us, even in our brokenness.  He loves us all, even in our failures, poverty, isolation, differentness, or in other groups excluded in their society.  He sees us not as life’s incidences and conflicts had taught us to view ourselves, but with through the lens of the dignity He created us for. 

(Sorry I have lost the third verse (the story of a man being disowned by his family for admitting he was gay-very powerful! ), or the music to share with you (it was beautiful).

Thank you Tom & Claudia for sharing your gifts.  Wherever you are, hope you are well and blessed with the kind of grace you have shared with others.

Starfish tossing

I don’t know where the story originally came from, but most of you have probably heard it….the one where the guy is running along a beach in the morning and he comes to part of the beach that’s covered with beached starfish.  There’s a little girl there picking up starfish and tossing them back in the sea.  The man questions her on what she’s doing, and tries to tell her she can’t save all of them-asks what difference she can make.  The little girl responds, as she throws in another one, “Made a difference to that one…..”  Being unqualified, uneducated, inexperienced, and doing too little, too late, with not enough, for too few seems a lot like that sometimes.  But to the one (or more!) that you do get to encourage, bless, walk beside, befriend, help feed, house, care for or educate by the actions you do, I got to believe it makes some kind of difference!  

In the words of St. Francis, “Preach the gospel.  If necessary, use words.”

Jesus is a refugee (poem)

See the mother in the jungle, tiny baby in her arms,
Running from the soldiers who’ve come to rape and kill
She’s tired from the running, desperate, hungry, full of fear—
How can she know God loves her, and that He walks beside her there?

He is there beside her in the dark and in the cold.
He knows what she is feeling, in the Bible it is told
That He was once a refugee. His parents ran to save His life
From the soldiers sent to kill him in Herod’s infanticide.

The way that God has chosen to loose the bands of wickedness
To give bread to the hungry and to help free the oppressed
Calls us to walk beside her in our prayers and in our hearts:
As the body of Christ, the servant king, it makes her burden ours.

But words and prayers are not enough, no matter how well spoken
God’s love requires our presence so He can walk beside His children.
Even though we’re broken, we are His feet and hands.
We stand in need of grace to obey His commands.

Though she sits in darkness, He came to be the light.
Though she now is hungry, He is the bread of life.
Though we turn aside sometimes or don’t know what to do,
We are all called in some way to help her make it through.

He chose to entrust us with His reputation
And to make us His body throughout every nation
As a king become baby, He risked everything
Calling us to embody the love that He brings….

“I was hungry and you gave me bread
Thirsty and you gave me drink
A stranger and you took me in
In prison and you came to me….”
Lord, when did this happen?
His answer is quite clear
“When you did it for the least of these
It was for me, for I am there….”

The Faces of Domestic Violence

Facts and figures about violence against women are overwhelming and maddening, but, it’s the faces that give me the nightmares.  There is a new face added to the gallery of survivors I remember…a women spending the night on her friend’s couch in a new town with her three kids,  trying to sort out what kind of future is possible that will keep them safe from her husband’s rages.  I see the faces of those who ended up in a shelter a friend started, or on the couches of friends or strangers, exhausted, afraid, ashamed, looking for temporary safety for themselves and their children…those who, even though they have won in court lost everything except their futures and their children and had to figure out how to build a new life out of courage and not much else. I cannot imagine how powerless that must feel, or how much courage it takes to seek help.  I see those who have survived.  

And the Mom’s aren’t the only ones who suffer.  Dad’s can be abused too.  Kids may or may not be being hit, but they are shaping their view of themselves, of relationships, and of God based on what they see and hear.  

If you’re reading this, and you’re one of those being abused, please tell someone.  Tell a pastor, a friend, a crisis line…get help. Don’t stop trying til someone listens.   A new life is hard, but it can happen.

http://www.metrokc.gov/dias/ocre/dvresources.htm

http://www.way2hope.org/domestic_violence_facts.htm 

http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/index.php?p=Domestic_Violence&s=28

Jesus Loves the “Other” Children
 

Jesus loves the little children?

Oh really?  Yes, I see…

He must love the other children

(This don’t look like love to me!)

 In the car, while Mom hits Dad

And I sit in the back

Afraid and sad

As we drive to the church

And park in a row

Where all those nice people

That Jesus loves go…

I think of the words 

Those nice ladies say —

“You can get what you want

From God if you pray,”

So I pray, and I pray

And I pray and I pray…

(But it never makes

The pain go away.)

 

We smile and look normal

As we walk from the car.

No one knows how bad things are.

No one can tell me

Why I feel so bad-

Like Jesus can’t love me

And neither can Dad.

 

From the Child:A Child’s Perspective on Child Abuse

(Used by permission)

“Where are your poor?” (poem)

That was the question our friend Rigo, a Nicaraguan pastor, asked when he visited the US for the first time back in 2000.  Where he pastors, members of several warring drug gangs lay down their weapons outside and call a temporary truce before coming into church.  If they come to faith and leave the gangs, there are no jobs.  They cannot support their families.  Unemployment benefits do not exist.  Churches in North America helped raise money to help him start a woodshop where the guys can learn a marketable skill.  They have plans for other projects as well.  

 

“Where are your poor?” our honored guest said.

(I was humbled by his words.

His eyes had observed that our country is rich,

Richer even than what he had heard).

 

In his country many many are poor,

Much poorer than we’ll ever see.

His church gives away what little it has

Just trying to meet their needs.

 

We give a little while they give a lot

(Seems like the reverse should be true).

Forgive us, Lord, for failing to see

How many times we ignore You.

 

Give us hearts to see You, Lord,

In the hungry, poor and cold.

Give us hearts to gladly share

Our lives and the things we hold…

To value our brother

More than our comfort.

To know when we give, we receive,

And that we can never

      out-give Your provision—

Lord, help us live

     what we say we believe!

 

**************************

In Nicaragua, you see the poverty everywhere.  It is not invisible.  Here, it looks like even poor people are rich.  We try to hide our poverty.  But if you look closer, the poor are among us.  God, teach us.

Remembering the Vulnerable

I heard about some angels today….a teacher in Kent who bought a couple of pair of shoes for one of the refugee kids (one to wear now and one to grow into), Laurel and Chris who dropped off a microwave and towels and some other things for newly arrived refugees, a fisherman friend who didn’t find a tender to sell his fish to and is bringing over 19 salmon to cut up and take to refugee families in Kent today (people struggling with being on the wrong end of the economic food chain who don’t have rent money or jobs right now), a church in Kent who offers Fred Myers gift certificates to student’s familes, the leadership at Quest who continues to partner with the refugee church and community in a variety of meaningful ways (like paying half of the insurance for the community center so the offerings the refugees raised can help pay rents for those who are recently laid off) An angel at church this morning, an angel named Barb, gave me a big bag of warm socks to deliver to folks. I am SO grateful for angels!  

While many people right now are concerned about their own economic future (and present), those in low skilled minimum wage jobs (especially newly arrived refugees with limited English skills and little education) are experiencing a lot of lay offs, and some are having to relocate to other areas of the country where rents are not so high and jobs may be more abundant.  Tough times for many people, but really tough for those on the bottom. They’ve already lost their country, they don’t have homes to lose, or retirements to worry about.  They’re trying to learn how to get by here and now, learn the language, and develop the skills needed to support their families in this country.  Grateful for freedom and safety, but the challenges to still be overcome are enormous! 

While I was looking for statistics to go with this thought, and (sleepless in Seattle), I found this Shane Clairborne video that is SO worth watching….  It’s six minutes long, but stick to the end-the timely financial perspective (even though it’s a year old) is huge.  The images and the music are both worth it. 

Thanks to the angels who continue to remember the vulnerable, and do something about it!

Persistent Love

Today I am celebrating the moment on Sept. 24, 1970 when my church youth group leader came and asked me for probably the 100th time, if I was willing to commit my life to Jesus, and surrender my options to continued self-direction and self-destruction.  Because of what had happened to her, I said yes.  We prayed together on the steps of the CMA church on a Friday night ’cause that’s where she found this hurting lost sheep.   The struggle then went from “Do I choose faith?”  to “How do I live out that faith?”  Huge step….saved my life.  

She had a unique place of credibility to me at that precise moment, having experienced loss of her beautiful 18 month old daughter just two weeks ago in a tragic accident.  I watched her in the midst of her struggle and loss and incredible pain as she chose to still turn towards God, and not, in the words of Job’s wife “curse God and die.”  If faith in Christ could help sustain her, then maybe, as she had said for so long, and so often, God is greater than we’ll ever know and His love is stronger than we can ever imagine.  I also know now, there are some answers to the “why?” questions that we’ll never get.   Grace became amazing that day as the journey towards life and hope began.

So, today, I am grateful.  I was not always a grateful child.  But today, I am grateful to her, and I am grateful to my Dad. 

What does this have to do with my Dad?  Well,  a few years ago, I was asked to come and sing on Father’s Day at the church he had attended for 75 years at that point.  I didn’t want to go. This was a  setting that held some really mixed blessings in my life, and held some memories I would rather forget, but for Dad I went.  And in the doing of the thing, I had one of those moments where the lights came on, and I realized that because my Dad had always taken me to church as a kid, even when he wasn’t sure he wanted to go, even when he wasn’t sure it made any difference, even when he didn’t think I was paying any attention, even when he was tired, or whatever other excuses hardworking grownups can come up with.  And even though the church was way imperfect, God’s Word was taught there, and God was present in the prayers of His people.  And because of this, there was someone in my life who could offer hope and point the way to faith, even when I might not have been listening to Dad.  For this, I am very grateful.

Illusions Fall (a poem)

ILLUSIONS FALL

 

One I looked upon the world

With glasses colored rose.

I thought peace and tranquillity

Were what I would behold.

I dreamed that having faith

Would be the answer to all needs;

That love would flourish everywhere,

And all men would be free.

 

What I see, in reality —

Is a world that’s sometimes cold,

Full of people crying, hurting, suffering;

Their stories left untold.

And all too often, we of faith

Walk on the other side.

We shake our heads and scurry on.

We say, “The job’s not mine!”

 

A woman is abused:

We say, “Go bake your man a pie.”

Our ears are closed.

We cannot hear

The battered children cry!

They pound their heads upon the wall

And cry out to the town:

“Can’t you hear us?  Can’t you see?!

            IS ANYONE AROUND!?”

 

The frightened child cries in the night

“Oh, who will rescue me!?”

While all of her deliverers say,

“You surely can’t mean me!

I can’t be meant to take a risk

And venture from my safety!

There might be danger in that move;

It surely can’t be godly!”

 

And Jesus sees from heaven above —

He weeps with His heart broken.

He longs to comfort those who hurt,

But can’t wake up His chosen!

We stop our ears and cling to fears

From which we can’t be shaken.

But illusions fall

            If we heed His call

                        To change and be forgiven.

 

Have mercy on us, Lord above,

According to Your kindness.

Continue to open our eyes, oh God!

Deliver us from blindness!

Give us hearts to reach out

In Your mercy and Your grace

To those who need to know

You bear their shame

And their disgrace.

 

(From “Tamar’s Prayer”  1988)

 

 

“…a man is worth far more than a sheep”

Several years ago I had the privilege of hearing a missionary from Palestine preach on Matt. 12:9-13, the story of Jesus getting in trouble with the usual religious hierarchy for healing a man on the Sabbath, again.  Valuing people more than prevailing power structures, religious or nationalistic systems, or political correctness, again…. 

 

The quote above is from Matthew 12:12, spoken by Jesus (NEB). The speaker used this Scripture to share what it is like to live and work in Palestine where each side of the conflict considers the other “worse than animals.”  He speaks as someone living the gospel he preaches.  He and his family live with the people as they suffer under military dictatorship, in a place where bullets used by either side do not distinguish between the religious or political affiliation of those they kill or injure.  I’ve transcribed some of it below, in case someone wants some pretty powerful words to consider, and so I don’t forget his message of hope:

 

           “How do we, as believers, respond to these places of brutality in the world?  What is the first word of the gospel that we bring into places like this?  Mt. 12:9-13  ” Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a withered hand was there.  Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  So he stretched it out and was completely restored, just as sound as the other.  But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”  If we look beyond the issues of Sabbath and healing, and look a little deeper, we will find how the church can respond to brutality.

         

           Jesus asked a rhetorical question….”Which man, if his animal fell into a hole, wouldn’t lift it out on the Sabbath?”.  They all would have treated their animal better than they were willing to treat this man.  In other words, Christ was confronting them with the reality that they were lowering this man to a status of less than an animal. 

           What is it that causes us supposedly sane people to treat other people as less than animals?  I believe we have a suggestion here in these verses.  The Sabbath had been created by God as a blessing, but over time it had become something other than what God intended it to be in Jewish 1st century piety.  It had become a form that had been changed and molded by human traditions, a human construction.  The end result was that they were treating this man as worse than an animal. 

          I would suggest that one thing that causes us to treat our neighbors as animals are human systems, human constructions that have an absolute sense of self-righteousness, the goal of which is to serve their own ends, and anything that gets in their way will be destroyed.  Such human systems can be philosophies, theologies, economic systems or political systems.  But I would suggest that one of the most intoxicating and dangerous is nationalism; those feelings and attitudes that surround us when we think about our nation and the system of our nation.  When the church becomes entwined in a virulent nationalism, or any other human system, it can become complicit with destruction and death. 

         

          We only have to go back as far as World War II and we think of the church in Germany, the birthplace of Protestantism.  Nazism rose on the wellspring of nationalist fervor, and the love for the fatherland and a return to the glory of the fatherland after the destruction of World War I.  Where was the church when Nazism rose to prominence and control?  Sadly, 98% of the church, the vast majority of the church, just became sucked into those nationalistic sentiments and actually became part of the Nazi regime.  There was only a small group of protesting Christians who were willing to step back and say, “There is something evil taking place here.” We are called to be something different.  Our allegiance is to Christ and his kingdom above our allegiance to any other system or philosophy or nationalism.  Dietrich Bonheoffer was the leader of that movement and spoke out, and formed an underground church and Bible college.  He spoke out but most people didn’t.  The remainder of the church became complicit with the destruction of the Jewish people…a terrible tragedy.  Sadly, if we look at our own nation, the church provided the theology that supported the philosophy called manifest destiny, which was a nationalistic philosophy which was the engine that drove the destruction of the Native American people.  The church became a complicit partner in the massacre of a weaker minority population.  This is a tragic chapter in the history of the American church.  When the church became part of a nationalistic system that wasn’t submitted to Christ, the end was destruction. 

          

          Speaking about our own country, one of the great gifts the founding fathers gave to us was the separation of church and state.  It’s not a very popular concept with some people nowadays; it’s become almost a dirty word.  It shouldn’t be.  It is necessary to protect the prophetic integrity of the church.  When the church becomes merged with state and the fusion of images takes place, the church becomes corrupted by the state and loses its prophetic ability to call the state to righteousness.  Indirectly the state becomes sanctified and all its wars become labeled as holy wars because “God is on our side” because the church has merged with the state.  So we should stand and be willing to stand separately.  Our patriotism should be submitted to the spirit of God and never become a disruptive nationalism. 

         

            Turning to the Middle East, let me say, for those who love the Palestinian people and who love the Palestinian cause and understand their concern and humilitation, there is a danger of becoming an uncritical part of their quest for nationalism that can make you unwittingly complicit in your spirit with terrorism.  For Palestinian Christians, it is your responsibility to stand back and to speak to the leaders of their people and say, “This is evil” and call for something else.  There are those who are doing that.  Similarly on the Israeli side, for those who love Israeli nationalism, whether theologically or politically or any which way, if you become so caught up in that fervor of Israeli nationalism, then you to may become complicit in the brutality of the Israeli government to the Palestinian people. They are called to something different, to speak to the leaders of their nation and call them to stop unnecessary and continued suppression of a weaker minority people. 

          

           Christ was a son of the Sabbath but he wasn’t willing to be just caught up in the blind popular affections of his day. He was willing to step out of the system and pick corn on the Sabbath, heal on the Sabbath, and stepped out of what was oppressive, and called attention to what was not of God in the human system that had been created.

          

          How do we respond to places where people are treated as less than an animal?  We respond by remaining steadfast in our prophetic responsibility as a church to speak to what is evil and call it evil and not get caught up in popular sentiment that would compromise that prophetic responsibility. 

         

           How much then is a man better than a sheep?  A stunning verse.  The very presence of that verse in Scripture is the most eloquent statement that humanity often cannot distinguish between human and animal.  What was Christ doing in saying this?  He was affirming this man’s humanity.  I used to think the foundational word of the gospel was that God loves people.  Having lived now in this context of the brutal dehumanization of the Palestinian people and considering the Word, I’ve come to realize there is an even more foundational word of the Gospel.  It’s that you are a person, you are not an animal. 

           

          Where does that gospel need to be preached?  First, it has to be preached in our hearts.  When we go to serve someone, we have to examine our hearts.  We have to look at how we view this person.  Ministry begins in changing our hearts and our attitudes and being able to see those we serve as no longer animals, but as people just like us with the same desires and hopes and failings and interests that we have.  After we have applied that word to our heart, then we look for how to apply it to those we are called to serve. 

        

             The most ennobling act of the human race was when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  When this happened, the value of the whole human race was lifted.  There was no doubt—God was in man.  That makes us important to him.  When we share people’s concerns, weeping when they weep, rejoicing when they rejoice, we are saying by our presence, “Your humanity is important.”  Whether it’s in Seattle or on the West Bank, those who no longer see themselves as humans through drugs, prostitution, abuse or oppression need someone to stand with them and affirm their humanity.  It can take weeks or months or years, but they need to be able to accept their life has having tremendous value.  It can be a long journey back to wholeness and hope. But there is hope….”

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His words, his faith, and his example, remind me of my friends in Burma and Thailand and the faith and hope and example they live out, as they endeavor to reaffirm the humanity and the value of those living there under military dictatorship there.    www.freeburmarangers.org

 

 

 

 

How do you find new neighbors?

It was a strange coincidence that our last day at our home church  was September 25, 2003–“Friendship Day.”  As our church celebrated reaching out to their neighbors and shared a salmon barbecue with the community, we were saying goodbye.   The past six weeks had happened so fast we hadn’t even gotten to tell our pastor until that day that we were leaving the community we had spent 26 years in and moving to Seattle that week with our two college-aged kids.  It was a good day to celebrate the friendships we’d enjoyed, and to say goodbye to people we loved.  It was good but it sure wasn’t easy. 

Our whole family was in a time of transition at that point: our son graduated high school in June, our oldest daughter got married in August, the house we had built from scratch and raised the kids in sold, our son and middle daughter were going to start college and needed somewhere to live…and it goes on.  It was like the pot was getting stirred but I didn’t always feel in control of the spoon.  Sometimes I felt more like a little mouse tossed in the toilet after the handle had been pulled to flush it.  My husband had lived in different places, but moving was a new experience for me and for the kids. 

What bothered me most about moving was leaving my church.  These people had been my neighbors.  Kai Erikson in “Communal Trauma: Loss of Communality” defines a neighbor as “… someone you can relate to without pretense, a familiar and reliable part of your everyday environment; a neighbor is someone you treat as if he or she were a member of your immediate family” .  I had raised kids with these neighbors.  We’d helped each other build houses, shared weddings and births, made music together, home schooled kids together, and experienced life together in major ways.  It was disorienting.  I didn’t know who my “neighbors” (in the communal sense), were going to be now, what my connections and point of reference were supposed to be.  I wasn’t even sure how I was going to find out. 

Speaking about the loss of community experienced due to a disaster, Erikson states, “… within so tightly knit a community…where most residents spent their entire lives without ever leaving, the sense of self was so closely tied to a sense of belonging to the community as a whole that loss of community meant loss of personal identity.  The closeness of communal ties is experienced…as a part of the natural order of things, and residents can no more describe that presence than fish are aware of the water they swim in.  It is just there, the envelope in which they live, and it is taken entirely for granted”.  She goes on to add “…those neighborhoods were like the air people breathed—sometimes harsh, sometimes chilly, but always just a basic fact of life”.  The residents in Erikson’s essay had lost their community due to a disaster.  I was being transplanted for happy reasons, but the sense of loss and lostness was similar. 

I was leaving neighbors to whom I was that kind of close to.  The closeness I’m talking about didn’t come from all being Republicans (we weren’t—although the media would probably assume otherwise), or having the same income level, identical theology or similar family backgrounds.  The church included folks with a variety of marital statuses, drug addicts and alcoholics in various stages of recovery, pastor’s kids, business owners and the unemployed.  Some were on public assistance and some were wealthy.  There were folks counting the days to retirement and stuffing their 401ks and folks just trying to figure out how to survive if they lived long enough to get old.  Some wrestled quietly with secrets they did not yet feel safe to share.  There were a lot of kids.  Closeness and a sense of community came from sharing values bigger than our own lives, and when there was conflict, unity (in spite of diversity) was maintained, by choosing to “treat other people the way you would want to be treated.”   

Starting over gives you a chance to reevaluate what you’re looking for, to see with new eyes, to write a new script for how you want things to go.  Seattle was definitely not Whidbey Island—the choices seemed endless. 

 We tried several churches the first few weeks we were here, but weren’t really sure how we fit.  One Sunday morning, I did a web search and found Quest, a fairly new church in Ballard, which is where we work.  The web site gave a glimpse of a church where justice and compassion were part of the foundation, not an afterthought.  For the past few years, we’ve been involved with World Aid, a non-profit group based here in Ballard that sends medical and humanitarian relief supplies to folks in Burma.  Our hearts are strongly pulled towards doing justice in practical, hands on ways.  We figured it was worth checking out. 

Like Andrea Lowenstein wrote, “For me, as for most people in modern society, the question of identity is a complex one.  Some of my identities are old, others are new or in transition”.  Although some of the roles in my life were the same as many of the women at Quest, (wife, mother, daughter, sibling, Christian,citizen, musician, poet, songwriter, employee), other roles were a significant contrast.  Quest  was composed of an ethnically diverse group of mostly single (70%+), college educated people under age 35, who were in good shape.  I’m over 45, uneducated by comparison, slightly round, a mother of three grown children, and have been married to the same wonderful man for 26+ years. 

Still, in spite of the differences, it seems like our place in life is similar to many others in the congregation.  We’re trying to figure out what’s next for this stage of our lives, to find ways to use the skills and gifts we’ve been given to do justice and compassion in a world that has needs wherever you look.  In their reading of the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible (Luke 10:30-37), the vision at Quest seems to be to become the ones who pick up the guy off the street instead of walking by on the other side, who offer acceptance, love and a listening ear, and meet practical needs both here in our city and in other places. Even though we are in many ways different than the majority there, the principles we form our life around are the same.  Quest seems like a good place to find new neighbors.

(wrote this for an English class in 2005-reflecting on it again as we approach our 5th year anniversary of being in Seattle….)