“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!

Karen Refugee Community Update-Seattle

This recent report from Maggie gives a glimpse into the growing Karen refugee community here, and the challenges people face in resettlement……

       “…Since July, 15 new families and two free cases arrived in Seattle and the total number of refugees has grown from 224 to 284 people.  This number applies only to Karen refugees living in the Seattle area and not to the Chin population and the Karen living in Kitsap county. People are working together helping to meet the needs of the community according to the knowledge, skills, talents, and time they have.

       Within two months, about 50 people got laid off and only 10 people regained jobs so far. Due to language barrier and the lack of education and skill, it is very difficult for these people to find jobs. Some people do have jobs, but they are minimum wage jobs and their incomes barely cover their rent. The families are in a tight financial situation.

       Children  also face difficulties at school because of language barrier and the lack of support at home. Parents have no education to help their children with school work nor have parenting knowledge to discipline their children. Children cannot stay for after school programs to get extra help with school work because they have no transportation.  Parents cannot talk to school counselors to get them more help due to not knowing the language.  Some children are doing so-so, some are doing poorly, but none have gotten into serious problems yet.  Many of the children are at risk of dropping out of school.     

        Despite problems and difficulties, the community is being there for one another. Gay Htoo who was a teacher in Mae La Camp and Naw Dah who has some education help the children with their homework. Johnson got laid off recently and so he has  time to take children as well as adults to doctor’s or dental’s appointments and even to ER and interprets for them. Say La Wah also got laid off so she has time to go to ESL class to improve her English and also takes care of her neighbors’ kids when they have to go to doctor’s appointments. Ku Gay, Htee Haw and Sammy Htoo have lived in Seattle for one year so they show  the new arrivals how to take the bus.  Htoo Htoo and Say Say are errand boys, Pwint and Simon are quick to respond to the community’s needs  and Steve is 911 for the community. 

         Finally, we would like to thank those who have continuously supported us with things such as our community center space, bus tickets, rice cookers, school supplies for the children and other things. We would like to thank Teacher Jenny and the women’s group for their donations. That helps the new families with some of their basic needs and the school supplies for their children.  We will always treasure and appreciate your help and support.”  

       

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)

 

 

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….)

 

Justice or “just-us”?

A friend recently challenged me to articulate what the most important issues to me are this election, and to explain why, as a Christian, I feel those issues are important.  Whew!  I confess to usually being somewhat politically lazy (not feeling like my vote makes any difference…not always doing the actions for responsible citizenship), but after watching friends from Burma who have attained citizenship in the US  demonstrate anew to me the PRIVILEGE I have of being a citizen and being able to have a voice and a vote, I repent.  

Decisions for me usually revolve around to trying to find the principle to base the action on.  The belief and principle that most impacts my coming vote is the firm belief that God calls us to seek justice, and that justice is not spelled “just-us.”  I believe I/we need to interact with the world, our society, our churches, our communities, and our families following the principles spoken of in Micah 6:8, “… What does the Lord require of you?  To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God,” and by Jesus in Matthew 7:12, “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.”

I believe God is prolife.  Consistently pro-life…“pro everyone’s life,” not only the lives of the unborn (and their parents), and not only those who are demographically, economically, racially, culturally, or religiously most similar to us.  Putting my faith into practice might mean being more actively engaged trying to make sure human rights such as life, liberty, physical security, education, access to affordable medical care, food security, clean water, and affordable shelter become available to everyone.  I am convicted this is not optional.  

Equal access to education, jobs with a living wage, childcare and after school programs, are important to me.  Jesus said the gospel was supposed to be “good news for the poor.”  How do the economic policies we support affect those on the bottom of the economic ladder, both in the US and to those affected by our trade policies in other countries?  How do these policies affect children and families?

I agree with those who say we need to protect and strengthen marriages.  But maybe if we look first at our own lives and the lives of those we love, and then do what we can to strengthen, encourage, love and serve each other, maybe this will do more to protect and stabilize families than scapegoating other people and throwing stones at them ever could?  

I value religious freedom.  Therefore, I need to be respectful to those who practice other faiths, or no faith.  If I want tolerance and respect, I may have to give it.  

We need national policy that supports the human rights standards of international law and strongly opposes torture and inhumane treatment of anyone.  Sorry, can’t say  that one gentler.  Torture is wrong!  

I believe our power as a nation should be used in advocating for justice and respect for human rights in places like Darfur, Burma, and Palestine (and others) and exposing and bringing to justice those who commit ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity.  Matthew 5:9 says “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God,”  but can peace and democracy really be effectively promoted by starting a war that leads to more people dying and being in poverty, and will leave their country (and ours) paying the price for years to come? 

Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  So, the action part….guess I need to commit to being prayerfully, actively engaged in the system, not taking my liberty for granted and living as though I really really believe that the justice God is concerned about is not for “just-us”.    

 

 

 

Justice or righteousness?

It amazes me how important the choice of one word can be, either in politics, or in an argument, or even theologically.  Like a lot of American Christians, I have several Bibles, and don’t read any of them as much as I should.  (Working on that).  I was raised with the King James version (that definitely dates me!).  Learned verses like Matthew 6:33 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you, ” along with other Christians of my generation.  It’s a famous verse and a nice song. 

But that version doesn’t impact me nearly as much as the same verse taken from The New English Bible, which says: “Set your mind on God’s kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well.” 

Hate quibbling about words….but this one makes me think.  Maybe ’cause I was raised on King James, (and have a thick head and hard heart at times), words can bounce off of me pretty well-lack of impact due to familiarity?  Reading in a different translation sometimes gets my attention better (or hearing the words and principles in a song!).  Righteousness seems like it’s about behaving well, or just about God instead of me.  Seeking justice pulls at me as a call to action, and highlights how ineffective some of my inaction/attempted action is at times….it calls me to more.

(The New English Bible also uses justice, just or judgment in a lot of the other verses where King James uses righteousness….another reminder to me that God cares about justice and so  should I).

I love it/hate it, when someting starts to get through to me.  Usually calls me to humility and change…..

How Do You Change the World? (poem)

You get a different answer from every person you ask.  The most famous answer probably comes from the Bible (Mark 12:31 “Love your neighbor as yourself” — or the paraphrased version …”Treat other people the way you want to be treated”). Our friend, Dan Imburgia*, wrote one of the best, simplest, most profound answers I’ve ever heard in the song below, “A Heart Like Yours.”  

A Heart like Yours

            by Dan Imburgia
Jesus give to us a heart like yours so that we can love
And learn to care the way you do.
Jesus give to us peace like yours to rule our hearts
And know our father’s will the way you do.
Jesus give to us tears like yours, help us learn to cry
And share the burdens the way you do .

Jesus give to us a heart like yours so that we can love
And learn to care the way you do.
Jesus give to us eyes like yours help us see the truth
And to see a person the way you do.
Jesus give to us a mind like yours, help us understand
And take the time to listen the way you do.

Jesus give to us a heart like yours so that we can love
And learn to care the way you do.
Jesus give to us grace like yours though we don’t deserve
So we’ll forgive the way you do.
Jesus give to us a joy like yours
Then we’ll be complete
And with gladness serve the way you do.

Help us to become a new creation
When we walk in the light we’re walking with you
Then we’ll have enough light left over to share with a neighbor.
When the darkness is gone we’ll find something old is made new.

(*We met Dan and his wife, Lynda, when a friend of theirs came to church one Sunday with about 10 little kids following her in.  Judy was taking care of kids for people in various transitional states and after church we went and took a bunch of bread and peanut butter to her many peopled household.  She invited us to a home group that met at her house on Friday nights, and there we met some of the best friends we’ve ever had, people we’re still really lucky to count as friends years later, now that all the kids are grown and some have kids of their own.  These were the kind of friends that  taught us that faith is meant to be lived and to change everything it touches and that community isn’t just a place you live, it’s all the relationships that make life meaningful while you do life together.  I’m grateful for Dan & Lynda, Lance & Shellie, Terry, Jim & Maureen, Johny & Judy and the many others that wandered through those years…very grateful! )

Favorite Mother Theresa quote of the day: “If we have no peace, it’s because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”