Signing The Declaration as a team during 911 and UNDRIP anniversaries

I love being part of the Circle of Hope pastors and staff team. We’ve grown and changed over the years and continue to hold to what holds us together, love. Since its release last Tuesday, our team of pastors and staff have signed the Theological Declaration on Christian Faith and White Supremacy out of love for Jesus, one another, for the church, the victims of unjust systems, and for those caught up in these deceitful ideologies.

I hope that you have caught wind of The Declaration by now. One of my mentors, Randy Woodley, became an instrumental figure in drafting this theological and practical response for Christians in the midst of overt white supremacy and white nationalism in our communities. He personally invited me to partake in this move, inspired by the Barmen Declaration of 1934 by Christians in Germany who opposed the harmful influence of Christians adopting Nazi ideals and infecting and misshaping the Church.

When Unite the Right gathered in Charlottesville a few weeks ago, a long, sick story added a new iconic chapter. Since 11/9 (the last US federal election), white supremacy has been emboldened and become more overt. Many Christians in the US have fallen prey to norms and ideals that contradict the Good News of Christ. #theDeclaration isn’t just about pointing out the speck in our proverbial brother’s eye, it is a tool “to acknowledge and repent of the church’s complicity in perpetuating white male supremacy in all of its forms and to hear and to heed the call to return to the truth of scripture, fully revealed in the person of Jesus.”

As a continuing expression of the Anabaptist movement, we don’t all think that making statements to the Powers That Be or to those not part of the covenanted community is essential to what the church is given to do. We form alternative community to the domination system, participating in the cultivation of God’s harmonious reign slowly and together. One of our main partners, MCC, released a potent Statement on White Supremacy and Racism last month.

911 and UNDRIP anniversaries give us tangible reminders of work to be done

September 11, 2001 (remember to never forget, btw) often gets memorialized with loss, grief, and a promise that unity under the US American government will make everyone safer from violence, through violence. We would like to forget (or not learn) that the death toll for the War on Terror has grown into the millions. On that anniversary, I still resonate with what Terry Rockefeller of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows shared at Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream, “There can be no war on terror. War is terror.

After 25 years of organizing, we can celebrate today the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The US, of course, was with the main settler colonial states of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand to oppose the landmark victory. Former President Obama officially lent US support to the declaration in 2010. Along with over 560 federally recognized Indian tribes, over 60 state recognized tribes, and countless other native relatives in the US—we’re still waiting for action.

Signing the Declaration isn’t just word, it comes with action.In response to these truths and in rejection of these false doctrines, we implore people of Christian faith to match confession with repentance. Let us find new ways to be together in the world. We offer four actions we might take toward the healing of our nation:” to listen, lament, repent, and re-imagine. I’m grateful that Circle of Hope has been a space where these practices are part of our rhythms of life and path of discipleship. I hope that more of our siblings in Christ can be present to our moment in time, and the Holy Spirit’s power and direction to healthy and authentic expressions of life in Christ. I hope more Christians will sign and implement the Declaration. I hope more people will be freed up to join in Jesus’ world redemption project.

From Befuddlement to Mystery during the Carnival de Resistance

I had two spiritually profound experiences two weeks ago that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. This is about one of them. I was part of the Carnival de Resistance residency in Minneapolis (many fond memories!), beginning a new seminary class and feeling lots of feelings. I was there for 10 days of a 30 person, 30 day eco village experiment and arts carnival – easily find pics on the Facebook page. I had been sitting for a few days with some difficult questions that had arisen during my seminary work. During one of our performances my befuddlement had moved into embracing mystery in a way where felt connected, and embraced back by God. I felt the Holy Spirit in my body as I drummed and choked through the lyrics to the anthem’s line “I’m gonna stay on the battlefield till I die…” You may want to listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock’s version while you read.

The Mexican muralistas walked behind our dancers (Jenna, Helen, Belle, and Tevyn – inspiring Circle of Hope partners!) with this banner (above) and raised their fists – both in defiance of tyranny and together with those defending water against the extraction industry with their private military. Everyone under the big top (besides people playing drums with both hands, I guess) raised a fist. It was the climactic moment of the show, the second time we performed it. It was more than an exhilaration from performance. It was more than just having strong and complicated emotions. I know what the presence of God feels like. God is there when I feel most alive, when I’m distressed – and still surprises me sometimes.

Experiences or activities that help us connect with God

I’m glad that I learned how to worship God at a young age – especially in the context of when the church gathers. Worshipping together has been a central discipline to my whole adult life. I use it as a time to be formed by bringing our hopes, worries, and everything else to God through mutual expression, often through art and music – while including others. Each of our meetings on Sunday night feel like an inclusive family dinner to me.

I’ve love how this meme can help us think about spaces of personal God time. They bring up a common problem – so many people unsuccessfully try to cram that experience into a church building and don’t acknowledge that a close encounter with God’s Spirit often happens when we’re doing what we love. I’ve heard people this year talk about developing intimacy with God when they run 5 miles, work on their garden, write a song, go hiking, sit in the woods and listen to birds, read and ponder the words of mystics, march against injustice, practice photography, consider the wonders of the universe, meditate on Scripture, dance, making a friend on purpose, paint, clean the house…I could go on.

These encounters don’t need a priestly figure performing the ceremonial rites ahead of time. Jesus made all times sacred, we just need to enter in. Everyone participating might not have the same intention and interpretation of the event. We do have unity of purpose at our Sunday meetings and cell meetings – we call it “setting the sacred space.” What practices or habits help you experience God’s presence? The two meetings of the church each week probably aren’t enough to sustain you longterm – part of following Jesus is growing your capacity to experience the Holy Spirit all the time.

We resist what we don’t already understand

Susan Boyle illustrated the classic aphorism

Susan Boyle illustrated the classic aphorism “don’t judge a book by its cover” on Britain’s got talent. *swoon

I heard one of our pastors, Gwen, say at Doing Theology last week that we are naturally suspicious of things we think are different than what we already know. I know I can be like that. When I don’t understand something or when an idea doesn’t reinforce something I already think/believe/feel – it takes some intentional work to not go with my instinct to close off, resist, or withdraw. It’s a risk because sometimes it’s healthy and others we miss something that the Spirit might be bubbling up.

If you’re still reading and ready for another relevant song, the First Nations DJ trio A Tribe Called Red dropped a new album recently that’s been on repeat for me. Here’s the first single featuring Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), “R.E.D.” 

I only have two classes left to complete for my Masters in Intercultural Studies degree through my seminary, NAIITS. My current class of ten people is Ethics in an Intercultural Context. Since it’s the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies, we often consider implications of mission in Native contexts (historically, currently, and the future) and give special attention to Native experiences. My professor was not afraid to start our class off with some rather antagonistic writings by Vine Deloria – a hugely important Native scholar.

The assigned article and excerpts were hard for me to get through. I was taking a break from Carnival community life, trying to study before sending in my reflections for our weekly class Google hangout. I felt a little mentally blown out to sea. I was struggling to know what I felt or thought about questions raised in my readings, like:  Do Liberation Theologies really just reinforce white supremacy, perpetuating the same myths & systems that keep us from creating new ways of thinking and relating? Can Christians become spatial (connected to place) as well as temporal (going along time) in order to become more than colonizing to her non-members? I wanted to understand other perspectives and only had a few hours of dialogue. I was in that headspace for a few days, feeling befuddled while trying not to resist, withdraw, or close myself off to the new ideas.

As a group we, local pastor Jim Bear Jacobs (Mohican) showed us the documentary Dakota 38 and led a talking circle. The US had forced Dakota elders (mostly women) into a deadly internment camp, a final straw for the nation. They fought back. The day after the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in US history – to hang 38 of the leaders of the uprising. I highly recommend the documentary Dakota 38.

The Reality that doesn’t quite exist yet

As we work to realize together what “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven” means, we are not just biding our time. Don’t we actually experience pockets and moments of Christ’s Reality. Thinks click. They make sense in our heads, our hearts, together, and give us courage to live a demonstration of it. A little taste of heaven! Rather than thinking heaven only exists in some other strange planet or dimension, why not live into the new reality Jesus initiated and invites us into right here in our own planet, time, community, geography, and body? We can live into it together and make more pockets and moments where Jesus is the foundation of all – and harmony returns to earth.

Back to the climax of the CDR’s water show “Burning River” : Tevyn just gave a moving closing monologue that tied together elements of the show. Water is a gift from God and is necessary for life, health, and healing – in both the figurative (living water) and literal (rivers, etc) sense. Working for the health of the water is deeply connected to how we view creation – as a commodity or a gift from our Creator and we’re invited to baptism even in the polluted water. We’re singing, dancing, raising fists (see first paragraph). It all connected for me. We were in one of those sweet spots. Our discourse and ideas merged with saying yes and being part of the Spirit’s movement. It connected us to the struggle against evil and greed, and with those forming an alternative that was ready to act.

Don’t let your befuddlement keep you from engaging with God and the befuddled others (aka the church). We may feel how it’s working before we understand it completely. That’s the kind of life I get to be part of every day as part of Circle of Hope. We’re embodying an alternative to what people generally think is reality. Generating justice and hope and our neighborhood (not just someone else’s neighborhood) is at the heart of us. I’m pretty excited for what we’re going to do this week about it.  

 

 

 

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Carnival de Resistance

Expressing alternatives as a spiritual discipline

I’m joining an expression of alternativity today as part of the Carnival de Resistance for part of the month-long Minneapolis residency. Belle Alvarez has begun early stages of forming a mission team to help our church relate to a possible Kensington 2017 residency, and she, along with Tevyn and Jay, Jenna, Helen, Stephen, Joby, and Rachel, have been training with about 20 other Carnivalistas for two weeks. One carnival member just got back from Sacred Stone Camp, ground zero of the water defense movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and others are traveling up from Mexico and Honduras to join in creating playful space to allow prophetic Scripture speak to our current ecological crises. We’ve been partnering with some amazing people in the Harrison neighborhood of North Minneapolis, including our host Redeemer Lutheran. With a large Native population, some of our most important connections have been with indigenous leaders like Rev Bob Two Bulls, a talented artist and liturgist whom we’ve known for a few years. Black Lives Matter has been quite active in the face of fierce police response, and as of a month ago the officer who killed Philando Castile 30min away is back on the street.

You can read about my experience last year or ask me about the other times I’ve been involved personally with the project. I look forward to not just repping our church community and city while on vacation over the next 10 days, but practicing creative thinking so I can be a more mature, grounded, and flexible leader. For me, the Carnival helps me not be so uptight in my thinking when processing all the above hyperlinks (and other oppressions). God uses the playful space to help meYou can follow daily updates with photos and videos on Facebook if you like the Carnival’s page

Our teams help us get out there

One of Circle of Hope’s strengths flashes when our simple structure (cells and Sunday meetings) bears fruit and gets us out touching our communities together with a common purpose. Our Compassion teams and Mission teams run on the steam of those who form them, with support from our leaders and partners. Many of the teams help us do things together like service, expressing Christ’s compassion and ours. Others take us into new territory and help us think and act differently, even through doing something like playing table top games or holding space for a playgroup with different intention.

Feeling jammed up?

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people this year about feeling the pressure to be this or that, how not being something is important, and how being right/correct seems really important. Some are part of the church and struggle in various ways: calling themselves a Christian, making prayer or reading the Bible important spiritual disciplines, following our basic agreements for leaders (like attend monthly trainings), or living out basic applications of our covenant like regularly sharing in our common fund. If any of this touches on your experience lately, I feel for you.

Our spiritual discourse this year brought the concept of alternativity front and center. Rather than feeling beat down by a series of bad A or B choices like Coke/Pepsi, Red State/Blue State etc, we focus on birthing new possibilities and investigating new ways of thinking. Our problems and responsibilities grow more complex. Our responses grew more creative. It’s lovely. Exploring our own alternativity means enjoying our uniqueness as a church in the Philadelphia region. Our region, while enjoying some of the best of many traditions, has also become a hotbed of young NeoCalvinist church upstarts and dying Baby Boomer-dominated odes to yesteryear. I get their slick flyers in my mailslot. I hear from them a focus on their technified Sunday morning buildings, individual salvation through their specific doctrine (see my post about taking the Mormon Temple tour), and repression of women leaders. Rather than feeling daunted by Christians mainly not working together for holistic (or even holy!) transformation, I feel revved up to do something with our five congregations and other networks we are connected closely to. 

Jesus leads us not just to think different, but to embody our ideas

I’m glad we are doing something else—not merely in spite of other Christians, but out of inspiration from our Creator Jesus. I’m glad there is room for some bold expressions against rather bold structural forces of oppression. While embodying alternatives is what we’re all about, we also arouse expressions meant to pique curiosities and suggest wonder to those yet to join. I was talking with Shane Claiborne the other day about the strong possibility of The Simple Way being the primary host for a 2017 Philadelphia residency in Kensington. That would be something special! If you are part of Circle of Hope, thank you for allowing me the privilege of being away for something so energizing for me. I’ll miss worshipping with you on Sunday night and being with the Leadership Team on Monday, but you’re in my heart and on my mind.

What do we do with a miracle?

Gerald‘s wife Yannick and their sons Berlins (14) and Dawens (10) have cleared the US/Haitian bureaucracies and arrived in the US last Thursday and at their new home on Monday.Their family’s story, a harrowing tale, not only teaches us how to build partnerships responsibly,
On Saturday, 50% of Circle Thrift proceeds (all locations) went to Heads Together Haiti, our compassion team that does empowering work both in Fayet. This turned out to be almost $2,000 and will go to helping re-settle the family.
Our compassion team and some friends tried to make this frigid first impression of life in Philadelphia warmer with a care package and some drumming and dancing – check out Julian’s vid here of Gerald & Yannick dancing for joy with Dawn and the drummers. I’m really grateful for my friend to be together with his family. I also am married with two children about their ages. I can barely fathom how it would feel to be separated from my family because of violent desperation for over three years, or the joy of being together again in a new country and climate.

The Circle of Hope Leadership Team talked a bit at last Monday’s Imaginarium about partnering well. Here’s more to the story of how this partnership has worked over the years, and how we hope it will continue.

It was also a Tuesday, six years ago last week that the earthquake hit Haiti. We had already been working with Tetan San (Heads Together) for six months through our compassion team as well as other groups we’re connected to like Haiti Partners. Everyone on our team has been to Haiti, either before or after the quake. Because of Gerald‘s access to money from the US in an impoverished, rural, and now earthquake-torn region, he was abducted by a gang and held for ransom. He knew that staying in Fayet meant paying growing tributes to the gang who held him. The literacy and community organizing, including administrating the school we helped rebuild,  would be considerably compromised. His wife and two sons (then about 8 and 4) fled to a friend’s home in a nearby village.
Not knowing what to do, Gerald fled to Philadelphia in the summer of 2012, where he had a small but dedicated support network – among us. With the trauma and definite threat, he hoped to find a haven for his family and to be able to continue aspects of his community work. While speaking both French and Creole, his English was not great. We needed some creativity to get him to the US as immigration from Haiti is extremely difficult. Refugee status would only protect him. We needed a miracle.
We began a legal process/battle to attain amnesty so his whole family could relocate to Philadelphia, or at least to the US. We invested in legal help and Gerald found ways to work (like Circle Thrift!!) and develop his English language skills. A few months ago, we got the good news that even while many Haitians got temporary extensions of their Temporary Protected Status, Gerald‘s case was permanent and extended to his family. It’s taken more prayer, money, and time to get to this point.
With many thanks to Haiti Partners and the House of Grace Catholic Worker, the family is about to be reunited.
We continue, through Gerald and the rest of the team, to do grassroots work of proliferating possibilities for kids, especially, in Fayet. His heart inspires me. I’m grateful that we can partner with such a dedicated leader. With many other larger forces at work – including political and economic freezing out of Haiti since their independence, we played a role in this story before we got involved directly in 2009 with these folks from Fayet. I’m grateful for the courage of so many to stay involved, pray for miracles, and follow the Holy Spirit as we work out some small solutions to large problems. 
What do we do when we’ve prayed for something for this long that was really unlikely, most would even say not going to actually happen? Can we be grateful? Can our faith be strengthened? Do we dream bigger? I hope we can see God working in the partnership – even in the ups and downs – and feel like we can actually change the world. Jesus wants to. Jesus is.

Consumer Debt – how we annihilate it (Part 2)

I am in a conversation with three different math wizards right now trying to “put it in a bottle” or to codify “the algorithm” so we have a nice tight sound bite when explaining our methods. We want to offer practical solutions to the slavery of consumer debt by building community trust, sharing, and providing capital to eliminate consumer debt in our community. The Debt Annihilation Team fosters a process of recovery from shame, bondage, and debt to freedom, simplicity, and community through generosity, hospitality, and trust. I admit it sounds lovely and is tremendously difficult, especially for people who are jammed up and/or dysfunctional financially. It is not a quick fix, although quicker than most people we’ve talked to who don’t have a strategy to get out.

With Galatians 6:1-5 as our backdrop, the Debt Annihilation Team (DAT) uses three components: team leaders & administrators, coaches, and DAT Groups. We form Debt Annihilation Groups out of applicants for a projected period of time when they will use seed money and an agreed upon strategy to pay off one another’s debt.

We have given covenant members of Circle of Hope preference in forming our groups because our commitment to one another flourishes in accountable discipleship environments. I’ve talked to over a dozen other faith communities over the years who love the idea but haven’t tried it yet. If you’re not able to be part of us or don’t want to be, I encourage you to use as much of this stuff that’s useful and form your own group locally. We’ll share all of our info and ideas with you.

We begin with an intake process with full disclosure – one online then a follow-up face-to-face with other potential participants where we make clear the theory and basics of the group covenant. Those who wish to proceed meet with a Personal Finance Coach before entering the group, putting together a basic budget. You might be surprised how many people want to get out of credit card debt and don’t follow basics of money management. 

Our group members agree to by DAT Group Covenant which will indicate the people in the group, the length of time, the order of annihilation, and how much money will be contributed. The length of time will include replenishing the seed money.

We use seed money – in the past given by Circle of Hope,  to jump-start a snowball effect where everyone gets their consumer debt paid off. Here’s the gist of how it works:

We discern the order of “annihilation.” If all credit lines are the same, the high interest rate needs to go first, as this strategy mostly benefits everyone because we save money and time by knocking out interest.

 

Example of “the other brand” aka people fending for themselves

For instance, let’s say five people each have $5,000 of credit card debt (and different interest rates%). If they paid their minimum payment of $50 plus $100 every month, on their own it would take…

“Laura” (29%) 69 months, paying her $5k debt plus $5,287.45 in interest.

“Starbuck” (25%) 58 months, paying her $5k debt plus $3,625.37 in interest.

“Saul” (20%) 50 months, paying his $5k debt plus $2,359.18 in interest.

“Caprica” (15%) 44 months, paying her $5k debt plus $1,508.52 in interest.

and “Adama” (7%) 38 months, paying his $5k debt plus $576 in interest.

They would pay $13,536.52 paid in interest, over three-six years. Of course most people pay bits “when they can” and try to at least pay their minimum. If a lump sum of cash comes in like a big income tax return, more goes to the card. If they continue using their card(s) it’s usually longer.

 

Using the same simplified examples…

Here’s how we do it. We use the seed money, then when the first person is paid off, all baseline funds (including those of person who is paid off) go towards the next person. The process repeats until everyone is paid off and the seed fund is replenished for a future group.

Imagine the same scenario, but this time we use the $10k seed money to knock out Laura Roslin and Starbuck’s debts. Now they each have $150 that they use to pay directly to Saul Tigh’s lender. Saul pays his own minimum ($50) plus $100 to his lender. Caprica 6 & Commander Adama pay just their own minimum ($50) and use their $100 to pay directly to Saul’s lender.

It takes 9 months to pay off Saul’s debt, paying $396.45 of interest. Then Saul joins Laura & Starbuck (debt free) with his now $150 that all go directly to Caprica’s lender. She now adds her $100 to her minimum payment ($50) while Adama maintains his minimum ($50) to his own, and his $100 to Caprica’s.

It takes 8 months to pay off Caprica’s debt, paying $271.21 of interest. She joins the others debt free, and now everyone uses their $150 to pay off Adama’s lender.

It takes 7 months to pay off Adama’s debt, paying $114.99 of interest. Then the group replenishes the seed money at the same rate, taking 13.33 mo, at 0% interest. The debt was paid off in 23mo. In 36mo they annihilated all consumer debt and replenished the seed fund for another group to start.

When they formed a group, they only paid $782.65 of interest over 36 months, compared to over $13k over 69.

Next post will be about how to get involved in the 3rd group we are about to start. We are looking for people to train as personal finance coaches as well as potential group members.

Can’t get enough? Here are a few posts about the teams.

Shalom! journal for the practice of Reconciliation here

The Christian Century, by Jesse James DeConto (p10) here

Consumer Debt – how we annihilate it (Part 1)

I love the old story that someone’s dad used to flip burgers part time to pay for college out of pocket while they attended. It sounds to me more like education in pre-Gulf War Iraq (free at all levels) than the US a generation or so ago. Every graduating class gets more debt piled on to the point that it’s normalized to have student debt as a rite of passage. If you don’t have any – a normal person might assume that you don’t have a college education or your parents paid for you – unless you are over 6’10” (then they think you should be playing for the 6ers).

It’s not just education or mortgages, which are still considered “good debt” since they are an investment that normally gains in worth or earning potential. Consumer debt, or revolving debt, has less of a noble connotation.  According to Nerdwalletthe average household in the US with a credit card has over $16,000 of credit card debt. If you include households with no credit card debt, we still average over $7,500. That’s over $918.5 billion.

For many people, credit card debt serves as a sign of financial mismanagement, economic emergencies beyond one’s means, bad spending habits, predatory lending, or the open wounds from another kind of financial crisis. Shame comes along with almost any reason – most people feel as though debt cripples them, or hangs heavy around their neck. Many people I talk to can only pay their minimum balance or just a little over, leaving them with thousands of dollars collecting interest each months at rates from 0% (temporarily) up to 29.99% if you miss a payment.

I first heard about combining debt in the late 90s at Circle of Hope when people like Will O’Brien, Randy Nyce, and Trevor Day would consider our financial power when form community. They were using some economic theory and theology that I trace back to Ched Myers’ work on Sabbath Economics – these two books are a good start. It took years to get an idea small enough to try, and then a few years to find someone to organize it -it ended up being me. Even though a recent internet IQ test put me just below genius at 137, I have few math skills. In Part 1, I’ll explore the concepts that we distilled enough to try with brave “astronauts” coming together in 2010 with five people and $22k of credit card debt, and then another group in 2013 with $26k that is almost done. When I post Part 2 next week, I’ll give specifics on our strategy as well as how to get involved. 

Handle your debt like a group, rather than an individual

Romans 13 inspired us to want to “let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” Our shame isolates us. Our attempts to save face can isolate us. Turning to the corporation rather than the Body in distress isolates us. Forming a Debt Annihilation Group takes a lot of work up front and keeping disciples, and it happens in common – even considering the debt common.

Get coaching, and have financial transparency

Our coaches get trained by Everence to help with budgeting and by our team members on how to have healthy conflict, be supportive, and keep encouraging group members. Telling the whole truth about our money habits flies in the face of what we’ve been taught and undermines the Powers.

Change your mind about money

We have been indoctrinated to Spend, Save (if you can), and Share (if you’ve got extra). In our coaches’ training, we learn a new paradigm of Share (give from your best), Save (plan for more than the moment), and Spend. If you don’t have money to share and save, chances are your expenses are inflated and you need some help learning how to cook at home, chill with the bars/coffee shops (even the ones owned by my friends!), and honing down paid entertainment to name a few. Heal your mind.

Make a plan and stick to it

Even the best laid plans can be laid to waste by not following through. Even when it’s Christmas. Even when your car breaks. Even when you car dies. We have so many resources as a community to reduce the cost of these things – plus your cell leader can help you in crisis. One meeting we passed the hat so one group member could get a Transpass and had one less reason to borrow from the corporation again.

Enjoy freedom

Becoming debt free calls for celebration. Tell your story. Enjoy the proverbial monkey being off your back by remembering and sleep better. Be generous.

Feel free to add your thoughts or stories to this post in the comments, or questions you might have about the concepts and philosophy. Next week we’ll have more practical application and opportunities to be involved in the third round we’re getting going by the end of the year. 

Rod at one month and change

Version 2The other day Rod wrote a piece on his blog about Rachel Sensenig as our new pastor. What he neglected to talk about is himself. Rachel and Rod spent the past few months “teaming.” I used quotes because of a double entendre. In one sense, they had the unusual distinction of both being primarily assigned to our congregation at 1125 S Broad St. We normally have one full-time pastor at each congregation, even though our pastors are OUR pastors – the distinction is more about focus than limits. Teaming also describes a fullness of life – like creation in Genesis 1 & 2. The possibilities, potential, and time for change made for a rich season that we all have enjoyed.

Rod also has a “baby” job, in a way. Even though he has been doing development pastor work in Circle of Hope from the beginning, let’s not take the change we have perpetrated too lightly.

Rod is not the pastor stationed at 1125 S. Broad anymore. He and Gwen sat in the third row last week and people noticed – even commented on it. He is not going to be “up front” all the time, just some times and at other sites, too. He’s not going to be at all the meetings, helping all the leaders, or finding his way into places he needs to be like he used to. He does not have the wheel of the ship. He is not going to be the first person people on South Broad call after their cell leader, even though we’ll still be able to get to him when we need him. He is not gone, he is not retiring or semi-retiring now or in the near future. What a gift!

It is a big change for us, and let’s not forget it is a big change for him, too. Like he has repeatedly said, being pastor is great. God called him into a new role and we all have made that happen, but it comes with some losses as well as blessings.

I think we should get excited about what we have done. Usually the founding pastor dies in his position, like the pope. He finally disappears one day and people have to decide what life is like without him. It often causes such disruption that the church never recovers, fully. We did not do that and Rod did not want to. Instead he did something that you really need to pay attention to. He gave up what he loves and has known with us for two decades and took a role that is more about serving others behind the scenes than relating to everyone.

Don’t be dismayed, he’s still with us and still energizing our whole church, but on a smaller playing field with a lot less of the hand-on pastoring he loves so much. We are attempting to unleash him in a new role and assign him in ways that employ his unique gifts in our system to help us all develop. God has called him into more praying, more counseling, more systems work, more leadership development. And we are glad to pay him for 4/5 of a week to do it. 4/5 of Rod’s week is quite a bit, in case you have not been following him.  It is not like he hasn’t always done those things, but it is not the same. We are better off for the change, even if some of us will think it is weird to see him in the third row for a while until we get used to it.

Conflict can generate beauty

Photo by Jack Fusco

I got to take a quick trip up through Ontario last week. My family and I got to experience the beauty of the Niagara River, Niagara Falls (including the Hornblower!), and maybe best of all – we laid on the shores of Lovesick Lake and observed the Perseid Meteor Shower. We didn’t even know it was going to happen, I think my kids just thought it was Canadian magic or being 2hrs from a city and light pollution. The reason we can see such glory is not because junk is falling from space onto us – it’s because the earth swings through a bunch of rock/debris in our orbit each year around this time. It’s conflict. The earth is coming through, and the bits (like a tiny asteroid belt) pass into the planetary orbit and turn into fireballs and “wakes of light.” Spectacular.

We experience conflict every day. Most of the time we don’t get too emotionally involved and we find solutions easier when our defense mechanisms don’t take over. I find that when our emotions get to firing, we generally respond to threat in one of three ways: avoidance, assertion, or combustion. These categories aren’t scientific or anything but can generally describe most reactions.

Jesus lived in the middle of conflict. Besides the overlay of Greek/Roman empire influence, his tribal life existed during a spiritual reform as well as survival movements in the face of warrant kings and economic disparity. As he gathered folks from many walks of life, he also created conflict. Whether he called disciples out of their collusion with the states, out of their family business, or from under a fig tree, Jesus moved people to make changes. That meant leaving job, family, etc – not easy stuff to walk away from.

I have been enjoying a lot of conflict lately that Circle of Hope lives in. I think we have the vitality and centeredness to discern the Holy Spirit and move with God – that’s what this whole Second Act thing is about. We are trying to move beyond what has worked so far and change. I think our leaders have shown a lot of courage thus far. Each of us has to do our own processing about this particular threat. I hope we don’t just avoid it, I think that would be the worst. Combusting or asserting both keep us moving.

Our Compassion Core got about 120 of us to meet up at 9pm the other week at the future

Photo by Amanda Capasso

headquarters for the Phila Police to remember Mike Brown and other victims of racialized police brutality and to pray in a new era of justice in our city. We prayed for police (especially those who don’t wan to kill anybody, don’t want to stop & frisk, etc), for leaders, for those involved in the numerous stories we read, and for God to wake us up with justice. I think getting somewhere at 9 pm created conflict, so did the racial focus of the event, as well as not blindly siding with the authorities. About half the people who went didn’t RSVP on Facebook – maybe they are not on FB or maybe they didn’t want it on their feed because it was about Jesus or Black Lives Matter. I had a few combusting conversations about it, especially if I enumerated that last sentence. I felt the assertion more than anything – over 100 people feeling moved to do a notable act of compassion that brought us together and made a statement in the world! That was spectacular – like the meteor shower. Conflict was beautiful.

Last Sunday my good friend Drew Hart spoke at our Sunday meetings (listen to it here). They went long, especially because he was helping people process how we are “Taking on the form of Christ in this racialized world.” I appreciate both his prophetic, truth-telling brilliance paired with a pastoral instinct to help people move along the journey from right where they are at. I could sense lights turning on as he pointed out how we can jump on individuals for saying racist things (like the Hulkster lately) because it absolves us – but it doesn’t see how we are being formed by a racist system that produces the attitudes. By getting at the system, with the hope and power in Jesus, we can make personal changes and move together to form something new every day (not just on Sundays or protest days).

 

I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of couples – married and about to be – in counseling sessions. We do a lot of work about communication and conflict. I get to co-captain an amazing baseball team that is full of conflict – every pitch. After a session with some business partners the other day, I felt grateful to be living with so many people who want to get at solutions – even if it’s in the middle of combustion. It’s quite a beautiful thing to want to solve a conflict with another person. After all, we live in a world where we send unmanned drones to blow up houses, people stab each other over a few bucks around the corner, and Black men are being locked at astonishing rates. Getting beyond just intention and into transformative relationship with Jesus, the earth, and one another is still the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen.

Why not surrender?

I was in my late teens when I was shown that Jesus is leading a resistance movement. To make it even better, I’ve also experienced life in Christ as a movement of restoration. While talking to a few people considering making a covenant with us a few weeks back, this particular part of “what we do” brought up some good discussion.

We need to resist evil, often in the Ephesians 6 systemic kind of way. We also need to resist some internal stuff, evidence of our brokenness, like hyperindividuality, moral superiority, or old scripts that keep us from moving into fuller health with God. Restoration is easier to grasp, I guess, but it goes beyond a person – although it is person by person through relationships. It goes beyond getting over bad ecological habits personally, we are moved to restore neighborhoods and even our region. It’s not just dying to our sin and rising with Jesus – it’s joining in the Love Song as part of God’s Redemption Project.

I mostly think of resistance as a good thing, and I’m glad so many resisters have paved the way and encouraged me on this journey over the years. The forces of darkness threaten to overtake us – especially the most vulnerable and most naive through methods that seem necessary or unavoidable temporary solutions, until we are addicted or enslaved and maybe even grow sympathetic to our captors. Whether we’re soft on fracking because it creates jobs in areas of poverty, allowing corn syrup in everything we eat because it’s too much work to learn how to grow, or continue to fund/support the racist overkill supermilitary prison state because we feel secure – we have our work cut out for us.

Inner resistance can be hard to identify, and even harder to move through. I’m feeling fortunate this week that I have been discipled into habits like regular worship and face-to-face connecting with my cell because God used them to equip me this week to practice surrender in the face of my own resistance. Surrendering to God in a moment is to open up to God’s touch, healing, and direction. Not much like when Nic Cage finally has had enough (in any of his films)…full of desperation, frustration, and loss. I find surrendering to the love of Jesus is more like moving from my default refusal to grace.

We have a lot of reasons why we wouldn’t surrender this week to God’s love being poured out to us. These may read like a warning/judgement but I am more trying to foment some more empathy and process my own reticence.

We don’t have time. Summer seems like a lot of things run slowly yet we can easily get busy in the brain. Our disciplines often get disturbed and it’s a lot of work to get back in the flow – even with some basic quiet relating to God.

It’s become sense of obligation. If you’ve ever been coerced into surrendering, I think it’s even harder to want to lay down your will. If you’re supposed to do it you could be giving it up to the man again. People like me actually get some tiny satisfaction from rebelling against a norm or obligation.

We got this. Sometimes we actually believe that it’s under control and we’re doing it ourselves. I’m glad that my friends in recovery regularly remind me and those we hang with where this usually and ultimately leads.

It doesn’t really work like that anymore. Faith needs to grow. Spirituality is a process of transformation not falling in line with a static belief system of propositional truths! It’s actually not to difficult to allow disappointments, resentments, and dissatisfaction to slide into first place on our internal race.

I find surrender to God’s love costly. It can cost my need for approval, my sense of moral superiority when I feel wronged, my ambition, my indignation, and my favorite defensive twist – loneliness. I think showing up in the moment – whether in your morning prayer, on Sunday night while the music plays, or at the beginning of your cell meeting – and honestly opening your heart to God’s touch will give you courage. God’s touch will also probably help you see that many of our points of inner resistance are also the internal growth points that the Holy Spirit is available to work on with you. So why not surrender? 

Junteenth 2015: freedom has its delays yet hope prevails

A bunch of my friends are so-called white people. In the past few days on Facebook, several even warned people against talking racial politics on their feed or place of work. I generously assume they are trying to shut down the white people they know who want to deny that the Charleston Shooting continues a long thread of violence against Black people in the US. I want to think that because their white friends celebrated when George Zimmerman or Darren Wilson walked. By the way, the “I Support Darren Wilson” FB group has almost 90,000 members. I also wish stories of outrageous violence against black people would stop, and I think Jesus does, too. Until we get there, I can’t imagine Jesus not getting shot, abused, left out, and executed. I also cannot imagine Jesus not rising and forming an alternative.

Jon Stewart’s joke-free monologue last night is still blowing up, being liked and shared by all sorts of folks. I appreciated his connection that state violence abroad to “protect American lives” – including drone warfare, invasions and torture – with violence against American lives at home. He presumed “we” when speaking for the country. That was a bold move, and people like me don’t often want to think that we are part of the “we” that continues to commit atrocities against people part of a racial group because they are part of that racial group. Jesus forms an alternative while caring and acting with those who suffer, being present in the suffering and offering hope for something different.

Today we are able to celebrate Juneteenth – the oldest celebration of the end of racialized chattel enslavement in the US. You see, there was a few delays to freedom in Texas in the days before communication was so fast and accessible here. Most understand that the Confederacy didn’t officially recognize the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863) until the end of the war (4/9/1865). It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that Texas came along. Imagine being part of the group who did not know about Lincoln’s decree or the news from the battle front only to find out that the law had made you free years/months before. I think there’s a complex array of anger & frustration to distain but gratitude, elation and celebration must have prevailed. During a week when #askRachel was taking over the emotional airwaves in the wake of the McKinney debacle, Juneteenth can be a day when Charleston has its full context with the emotions, memories, realities, and hopes that media outlets cannot give us and cannot take away.

Some powerful memes are also floating around today to clarify that the recent white supremacist murder rampage in an AME church’s prayer meeting was more than a random act of violence or one sick person’s twisted response to their delusion. We are still in conflict with a system that protects white supremacy and white skin privilege. The battles are still (Ephesians 6) against rulers, powers, and authorities both in spirit and in this world that are systemic, not just against individuals or people.

African Electro artist Young Paris’ post as of now has over 200k likes and 250k+ shares.

There are always exceptions to the general flow and other people are mistreated or rewarded. Symbols remain in prominent places particularly and powerfully serve as seen things to point to unseen ideas. Whether it’s on your t-shirt, a tattoo, the name of a street, or the flag above government buildings – we choose what we display/advertise/evangelize for a purpose. Take Jesus dying on the cross and using the symbol of the cross to identify his followers. What does the symbol mean to you and what does it mean to your neighbor?

From the Southern Poverty Law Center

Attacking a symbol can be as powerful as the symbol itself. Burning a flag is potent, open defiance. When doing anything symbolically, the act itself is open to interpretation. Sometimes the point is unclear or perceived as inappropriate or offense. Sometimes disrespect or questioning legitimacy is a step towards forming something new. Jesus’ defiance sometimes looks pretty assertive like standing up to turn your other cheek to get punched like a human instead of backhand slapped like a subordinate. Other times it looks like defeating the powers of sin and death and walking out of a tomb.

We are working with some real spirit, flesh & blood problems and I’m really grateful to be working out some spirit, flesh & blood solutions with so many people. We have opportunities to be formed by the Holy Spirit into a people that don’t need to just identify injustice, we can be part of the Beloved Community that demonstrates justice.

I have found that my hope in the Kingdom of God outshines my quest for freedom and justice while also being the solar power that runs it. The source of my hope is what fuels my activism or gives me the juice to want to stay in the game with such overwhelming opposition. I do not think the Church is a place to hide from the injustice of the world in hopes for a future just world. I have found that especially in Circle of Hope the church is a healthy soil polyculture for the Holy Spirit to cultivate resistance and restoration. Jesus didn’t shy away from hard conversations or avoid the people who disagreed with him. His hope was an opportunity for transformation that forms us into transformation agents for God.