GHOST RIDE THE WHIP!

Talk to me

An insightful guest post by Wes Willison! 

Oh I talk too loose
Again I talk too open and free
I pay a high price for my open talking
Like you do for your silent mystery

 [Joni Mitchell]

Why not monologues?

Is there anything wrong with hearing from one voice during Sunday meetings? Not really, no. Our pastors are great! They say good things. It’s helpful to hear their insights into faith, life, community, and the way of Jesus.

However, how many of us have been in churches where it was exasperating and exhausting to only hear one person’s opinion all the time? If you’re like me, it’s common to visit another church and get turned off by not just the content of someone else’s words, but also in the format of their delivery: one voice, raised above everyone else (often physically, in a pulpit) handing the listeners words to agree with and absorb. It’s not that I disagree with everything (or even most things) I hear in sermons; instead, it’s the lack of encounter or relationship that this format posits.

Without even trying to analyze the content of specific sermons, I am told by this format that:

  • my voice is less important than the person who is speaking
  • I know less about God than the person speaking
  • the means of encountering God are to listen to someone else’s knowledge

Is this all necessarily bad all the time? No, of course not. There’s a time and place for hearing the words of one person who knows more than me.

However, no single one of us humans — especially men, especially white men, especially American white men — can know the full breadth and depth of God’s revelation. As much as Jesus has revealed to us the nature and dimensions of God’s activity on earth, no one of us is privileged to have a complete view on that knowledge. Each of us have different experiences and perspectives of that revelation, and it’s helpful to hear each others’ stories to get glimpses of what God is up to.

Why stories? Why dialogue?

What does this mean for us practically? That telling stories is important. In fact, it might be more important than any other way we use our words. It also means that talking to each other — in dialogue — is important. That’s a major reason why we have talkback every week. When someone speaks, everyone has an opportunity to respond with a anecdote, insight, or question.

Story-telling is a recognition of our own subjectivity, our own limited perspective when it comes to the broad and wild love God has for us. None of us can know the pain and joy of someone else’s experience of God until they share their story. To use a biblical word, testimony matters. Stories are not about theology, they are about God’s action in our lives. They are not reflections of our intelligence or ability, but instead reflect our gratitude and struggle. They do not make others more or less than human, but instead they help us recognize the image of God in ourselves.

Dialogue is a recognition of our own relationality, our location in a social fabric. We aren’t alone in our relationship with God: God is loving all of us, and God is loving our community. Pressure and encouragement from someone else helps us recognize and give thanks for the ways God loves us. When someone asks us for clarification on our story, we can recognize the places in which our story is incomplete, either to ourselves or to others. Asking someone else to tell their story — and then honoring it — is an antidote to proselytizing. It is not colonial, it is familial. It is not towards coercion, it is towards mutual joy.

Story time

Two Sundays ago, I talked with Pearl Quick about her story at the 7PM Sunday meeting. We met in a Lutheran church around the corner from Circle of Hope 2007 Frankford Ave. Dimly lit, on rickety folding chairs, with about as many pews in the room as there were people. I’ll admit: it wasn’t a comfortable space for such an intimate conversation. But frankly, even the Frankford Ave space would have felt incongruous. Our conversation felt like it deserved a few drinks in someone’s living room after a good meal.

To have such a small-scale, personal conversation in a church setting was new for me. I’ve always experienced Sunday church meetings to be formal, intensely planned, and generally uncomfortable. Talking with Pearl was not that way, and not only because I happen to be friends with Pearl. I was able to ask real questions of Pearl in addition to the ones I’d planned, and responding to everyone else’s questions during Talkback felt less discontinuous with how the rest of the conversation had unfolded: it was all the same, all one conversation. I’m still trying to figure out what I learned from the experience, but I’m pretty sure it was less about the content of what Pearl said and more about the way in which story was shared and embraced.

I would have also enjoyed hearing Pearl give a whole 30 minute speech about her experiences, no doubt. She’s a dynamic speaker, powerful storyteller, and has plenty of charisma. In fact, I think my clumsy questions were probably more of a hindrance than if she had polished a speech and delivered it without interruption. But even so, I’m happy for the opportunity to be a part of unfolding Pearl’s story. It was a slightly forced environment — not quite the natural, improvised, unplanned dialogue that I imagine the 30 minutes could have been — but our planning and preparation helped ensure that the most significant parts of Pearl’s story were shared, and powerfully so. Furthermore, there’s an implied second half to the conversation that we haven’t reached yet: Pearl talking to me about my own story. I’m looking forward to the time for that story too.

Next week, Kristen will be chatting with Phoebe Bachman, a collaborator at Philadelphia Assembled. I’m looking forward to the story, I’m looking forward to the dialogue. I invite you to come along and hear for yourself. Even more, I invite you to come along and ask a question for yourself. Unless you ask that question, Phoebe’s story will be that much incomplete.

Hinkie died for our sins: Finding Faith through Trusting the Process

I’m trying to write this so that people who don’t follow the Philadelphia 76ers, the NBA, or sportsball in general to be able to track. The religious motifs throughout the past five years around Philadelphia basketball stand on their own as symbols of a kind of faith. They also speak to my processes both as a Sixers fan and a follower in the way of Jesus. 

Enter Sam Hinkie, executive par excellence 

On May 14, 2013 the Sixers hired basketball analytics savant Sam Hinkie as general manager. His bold vision: to bring the franchise through three horrifying years of collecting assets and trading away any talent or veterans. Critics around the league said that the basketball gods frowned upon such blatant “tanking,” or losing now on purpose in order to stockpile draft picks and build a team from a clean foundation. Fans marked his memorable contribution with deep conviction..Trust the Process.

At the end of his 34 month brilliant and notorious ride as the antihero of basketball executives, Hinkie gave a 13pg gift to the world in the form of his resignation letter. He wrote about “a tolerance of uncertianty,” the “necessity of innovation,” the “importance of intellectual humility,” and “the longest view in the room.” I embraced this man and his vision right away, and my heart is warmed by his courage. I learned what optionality was. He will not be able to enjoy the fruit of his good work as a Sixer, but must be happy with all of the affirmations that have been coming lately.

Making the God connection, beyond the meme

At the end of his term, his risky ask were sacrifice and faith. He asked a board of trustees and fanbase to forgo conventional wisdom to grind it out and wait for a miracle for a longer term plan that would have a higher chance to reap larger rewards. Was all the #HinkieDiedForOurSins just blasphemy, tongue-in-cheek memes showing how post-Christian we really are in the US, or could it be a deep reach toward finding meaning in suffering? 

You may or may not know, but at the NBA Draft tonight (coverage begins at 7pm), the Sixers (by leveraging assets acquired by my boy Sam) have the first pick. They had the first pick last year, too. The acquisition of elite talent through the draft remains essential to perennial success in the NBA. In a few hours, we will have three players who have the potential to become superstars. The opportunity to acquire such talent through the draft could not have happened without sustained losing, drafting players that would not play for a few years, and trading away good players for future picks.

Proclaiming that The Process has arrived

Perhaps no one embodies The Process as much as the transcendent talent and personality of Joel Embiid. Before he made his long awaited debut, he missed two full seasons because of foot surgery and complications from growing from 7’0″ to 7’2″. While we waited, The Ringer made a 10min mockumentary about him called The Legacy of a Legend, which he of course ReTweeted. Leading up to his debut last season, he asked to be announced at games as Joel “The Process” Embiid. Jojo boldly proclaimed that The Process had arrived, and pointed to himself as evidence. 

Being Bible reader for most of my life, I feel like I have seen this movie before. But I have not seen a new reality announced and practiced in a way that inspired me like this. Joel helped me understand the gospel more deeply. In the first verse of Mark’s gospel, he lifts a cultural term that I missed for a long time. When he says “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” he didn’t coin the term gospel. Rome spread news of a military victory, to be celebrated when they brought the good news. Mark flipped it to meaning a release of the Good Story – the Prince of Peace had begun a re-harmonization process that was divinely re-ordering everything. 

Trusting our own processes 

When I began my second stint with higher ed in the Fall of 2008, I did not see a clear timeline or endpoint. I wanted to learn and re-orient my brain, and become a better pastor. As I recently completed seminary, I look back at a long run of stimuli and change. I hit roadblocks that I couldn’t see past at times. I experienced a mental fatigue that I didn’t know was possible. I trusted the wise people around me and that the Spirit was going to use these challenges for God’s good purposes. I also enjoyed graduating more than I expected I could.

As much as it has been hard to be a Sixers fan while they put up historically bad teams, real life is harder. I’m walking with some friends who are giving up on their processes before they come to good ends. The hardest times in life are often right before we turn a corner. This is an encouragement to trust God and your spiritual friendships when you’re confused or in crisis.

I hope you get encouraged by finding some faith out there, even in unexpected places. Faith is a lot more than a series of beliefs, faith is working the spiritual muscle that helps us connect. Faith is more a midwife to hope and perseverance than it is a crutch or painkiller. I found real faith in Philadelphia over these years, even if it mocks my faith a bit. I feel like a lot of us have endured some trying seasons. I am also giving witness to a new beginning that we are experiencing because of the work of God in our hearts. Won’t you go with it? 

 

On complaining too much and remembering home

I was hanging out with someone lately and realized that they didn’t complain about anything for an entire hour. Do they not live in Philadelphia and understand??? They didn’t point out how many times I expressed dissatisfaction but I began to reflect. I complain often. I think I complain too often. I might even be complaining that I complain so much.

I think there are lots of reasons to express concern, anger, suffering, and a host of other emotions or observations about situations. I also want to let God touch my heart in my dissatisfaction so that my expressions do not get stuck in mere smack-talking, hatin’, or complaining. I got to go on a three-night hike recently. I used it as a retreat. Here are some experience, questions, and lessons I’ve been sitting with since.

Experiences, part I:

Here were some other obstacles to overcome/suffer through/complain about during the first couple of days: My minivan (RIP Midnight Teal) broke down 15mi from the trailhead. Getting to the trial had increased obstacles besides needing to figure out how to get 4+hrs back home.The weather was wet and cold. The sun didn’t shine for more than 2min until the final morning. The temperature got into the 50s once. One day I walked slightly uphill on a flooded rocky path (now a tiny creek) for about four hours straight. The trail offered low visibility, the mountain laurels crowded most of the trail.

Questions:

When is a good time to quit? It was hard going and I didn’t see any relief coming. I have several friends in the process of getting divorced right now, having quit or quitting in some way. When is it time to quit? A few tough days are hardly as bad as being conflicted for years, of course, but when could it be time to turn around and say “I’m going to take a hot bath and order pizza now” rather than doing this low tech/no tech time in the wilderness with little escape opportunities from the moment?

 

I think quitting can be a good option sometimes. We get ourselves unconsciously tangled up with people, ideologies, habits, economic systems, etc that harm us/community/creation. When you are digging yourself a hole, the first advice is to stop digging. Whether you are wondering about terminating a relationship, quitting a job, dropping out of school, leaving the church/faith (I’ve done all of the above at some point), you identify a point that is “too far” and press the red button.

More pics that I didn’t take at this blog http://whatwedidlastweekend.org/ourtripstonature/2016/4/7/big-schloss-hike

Experiences, part II:

Then the rain stopped. The trail opened up from thickage to open ravines and the trail went both up and down until a ridge. That became the best ridge walk of my life. During several sections, you could see both valleys – as the Appalachian mountains roll in a few lines there. I encountered Big Schloss – my favorite Schloss, I might add – one of the best panoramic vistas on the East Coast on a cool rock formation. The sun was shining when I awoke the final morning, and sorting out transport back to Philadelphia was simpler and easier than I feared.

I got back in time to do some worshipping with my congregation. Sarah White gave some inspiring invitations from Jesus as antidotes to the demand we sense. Gillian had us lighting candles and telling of how God has provided for us – another antidote to demand. Cameron’s team led heartfelt singing – holding out lines like “Let my life be a motion of love,” “All of my help comes from You,” “How great You are,” and “You remain.” We shared the communion meal and I knew then that I was at home with Jesus. I was at home with who I really am, where my deepest convictions begin, and my greatest inspiration gets birthed from. 

Lessons:

When we are in the stranded cold/wet/boring uphill climbs of life, our memory often gets short. Our suffering at the moment shapes our senses and changes our memories. We can sometimes hardly remember not suffering, like how I feel when I have a nagging cold (when was I ever healthy? What did it even feel like not to cough every few seconds?). When we suffer, we can allow our circumstances, our pain, and our limits to shape how we live – rather than those inspirations and convictions. We probably quit too soon on a lot of things, like flipping through the channels on cable or watching portions of 10 Youtube videos in a row. When life is hard, I need to remember how God has provided for me. When life is hard, I need to remember that circumstances will change – maybe even sooner than I expect. 

Maybe I don’t actually complain too much, but just too much to others. Maybe I should save more of my complaints for God who offers spiritual medicine. Maybe my heart will be healed enough every day to be able to fight the good fight out of my healing, inspiration, and conviction rather than get it too mixed up with my dissatisfaction. Maybe I can train my mouth to reflect the gratitude and wonder I feel in my deeper parts more and my agitations less. It might actually make me more open to joy.

An opportunity for wonder

What is more wonder-full than wonder in the eyes of children? I think that’s one thing that makes Christmas time so special for a lot of people. Wonder has become a serious spiritual discipline for me, as weird as that might sound. During Advent I get even more serious about wonder – the decorations, songs, smells, and other traditions hopefully help stoke my imagination about deeper meaning. I need to try to wrap my heart and my mind around this Story again every year or else I’ll think it’s normal.

Creator becoming part of creation honestly blows my mind, and I want it to. It doesn’t really get my imaginative fires burning – beckoning me to spend time every day considering what it means, motivating my heart, my behavior, and my relationships – unless I keep the disciplines that keep me mindful of how Jesus is being born anew. What in me could get renewed?

I’ve heard from friends that the best part of giving a present is watching the child open it and freak out. That’s fun, but a lot of pressure to keep up (my kids are 15 and 12 now, that’s a lot of Xmas’s). For me, the best part of giving a gift is being part of a larger generosity movement and expressing God’s generosity by making his dwelling among us. It opens up universes of possibilities. There are daily practices that help me – Circle of Daily Prayer [water] has been offering a song every day. That might be a good enough start for you.

We face a lot of dangers. It looks like Donald J. is going to become our president. People are having a lot of difficulty staying together. It rained this week and I had more people tell me they wanted to hurt themselves than the rest of the year combined. I’ve heard of families splitting up or about to. Perpetual, preemptive war continues abroad and the battle of capitalism vs creation continues at home and Obama still won’t stand up for the Standing Rock Sioux against the banks, extraction giants, and their militarized police/mercenaries. Another unarmed black kid got killed over nothing – James Means was 15.

People are financially strained and somehow the internet was permitted to boss around everyone’s money for a week by making a consumer spectacle out of Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday/Giving Tuesday. Don’t fall for it. It’s the reverse order of your values, anyway – right? Don’t let it break your sense of wonder. Don’t let this stuff get you away from a deeper reality…that Jesus is calling us back into harmony with God, with one another, and with creation. We form alternatives to the destructive symptoms and act in ways that oppose the pathologies that cause such alienation.

We have so many opportunities to get our goodness fueled and help heal some wounds this month. Get some good stuff from God and spread it around. There’s enough comfort & joy to go around. You may want to get your calendar out…

Nov 27 First Sunday of Advent

We explored the prophets pointing to another way and listened to stories from the water protectors at Standing Rock to connect to our own dissonance, resilience, and rejoicing. You might even want to join in tomorrow on a #NoDAPL Day of Action.

Dec 2-3 Art Shop This is our 12th expression of 50+ local artist/crafter/makers.

Dec 4 – Second Sunday of Advent

We’re looking to John the Baptizer who signals the time has arrived and listening to Black Lives Matter to connect to our own dissonance, resilience, and rejoicing. 5 & 7pm at 2007 Frankford

Dec 10 – House show: music/poetry/wonder/potluck/NoDAPL Me and Martha are trying to throw an inclusive party. Some of my favorite performers will be performing. We’re gonna raise some funds for Standing Rock. Potluck starts at 6:30

Dec 11 – Third Sunday of Advent

This time Mary and Joseph prepare for the miracle. We’re getting into the Magnificat a whole bunch. These migrants get us to looking at the absurdity of talk of “building a wall” and undocumented people in our own communities that help us connect to our own dissonance, resilience, and rejoicing. Some of us have been part of the #right2work dinner series, highlighting undocumented restaraunt workers in Philly.

Dec 17 – Free Baby & Kids Goods Exchange (10am-1pm at 2007 Frankford). This is usually our largest monthly session where parents and those expecting practice redistribution of kid stuff and saving ecological and environmental impact. We still need volunteers to set up, hang out, drive people home, and clean up.

Dec 18 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

We will light the fourth Advent candle for the Shepherds, who respond to the news of Jesus being born with songs of joy. We turn our ears to Syria and other people displaced through the war of terror to help us connect to our own dissonance, resilience, and rejoicing. 5 & 7 pm at 2007 Frankford.

Dec 20 – Caroling through Kensington/Fishtown  – meet at 6:30 at 2007 Frankford, we’ll start walking at 7 and return for warm drinks and snacks. I don’t really like Christmas carols, I’ll confess, but I do love how moved my neighbors get when 100+ of us sing to them. It can be life changing. 

Dec 21 – Homeless Memorial Day, 5-6pm at 15th & JFK. We will assert the dignity of all persons and remember those who died this year. Many won’t have another formal rembrance.

Dec 24 – Christmas Eve, 10:45pm vigil at 1125 S. Broad (also there’s a 4pm family-oriented observance). Sometimes we watch the big flakes of snow fall out the window while we hold candles singing Silent Night at midnight. That or something else magical might happen.

Dec 25 – Silent Night, Holy Night – 60min of candlelight reflection at 5 and 7 at 2007 Frankford. Loads of snacks in between. Lots of people need somewhere warm, indoors, and kind to be on Christmas. I love it when it’s on a Sunday because it’s easy to make it about Jesus.

4 pro tips for enduring this Apocalypse

Some real UGLY has been revealed this week. This UGLY is around us, thrust upon us, inside of us, and in many cases coming out of us. I want to be brief and easy to read for different kinds of people so I’m making this list in the hope to help myself and others process some of our thinking and feeling so we can make more beauty in the midst of conflict. This apocalypse, an uncovering of a sorry state of the United States, has some new contours and threats. What’s also being revealed has been obvious to many people for a long time.

If you consider yourself woke or waking up, I hope this helps you. If you are frustrated and want other people to wake up from their Myth of Progress-induced slumber, I hope this equips you. If you’re skeptical about the future or even skeptical about faith I hope this post validates your feelings and makes for more options for you. I’m not trying to bring more condemnation upon us, I want to make possibilities for us to not get stuck. These “pro tips” are not meant to seem like I think I have all the answers or understand all the nuances of our problems. I hope they keep us moving in a healthy direction.

Pro tip: Feel your own feelings, think your own thoughts. Give your reactions, instincts, and emotions some names. Get to know them more. Like a song that gets stuck in your head, we are all susceptible to suggestion or picking up what’s in the air. I’m so symbiotic that I feel other people’s stress and need help differentiating it from my own. I spent at least an hour yesterday playing piano and singing. Music helps me to get in touch beyond my rational or cognitive processes. Some of my friends gathered last night to dance together. Get in touch with your own body, your own heart, your own mind – and see if that helps you likewise be able to get in touch with the heart of God.

Suggestions: Make a decision about what your deepest resonance will be today, or at least in this moment. Does confusion or frustration, shock or grief, anger or disgust need to be the primary lens you experience life? Do you want it to? I find Scripture, breath prayers, and songs very useful. We can choose what song will be stuck in our head. When you pray, you can ask Jesus to hold them with you. I find they become less overwhelming. [Psalm 139]

Pro tip: Confess how we/you have been complicit in systems that maintain white supremacy and related misogyny, phobias, etc. How has your attitude or behavior contributing to so many people not believing the stories of the oppressed? The president elect helped a lot of people see some deeply seeded issues the US generally does not want to deal with directly. Rather than pointing out how other people contribute all the time, start with confessing how you have internalized the dehumanizing messages, attitudes, or behaviors. It might be from a long time ago. It might be something you can see in your heart right now. The Western Church and recently those religious rule-makers (rather than spiritual practitioners) that we know as Evangelicals have helped settler colonialism flourish for generations. How have you intentionally or unintentionally helped the cause of the powerful?

Suggestions: Write some ideas in your journal. If you don’t have one, maybe now’s a good time to start a new reflective habit. Tell someone you trust, in person. These systems of injustice do not perpetuate themselves, they require active and complicit actors. Our limits and inability to have open hearted dialogue with relatives or other people that disagree with us become counter-productive to harmony and justice. [Psalm 32]

Pro tip: Consider the vitriol and material harm that has been unleashed this week. The maps show stark divisions in various ways, and we have no shortage of ways of thinking that categorize others and draw/see lines. For some of our US American relatives, an open season on minorities has begun. Racism that was underground has be legitimated enough by the recent political victories for it to be manifesting in frightening ways against the perceived “other.” Children in schools are getting told they will be deported, Nazi symbols painted in South Philly, and other likely worse things are on the horizon for people who are now even more vulnerable than they were. How has cruelty shaped us? What are your own instincts to dehumanize or make vulgar categorizations about others who don’t have your level of education or made a different choice at the polls?

Suggestions: Listen to those who have been living under chaotic threat, even as that group just multiplied. My brilliant Lakota friend Lenore told our cohort last night that “we are going to do what we always do. Natives endure. We will live through even this.” How can cruel attitudes and behaviors threaten your effort to make sanctuary, refuge, and safe spaces for yourself and others? [Luke 10]

Pro tip: What kind of alternatives do we need to embody? At the heart of protest are the seeds of possibility for the world that doesn’t exist quite yet. For Christians, we consider that the Movement of God is forming pockets of peace, resistance, and restoration all the time. It’s alraeady and not yet. We get to be part of it in a way that works for the flourishing of those not working directly with us. You don’t have to go at it alone. What kind of spaces do people need and what do you have to offer? Who are you going to work this out with?

Suggestions: Which of your feelings can be turned into action? The Movement of the Spirit has been in juxtaposition to what is unsettling us and will continue to. Last night people were protesting the next president. Black Lives Matter and water protectors at Standing Rock have been very active at making opportunities to demonstrate together. At my cell meeting this morning nine adults and two children did some good processing while making space for two people to join us that haven’t been with us before. What does that kind of inclusivity unlock? How could the Sunday meeting this week become a space of flexing our muscles of alternativity? [1 John 4]

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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Lessons from the streets during the DNC

I don’t usually get blog requests from Circle of Hope leaders, so when one of them came to me, asking me to break down my reasons for so passionately railing against the system all the time, I decided to spend a few hours in the forest, getting back in touch with God and creation; I wanted enough solitude to figure out what it was I has to say, and I’m realizing it may take a couple post to break it down fully.

I’m want to make space for us to develop our ways of thinking. I spend a lot of time listening to radical people and live in a radical community of Jesus lovers, so my perspective is my own, but I’m eager to dialogue and grow together.

Spoiler alert/main point

I am part of a local expression of the trans-national, even trans-historical Body of Christ. I think our most important work– politically, spiritually, etc., is to embody alternatives, with Jesus, to a series of bad “choices” we’re spoon fed by the media and dominant culture. We are not doomed to remain stuck in between a series of bad options. God can fill us up and empower us to create pockets of resistance– where the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus refers to in the Bible can become very tangible and very accessible here on earth right now.

There are a lot of ways to participate in politics – I hope to sprinkle some hope, peace, and possibility into your day. You’ll notice that I talk about a lot of radical stuff including listening to, learning from, and organizing with different kinds of people than those who are most popular. You may need to do some side reading understand a few things but I’ll do lots of links and pics because you might not have read up on Black spiritual leaders or know why we are interested in what Mumia Abu Jamal has to say. I’m primarily speaking to people who are a part of Circle of Hope so I’m making some basic assumptions, but you don’t have to be into Jesus or Circle of Hope to get this.

Praising the Lord

I got to spend about 5 days outside around the time of the DNC – in the streets with several marches and demonstrations as well as attending panel discussions, pop up art exhibitions and worship sessions. I didn’t catch any of it on tv and saw only a few video clips but there seem to be a lot of people with some strong feelings about this election. So if you are feeling a wound up here is some examples of ways I turned my frustration with the powers that be into a generative force of community:

I spent most of my effort organizing drummers and Christians to Praise the Lord with drum and dance (Psalm 150) for two primary marches – the March for Our Lives with the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign and the Black DNC Resistance March with the Phila Coalition for REAL Justice. I also was with the Moral Monday crew enjoying the Repairers of the Breach event (also at AFSC, some leaders pictured right), and enjoyed sitting under the trees with the peace and anti-war activists put together by the Brandywine Peace Community. Before I gave my hopeful 10min speech I met Emily Yates, an Iraq War Veteran for peace who sang a brilliant banjo singalong ditty about the failed promises of war administrations after Medea Benjamin and CODE PINK shared. Connecting with God in community this was so inspiring that our cell meeting this week included three people not normally part of it (we meet on Thurs 9am at Franny Lou’s Porch).

Reflection, Art, Field Trips, and “Taking the day off”

One angle – notice the US is made of guns

Taking a day of creative rest can help get you centered. The “Truth to Power” Revolutionary Art Exhibition by Rock the Vote included some of the most beautiful and disturbing images that reflected back a rather grim state that our nation is in. I loved the creativity and profound opportunity for networking. Nate took our Circle of Hope staff as a field trip and Jeremy gave his green architects the afternoon off to go drink it in.

I got into this DNC business with an “on-ramp”

Another angle – notice the US is a gun (made of guns)

of a profound Love Feast and baptisms in the Delaware River, a Kensington Royals sweep where I threw a complete game shutout, and an inspiring Sunday meeting. Afterwards, I spent time listening to the crickets and frogs like I mentioned earlier. Reflection is an important part of the action.

¡Escucha! ¡Escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!”

Some of my time was spent with dear friends from the Kentucky Workers League and their comrades at the Socialist Convergence (at AFSC) where we rocked out with the Global Grassroots Justice Alliance – a diverse group with indigenous people from the US and Honduras (at least) and my favorite new chant that means “Listen! Listen! We are in the struggle!”

I’m not a socialist myself, but appreciate the solidarity that can come from their class-conflict analysis, and heard several lucid insights: One of which was a more comprehensive definition of the economic concept neoliberalism. The ruling class continues to exploit everyone else and the earth. Neoliberalism sees competitive behavior as a foundational impulse between people. It turns souls with creativity and critical thinking skills into nothing more than consumers and puts an enormous emphasis on the power of the market to save us while simultaneously convincing people that their wealth was earned by merit and not as a result of privilege heaped upon privilege.

Also, If you don’t know your federal, state, and city reps – you may want to begin with learning about them rather than getting freaked out too bad by one president. IMO US Presidents have all been really bad in their own ways, with a few moments of exception since those old plantation owners and John Adams convinced poor immigrants to break off of their English father back in the 18th Century. There are useful ways to participate at many levels of government. I think there are a lot of good ways to participate in elections, including not participating in them. Don’t reduce your political participation down to one ballot or one election. Representative democracy, with its superdelegates and electoral college certainly will not produce justice for all or liberty for the disinherited.

I’ve listened to many of my indigenous, Latino, Queer, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim friends rail against Donald J’s bigotry, questionable morality, or the generally pathetic Republican notion that this man should be president. “Build a wall” or “register muslims” or the real enemy of the [white] US is Radical Islam are not policies. New SCOTUS judges could overturn Roe v Wade or make America ____ Again. The RNC held up a mirror up to the United States to see how ugly our fear and wealth hoarding can be. Lots to not like, eh? Does that mean we jump to supporting anyone who can defeat him?

Dr Anthony Monteiro, my favorite professor from Temple’s African American studies program leading a panel discussion at the Socialist Convergence about xenophobia

Dr. Anthony Montero and Mumia Abul Jamal had some opinions about the ruling class/warmongering party (Democrats) who have successfully and profitably connected mass incarceration and poverty at home with regime change and drone warfare abroad for 16 of the last 24 years. The transnational corporations are loving it! I had to consider a thought that I don’t think I could have come up with on my own because I’ve been so inundated with anti-Trump rhetoric. Mumia said in an interview from prison “If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian Neoliberalism — so be it.” I’ll just leave that there for a minute…

 

 

You can see that there are any number of reasons to support/not support either/both of the major candidates. Vote/not vote in a way that makes you feel like you had some integrity with your values and your behavior. If your civic duty is to cast a mere ballot every couple of years, you have already given away the leadership of our communities to corrupt Powers. We need to be organizing, demonstrating, praising God, and embodying the very things we hope and pray for. You can vote for the candidate/party that you want to lead the country. You can actually feel good about it, not just manipulated.

Jesus knits us together

I saw groups of people this week that I wish would come together but seemed separate. They were in

Art Bucher’s shot of four of our pastors and lots of friends praising the Lord during Monday’s March for Our Lives

Philadelphia at the same time. Jesus got to all of the good actions – especially those organized by poor people or those thirsty for the world that doesn’t quite exist yet. Circle of Hope was at a lot of the actions, too. Why can’t the anti-war groups (mostly gray haired white peaceniks who have worked since the 60s) hang with Black Lives Matter? Why were there six distinct socialist movements not knowing about each other? Why did the Wall of Love in the face of Westboro Baptist not connect to the Poor People’s march? They did connect – through the Spirit and through the people who made intentional or accidental overlap. We are all connected, especially those blessed ones who hunger & thirst for righteousness/justice. Let’s receive the courage to be OK with Jesus and do the good work we’ve been given to do, regardless of who wins certain elections.

 

protest, alton sterling, philandro castile

Let’s not allow violence to speak for us

map of africa

Matabeleland, the 2 western provinces, where the Brethren In Christ and Mennonite Central Committee have been active for over 100yrs

Lessons from Zimbabwe

When I spent some time in Zimbabwe recently, I got a lesson in what state violence can do to the psyche of a people. Between 1980-85, the Prime Minister’s Fifth Brigade killed between 30-40,000 people—specifically Ndebele people—in their own country. Since then half the population of the country fled for various reasons including economic. After hyperinflation, one industry that continued to grow was security. CMU blocks for walls, barbed wire, cameras or fake cameras were common and seemed to be more accessible than cars, couches, TVs, or other items more common right now in the US.

It took me a bit to understand why. No one I talked to was worried about theft, even though so many gates in africa, protest, alton sterlingpeople were poor. According to an MCC worker, over 80% of people in Matabeleland were unemployed. They found ways to share money like most countries without a middle class—if you get paid for work, you pay someone else for work. It’s common for someone who has a full-time job to have a gardener and housekeeper, who each in turn have people who they pay for small jobs. It’s a demonstration of resiliency. So why does almost every house have a protective wall? Why do the few affluent areas have barbed wires and security gates? The most simple answer—because the threat of state violence against the people has been proven, and those responsible are still in power.

State Violence and the Alternative

Jesus addressed the state violence against his own people while he walked around Roman-occupied Palestine. His nonviolent creativity has inspired Christians and others since. He generated alternatives to taking up arms (like Simon the Zealot wanted) and sliding into unconscious State sympathy (like Matthew the tax collector had done). His tactic was to embody the Kingdom of Heaven, calling people to follow him and his way.

robot used to bomb man in DallasLast week the Dallas police used a robot dropping a bomb to kill an Afghanistan war vet who tragically used his training to target police and rapid transit authorities after a peaceful protest. This morning I watched this video of the State using sound cannons mounted on an armored vehicle flanked by cops in riot gear —to break up protestors in Baton Rouge.

I’ve talked to a lot of people over the past week who feel overwhelmed by emotions. They are genuinely upset by the death of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the 5 cops in Dallas. Probably like you, at least 6 of my friends posted Facebook status like “I’m off of Facebook for a while, it’s too sad.” I feel you. Some of those folks are going to find ways to cope with their feelings so they can go back to their business. Others are creating pockets of space to do something positive despite those feelings. Facebook isn’t the best vessel for transformation, anyway.

Don’t get it twisted. If you maintain silence about the racialized violence in the US and state violence from the US, you will allow the dominant voice of the state to settle the matter on your behalf. They are already at work and have more guns, tanks, boots on the ground, media outlets, money, and computer magic powers than the Peacemakers ever will. We need to BE the alternative with Jesus, and speak from the place of ultimate security—not a security that can be paid for with killing, but the one that defeated and unmasked the Powers by dying and rising.

Speak the Truth

We don’t have to be afraid to speak truth to them or tell the story of injustice, or proclaim God’s peace and harmony. Those who follow Jesus are already saved from the need to quietly accept what the masters prescribe for us. Let’s enjoy our freedom, let’s fill the resistance to violence with bold love, and use our deep spiritual-centeredness to make room for healing, restoration, and sustained resistance.

On Sunday we prayed about mass shootings in Orlando and Istanbul and the suicide bombing turned into fires in Baghdad. Last week we questioned the Death Penalty and the week before we bore witness against Drone Warfare.

I’m still blown away by the story of Leisha Evans this week (the woman in the featured image of this post). She went to her first protest, motivated by wanting a better world for her son, and after being arrested in one of the most beautiful scenes I can remember, she offered theses words:

I just need you people to know. I appreciate the well wishes and love, but this is the work of God. I am a vessel! Glory to the most high! I’m glad I’m alive and safe. And that there were no casualties that I have witnessed first hand.

I don’t want to stand by and let the militarizing nation state speak for me. I want to use the tools I have and the good work Christ has given me to speak from a community rooted in love, and to spread the courage not to hide in scared silence. Being able to say Black Lives Matter or post #blacklivesmatter is a good start for a lot of people. Let’s keep including people who want to form Beloved Community, to embody an alternative with Jesus through Circle of Hope. Let’s pray more. Let’s tell more stories about the Holy Spirit at work. Since we’ve received the redemption Jesus offers, let’s own it in a way that makes for more hope, more songs, more love, more justice, more peace, and more goodness that helps our communities thrive.

RISKING SAFETY TO PAY ATTENTION AND PLAY

Originally posted here on Circle of Hope’s blog.

Jason Wolcott photography

To paraphrase Goethe, life is full of dangers – among them is safety. My cell meeting began our discussion at Franny Lou’s Porch this morning around this concept. Whether we took it back to tools being twisted into weapons in the Neolithic period or our own pursuit of avoiding danger, Lent can help us bring a potentially far-out concept down to earth. I got to spend some vacation time in Southern California visiting and learning, and facing some danger. Some of my most formative work happened during “board meetings” with a mentor and good friend. Even if you don’t surf, see if any of these little situations remind you of how you are sorting out safety and danger.

Little Rincon, just down the beach from legendary surf spot Rincon, needs something like a 5′ southwest swell to have ridable waves. It happens a least a few times per year. It was firing the first two days I was in the Ventura River Watershed. While the power, quick time between sets, and size were pretty much out of my league – Ched told me if I felt OK I could start in the smaller, sloppier end and work my way back. I sensed the ocean’s power, dangerous yet inviting.

circle of hope, philadelphia, churches in jersey, south jersey, church

The struggle is real

The rip was strong enough to take me half a mile down into a hairy situation with some unfriendly rocks. Like many beaches in the area, the floor has several jagged rocks throughout. Riding an unfamiliar board and not having been out in the water since last October, getting enough juice to lock-in to a wave took longer than I care to calculate. Being surrounded by locals and people who surf multiple times per week was at times embarrassing for me – I saw them shredding while I struggled.

I got snaked a few times by paddle boarders when I was sure it was going to be the big one! My life is often like that. I get interrupted when I’m on the verge of something exciting and I get bitter. It doesn’t work out the way I wanted. I get cranky. I could have forgotten that I was in the ocean with the air temp over 70 degrees on my February birthday! I had the privilege of connecting with God’s creation in ways that excite me, humble me, and keep me wanting more.

So I kept paddling, trying to get in the right position. I got pummeled a few times. I went over the nose of my board trying extra hard. Then my wave came. It took me four strokes to dial in and then I was up and going right. It must have only been about 7-10 seconds earth time, but for me it seemed at least a minute. It eventually closed out and I was treading water next to my board, grinning from ear to ear. Had I really just been exhausted and ready to quit? I felt renewed enthusiasm.

The ocean is straight-up dangerous and I’m afraid of it. Besides sea monsters (they’re real), I could get hurt out there. Fear, incircle of hope, safety, philadelphia, church, south jersey, churches in philadelphia, church in philadelphia this case my response to detected danger, could mean “pay attention” when I could have thought “stay away.” I think it’s dangerous to follow Jesus, especially as part of the church. It can be dangerous to consciously try to get in touch with God, or get going again following the way of Jesus.

How many people see the church or get invited to a Sunday meeting and feel the instinct to “stay away” rather than “pay attention?” You could even get to a meeting and convince yourself how much everyone else is a certain kind of way: known, liked, comfortable in their own skin, knows what they believe, secure in faith. I have friends who start to consider God and stop at certain points – usually growth edges that maintain their sense of safety that could develop into an invitation.

This discipleship path is a lot like surfing unfamiliar breaks on sunny days with friends. We don’t get to control Jesus, make God not powerful, or tell the Holy Spirit which way we want to go. We participate. We try. We fail. We play. We get it. We reflect. We try. Etc. We welcome others into this dance – into wonder and learning – embodying a different kind of safety in the face of real danger.

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.