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

Experiencing another Holy Disturbance on the lake

http://lauraamiss.com

I love living in the city. Between Buffalo and Philadelphia it’s been 3/4 of my life. I love people who learn how to share, the convergence of cultures, the creativity, and the ability to walk/bike to most places I go. I don’t love various forms of pollution we have to adapt to, especially light pollution. It makes the stars really difficult to see.

I learned three important disciplines that help me stay even though I’m privileged with the mobility to live in another context. The first is to take care of whatever creation I’m living on. That started as spider plants in the house, then growing herbs in pots and now into a backyard garden. Secondly, take advantage of the open/green space we have. Play outside. The third is to leave regularly and enjoy God’s creation in the larger region. This past week I got to enjoy two separate trips to the Poconos – one for a wedding and the other for a two-day mentalizing session with the other Circle of Hope pastors.

IMG_5344

I took this pic while thinking about this stuff

My cell talked about two concepts that came to me during an hour chill session on the pastors’ trip while we met at Franny Lou’s Porch this morning. While sitting on the edge of a small lake yesterday, I enjoyed the stillness of the water. It reflected the glorious autumn spectacular of the trees as well as the sky full of chubby clouds. The reflection almost looked like the real thing until something would disturb the water. I think I can sometimes enjoy a copy or reflection of something so much that I almost think it’s the real thing. That might be like listening to a good podcast and imagining I’m in Antarctica or watching my indie sci-fi thrillers and wondering which one of us is a cyborg. While reflecting the Goodness of God is important, we need to experience God directly in order to make a good reflection.

I decided to experiment with the acorn sitting next to me, tossing it into the stillness and got a nice thumpk, producing a perfect circle that rippled out smaller and smaller. I imagined that ideas can be like that – those within the blast radius of it’s goodness feel the big waves, further away you don’t really get it. Experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit is kind of like that, too. We all feel the Holy Disturbance at one point or another, but most of the time we stick to our conditioning and miss the big ripples. We can easily stay behind our screens, fixate on our anxieties, and keep the earbuds in while doing whatever we need to do for comfort and privacy. The ripple doesn’t move us.

When we learn to open ourselves to the experience of God’s Spirit through worship or prayer, we can become like water still enough to be moveable. We don’t just feel the little ripples or reflections, we experience something that makes us want to joyfully throw acorns.

As we gathered in our weekly face-to-face time, I think we all got some strength. It’s wasn’t just putting gas in the tank so we can do normal life, it’s being present to the reality that a once caged birds have been set free to fly and are soaring. It honestly excites me to worship together this Sunday, when Preston & Ellen have been developing a liturgy for us to be able to draw near to God together. I imagine 200+ covenant members getting together later this month for the Love Feast and my heart is further warmed. I want to live where the Holy Spirit is disturbing me and moving me. There’s nothing quite like the real thing.

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? 

When Philly Jesus makes real Jesus confusing

Maybe you haven’t heard of Philly Jesus (PJ). Mike Grant found the LORD as he describes as the stone that found me when I was at the bottom. From musical theatre to hip hop, dude has been into public performance for a while and into being a born again Christian lately. Stories differ on how/why this white boy put on the “Jesus jersey” but a following of 11k on Instagram and 3.7k on Twitter and pieces by the BBC point towards people paying attention to his antics.

This morning, he retweeted this Philly.com article that got me thinking more about how not cute I think PJ’s schtick has become. I thought a goofy white dude at Black Lives Matter protests or playing hockey at City Hall was endearing. Just imagining Jesus showing up in Philly is kind of cool. I also think Black Jesus is funny – especially parts with King BachI quickly went from “eh, that’s kind of interesting” to “SMH” for two big reasons. He began a $70k Gofundme campaign so he can buy a fancy car and go on tour to other cities. No doubt connected to likely funders, he went from mooching off of SCOTUS decision celebrations to deleting all his gay friendly posts describing his new rather rugged position against homosexuality (see that Philly.com article).

I think I’m learning:

People have to do a lot of work to take real Jesus seriously. PJ’s antics seemed to have swung people from “Heyo – Jesus is kind of cool” to “Oh, yeah. Christians are judgmental and they want money for fancy cars.” To spend time listening in prayer, studying the Gospel, or devoting your life to the Way of Christ is totally awesome. Did it just become harder to access in Philadelphia?

People will give money to something because it’s funny, because they think it’s cool, but are often challenged to share their heart and wallet with what’s most important to them. I’m grateful to be among so many dedicated partners in Circle of Hope who generously make love happen. I do not take it for granted.

If you want to be a Christian, you represent others with your opinions. If you try to be a public person or persona who claims to be a Christian, you probably represent more people than gave you permission to. Your political profile pics or memes that you share are more than personal expression. Feel the good that goes with being part of the Body and be as generous as you can as the nation processes change.

I talk to people whose only perceptions of Christians are Jimmy Swaggart, George Bush, the Pope, and/or some celebrity like Shia LaBeouf. Drawing closer to the heart of God through being formed into a people with a common purpose might sound more confusing than someone condemning immorality and asking for money to build their special building nowadays. Let’s keep demonstrating what it’s like to find our true selves in Christ. Let’s keep sharing the love that fills us. Let’s keep walking in the way that brings healing, justice, and peace in the land with our Creator who very much wants to keep the Redemption Project going.

 

 

Learning to climb while churches are burning

I got to have breakfast with people from two different states who each had a personal connection to Bree Newsome during last week’s US Social Forum. One was a mentor in organizing/activism and the other a friend of the person who taught her how to climb a pole for her action a few days ago. After reading her statement two days ago, I’m even more grateful for the Spirit and precision of what she did, what she said, and how she did it. I think we need to learn how to climb like Bree right now in some literal and many metaphorical ways.

As she was about to get arrested, Bree said You come against me with hatred, oppression, and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today! Then she gets into Psalm 27 and eventually 23 on the video. Not a lightweight. Not a single act of one person (read her statement above) but a reflection of a group strategizing for how to empower communities to understand and resist white supremacy.

Recently eight black churches were burned in eight days. Maybe they weren’t all arson. Maybe they weren’t all acts to terrorize black people. Maybe they weren’t all burned down by white people. It might be a good time to rebuild – see theRebuild the Churches Fund. It might be a good time to remember that 2,000 black churches got burnt from 1995-2005. I think just rebuilding doesn’t get to the root of the problem or the root of the solution. 

Back in Philadelphia, Septa police admitted overreaching when a dad with his preschooler didn’t pay the fare and got manhandled, while still holding his daughter. We now know the rookies who killed Brandon Tate Brown and future officer involved shootings will have more info. Will that stop the attacks on young black men? 

I remember the first time I took a roadtrip through the South. I saw state buildings bearing a surprising

GA State flag from 1956-2001

symbol – the Stars and Bars. It was explained to me as both a “part of our history” from white people from various backgrounds and black people. Not everybody thought that history was worth celebrating – many felt like it was a twisted reminder of the Good Ole Days when humans were property rather than a “remember this so it never happens again.” As people around the country have been rallying for it to be removed and even put in a museum, I’ve been wondering about the outcome of that could be.

If South Carolina actually does have the two thirds legislative votes to remove the symbol from government buildings, what would that do? If I were a devious leader of that State, I’d take it down immediately so people would be appeased then business can go on as normal with a different symbol up. I’d do whatever it took to not change the systemic withholding of societal rewards and dis-advantage. That would be pretty devious.

For 28 more Clever Drawings Will Make You Question Everything Wrong With The World go to https://www.distractify.com/satirical-paintings-1197696130.html

I’m afraid that what may actually happen is even more devious. Pulling down the Confederate Flag turns us back to the flag we all should love…the American Flag. This flag hasn’t had such good PR since WWII. Leave that symbol of oppression and embrace the true freedom that comes from the US! This flag, for many, unconsciously serves as a remedy to the current ailment and gets forgiven for its own past and current atrocities. I think turning to another flag perpetuates the empire cycle – rather than breaking it with Jesus whose Kingdom doesn’t even have a flag.

Learning to climb like Bree takes some spiritual listening – to God, one another, and to people experiencing systematic violent oppression as well as doing something creative and Spirit-inspired about it. I’m grateful to be surrounded in Philadelphia and specifically at Circle of Hope by so many people that want to learn to climb, too. Wherever you are, it’s going to be hard work – so get the spiritual stuff from God because the journey is long.

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.

The luxury of disturbance: meeting God in the liminality

Like many of you, I’m a rhythmic person. Actually, my flow probably feels more polyrhythmic. I live with certain cadences – whether it’s having breakfast with my children, using my own bathroom/sleeping in my own bed, meeting at Franny Lou’s Porch with my cell on Thursday mornings, getting to worship together on Sunday nights as a Circle of Hope, or being near internet/cellular service. I had the luxury of disturbance recently and God met me in some outside-my-usual spaces.

My seminary program, the Masters in Intercultural Studies through the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS), has a flow. As a hybrid learning program, my cohort convenes online for discussions and then face-to-face for a week or two per year. This time Wheaton College hosted us in their kind of fancy facilities (very nice!). I took major components of two classes – Missional Leadership and Human Spirituality, taught by two brilliant Native women who held space for a co-learning environment with about eight of us.

I decided to drive to Wheaton so I could visit my good friends in Pittsburgh (BB, Andy, and the kids), one in Chicago (Colleen), and see Dustin and the gang’s permaculture design experiments on 30 acres of family land in Canton, OH. It wasn’t the fastest way to travel, but now the Graces are equipped with hybrid technology I spent about $100 on gas over the 1,700 mile trip. I got to listen to Dune on audiobook, some tunes, and lots of quiet. It didn’t seem convenient all the time, but I enjoy spending time on the road – even though about 1/3 of it was out of TMobile’s service area so I was in a sort of cocoon. I enjoyed driving through Midwest thunder showers, mountains of PA, and seeing the funny t-shirts for sale in Indiana such as “Hoosier Daddy.”

I had to leave right after the class so I could make it back in time to help out with my kids’ school in their production of Seussical, Jr – again feeling disrupted. Being back home after being gone requires a lot of catching up to communications and happenings in the community, and being less available than normal for a few days can throw me off.

I wish I could distill the whole trip into something readable, but I guess if you’re part of my faith community you’ll be feeling it through the next season. In Jackie Ottmann’s Leadership class, we discussed how leaders can make space so people can experience change – often helping to create ethical space where we usually taste liminality. I hope that’s not too expensive of an anthropological word – basically it’s a time/space where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. It can be that moment when the water is just about to/starts boiling…when it just became hot enough. Liminality is definitely disruptive to normal flow, but can be where the gritty grind of transformation happens.

This excursive week or so for me had it’s share of liminality and I’m glad that I was given the space to be able to get disrupted and be able to do something good with it. So often we as humans get stuck in patterns and pathologies that don’t experience disturbance outside of crisis. This break in my routine included enough time for reflection. I’m still digesting what God is saying – but I’ll say I’m grateful:

1.  to be part of a local expression of the Body of Christ – we can connect and work through stuff together and want to be directed by the Spirit. Lots of my friends don’t have it. So cool!

2. to have been raising my kids in a village of parents – whether or not one has biologically reproduced does not matter in village formation. As I see my creative middle schoolers rock their play, I can see the love and care poured into them by dozens of aunties and uncles in the church.

3. to have this luxury of disruption and the time to reflect about it – the flexibility in my schedule exists because of so many passionate and gifted leaders who also want me to grow and develop. Thanks for sending me to seminary and wanting to work out the disruptions I create because of it.

Baltimore in the Age of Ultron

I wonder how many of us will watch Avengers: Age of Ultron as it comes out this week. It’s probably going to break records. For many of Americans, the rising of an inhuman an evil trying to destroy the community is not only fictitious but entertaining to watch the fanciful nationalists defend us against it. Others see the Powers more clearly, like the apostle Paul offered in his letter to the Ephesians “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

In Baltimore, it shouldn’t be hard to see something dark allowing a 25yr old to get killed for running after making eye contact with law enforcement. Six cops are suspended with pay and the department admits they should have buckled him in while in custody as well as attended to his medical needs sooner, multiple times. Although I think seeing that white supremacy inherent in the system actually requires some work for many Americans. We see burning cop cars, angry black people, and the headlines filled with “riots,” “looters,” or worse. We don’t see the inhuman circumstances that lead up to the outbursts or even the “peaceful” protests after Freddie Gray’s funeral. As a society, we see the destruction of property before the destruction of human life or community.

As much as we can point out thugs overzealous fans rioting celebrating a little too hard getting reported differently reflects a majority public opinion, we know that crowds burning stuff because Joe Pa got fired for not protecting kids from his sexual predator friend is different than Baltimore. Baltimore’s unrest, riots, or uprising stands as a challenge to white supremacy. It might be easier for you to see people damaging stuff than it is to see dead people. It might be easier to make suggestions for how desperate people should act than to stay focused on what makes them desperate.

I’ve noticed more “unfriend threats” on Facebook in the past day than in the last half a decade combined. Many by white people who are trying to be clear that they will no longer tolerate sympathy for the state/property without empathy for another loss of a black human by unreasonable policing methods. I wish it didn’t shut down dialogue or cut of relationships-even virtual ones but I get it. We all have our limits.

I actually saw this picture in my FB feed yesterday. You can read most of the original post [that not only got taken down but the profile deleted] with some commentary in this article.

While I haven’t talked to or seen the poster in almost 20 years, you might think “how can you still have a connection with him?” While admittedly, the connection is thin but I hope he reads this post. I want to influence him. If he was in the Philadelphia region, I would want him to get compelled by Jesus to see a bigger world than he’s been exposed to and get in touch with a healing agent that actually forms something more powerful than even the atrocity-spawning Powers.

I think forming the Church with Jesus actually heals the brokenness of the world. I also march (why not come out on Thursday?), organize, make deep relations with different kinds of folks, live in an urban whatnot, practice peacemaking, village parent, etc etc etc. I see Jesus still out there getting pushed around and told to be calm while thousands of national guardsmen and riot cops move to restore “order.” We are still angry because it’s actually this order that perpetuates ultraviolence here and abroad and doesn’t bring justice. We still don’t know who killed Brandon Tate-Brown. The War of Terror isn’t slowing down.

My sense of the Age of Ultron is more than a film about techo supermilitary turned back on its perpetrator/creator (like so many of my favorite robot stories). In real life there are no Avengers, only those moved by the Holy Spirit to resist & restore. We have an opportunity to take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit,  looking for something real in fiction while Jesus unmasks the fictions in reality. Let’s be considerate in our conversations and see. Maybe we can compel more people to come together and create something beautiful with our Creator even while we fight against the evil of our times.

Lessons from crying over a teenage sick love story

I accidentally watched the The Fault in Our Stars last night and I wept. Accidentally as in Martha and I watched the end of Big together before her cell meeting and it was on next (free HBO for a few more months). I think I kept watching it because my kids and I just saw the two star-crossed lovers play siblings the other day in Insurgent and I was pleased they were getting along so well.

I don’t remember crying so much during a film. Maybe I cried because I was alone and my tween & teen daughters were upstairs asleep and I’m vulnerable to sentimental stories about losing daughters. Maybe I burst into tears because my friend Karen finished her long battle with lupus last week and I’ve been suspending my feelings about my loss until her memorial. I don’t think it was because these winsome teenagers’ humanity and process of staring death in the face put me in touch with how precious and fragile life is – sharing romantic love or feeling deep gratitude for what we’ve been given speak to me.

You may actually think Young Adult books or movies based on them are silly, overly simple, or not worth your time. You may think the story is basically a melodramatic illustration of the five stages of grief. As you learn to live with pain or learn from someone suffering with a long-term illness, I hope some of my takeaways from the film could be useful to you.

You carry your pain with you, and others can sense it even if you hide it. Trying to put on a brave face all the time or pushing it down doesn’t actually fool those close to you. It’s like dragging luggage around. Wouldn’t it be better to have some help carrying it while you need it?

Gratitude is a powerful friend. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes you need to practice. Even for something small like flowers blooming this week in Philadelphia, being grateful can shape your experience.

Have the feelings you have, not the ones you think you should have. Likewise, others not having the same feelings doesn’t make them not understand you or not love you. What you feel at the moment is relevant and those feelings don’t need to run your life.

Have a process with others without punishing yourself for setbacks. Let others in to help you find a path through the pain and get led on a journey. If it’s not linear you’re human. Don’t quit trying.

Jesus not only came into suffering (our suffering and the suffering of all of creation) but suffered. He wasn’t usually stoic yet He became who He was given to be. If we don’t learn how to grieve well, our grief will overflow in more damaging ways. There will be other, smaller things from traffic to mean people or microbetrayals to inconsideration that will beg for our fighting juices. I’m grateful for people like Karen, who not only suffered faithfully but taught us how to fight the Good Fight rather than getting caught up in the tiny battles.