GHOST RIDE THE WHIP!

Carnival de Resistance

Expressing alternatives as a spiritual discipline

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

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

Our teams help us get out there

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

Feeling jammed up?

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Engaging while our city hosts the DNC

Unimpressed

Like many of you that will actually read this post, I am utterly unimpressed with the Republican National Convention last week in Cleveland—including how the police state handled demonstrators. This article describes a little bit about why it was kind of quiet, despite the national unrest/love/rage/ambivalence over Donlad J…”A big part of the reason was that protesters just did not descend on Cleveland in the numbers predicted. Black Lives Matter instead devoted its efforts last week to occupying the police union headquarters of New York and Washington, D.C., and many progressive groups opted to instead put their energies toward protesting the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia this week.

I’m feeling pretty unimpressed with the Democrats as they have begun their attempt to get people excited to not elect Trump, and see if more people will slide into support for Clinton and her new running mate and Asian Free-Trade advocate Tom Kaine. I am impressed, however, by how many of my connections in Philadelphia want to re-frame the discourse from talking about how electing one person will lead to the end of the world and the other to paradise. I know most people aren’t actually that deluded, but the anti-Donlad rhetoric could use some feet in the streets rather than just internet comments.

Psalm 150 and Praising

I’m moved by the final Psalm (150) this morning.

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary!
    Praise God in his fortress, the sky!
Praise God in his mighty acts!
    Praise God as suits his incredible greatness!
Praise God with the blast of the ram’s horn!
    Praise God with lute and lyre!
Praise God with drum and dance!
    Praise God with strings and pipe!
Praise God with loud cymbals!
    Praise God with clashing cymbals!
Let every living thing praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

I’m going to be praising the Lord Jesus this week with drum and dance/marching. I hope you feel like you can get into some of this stuff, even if it may not be your thing. These politicians and their corporate sponsors have come to our city, and I’d like to meet them with the praise of God and assertion of embodied alternatives to red/blue binary conversations towards moving hearts and minds.

Opportunities

A bunch of Circle of Hope folks asked for some of us to curate opportunities to get in where you will know someone and can process it together. Not everyone can go to these, and not everyone wants to. Our church is full of all different kinds of people, and I love that we make space for dialogue from where people are actually at—not where I think they should be. So here are a few opportunities in which I will be participating. You can add to the list if you want. I bring Jesus when I march and drum. I’m looking for partners when I do it. I’m happy to add what I’ve been given to this good mix of important issues that can help people come together.

Monday:

3pm March For Our Lives at City Hall (South side) walking South. Shane, Blew, and I have been involved in different levels of planning. The elders, children, and people with mobility issues will be at the front of this march to get issues of poor people & poverty in the front of conversations about policy.

6:30pm Repairers of the Breach Moral Revival at AFSC (1501 Cherry st). I respect the work of Rev Barber and the Moral Monday crew in North Carolina. Shane helped get this event going in Phila.

Tuesday:

2pm Black DNC Resistance March at Broad & Diamond, walking South to City Hall. I’ve marched with Phila Coalition for REAL Justice several times, and I find Black Lives Matter actions to be profound and full of righteous indignation and so much beauty and hope. 

I won’t be going to the South Phila Blue Line Up Rally For Peace #alllivesmatter in August, but that vibe will be around this week, too. All sorts of people will be out this week and during this overblown election season. I still think our vocation is embodying alternatives with Jesus, not jumping along party lines or bowing out of the discourse.  

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.

Consumer Debt – how we annihilate it (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Using the same simplified examples…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shalom! journal for the practice of Reconciliation here

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

Consumer Debt – how we annihilate it (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

Handle your debt like a group, rather than an individual

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

Get coaching, and have financial transparency

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

Change your mind about money

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

Make a plan and stick to it

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

Enjoy freedom

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

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

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.

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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.

Rod at one month and change

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

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

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

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

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

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