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.

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.

Wake me up when this racial stuff blows over: five suggestions if you’d rather sit this one out

I had two posts on my Facebook timeline when I got going the other day. The first an article about the disease of being busy (and the practice of having heart to heart connections with others rather than allowing yourself to be too busy in the brain). The other was a post from a friend wondering whether I’d help start a Buy Nothing Group in our neighborhoods. I would but I’m too busy. Just kidding. 

Opening my heart to others even in small things like when asked how I’m doing might make my heart more available for the bigger things going on – like the redistribution group above, worshiping with my peeps on a Sunday, or when my middle schooler is wondering which Harry Potter character was snogging with Ginny Weasley. My own busyness could push me towards an exhaustion where I’d prefer to turn my brain off until things seem to settle down, or I become inactive enough that my friends “get it” – they should stop bothering me.

I feel for people – some of them my friends or relatives – who are feeling like during this cold rainy day on the eve of MLK Day that it would be more pleasant if we could hibernate until the racial stuff gets back to normal after this holiday and probably Black History Month. I have compassion for folks who aren’t feeling the #BlackLivesMatter stuff, the MLK D.A.R.E. march, or that we totally re-shaped our sunday meeting this week and next to make some serious space to connect with God and act for redemption. If you are feeling some ambivalence or avoidance and you’re a person of color it must be even worse. Many people in the US these past months are experience a profound confluence of efforts – and what I think is direction from the Holy Spirit around race & class justice & injustice.

Here are five suggestions if you might feel like you’d rather sit this one out.

Don’t hide away. You matter too much. Talk through your ambivalence with your cell or friends. At worst you’ll face your likely fear of being judged, but you might actually get understood or at best directed by God for your next steps.

Don’t wait to “feel it” before you try it. Sometimes our feelings need to catch up with our actions a la working out, reading non-fiction, praying, cleaning the bathroom, etc.

Let your sense of powerlessness face Real Power. Bringing up our sense of “this stuff is too big for me,” or “I’m not sure I really think MLK was that good,” or “what will marching actually do?” to God is a healthy spiritual activity. I suggest walking down closed off Broad St and Market st with possibly 10,000 others (many of whom are wondering the same things as you) will likely erode your sense of powerlessness.

Bring someone with you who understands your heart. Why come alone to the Circle of Hope meetings tonight or next week when they could be strange? I don’t think our normal is very normal, but you could risk something by talking about Jesus or even race with someone who might not be on your wavelength. Why not explain yourself and see if they want to try it out with you? You might find some comfort and strength for the challenges of the next week.

You might prefer to be like the sleeping bear right now, but God might awaken a fierce mother bear inside you. That would be so interesting, someone reading this is having a visceral reaction to the possibility. Why not put our attitudes on the line and let God deal with us? All we have to lose is the status quo. I guess the IWW, Marx, Assata Shakur, or a bunch of other fun people would also say all we’ve got to lose is our chains.

I have a feeling about this week. It’s not any other MLK Day I’ve experienced. Something profound is brewing. I want to be part of something great. Will you come and give it a try with me?

Muddy Waters – I have been listening to him a lot lately and love this pic. Cool, right??

Tonight: Sacred Jazz musician Warren Cooper will leading most of our meetings at 5PM & 7PM getting us to consider “The Status of the Dream…Visioning Justice Peace.” We still have 2 open slots for our 24hr prayer vigil starting at midnight. Tomorrow we march (end to stop & frisk, $15 minimum wage in Phila, and a fully funded democratically run school district) and Imagine (looking at our final 2015 Circle of Hope Map). Next Sunday Warren returns to bookend the week with “Selections, Reflections, and Ejections.” For now let’s turn to Jesus and let the blues, jazz, and gospel guide our souls to that old Dream of Shalom. 

Three ways to turn up the Love during a violent week

On November 17, 1957 MLK was preaching in Montgomery [full text and lots of audio here] when he said “Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.” It’s actually pretty simple. I have a lot of feelings – some of which might be approaching hate and I need to check my heart.

I’m heavy today for Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, ISIS, and the United States. I am also feeling heavy about the situation around the violent conflict that put a gay couple in the hospital in Center City a two weeks ago. As I’ve been praying through (always wise) all the violence, I am trying to listen for God to direct me for how to respond rather than shoot from the hip all the time. Here are three things that I feel will turn up the love during a particularly violent week.

Turn up the good news, especially those that fly in the face of conventional hate.

One of my best friends leaves today on a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan. You may want to read more about what Peggy Gish (working there now with CPT) had to say about it last week in her blog about a step to coming up with new strategies is halting the old, dysfunctional ones. I tend to think most things in the media [whether intentional or not] pull Americans away from the super military waging war for the windfall of profits for transnational corporations. Like so many other empires, if we have enough food to survive and something to keep us entertained we’ll tacitly go along with the bigger plan.

When ISIS cuts off heads on camera or gets headlines from Austrailia to Indonesia to Algeria, the US ramps up fear which increases our tacit approval of this horrible war. When we turn up the good news, God can use us to assuage fear that keeps the violence cycle going. Come out on October 7 to make some good news in the face of Drone Warfare if you want to be with a bunch of Philadelphians trying to do the same thing.

Before you put someone on blast, consider whether you are actually as confident as you are about to sound. It’s easy and often cheap to make blanket statements, stereotypes, and colorful remarks to get people to “like” your passionate status before we understand what we’re really talking about. As someone whose attempts to make space for more dialogue and often is dips into the rhetorical, I need to watch my mouth – and it’s hard.

I feel fortunate that it wasn’t too long after I read the “Meet the Three Worst People in Philadelphia” blog that I saw a beautiful statement by the victims. For some it’s tempting to dehumanize the victims by not listening to them as people by not taking their ask seriously.

Thank you to the  community for their help and support, as well as the Detectives who did a great job gathering details,” they wrote. “We are thankful the DA is working so hard to make sure this doesn’t happen again in Philadelphia. Finally, we ask you to keep your comments regarding the suspects respectful and non-hateful. Please show your support for legislation change protecting the LGBT community this Thursday in LOVE Park at 2 p.m.

For others it’s tempting to dehumanize the perps in all sorts of ways, by doing so alleviating our responsibility to make a more whole community. You may want to join the throngs of posts commenting on their parents, Twitter feed, zip codes, or work history – as if we know them, don’t think they can get better, and don’t think we are anything like them. I really appreciate people for zooming out even through the pain. Besides having an occasion to update PA’s lack of “hate crime” distinction for future violence prevention, some people are even taking a societal sense of responsibility in their anger. On a Raging Chicken Press post, Debra Leigh Scott pleads that the “reality is that Kathryn Knott [one of the suspects] is OUR child. She is the poster child of the kind of people born and raised in America. Fired in the kiln of inequality, elitism, prejudice, consumerism and fear, she is just what America’s schools, media and values create.”

We need to make more love. MLK was working with some Jesus in Matthew 26 when he was preaching above. Like him, I don’t want to go out as a person to die by the sword – whether it a physical or metaphorical weapon. Living by the sword is confusingLike when my cell was talking about how confusing violence in the Middle East is for us, Scott shared this little gem.

We need more lovers and we need them to outlove the haters and transform the bystanders. We need lovers who will demonstrate to others what it means to be a lover. We need love to dismantle systemic injustice. We need love to make our communities whole. What do you think we can do to turn up the Love this week?

As I finish the 2nd steeping of pu-erh (that was love-ly at least), I’m about to go hug my family and take them to celebrate the compassionate work in our community. Come on by if you want to be with some lovers tonight.