Story Matters

This evening we are hosting a conversation at the Mustard Seed House with satirical author Becky Garrison.  She will be discussing her book Jesus Died for This? which is an interesting blend of her personal story, worldwide pilgrimage and struggles intermingled with reflections on faith.  I am really looking forward to hearing more of her stories of encounters from around the world.  What really caught my attention this morning was her personal story, and the stories of her ancestors some of whom had journeyed to North America on the Mayflower.
Story matters, I thought as read this.  It matters to us, to others and to God.  And its importance goes far beyond our own daily struggles in ways that I don’t think we fully understand.
As well as looking through Becky’s book this morning I was rereading a book that few will read – it is written by my uncle Harry Katrakis to document his own personal journey as well as that of his parents and grandparents who came to Australia from Greece in the early 1900s.  But his story is my story too and as I read through his book I learned about some of the events and challenges that are woven into my history and the fabric of who I am becoming.
I think it is important for all of us to document our stories so that those who come after us know not just where they came from but also where God has been at work in their families.  I knew for example that one of my great uncles was a Greek Orthodox priest.  I did not know that he came to Sydney because of his knowledge of Arabic and the request for a priest “to help the Greeks live in harmony with the Syrians”  Even then the church was concerned about harmony between cultures and perhaps I mused this is part of the reason I too love to work for harmony and understanding between conflicted cultures.
No wonder the Bible pays such attention to detail about who begat whom and who lived where.  Story matters not just to us and our families but also to God.  It has relevance in the history of our world even when it seems small and insignificant.  Who we are as God’s people is rooted in the stories of our ancestors.
One of the things I love about stories of the Irish saints is that though they travelled far and wide, often heading off without any sense of where they were going or they they would see their homelands again, they never lost their love for home and the culture that had formed them.  Even today we see traces of Irish culture in unexpected places because of these travels.  A village in the heart of Bavaria for example that celebrates an Irish festival every year as a reminder of the Irish saints that established a chapel there back in the 8th century.
Entering into the story of God means entering into the stories of our families.  Discovering who we are meant to be means uncovering who our families have been in the past.  They are part of our cloud of witnesses, surrounding us, cheering us on waiting in anticipation for that day when Christ will return and we will once again be one family.
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Immigration Reform – Yes, No, Don’t Care

Last week a group of my friends participated in a synchroblog on Immigration Reform.  I would have loved to be a part of the conversation but was in Chicago for the week & was not able to take the time.  However the issue has been much on my mind as it was one of the hot topic items for the CCDA conference I was attending then as I raced through email and facebook entries to try to catch up this morning I came across this shocking news story: Where Is the Outrage at Immigrant Slayings in Mexico forwarded by Jude Tiersma which really shocked and saddened me.

I am an immigrant.  I travelled the world for many years not sure quite where I belonged before coming to the US – arriving as a non resident alient.  After Tom and I were married I very easily became a resident (alien though I was still considered) and eventually a citizen.  But in all my travels I have never once been denied entry to a country because of my race, colour or nationality.  In fact I have never even been questioned about my entry.  After all I am white.  I am educated and though I may speak with a strange accent I do speak English as my native language.

I first became aware of my privilege when I worked in the refugee camps on the Thai Cambodian border.  Hundreds of thousands of refugees sat in camps for years hoping to be accepted as immigrants by one of the many Western countries vying for their skills.  That is if they had any skills or if they had the papers to prove they had the skills.  Those that were uneducated or undocumented sat on the border for many years unwanted by any country.  Their children grew up or died in the camps – penniless and still uneducated.  Eventually they were sent back to their homes in Cambodia, citizens of a country they had never called home and without the skills they needed to improve their position.

This story is repeated all around the world where people are displaced because of economic, political or other turmoil.  Those in power have always picked and chosen who they want – accepting the brightest and the best, discriminating against the poor and the vulnerable or else taking advantage of them when we needed their bodies to pick our fruit or sweep our houses.

When I first came to the US I was appalled to find out how much farm labour was done by illegal immigrants.  As I scratched the surface I was shocked to hear that the whole agricultural and restaurant industries to name but a few depended on the use of undocumented labourers – slave labourers in a day in which we pretend there is no slavery.  Now we want to turn our backs on them.  It seems to me, and I am sure that this view is a little naive and simplistic, unemployment in the US has risen sharply in the last couple of years and there are some Americans desperate enough to want the jobs they once despised.  We no longer need to turn a blind eye to those that are undocumented.  We can throw them out.

Unfortunately the issues of immigration have become entwined with our fears about terrorism and our paranoia about attack from those who are different.  The unwanted have become anyone who doesn’t look, speak or act like us.

Tom and I travelled to Canada recently with our good friend and colleague Eliacin Rosario Cruz.  He too is an American citizen, and has been all his life, but he is from Puerto Rico.  His skin is brown and he speaks English as a second language.  We were hauled out of our car and grilled by the customs people for 20 minutes before being allowed to enter Canada.

The story of God is a story of God’s concern for the Israelites, a despised and rejected people – a people who were taken advantage of and abused by those in power. Jesus constantly showed his care and concern for those at the margins and when he was asked “Who is my neighbour?”  basically he answered – “The one towards whom you show mercy.”  In other words the field is wide open.  We can embrace all the world’s people as our neighbours and willingly reach out to them with compassion and love or we can close our doors and leave them to their plight.

To me from a Christian perspective this is not an issue of law and order, it is an issue of love and concern winning out over fear and distrust as so many of the synchroblog posts below suggest.  So rather than repeating what so many have expressed far more eloquently than I can let me finish with the beautiful little prayer/poem by Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig

There are only two feelings

Love and fear

There are only two languages

Love and fear

there are only tow activities

Love and fear

There are only two motives,

two procedures, two frameworks,

two results.

Love and fear

Love and fear

——————————————————————————-

Entries in the synchroblog can be found here:

Jonathan Brink – Immigration Synchroblog

Mike Victorino at Still A Night Owl – Being the Flag

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Together We Can Make Dreams Come True

Sonnie Swentson-Forbes at Hey Sonnie – Immigration Stories

Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity – Is Xenophobia Ever Christlike?

Kathy Escobar at the carnival in my head – it’s a lot easier to be against immigration when you have papers

Steve Hayes at Khanya – Christians and the Immigration Issue

Ellen Haroutunian – Give Me Your Tired

Bethany Stedman – Choosing Love Instead of Fear

Pete Houston at Peter’s Progress – Of Rape and Refuge and  Eyes Wide Shut

Joshua Seek – Loving Our Immigrant Brother

Amanda MacInnis at Cheese Wearing Theology – Christians and Immigration

Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – You’re Absolutely Right

Peter Walker – Synchroblog – Immigration Reform

Steven Calascione at Eirenikos – The Jealousy of Migration

George Elerick at The Love Revolution – We’re Not Kings or Gods

Beth Patterson at Virtual Tea House – What we resist not only persists but will eventually become our landlord

K. W. Leslie at The Evening of Kent – On American Immigration

Jeff Goins at Pilgrimage Of The Heart – When The Immigration Issue Gets Personal

Kathy Baldock at CanyonWalker Connections – My Visit To A Mosque, Now What?

Internet Community – Is It Possible? post by Lynne Baab

This morning’s post comes from Lynne M. Baab. She is the author of numerous books, most recently Reaching Out in a Networked World, which considers the ways congregations can express their identity and values in an online world. She has also written several books and Bible study guides on spiritual disciplines, including Sabbath Keeping and Fasting, and lots of articles that are posted on her website, http://www.lynnebaab.com. She is a Presbyterian minister with a PhD in communication, and she teaches pastoral theology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

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I’m writing a chapter for an edited book, and my writing this past week has focused on the ways human sin is manifested on the internet. I wrote about different theologies of sin that help us understand the nasty things that can happen online: broken relationships, predation, exploitation, and aggressive and fradulent self promotion. The internet can nurture destructive practices like addiction to pornography and gambling. The internet can encourage us to objectify others and view precious human beings as commodities. My writing this week was not pleasant or encouraging.

Then yesterday I conducted an interview, for my upcoming book on friendship, with a man who has left Facebook. He talked about finding Facebook to be a time waster that promotes pseudo- community. He finds most Facebook status updates to be banal and uninteresting. He also has concerns about privacy and power. He was scathing in his expression of distaste for this medium.

I’ve had a busy week, so I’ve spent less time than usual on Facebook. I finally had time to log on last night. One of the first posts I saw was by a friend who had spent last week at the Special Olympics, where her son won two medals. She had written briefly about the profound challenge she experienced from meeting the athletes at the Special Olympics. Several people had commented warmly on her post, asking her to express their congratulations to her son and thanking her for her comments about the humility and perseverance she witnessed in the athletes.

Then I saw a post by a friend who just received her nursing certification. That would be a significant achievement for anyone, but for her it has special meaning. She had spent several years in Calcutta, living in a poor neighborhood with a team, trying to help their neighbors. She decided a specific skill like nursing would help her make a greater impact, so she returned to the United States to get training. Her graduation last month, and her certification this month, are steps toward her return to India to serve the poor.

Another friend had posted a photo of herself holding her tiny granddaughter for the first time since the baby’s birth almost three months ago. The baby was born many months premature and spent about 2 months in intensive care, with her grandmother looking on but unable to hold her. This landmark event, being held by her grandmother, signaled a level of weight gain and health that followed many weeks of intense prayer for my friend, her daughter, and the tiny baby. Many affirmations of that prayer support have been posted on Facebook over the past three months.

Last night, as I looked at Facebook, I also saw photos of kids and mountains, an invitation to sign a petition urging the development of sustainable energy sources, a link to an interview with the Dalai Lama about interfaith relationships, and updates about a missing child. I saw comments expressing support and care for people facing all sorts of challenges. I saw a couple of scripture verses, and I enjoyed pondering why each person had posted that particular verse. I saw love. I saw love for God and for God’s beautiful creation, and love for people.

I know the ways the internet can be destructive and addictive. I just spent a week writing about them. One of the things I’m arguing in the book chapter I’m writing is that the internet now functions like a place. And, like any place, it can be the locus of loving interaction or terrible exploitation, and everything in between.

Last night, reading those Facebook posts, I saw the Kingdom of God. I believe the Kingdom is present wherever people support and pray for each other, wherever people learn from God, wherever people show their commitment to serve and obey Jesus. Interactions facilitated by the internet cannot replace face-to-face interactions, but electronic forms of communication can help us to stay connected to people we love. They can provide a way for us to express care for them. They can help us show love, and anywhere that love is, God is (1 John 4:7, 8).

Freedom, Redemption & Recycling in the Prison System – Is this the Kingdom of God?

This is a beautiful story of redemption that to me gives us a glimpse of the kingdom… even though it is outside the church and outside what of us would think of as God’s activity

Sustainability is a logical goal at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, the Wilsonville prison that houses Oregon’s entire population of female convicts.

There, inmates help reduce costs by reusing materials and growing their own food. And, through environmental stewardship, they are gaining skills and confidence that are crucial to recycling imperfect lives.  Read more

What do you think – Is this a glimpse of the kingdom of God and where do you see God at work in the world at large?

The Kingdom is Near: Gender Equality is so Pretty

The following post for The Kingdom is Here: Where Do You See it synchroblog comes from Kathy Escobar who works at a small church in Colorado called The Refuge.  described as an eclectic faith community, all equal, love jesus, pretty messed up, lead, follow, laugh, cry, serve, co-pastors, stories of brokenness and healing, smoker friendly, the refuge

Kathy is one of my favourite bloggers and I couldn’t resist starting this post by sharing another great article entitled Recovery Under the Big Tent that she has just posted for the week-long synchroblog hosted by big tent christianity, a collaborative event in raleigh september 9-13.  It also has a great Kingdom is Here flavour.

yeah, i think “the church” has a control problem. its heart is not bad.  its intentions are not evil.  it doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking “i’m going to ruin a whole bunch of relationships today.” but like all addicts (which i believe we all are in some shape or form), it is often unaware of just how pervasive the problem is and how much damage its really doing with controlling-finger-pointing-we-know-we’re-right-and-you’re-wrong ways.  and the only way to change is to begin to break out of denial and humbly engage in a healing process that will move toward restoration in their relationship with others, God, themselves.  Read more

the kingdom is near: gender equality is so pretty

when christine asked for some kingdom is near stories for this summer, i thought of all kinds of fun ways i see the kingdom of God in the life of our beautiful faith community, the refuge.  but the one that seems to rise to the surface often is the beauty of gender equality when-it’s-really-lived-out-in-the-body-of-Christ.

honestly, i never set out to be so passionate about gender equality in the church. i have always been a boat rocker in general, but it wasn’t until about 6 years ago that the scales fell from my eyes and i saw clearly how unjust so many church systems really were when it comes to gender equality.  i am a little mad at myself, to be honest, that i submitted myself to systems that oppressed women and silenced their voices for so many years.  i think it’s because their oppression was subtle; it wasn’t like women weren’t able to serve and lead in many capacities.  it was just that there was a clear and noticeable limit to that work and all the “power” ultimately rested in men instead of being shared openly and freely together.

over the years things have shifted and i see what it can look like for men & women to learn to live, love, and lead alongside each other.  it is not easy to do; there are all kinds of forces working against it.  but isn’t that really what the kingdom of God is all about?  that despite the resistance of all of the “forces” of man and the world (and sometimes religious systems), there’s now a new reality possible because of God’s spirit-at-work-in-all-kinds-of-ways-that-defy-the-status-quo.

i am so thankful to get to see the kingdom of God up close and personal almost every day.  i see men and women learning how to be friends, real brothers & sisters on the journey.  i see men and women using their voices alongside each other, separately & together but equally.  i see men and women healing deep wounds from their past with people and their present with God because they are finding people who reflect God’s image as mothers & fathers & sisters & brothers & daughters & sons in community.  i see women freed to use their gifts and passions right alongside men and men fanning that into flame tangibly.  i see prayer and support teams that aren’t just women-supporting-women or men-supporting-men but a lovely mix of both together, focused on loving and supporting and encouraging hurting friends.  i see people saying out loud “i don’t know how to be friends with men (or women), but i want to learn. can you help me try?”

really, what i’m seeing up-close every day is how Jesus’ spirit can break down patricarchal systems of inequality that have been deeply engrained in us. it is not something that comes in a rush, but it is something that can come when God’s people give up power and mutually submit, one to another, in freedom and love.

our community is small.  it is not flashy or exciting.  we are poor.  we are messy.  and there’s no question–sometimes it’s downright scary to have this level of community going on right before my very eyes. but one thing i know for sure–gender equality is so pretty, a beautiful reflection of the kingdom of God in the here and now.

Farmers’ Markets Popping Up Everywhere

I have blogged before about my belief that the growth of community gardens around the country and the growing concern about regional sustainability is a move of God.  I also think that God is involved in the concurrent rapid growth of Farmers markets which not only encourage regional sustainability but also enable us to once more get to know the people who produce our food and sustain us through their hard work and long hours of often back breaking labour.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2010 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced that the 2010 National Farmers Market Directory lists 6,132 operational farmers markets, representing 16 percent growth over 2009 when the agency reported 5,274. The 2010 National Farmers Market Directory results are being released as part of National Farmers Market Week declared by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack between Aug. 1-7, 2010.

“Seeing such continued strong growth in the number of U.S. farmers markets indicates that regional food systems can provide great economic, social and health benefits to communities across the country,” said Vilsack. “Farmers markets provide fresh, local products to communities across the country while offering economic opportunities for many producers of all sizes.”

But where are these markets you might wonder?

STATE STATISTICS

  • Top 10 states with the most farmers markets: California (580), New York (461), Illinois (286), Michigan (271), Iowa (229), Massachusetts (227), Ohio (213), Wisconsin (204), Pennsylvania (203) and North Carolina (182); and
  • Top 10 states, by percentage, with market growth from 2009-2010: Missouri (77), Minnesota (61), Idaho (60), Michigan (60), Indiana (47), South Dakota (46), Arkansas (41), Washington (37), Ohio (36) and Oklahoma (31).

And if there isn’t a market near you the USDA even offers help on how to start one.  Read more

God is at work in our world.  So lets get out and celebrate.  Lets not just become cursory visitors to the local farmers market but lets become active participants in them and join in yet another way in which God’s kingdom is breaking into our world.

The Kingdom is Like – A Virus Worth Spreading

This morning’s post comes from JR Woodward who describes himself as a dream awakener and co-founder of Kairos Los Angeles, a network of neighborhood churches in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council as well as on the board for the Ecclesia Network and GCM. He founded [nlcf] a church at Virginia Tech, and The Unembraced, a ministry to orphans in the Turkana region of Kenya. He is also the co-founder and director of The Solis Foundation that awards micro-grants to help start small businesses in Kenya. JR enjoys coaching and consulting with a number of churches and church planters. He is a sought out conference speaker, a writer, as well as an avid blogger.

He blogs at Dream Awakener.  Last year I had the delight of participating in the blog series that resulted in the book Viral Hope that JR talks about below.

A VIRUS WORTH SPREADING

Go to your favorite news sources and you will see that bad news captures the headlines faster than good news.  Not only do we face the onslaught of personal and local bad news, we daily digest bad news from around the globe – the latest disasters, the financial crises and the horrifying crimes against humanity.  It’s surprising that more of us don’t drown our sorrows at the local pub.

Tragedy and pain is common.  The one thing we need in the midst of bad news is hope.  I’m not talking about positive thinking, but a stubborn hope that has the capacity to be embodied in people and communities in such a way that it spreads quickly around the world, a hope that is based on the love of the Father, the faithfulness of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit. A ViralHope.

This hope virus spreads like seeds blowing in the wind as we share the ways that God is working in and through us. The hope virus can be caught by paying attention to the ways the kingdom of God is manifesting itself in our world and sharing that with others.

This can even happen through a blog series or a blog series that morphs into a book, like the book ViralHope: Good News from the Urbs to the Burbs. As the editor of this book, I have been greatly encouraged how God is using this book to engage people with the gospel, renew people’s hope, and give inspiration for people to spread hope.  The book has landed in the hands of mayors, professors, actors, musicians, to students and people on their deathbed.  Listen to some responses found from reviews on Amazon:

“I started to read this book on a train ride to Chicago and couldn’t put it down.  The words jumped off the page to inspire my heart.  They spoke about the Gospel in a way I’ve never heard before, but really loved to hear articulated again.” – Alan Hable (Champaign, IL)

“Reading this book left me with one profound conviction: I need to find ways to love my community more deeply.” – Jill Barrett (Independence, VA)

“This is a deeply theological book, the focus of which is the Gospel content itself, the reclamation of a message that truly is Good News.  It puts the ‘Good’ back into the ‘Good News.’” – Paul Glavic (Seattle, WA)

“This is a book I really needed to read… because I need the continual reminder that the message of our God is GOOD, transformative, particular yet diverse, imminent, and infecting.” – BrascoBall (Los Angeles, CA)

“The stories captured here given an inspiring glimpse into what is happening around the globe today.  It is current, refreshing, and eye-opening.  The hope offered here is contagious.” – Lisa Hawkes (Edmonds, WA)

“Viral Hope was such an easy book to keep reading. All of the different points of view were refreshing and gave an interesting cross section of the variety that is seen in the church today. Viral Hope was also a hard book to keep reading. It doesn’t allow you to passively ponder what good could be done through the work of the true gospel. It challenges you to step up and join the fray.” – Paul Johnson (Ames, IA)

This creative video illustrates the spreading of this hope.  It’s a virus worth spreading!