Lord Break Our Hearts

I have been thinking a lot over the last few days about ways I should be engaged in helping to alleviate the world’s suffering in pain. I always feel so inadequate in this area and my heart aches for those who live in poverty. Wrote this prayer earlier in the week

God pierce our hearts with your love,
Break them open into greater capacity,
Break them open ,
That we might hold more of the world’s suffering and joy,
That we might share more of the world’s despair and hope.
Lord break our hearts,
As we stand in the gap between what is and what could be,
Break our hearts open to a largeness that holds the possibility of a better future for all the world’s people.

and just came across this TED talk (have not had time to listen yet but I thought some of you might be interested.



The Call To True Freedom

Grievance wall at Wild Goose Festival

Grievance wall at Wild Goose Festival

This morning I posted this prayer on facebook

God you have called us into freedom,
May we use it to follow you with our whole hearts,
May we use it to serve one another in love,
May we use it to grow your kingdom of peace and wholeness.

It came out of my struggle with the whole concept of Independence Day and our assumption that because we live in America that we are free. To be honest I struggle with the very word Independence because God calls us to interdependence and not independence. Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t see anything wrong in a nation celebrating its independence. It is when Christians celebrate with the same fervour as though independence is a part of our faith that I struggle.

I also struggle with what we mean by freedom. Even in America there are many who have very little freedom.

Yesterday I signed up for International Justice Mission’s Recipe for Change  initiative which highlights the plight of tomato pickers in Florida. I talked about this last year in a post The Price of Tomatoes – Keeping Slavery Alive in Florida.  Then I read this article by Greg Valerio who together with his wife Ruth is a great advocate for fair trade – especially jewelry. Purity of Fair Trade Gold at Risk

Then I read Chris Smith’s article Let’s Celebrate Interdependence Day

And I rounded it up with watching this video by Micha Bournes – When America Dies


These issues make me very aware of the fact that our freedoms are so often dependent on the enslavement or exploitation of others. It made me more than ever aware of the fact that none of us are truly free until all God’s children are free and also that the only true freedom is what we find in our relationship to God. What do you think?

Resurrection Has Come – Are We Really Ready for It?

easter Morning - He Qi

Easter Morning - He Qi

Some of you may have noticed that I have not been posting much in the last few days. I have been laid low with one of the worst cases of flu I have had for a long time. Definitely ready for a season of resurrection. The fact that Seattle’s weather has been bursting with warmth and sunlight has certainly helped. And the daffodils, tulips and flowering shrubs are magnificent. The spirit of resurrection is definitely in the air.

Much of my reflections in the last couple of days have revolved not around Easter Sunday but around Easter Saturday. It has never really occurred to me before that this day was the Sabbath, the day that all Jewish people saw as a celebration of God’s new order. Yet for Christ’s followers there would have been no celebration that Easter Saturday. Their expectations of a new kingdom in which God’s people reigned triumphantly had been shattered. Their hope for the restoration of Israel had not become a reality.

What was very hard for Christ’s followers to realize is that God was doing something totally new. They were expecting restoration of the old order of things. God was bringing resurrection and a totally new order into being. In some ways the  disciples still hankered after the fleshpots of Egypt. They were hoping for the establishment of an kingdom that looked very much like the roman empire only with them in power. God was bringing a totally new kingdom into being – a kingdom in which justice and righteousness reigns, in which the poor are fed and the captives set free, in which the sick are healed and abundance comes for all people.

How often do I miss the ways of God because I am looking for restoration of the old rather than resurrection of something totally new? How often do I cling to old expectations and struggle to embrace the new ways of God? In some ways I feel that our whole world is in this situation at the moment. The economic and political turmoil of these last few years are giving birth to something new but we are still hoping to go back to the old. And unfortunately much of the new is not good news for those who really need to see a new world of justice and abundance come either.

In the last few years the gap between the richest and poorest people has grown in most wealthy countries, but particularly in the U.S. In some ways even more concerning, the education gap has also grown meaning that poor people are less and less likely to be able to move out of poverty. we see the same trends in health too and those who live in communities of poverty in the US and UK can expect to live 10 years less than their more wealthy neighbours.

So my question this is Easter season is not so much how will I view the resurrection but how will I enable others to enter into resurrection life? The celebrations of the Sabbath day called for rest and provision for all – people and animals alike – because this was seen as a preview of God’s coming world in which all creation would be provided for. We are still a long way from that day. What will we do in this season of resurrection to help bring it into being?

Take Off Your Shoes – by Edith Yoder

This morning’s post comes from Edith Yoder Executive Director of Bridge of Hope an organization which has always impressed me tremendously.  Their mission is ending and preventing homelessness in your community . . .one church and one family at a time.  I was really impressed with the practical suggestions that Edith has for ways to help us become more aware of the plight of those who are homeless.  And this seems such a timely reminder as I think that homelessness is likely to become more of a challenge in the future.


In this recent episode of Secret Millionaire there is a scene that really demonstrates “seeing.”

John, the Secret Millionaire, is with a hat shop owner, Amin, who takes donated clothing and hygiene kits to the homeless.   John is amazed that many people take only one item.

Most moving to John is when Amin gives the shoes off his own feet to a homeless man using a walker.  The older man explains that he was sleeping when someone went to the bathroom near his shoes.  He asks, “How did you know these were just what I needed?”  Amin explains that he saw that the man needed new shoes.

The theme of this year’s Bridge of Hope conference is “Walking in Another’s Shoes: Seeing, Naming and Acting.”  Our theme was inspired by the book The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor by Mark Labberton.  Board and staff members from Bridge of Hope affiliates and sites will gather in October for training, networking and encouragement.

We will attempt to “walk in the shoes” of homeless women and children, especially via a poverty simulation and pre-conference seminar.  I invite you to try (this month) one of these ways to “walk in another’s shoes”:

  • Feed yourself/family for $3 per person per day for three days.
  • When your gas tank needs to be filled, find an alternate form of transportation because you “don’t have money for gas.”  Take public transportation, walk, bike, call a friend for a ride or borrow money, or even cancel your plans.
  • Be homeless – sleep in your car, pitch a tent in your or someone else’s yard, or bunk on a friend’s couch.  If you are married and/or have children, include them and spend time talking together about your experience.  You might consider sleeping in your clothes, not using a pillow, a blanket, or a toothbrush.

Recently I came across one of my favorite Elizabeth Barrett Browning poems:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven

And every common bush

Aflame with God,

But only those who see

Take off their shoes

The rest stand around

And pick blackberries.”

Perhaps if we took off our shoes more often and saw the bush aflame (God at work), we would find the space in our lives to try on one another’s shoes and see things from each other’s perspective.

Great Resources From Episcopal Relief and Development

Yesterday I met with Brian Sellers-Petersen, the Director of Church Engagement Programs at Episcopal Relief and Development.  He told me about some great resources for Spiritual formation that Episcopal Relief and Development has produced.  I was particularly impressed with the Abundant Life Garden Project curriculum  which can be downloaded free.  Perfect for a Vacation Bible School or children’s Spiritual formation class especially if you are hoping to get a church garden started.

Act Out: Empowering Kids to Heal a Hurting World also looks like a great resource for youth.  Last but not least there are resources for adults to learn more about the needs of our world and how we can help.  I am particularly passionate about provision of nets for those in malarial areas and was impressed with the NetsforLife® Adult Education Discussion Guide.

Following God in Turbulent Times – Build on the Foundations

I commented yesterday that how to maintain our spiritual foundations is not something that can be encapsulated in a single post.  As I thought more about this I realized that it is in fact too important to confine in that way and so decided to add this post as well.  Much of it is adapted from a previous post I wrote and may seem familiar to many but I make no apologies as I think we cannot be reminded often enough of these important foundations.  The steady stream of natural disasters and economic uncertainties hound our lives and undermine our security.  Economic indicators seem to bring hope one moment and despair the next.  Many of us live on a rather bumpy roller coaster ride with constant fear and trepidation that often reaches panic level.

How can we imagine new ways to respond so that the devastations of our physical world do not undermine our faith or destroy our ability to trust in our loving, caring God whose heart aches for all of us in the midst of our anguish?  How can we respond without allowing compassion fatigue to form walls of indifference between us and those who suffer?  And how can we respond in a way that strengthens our faith and draws us closer to God?

Once again I am reminded of Thomas Merton’s words in Seasons of Celebration, where he talks about how God’s people were called out of the slavery of Egypt and into the desert so that they could be educated into freedom.  It was in the desert, not in the promised land that they learned to strip away the false securities that distracted them from a whole hearted commitment to God.

Trial and struggle teach us what it really means to follow Christ.  It is in the desert and not in the abundance of the promised land that we learn to look beyond ourselves and really grapple with what it means to love God and neighbour as ourselves – the very commands that are at the heart of the gospel.  It is in the wilderness places that we learn to care for each other and become concerned about protecting the weak and vulnerable.  It also in the desert that we confront our own places of vulnerability and discover how God can transform them into new strengths.

Following Christ into tomorrow’s world is a challenging commitment.  It will require us to grow deep roots that anchor our souls and provide stable foundations that withstand the buffeting of wind and storm.  My own spiritual roots have grown deep over the last decade as I have, like many others, delved into ancient spiritual practices that sustained followers of Christ throughout the uncertain and turbulent times of past eras.  The resurgence of interest in ancient practices such as a rule of life, daily offices, and the liturgical calendar are heart warming signs that convince me God is alive and very active in our rapidly changing world.

Developing a rule of life is one valuable practice I engage in that provides a deep stability for my life. It has challenged me to re-imagine what my life could look like in the light of God’s priorities rather than those of the secular culture. It has enabled me to establish a rhythm of prayer that entwines through all of life and has encouraged me to live into God’s new world of wholeness and abundance by developing a balance between work and rest, solitude and community, feasting and fasting.  This has been made possible by my involvement in the Mustard Seed House community where we participate in morning and evening prayers and community meals.

The use of centering prayer is another practice that has strengthened my faith.  This practice begins with a time of silence focusing on the presence of God and reminding us that Christ is the center of all we are and do.  Reciting a short bible verse or phrase like God is love can help block out distractions and quiet our hearts.  In this quiet place meditate on God and are able to pray in response to God’s great love.  As a result of this type of meditation I began writing prayers that often flow out of my attempts to grapple with the challenges of our turbulent world.  Reciting these prayers on a regular basis calms my soul and frees my imagination to develop creative responses to the challenges I face.  It was this practice that initiated the Light for the Journey prayers which I post regularly on facebook.  These I know nurture not only my soul but the souls of many others as well.

More than anything, what has drawn me closer to God in the last few years is the recognition that life is a journey in which every experience entered into and every activity undertaken is an opportunity to both represent and meet Christ.  Looking for God’s love in a mother’s embrace of her child or in the compassionate sharing of resources with the poor is breathtaking way to both unveil and respond to the story of God.

We live in a changing world and I don’t think that the coming years will be any easier than the last few.  However I do believe that it can be a time in which God’s people shine as beacon’s of light encouraging all the world’s people to journey towards a society that reflects something of God’s eternal world of peace, harmony and wholeness, a society in which all the world’s people share abundantly from the riches of God’s storehouse.  A society in which there is mutual care and concern once more as there was at the beginning of God’s creation.

Secret Millionaire

I was recently contacted about the possibility of doing a review on a new show that will premiere SUNDAY, MARCH 6 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.  This is not something I would not normally consider doing.  I am not a fan of reality shows, but I was so deeply touched by the trailer for “Secret Millionaire,” that I couldn’t resist saying yes.

This one-hour alternative series follows some of America’s wealthiest people while they leave behind their lavish lifestyles, sprawling mansions and luxury jets to spend a week in the country’s poorest areas, is profoundly moving.  Living in local housing on welfare-level wages, they look for the most deserving individuals within the community who give their lives to help those in need.  What touched me most was the way these Secret Millionaires change as they come face to face with extraordinary people who put their own needs aside for the sake of others. At the end of the Secret Millionaires’ journeys, they reveal their true identities and donate their own money to these community activists, though I felt it was really the millionaires themselves who were given the greatest gifts.

I think this is a series well worth watching.

Chocolate – Worth its weight in Gold

This may be the most concerning news I have heard for a long time

Fancy a bit of chocolate? An afternoon Kit Kat with your cup of tea? A chunk of fruit and nut? Go on, you’ve earned it.  Except that in the future, chocoholics might have to work quite a bit harder to pay for their fix. The world could run out of affordable chocolate within 20 years as farmers abandon their crops in the global cocoa basket of West Africa, industry experts claim…. Read the entire article

My first reaction is to be amused by the news but then I start to think – what does it mean?  Part of what it means is that those who grow our chocolate don’t get paid enough to make it worthwhile.

Most of our chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast region of West Africa, where cocoa production is an enormous part of the economy. In Ghana, 40 percent of the country’s export revenues come from the sale of cocoa. Unfortunately, very little of the profit goes to the farmers who grow the cocoa beans. Cocoa farmers receive about a penny for a candy bar selling for 60 cents.

In fact, the difficulty in making a living at cocoa farming has spawned an increase in child and even slave labor drawn from poor neighboring countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo. Children and other workers are forced to work long days picking and processing cocoa beans (it takes 400 of these pods to make just one pound of chocolate). Very few of the children have the opportunity to attend school.

This is quite an issue in Europe where many countries have gone entirely fair trade chocolate.  But here in the U.S there is only one company – Theo chocolates that is fair trade bean-to-bar.  Of course there are many other fair trade chocolates available – like Divine chocolate which in my opinion really does live up to its name.  The New American Dream website has a great list of fair trade chocolate brands. – which suggests to me that fair traded chocolate should really be part of the new American dream.

So as you make your Christmas lists and reach for those stocking filling chocolates this year, remember those who produce it – at the least say a prayer, and if possible make sure that the chocolate you buy is fair trade certified.


Seeing Through the Eyes of the Marginalized

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to participate in this synchroblog initiated by Kathy Escobar.  Her challenge to us was:

Marginalization results in an individual’s exclusion from meaningful participation in society and it’s source is many. Economic circumstances, illness, disability, geographical location, gender, sexuality, race, religion are all dominant sources of individuals being marginalized. Sometimes it’s easy to see holidays or certain systems from a position of power or privilege. * As God’s people, what does it mean to see the world through the eyes of the marginalized?

What I realize is that it is very difficult for me to see through the eyes of the marginalized because I have never really been in that position.  Yes I have been poor, and yes I have lived simply for most of life but those have been deliberate choices.  I have always had a back door out.  As a physician I could always have found a well paying job and rapidly moved myself back into the upper middle class lifestyle with which I grew up.

I was thinking about this today as I read Sean Gladding’s book The Story of God, The Story of Us, a very powerful story based telling of the Biblical story from creation to the coming of Christ.  Today I was reading about the time of the kings.

Sean begins this chapter with the story of the building of the temple – not as a triumphant worshipful act towards God but as an enslavement of the people of Israel by Solomon who was busily accumulating wealth and power for himself.  So often when we read this story, we filter it through the distorted values of our consumerist, middle class way of life.  But what if like Sean does in his book and like Kathy encourages us to do in her question, we saw Solomon and the building of the temple through the eyes of the marginalized, those who were conscripted to build the temple as forced labour.

Sean comments: if we are to be faithful to the covenant then we must beware of falling into the same three things that marked Solomon’s reign:

an economic affluence in which we become so well off that both the pain around us and the pain we cause others are not noticiced;

a politics of oppression in which the cries of the marginal are not heard or are silenced

a static religion, in which God has no other business than to maintain our standard of living, and whose prophets we try to silence when they speak words we do not want to hear.

To see through the eyes of the marginalized we must first acknowledge our own sin and the indifference and sometimes even hostility with which we confront them.  We benefit so much from the slaves of our society – the illegal immigrants who pick our fruit and staff our restaurants, the minimum wage workers who work 2 or 3 jobs and still don’t earn enough to support their families and those in distant lands who grow our food and sew our clothes.

They too are building our temples and enabling us to accumulate yet more power and prestige.  And on top of that we so often despise them because they can’t accumulate what we have and can’t pull themselves out of the pits that we so often have dug for them.

So how do we see through the eyes of the marginalized?  To be honest I am not sure.  But I do know that I need to begin by constantly reminding myself of those at the margins, talking to them, sharing meals and hospitality with them.  And for those that are more distant I know that I need to encourage them by raising my voice to make sure they are paid a fair wage and given the opportunity to get educated as I have been.

None of us can create a society that is just and fair but we can all take steps that move us in that direction.  The season of Advent and Christmas is a great time to do more than just think about this.  It is a great time to get down and get ourselves involved just as God did with the birth of Christ.

Here are some more posts to check out

Here are a few more posts to check out:

George at the Love Revolution – The Hierarchy of Dirt

Arthur Stewart – The Bank

Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized

Wendy McCaig – An Empty Chair at the Debate

Ellen Haroutunian – Reading the Bible from the Margins

Alan Knox – Naming the Marginalized

Minnow – Just Out of Sight

Kathy Escobar – Sitting At the Rickety Card Table In theFamily Room For Thanksgiving Dinner

Liz Dyer – Stepping Away From the Keyhole


Open My Eyes I Want to See Jesus

This morning one of the songs we sang in our worship time was Open My eyes Lord I Want to See Jesus, a song that I usually enjoy singing.  However as I sat amongst urban workers who work amongst the street people, the drug addicts and alcoholics, the at risk youth of London and other English cities. As I looked at these people who are all struggling with work overload and facing cutbacks to their funding, I was caught short – Do I really want to see Jesus? I wondered.

Yes I love the images of Jesus the loving and caring one, the healing and comforting one, the redeeming and renewing one.  But I realized this morning that there are other images of Jesus I am far less comfortable with –

Jesus the lamb who was slain, the despised and abandoned one, the neglected and forgotten one, the tortured and wounded one who is present in the lives and faces of all those who live on the streets.  Jesus the weeping  and mourning one who is present in the faces of so many overworked urban workers who feel abandoned and despised by their governments and often church leadership as well.  Do I really want to see this Jesus and if so how do I respond?