Monday, January 29, 2007

thoughtful words

The Merton Reflection for the Week of January 29, 2007
We prescribe for one another remedies that will bring us peace of mind, and we are still devoured by anxiety. We evolve plans for disarmament and for the peace of nations, and our plans only change the manner and method of aggression. The rich have everything they want except happiness, and the poor are sacrificed to the unhappiness of the rich. Dictatorships use their secret police to crush millions under an intolerable burden of lies, injustice and tyranny, and those who still live in democracies have forgotten how to make good use of their liberty. For liberty is a thing of the spirit, and we are no longer able to live for anything but our bodies. How can we find peace, true peace, if we forget that we are not machines for making and spending money, but spiritual beings, sons and daughters of the most high God?
Thomas Merton. The Monastic Journey. Patrick Hart, editor. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1978: 62..

Thought for Reflection:
The world is, by its very essence, struggle, conflict, division, dissension. For there to be peace in the world, men must renounce their selfishness in order to make peace, and we cannot make peace with others unless we are at peace with ourselves.
The Monastic Journey: 63

Sunday, January 28, 2007

love thy neighbor

In the Age’s magazine, I came across this article about neighborhood, community, and recent conflicts from objectification of the people closest to you (closest geographically of course). It was reassuring to read of these issues surfacing in other western cultures and to find a return to the ultimate question of loving one another. In reflecting on this piece, even from a distance I celebrate what God is doing in our midst in Lexington, Kentucky. Here are some bits:

“’When people lived in smaller communities, they really got to know the reputation of people in their area. But in mass society, we meet hundreds of people in all different contexts.’ And that, he concludes, means we’re less likely to build relationships in our local area. Ironically, it seems that as our cities get fuller, and neigbours live closer together than ever before, socially we’re moving farther apart.
Australian social researcher and author Hugh Mackay argues that ‘feeling as if we’re members of a community is the prerequisite for accepting some responsibility for each other’s wellbeing.’ He urges us to start taking social responsibility for our communities and not just ourselves. ‘It’s not about trying to change the world, just a few of our attitudes.’ Ultimately, he’s optimistic and believes ‘the tide may be starting to turn. We’re essentially herd animals and the desire and the desire to feel part of the herd is very basic.’”

Friday, January 26, 2007

the medium and the message

One of my favorite aussie comedians is Barry Humphries. He has managed to take satire to dizzying new heights throughout his career and at 72 years old, he is still performing on the West End and Broadway. I think his genius is his ability to expose the absurdities of life and the false pretense of things like wealth, glamour, and fame. In an article I just read (from the Melbourne newspaper, The Sunday Age - ‘Life Magazine’) he was quoted as saying something that made me think more widely about our own efforts as a community to undermine the false idols of our culture and even our Christian religion.

“My assaults on suburbia were my only defense against the creeping boredom that Melbourne in the 1950’s seemed to exude…There were plenty of angry young men in my youth but they always seemed to blunt their attacks by being too serious.

So here’s my confession: I felt this comment poke me in the chest…I have been far too serious about many things I care about deeply. Joy (again) is the right medium for all kinds of serious things. No doubt we need some seriousness mixed in but my own bias is toward morbidity and it has blunted the very message I hope to proclaim – the message of good news.

Adventures in micro-finance....

In January of 2004 James Walsh and I had the privilege of going to Uganda with Dr. George Hutchinson, the director of an organization called Church Planting International. During our time in Uganda we made a lot of friends with whom I stay in pretty regular contact via e-mail. Two of these friends are Paddy & Mark Mutumba, young men who lost their parents at an early age and have been forced to do their best in caring for each other and their younger siblings. Obviously, this is not an easy task as they have tried to balance raising funds for their education with the demands of putting food on the table and providing for accomodation. About a year ago Paddy proposed the idea of getting a "boda boda (a moped)," saying that he and Mark could lease it to a driver in Kampala as a source of steady income. I thought that this was a great idea, and after consulting with George we we're able to make arrangements for the necessary due diligence to be done by our friend Apollo Mugwera, who is the pastor of the church where Paddy & Mark attend. George and I agreed to split repsonsibility for raising the $1,100.00 needed to make this project possible. I'm happy to report that with the help of many folks within the Communality community I was able to mail a check to George yesterday, and he will be going to Uganda on February 1 and will oversee purchase of the boda boda at that time. So, thanks to everyone who helped out with this project, and please pray that things will go smoothly as Paddy & Mark move forward with this venture.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In honor of our community's partnership with Jubilee USA, I want to bet a blurb out about letter-writing. If you want to find out more about this Jubilee Partnership, and why letters might really change the world, click this:

According to Jubilee USA Network,
Letter writing is one of the easiest and most effective methods of campaigning for debt cancellation. It shows decision makers and elected officials we care enough to sit down, think about the issue and contact them.

With that in mind, here is a list of important contacts and some tips for writing an effective letter.

Contacting Decision Makers
o Representative _____________
US House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
o Senator ______________
US Senate
Washington, DC 20510
o The President of the United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
o Secretary of the Treasury
US Treasury Department
1500 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20220
(The Treasury Dept. is part of the administration that sets policies for the World Bank and the IMF.)
o Managing Director
International Monetary Fund
700 19th St, NW
Washington, DC 20433
o President of the World Bank
World Bank
1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433

Getting the message across
1. Thank this person for positive steps taken in the past
2. Express two or three points only
3. Be polite and positive
4. State what you want this decision maker to do
5. Let elected officials know if you voted for her or him
6. Include full name and address

7. Handwrite the letter (lost art, I know)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

[Note: another double-post below from my personal blog. Caveat biblo, or something like that.]

Last Friday John, Miranda and I joined our mailman for lunch at the nearby Buffalo Wild Wings. He was being transferred to another route, and since we've become something of friends over the last seven years, we treated him to a going-away burger and fries. It was yummy; Miranda even had a few finger-licks of the Medium wing sauce. She's a trooper.

This restaurant has become important to John. It was just about 4 years ago, when John was still new to our home, that he decided one night to go out and watch the Kentucky basketball game. This surprised Billy and me, as he was not in the habit of frequenting large, noisy places. But go he did, and he kept going back. For the first year, he sat on a stool next to the register, watching sports and accepting the occasional gift of free fries and Sprite. When he started getting an income, he moved to a table near the bar and increased his orders to "wings and wedges" and the occasional cheesecake (or two). He's watched more NBA, NCAA, MLB, and other stuff than I can imagine. He loves going there; it's his place.

The best thing about the story is twofold. First, the staff has always extended the most gracious of welcomes to John. They never (as far as I know) questioned his nightly seat by the bar, never said "order or get out of here." They seemed to sense his need for a space of his own, a place to come and relax (and get away from his nagging housemate -- I'm just saying). He's become one of the regulars, and that's due entirely to their hospitality.

Second -- and this struck me during our good-bye lunch last week, although I've noticed it before -- the people there really like John. They are glad to see him come in, and seem to offer an extra level of friendliness. During our brief lunch, they (mostly the pretty coed waitresses) called him "hon", "buddy", "sweetie", and simply his name, John. They know what he orders, where he likes to sit, what he likes to watch. He is known to them, and they like him. And when I asked the manager and staff about possibly hosting a surprise party for John's 40th birthday this March, they all said, virtually without exception, "For John, we'll make it happen."

I'm not especially surprised. John is friendly and easy to like. But not everyone goes out of their way to make people feel welcome, and the fact that they do makes me happy. John's dealt with some serious stuff in his life; he deserves a place where he knows they'll be happy to see him. And don't we all? So here's to you, Buffalo Wild Wings, for showing us how to turn strangers into friends.

A Parable......

The Great Chas(t)e

To what can we compare the liability of an uneasy or burdened conscience?

It is like the man who intended to take a simple Sunday drive to the downtown library but suddenly found himself in a considerable predicament. He had just turned onto Main Street, in the heart of the downtown, when he noticed a police cruiser pulling up rather rapidly behind him. He began to squirm uneasily as his white knuckled hands strangled the steering wheel and his eyes peered anxiously into the rear view mirror, waiting for the sirens of the cruiser to illumine. However, despite the fact that the police cruiser continued to follow him the lights never came on as he nervously turned off Main Street onto Broadway. Too preoccupied to concentrate, the man passed right by the library and continued onward with the cruiser still deliberately following him. After failing to shake his tormentor by making three more quick turns, the man’s paranoia became overwhelming and his state of mind desperate. “Why in the hell hasn’t this guy pulled me over by now,” he wondered angrily. “What have I done? Why is this guy following me?” he mused in exasperation. Finally, after making one more turn with the cruiser still looming menacingly in his rear view mirror, and unable to stop for fear of what might happen, the man determined that he could take no more. Seeing that the traffic light ahead was about to turn red and that the police cruiser had slowed slightly, the man mashed the accelerator of the car to the floor and raced through the light, hoping to escape. As he looked into his rear view mirror with harried hopefulness, he could see the lights on the now distant squad car illumine in a blaze of color as it moved cautiously through the intersection and then sped after him. Still paralyzed by fear of what might happen if he stopped, the man raced onward through the next light and within a few miles had four more police cruisers and a helicopter on his trail. At length, recognizing that his position was hopeless, the man pulled to the side of the road and wept pathetically as he was arrested. He was charged with speeding, running a red light, reckless driving, and fleeing and evading police.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

law and joy

while we are all the way over here in australia we wanted to discover and practice disciplines that would keep us connected to our family in lexington. one of these disciplines will be to read the lectionary selections each week alongside our communality family. (I just checked the clock and saw that as I type this many of you will all be making your way to high street for the Sunday gathering).

this week i was particularly struck by the Nehemiah reading (8:1-10). there are pre-pagitt body prayers and a moving account of people undone with conviction as the law is read out....yet in the midst of this sorrow Nehemiah says, "this is a special day to the Lord, stop crying! go and have a party being careful not to leave anyone out, and don't cry, this day is special and THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH."

i fail to remember that joy is a sign of a true Yahweh follower. joy is a mark of someone’s deeper understanding of God's love for all the world. too often i have confused joy with naiveté or shallow triumphalism. A smile can be a slippery slope into Christian fakery, me thinks, and I worry that my own joy might be a sign of denial about the horrible injustice that creeps all around our world like a very well established ivy. But this is a permission giving story. I feel released to “go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks…” BECAUSE it is a reflection of joy rooted in God’s love and justice. Joy, it turns out, is not a sign of a blind-spot or weakness, it is a manifestation of God’s strength and a sign of “God with us.” a sign that God's ways (law) is the was we travel together to make things right.

I’m going to try on some joy this week and see if I can be transformed into a more worthy follower of jesus.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Walking With Friends in the Rain

I like walking. And I like rain. I even like walking in rain sometimes. I mention these details as I wonder what good it does to walk around this beautiful city on a rainy morning in honor of one of our heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King.

I had the good fortune to be walking with my friends, Jake and Gwynnie Samson. Gwynnie and I made a point of splashing in most of the puddles we found. We walked on the edge of a river of people, a good number of umbrellas, long horizontal signs. I saw a number of white people I had waited on at the Co-op. A black man's voice came across a bull horn, singing protest songs that I only knew the first line of. I couldn't help but wonder what we were all doing together on Vine St., on Rose, on Main. Jake observed how great it is to walk down the middle of the street, even through the red lights. That is pretty cool.

I kept thinking about a man who mobilized a people and used marching as a tool, a weapon of love. This man changed the world without a gun. He followed Gandhi's lead. He knew that the means would justify the ends. His voice is painfully lacking on this January day as our country argues about our war.

On our way back toward Jefferson St., Gwynnie said, "I'm glad we're doing this today." I couldn't help myself; I asked, "Really; why?" She answered, "I don't know. I just am." I think I can let that suffice for me too.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hospitality and Emotional Health: The Therapeutic Effects of Hot Tea

Here is ryan's article.

Darren* surprised me. At ten years old, his mother brought him to see me because she was worried he was being abused at his father’s house. Darren was glad to talk. He was responsible for a number of chores, and if he did not complete these he might miss a meal, or be shaken by his father. A part of him wanted to protect his dad; another part wanted to tell everything. He seemed so brave—it was easy to respect him. Our hour went quickly. I remember feeling hopeful about what could happen. I also felt powerless to protect him. That was the last time I saw Darren or his mom. I can’t tell you how that story ends.
That is often how it goes. I am a mental health service provider here in Lexington, working with a counseling center called EnterChange. Anyone who has been through therapy can verify that the process is difficult. We therapists ask hard questions, questions that clients may have been avoiding for years. We sometimes protect ourselves by saying things like, She wasn’t ready to change… On my better days, however, I try to consider my responsibility.
An important component of a therapeutic relationship is welcome, or hospitality. First impressions matter. Unfortunately, many people who need mental health services are treated as nuisances. Without welcome, these people can feel shut out, marginalized. But humans do incur wounds in this life; pain is universal. Hospitality can have the effect of humanizing a person so much that the wounds are not a cause for isolation. Rather, they become a connecting point. We begin to share our hurts.
Furthermore, welcome is one of the few things I can control. I cannot anticipate how many times I will see a client. I cannot predict a relapse, or a miracle cure. But I can be responsible to welcome a new person into our office, to offer a cup of tea, and to be ready to recognize the growth that has already begun.
This welcome I hold in tension with another responsibility. Some of what I do is fairly uncomfortable. I ask questions when I hear something disturbing. I probe for details. A death in the family, or a suicide, is something I cannot breeze by as I create space for a relationship. The long silences—it is best not to spill these with a comment about the weather, or the Wildcats. It is better to permit the quiet, to let it be a safe place. Such discomfort may send people away; I regret that. It may seem insensitive, but it is calculated and (hopefully) tempered by warmth.
* * *
Emotional health requires that a life has meaning, and that a person has the capacity to make or discover meaning. People must have a reason, a why, to bear the burden of the pace of this life, or the burden of the pain we encounter. It is my hope that people who come into this place will find welcome. I hope they find the health they seek, the wholeness they deserve.
(Ryan Koch, LPCA, is a therapist with EnterChange Personal Support Network and can be reached at 233-9777.)
*This name was changed to protect confidentiality.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Between the Lines

Between the lines,
in between the times spent in a day
bracketed by coffee in the morning
and a night cap before sleep,
in between snores and midnight's rise.

Then there is the ordinary,
the moments without prophetic utterance,
goosebumped flesh, or rallying cries for morality.
At the office, in the classroom, on the lonely park bench,
the places in a day that have become monotonous routine.

Faithfulness ceases not when feelings or discernment are dulled.
A place nor time exists that is not filled
with the whispers and dances and laughter and loving embraces
of a community defined by three in one.

God-with-us is more than the words
of dead prophets; it is more than a reality
for a chosen few, divinely elected; it is the
truth for me and for you,
in the office, the classroom, on the lonely park bench,
in the ordinary, and between the lines.

For the past few days, I've been thinking off and on about the presence of God in my life, as I wrestle with what it means to touch base, have quiet time, etc. I want more and more to be aware of the fact that the faithfulness of God is not determinate upon whether or not I pick up a bible or fold my hands in solemn solitude. For me, right now, life is really good. Good job, great relationships, just had a wonderful holiday; essentially, there's really nothing to complain about. I suppose that these are the times I wrestle with the most because it's easy to pray and seek the Lord in times of crisis and late papers. Yet, if I trust the Gospel, then I trust that the presence of God is more real than I realize; I suppose I'm trying to cultivate walking prayer, a conversation with God like a conversation with friends over coffee. So, out of wrestling to realize the faithfulness of God in the ordinary and in between times comes this poem. Thanks for listening.

Friday, January 05, 2007

a company of christians

“The man of pseudo faith will fight for his verbal creed but refuse flatly to allow himself to get into a predicament where his future must depend upon that creed being true. He always provides himself with secondary ways of escape so he will have a way out if the roof caves in. What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now as they know they must do at the last day.”

This quote begins a book by Randy Alcorn called "Money Posessions and Eternity." One of our dear friends and supporters highly recommended it and I have started it with trepidation of what God might ask of me and fear of a much-needed and imminent conversion in this area of my life. The author suggests reading it with lots of prayer.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

the therapeutic effects of hot tea

this month's edition of Nougat Magazine (a free, monthly publication in our city) has an article by our very own Ryan Koch.
the edition is dedicated to issues of health and Ryan's excellent piece is entitiled, "Hospitality and Emotional Health: the therapeutic effects of hot tea."

i can't find a copy online so if you are a Lexintonian, pick up a copy at one of the stands. perhaps we can post a copy of the article here for everyone else? i'll see...