Gringo Day Prayers

Today we said one last goodbye to Chacraseca before heading back to Managua. Leslie, refers to this day of the trip as “gringo day”, because it is the leg of the trip that moves us back to the airport hotel via a few shopping excursions. It is common knowledge that gringos/gringas come to Nicaragua to shop.

While the marketplace in Masaya was beautiful, the real joy of the day came in a small potters’ village — a place where Leslie has built relationships with a family of artisans over a number of years. We watched a demonstration of how their pottery is designed, crafted and fired using the traditional methods passed down through the family. In the midst of the demonstration, we paused for a wonderful meal served by the matriarch of the family, and we watched a young man use his architectural training to etch exquisite and precise geometric designs into a piece of pottery (he went to several years of university but couldn’t continue because of a lack of resources, so he has found a way to use his education to add to the family business). When the demonstration was finished, we went to their shop and purchased many a piece. After all, gringas shop…

Tonight, we are nestled into the hotel, savoring air conditioning and wrestling with the question: what now? How do you take a life-changing, perspective-shifting experience like this and translate it into action when you get home? How do you honor the people of Chacraseca in your day to day life? Next week, in the classroom, we will chew on those questions together.

For now, I give thanks to God for the people of Chacraseca — for their perseverance and hospitality. I lift up their dreams and challenges, their need for the rains to finally come, their desire for their young people to succeed. I ask you to pray these things with me now and in the days to come. And, in the midst of these prayers for the people, I also thank God for an experience that has inspired me to write again. Thank you, Chacraseca, for helping me rediscover my voice.
20140620-214127-78087661.jpg

20140620-214131-78091018.jpg

20140620-214850-78530791.jpg

Being Present & Saying Goodbye

Today was our final day in Chacraseca, and frankly, I’m sad. Our time here seems to have flown by, yet was also slow in the moment — and that activity of being present in the moment, hour after hour, has been tiring work. It takes considerable effort to truly listen, truly see, and truly feel what you feel in any given moment. That has been our task this week.

In these final hours here we have met with various small groups (young adults, elders, women who receive micro loans). We have met with excited stitchers who’ve already begun work on the first stole based on yesterday’s design. We’ve honored the women who cooked for us all week and said goodbye to Padre Tomas. We’ve said goodbye to the translators who made this deep listening possible, and who became our friends along the way

After those goodbyes, we headed west for an evening on the beach. The Pacific rushed and swirled across dark volcanic sand, refreshing us and stirring reflections on our time here. Stories surged with the roar of the ocean, bringing with them names and faces we hope to never forget.

This community has changed us as individuals and as a group in ways we likely won’t understand until after we’ve returned home. And now the hardest part begins: figuring out how to let those changes live and breathe in us, so that they take on life in our homes, our churches, and our hearts.

20140619-221135-79895296.jpg

20140619-221132-79892995.jpg

20140619-221130-79890122.jpg

20140619-221129-79889190.jpg

20140619-221136-79896297.jpg

20140619-221137-79897329.jpg

20140619-221132-79892050.jpg

20140619-221131-79891058.jpg

20140619-221128-79888208.jpg

20140619-221134-79894051.jpg

20140619-221422-80062394.jpg

20140619-221424-80064119.jpg

20140619-221420-80060563.jpg

20140619-221421-80061479.jpg

20140619-221419-80059618.jpg

20140619-221423-80063270.jpg

20140619-221425-80065970.jpg

20140619-221425-80065045.jpg

Accompaniment

Throughout our time here in Chacraseca we’ve been reminded of an African proverb that goes something like this: if you want to go fast, go alone…but if you want to go far, go together.

This is one of the ways you could describe the term “accompaniment,” a concept and way of being/doing about which our D.min course revolves. We are here in Chacraseca to witness and to learn accompaniment as a way of living our ministry, living our prayer, and living our struggle for justice. It is a core value and method for Just Hope, and it is a way of life for the people here — they survive and continue La Lucha (the struggle) because they walk the road together.

Today we met with some of the women of Stitching Hope, a group of women who create beautiful stoles, purses and other textile arts using fabrics that they paint and dye in brilliant hues. These pieces are sold in the United States, and their sale allows the women to receive fair wages for their work — wages that make it possible for their children to eat and to attend school.

Rather than merely supporting the women of Stitching Hope by purchasing their work, we spent most of the day together. First, we heard each other’s stories and ate a meal together. Then we began the work of designing a special stole together — one that represents the practice of accompaniment.

It was that creative process that touched me most deeply: women from two cultures, speaking two different languages, who (through translators, hand gestures, and laughter) first described their understandings of accompaniment and then created shared symbols to paint a picture of that reality in colorful fabric.

It was difficult. It was frustrating. It was funny. And it was also holy.

By the end of the afternoon, we not only had the basic design for a stole that will be produced both for us and for the Stitching Hope product line, but we also had experienced the power of working together in a manner that allows all voices to be heard and values all experiences on even footing. We dipped our toes into accompaniment, and it was cool water for our spirits.

When we left the Stitching Hope workshop, purchases in hand (because we did buy some of their gorgeous work), hugs were shared all around. We are partners now, yoked together on the same journey. We are sisters, and together (though language and cultural barriers may slow us down), we will walk far.

20140618-220503-79503535.jpg

20140618-220504-79504384.jpg

20140618-220505-79505239.jpg

20140618-220500-79500050.jpg

20140618-220500-79500975.jpg

20140618-220506-79506115.jpg

20140618-220507-79507052.jpg

20140618-220501-79501839.jpg

20140618-220459-79499160.jpg

20140618-220507-79507993.jpg

20140618-220502-79502709.jpg

20140618-220836-79716111.jpg

20140618-220835-79715239.jpg

20140618-220832-79712680.jpg

20140618-220831-79711807.jpg

20140618-220829-79709045.jpg

20140618-220833-79713489.jpg

20140618-220834-79714371.jpg

20140618-220830-79710012.jpg

20140618-220837-79717054.jpg

20140618-220830-79710887.jpg

20140618-220946-79786450.jpg

20140618-220947-79787482.jpg

Giving and Receiving

The bulk of today was spent in a sector of Chacraseca called La Bolsa. We gathered at a family’s home with women from the community, went through a round of introductions (using our excellent translators), and then spent a couple of hours cooking together. Nicaraguan women taught us how to cook their special dishes, supervising us as we made their family favorites — and we taught them how to make a few of our favorites, supervising them in the same way.

When the feast was ready, we ate. And ate. And ate some more. Fried plantains, rice, beef, tomato & cucumber salad, and tortillas came together with green bean casserole, biscuits & gravy, and crunchy cole slaw with ramen noodles. It was the meeting of cultures, spread across one long table, and it was beautiful.

As we ate together, Elba (director of women’s projects at Just Hope) facilitated a conversation in which we all shared stories of the women who have inspired us. Those stories were funny, heartbreaking, relatable, foreign…and sacred. In the telling and hearing of those stories, we became a part of one another’s lives. All were able to give, all were able to receive, all had dignity and respect.

Tonight, as I lay in bed I replay those conversations and faces in my mind’s eye and I’m struck by the difference between charity and social justice. By allowing these women to give of themselves rather than passively receive things from us, we honored their full humanity. Each woman is my sister, and she is worthy of that respect. I will remember their faces and their stories for a long time to come.

20140616-210125-75685776.jpg

20140616-210126-75686694.jpg

20140616-210124-75684861.jpg

20140616-210130-75690360.jpg

20140616-210123-75683876.jpg

20140616-210133-75693065.jpg

20140616-210133-75693984.jpg

20140616-210128-75688511.jpg

20140616-210129-75689389.jpg

20140616-210135-75695077.jpg

“I am still here.”

Chacraseca is a poor farming area outside of Léon, approximately 50 miles wide and self-organized into 12 sectors. A part of the history here is that a Catholic sister named Joan came here to serve, and helped the people to organize themselves and discover their own capacities for leadership so that they could care for one another and improve life in their community.

Joan left eight years ago, and Alzheimer’s has stolen her memory of this place, but she is still here in spirit. Presenté. The work, the struggle, continues — and that is seen so clearly in the women of Chacraseca.

We witnessed many of these women today, after Mass. They gathered for the annual meeting of Mujeres Unidades (Women United), the microcredit organization that has created a women’s bank in most of the sectors of Chacraseca. In this meeting, women from each sector came together to decide an important question: could women who have already received and repaid loans of $250 reapply and receive loans of up to $800 for larger projects or business improvements?

$800 might not seem like much, but in Chacraseca it means that a woman who usually plants 1/2 an acre of crops could install an irrigation system and plant 4 acres of crops — AND grow things during both the rainy season and the summer. That means more food to feed her family, more food to sell at the market, and more money to pay for things like the bus rides her children need in order to get to school.

While children played around the room, the women discussed the question from multiple angles: interest rates, repayment deadlines, collateral required, etc. Ultimately, they decided to approve the increased loans with 1% interest and individualized repayment deadlines. With the question answered and the annual report completed, we moved on to a potluck lunch. (Note: this program had existed since 2009 and has maintained a 100% repayment rate throughout their 5 year history.)

In the afternoon, we gathered with a smaller group of those same women so that we could listen to their stories of what it means to them to be leaders in Chacraseca. Many expressed that “to be a leader is a beautiful thing.” One woman noted that while at first she had no idea what it would mean to be a leader (when she was chosen by her community), “I am still here.”

I am still here. That statement points to the resiliency, resourcefulness, determination and hope of these women. They struggle, they strive, and they are still here, improving the lives of their children…and improving life for themselves as well.

Tonight, as the much-needed and prayed-for rain comes down outside, I give thanks for the women of Chacraseca. Thanks be to God for the spirit of resiliency and hope, and thanks be to God for those words said with quiet pride: “I’m still here.”

Amen.

20140615-221805-80285475.jpg

20140615-221806-80286393.jpg

20140615-221807-80287346.jpg

20140615-221808-80288362.jpg

20140615-221804-80284557.jpg

20140615-221810-80290851.jpg

Keeping Faith

IMG_0284She’s a gentle giant. Liquid gold eyes watch us as we move about the house, each of our steps marked in time by the “thwap” of tail on hardwood flooring. Spread across the couch, she seems still — lazy even — but the moment we near the front door she springs to life with the energy of a puppy and the gait of a small horse.

“I don’t want to keep this dog.”

These words have crossed my mind and lips multiple times this week: when she dragged me down the street at 6:30 am, when we tucked away every bit of food normally stored on countertops, when she licked a couch cushion to the point of saturation… And yet, she’s a gem. A peaceful spirit. A lapdog inside a 70+ lb body.

And I do want to keep her. But to keep her, and love her well, some things are going to have to change.

During the day, when I’m at work in the church and community, I’m all about change. It’s my bread and butter, something I love and embrace more often than not. Heck, it’s even the field of study for my Doctor of Ministry program: Transformational Leadership for Women in Ministry.

Yet, when I head home at the end of a long day, change is the last thing I want to think about. Instead, it is comfort and routine that call my name. I want something I can count on, something dependable, something that is the same. For all that talk of transformation, at the end of the day I’m no different from the folks who want everything to remain unchanged in our life together as church.  I crave the comfort of continuity, just in different parts of my life.

But we have to change.  I have to change.

Some of those things I’ve come to count on when I head home simply aren’t healthy.  They may have been at one time, but it turns out that my needs changed when I wasn’t looking…and my mode of being morphed into something unhelpful.  Comfort turned into clutter, rest became inactivity, and something’s got to give.  It’s time.  This enormous pup, with her zeal for long walks and open space, may be the very one who can break me out of the rut I’ve mistaken for stability.

Our life together as church is no different.  Over time, our patterns become unhealthy.  Instead of being informed and moved by the Holy Spirit, we become predictable.  Instead of striving for the Kin-dom of God, we rest on fading laurels.  Instead of being alive and energetic, our comfy ways of being turn into lethargy, and something’s got to give.  It’s time.

Sometimes, in order to keep faith (or to keep a dog named Faith), things can no longer remain the same…and that’s a very good thing.

 

 

Morning

Except for the weeks I spent at church camp as a teenager, I’ve never been a morning person. Morning has generally always been a time of day I’ve avoided – I’ll work all afternoon and late into the night, but get me up early and you’re dealing with a somewhat volatile grump. You can ask my mother, She’ll tell you some stories…

But this week something has changed. I think I’m starting to appreciate morning people, starting to understand why they love those morning hours before anyone else in the house is awake. I’m guessing it’s the quiet, the stillness.

This might be a fluke. I am, after all, on a middle school mission trip. Not exactly a “normal” week. But each day, though tired from the work we’ve done, my body has turned on at 5:30 in the morning. I’ve gotten up, gotten ready, made the coffee and had two full hours to read, muse, write and listen. To my surprise, there has been so much to hear in the quiet of the morning. Children and sponsors murmuring in their sleep, cars on the road, birds singing, the church building whispering its stories, thoughts and insights that often go unnoticed – all these sounds help me to find a stillness and calm that is usually so elusive.

Perhaps God really is in the quiet place…

A Slice of Heaven

A Slice of Heaven

Going through the 800+ pictures I took during April’s California trip and ran across this: our backyard at the rental house in Sonoma. This view has been in the back of my mind ever since, nagging me with sweetness, beauty and rest.

“Nobody Puts Jesus in a Box!” (Sermon – Transfiguration Sunday)

Scripture: Matthew 17:1-9 (NRSV)

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

SERMON – “Nobody Puts Jesus in a Box!” (Notes from sermon preached at Hillside Christian Church on March 6, 2011)

In this morning’s lectionary text, we are presented with Matthew’s rendition of the Transfiguration. It’s an odd story, both in terms of what it paints for us and in the way that it ends as quickly as it begins.

Here’s a quick recap of the story:

Jesus takes Peter, James and John (his trusted three, or the three stooges, depending on the day) up a mountain. Jesus is turned inside out: the divine radiance inside of him bursts forth, captivating and frightening his trio of disciples. Moses and Elijah show up for a chat and Peter interrupts the three saviors to suggest that he build them each a dwelling, presumably so that they can stay on the mountain…indefinitely. God interrupts Peter with simple instructions: “This is my beloved son. LISTEN to him!” And then, when the fearful three look up from the dust, it’s simply Jesus standing with them on the mountain. Presto, chango… and back to normal. On the way back down the mountain, Jesus tells Peter and the two J’s not to talk about what happened, and they don’t. It’s not spoken of again throughout the rest of the gospel.

Now, there’s a LOT that we could talk about in this passage. It is filled with tidbits and examples of the big three aspects of scripture: human culture, human nature and the active presence of God. If we hit at the cultural side of things, we could spend hours talking about the importance of holy mountains in both the Bible and other religious texts, or we could talk about the link between this passage and the Jewish Festival of Booths. We could really dig into the presence of Moses and Elijah – and the reasons why each are considered saviors of the Jewish people. All are worthy topics.

But this morning, I’m most interested in the tension that exists between human nature and God’s activity and presence in the world.

Usually, when preachers talk about “human nature”, we’re pointing out huge sinful behaviors – the really radical stuff that is obviously at odds with the Kin-dom of God. There’s none of that nonsense going on in this morning’s text. Instead, we’ve got something different, something smaller – something that isn’t always a sin but is absolutely a part of the reality we call “human nature”.

In this morning’s text, we’ve got the desire to keep things where we can see them, the yearning for things to remain the same.

This time, the culprit is Peter. As you’ll recall, while radiant transfigured Jesus is chewing the fat with Moses and Elijah, Peter butts in and offers to build a dwelling for each of them, right there on top of the mountain.

It sounds like a thoughtful offer, albeit an odd one. I can almost hear Peter saying it: “Oh Shiny Ones, let me be of assistance! I’ll make a booth for each of you right here, to protect you from the elements. Time will no longer matter – you’ll be able to talk here as long as you like… forever, even! It will…”

But before Peter can finish his speech, God Most High cuts him off. Have you ever been interrupted by God? Usually when someone interrupts me, I get a little irritated…but when God cuts you off, you can’t help but be quiet. At least, that was the case for Peter. One moment he’s being oh so helpful, and the next, he’s face down in the dirt listening to God speak:

God politely ignores Peter’s suggestion to make “dwellings” for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Apparently, God also ignores the presence of Moses and Elijah. Instead, God gives Peter and the two J’s some pretty basic instructions: “Jesus is my son, my beloved. I’m pleased with him (he brings me pleasure). LISTEN TO HIM.” And then, just like that, God is “gone”.

With an incident like that, it’s reasonable to ask: what the heck is going on here?

This is what I see happening in the story: Jesus has just been transfigured. He’s been turned inside out so that his most trusted disciples can see all of him – the divine as well as the human. They’ve been given an opportunity to take him in, to steep in the totality of Jesus in all of his complexity – in all of his paradoxical nature (God and Human, all rolled into one)…but rather than being still so that it could sink in, Peter does what so many of us often do: he jumps into action and tries to contain the situation. Faced with something glorious but unexpected, he tries to put Jesus in a box – perhaps so that he can keep things from changing again.

In a way, it reminds me of the movie “Dirty Dancing”. There’s a character, “Baby”, who is on the right trajectory to live up to her father’s rigid expectations. She’s going to become a doctor, or a lawyer, or a member of the peace corps. But on holiday, something new is revealed about Baby. It turns out that she can dance. I mean, she can REALLY dance. But her father doesn’t want her to dance – sure, part of that has to do with his disapproval for the guy who’s been teaching/dating her – but the core issue is that daddy doesn’t want to see his daughter in a different light. In a way, Baby’s been transfigured – and she’s glorious. But her dad doesn’t want her to change any more than she already has. So puts a kabash on the whole thing, and sticks her in the corner at the final dinner and dance show of the summer. But Johnny (her teacher/boyfriend) won’t have it. He strides in, takes Baby by the hand and says that famous line: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” And then Baby gets up on the stage and dances so beautifully that even her father is forced to admit that she is more than what he’d thought.

Back in our Matthew text, when the Creator interrupts Peter, it’s like God is saying “Nobody puts Jesus in the corner.” Or, in this case, nobody puts Jesus in a box.

Peter knew Jesus well – perhaps better than anyone else of the time. But even he didn’t know all of Jesus – even he couldn’t contain him with preconceived notions of who or what he should be. Yet, we fall into the trap so frequently. Conservatives, Liberals, Fundamentalists, Progressives…whatever labels we’ve applied to ourselves – sometimes we get so wrapped up in making Jesus fit in our “boxes” that we forget to listen to him.
No matter the issue (abortion, taxes, worship style, and so on), we want to be the ones who are right about Christ, and we want others to know he’s on our side of the argument.

At the end of the day, Jesus challenges each one of us, albeit in different ways. If we listen first and argue later, if we sit still and steep in his wholeness, we may end up so challenged and so moved that we also become transfigured. Heck, we might even forget to argue altogether.

As we move towards this year’s Lenten journey, let us open our eyes, ears, hearts and minds so that we can listen to Jesus – instead of forcing him into yet another box.

It’s Official! Get Your Copy Today!!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For more information contact:

Christian Board of Publication

314-231-8500 x1312

Amber Moore, AMoore@ChalicePress.com

February 9, 2010

Kansas City Author Helps Young Adults Speak Out about Sex and Religion

ST. LOUIS, MO- Sexuality and religion as subjects of discussion are taboo enough on their own.  Combine the two for discussion in religious settings and you get the new book Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! from Chalice Press.

We all think about it, yet no one wants to talk about it with other Christians.  It’s time to start talking. Oh God, Oh God, Oh God!: Young Adults Speak Out about Sexuality and Christian Spirituality is edited by Kansas City author Lara Blackwood Pickrel and Knoxville author Heather Godsey.  Oh God is the first book in the new Where’s the Faith? series written by young adults, for young adults.

Discussions about sex, sexuality, and theology are taboo in many churches. What about the tensions felt between the commitments of love, dating, marriage, or parenthood and living lives of faith and integrity?  The essays (written by young adults in their late teens, twenties and thirties) in Oh God, Oh God, Oh God! address multiple perspectives on love, dating, marriage, parenthood, sex, and sexuality, as well as look at the history of the church’s struggle with human sexuality from a fresh perspective.

This book will enlighten readers and provide thought-provoking ideas that can generate conversation on what is normally a taboo topic in church and Christian circles.

Publishers Weekly recently gave a glowing review of Oh God saying:

Finally, an edgy book on the Christian tradition and dating, sex, the single life, and other related topics that takes a different path from standard evangelical Christian courtship and anti-dating manuals. The essays in this edited volume are short, personal, practical, and brimming with ideas and advice about how to tackle any number of significant topics during the young adult years, from hookup culture to surviving sexual abuse.”

Meet one of the editors of Oh God!, Lara Blackwood Pickrel, and one of the series editors for the Where’s The Faith? series, Brandon Gilvin, at a book release and book signing party on February 26, 2010 at Hillside Christian Church (900 Northeast Vivion Road, Kansas City, MO 64118).

The event will begin with a reception at 6:30 pm, a discussion and question/answer session at 7:00 pm, and a book signing at 7:45 pm.  This event is free and open to the public.

You can also meet and talk with Oh God! Co-editor Lara Blackwood Pickrel at a book signing event on February 27, 2010 at Cokesbury Bookstore (7431 W. 91st St.,
Overland Park, KS 66212-2031).  This book signing will take place from 12:30 to 3:00 pm.

Lara Blackwood Pickrel is an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and currently serves as Associate Minister for Youth & Young Adults at Hillside Christian Church in Kansas City, MO.

Heather Godsey is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) working in children’s ministries and as a college chaplain in Knoxville, TN.

Brandon Gilvin is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and currently serves as Associate Director for Week of Compassion.  Brandon resides in the Kansas City area.

For more information or to order Oh God, Oh God, Oh God!: Young Adults Speak Out about Sexuality and Christian Spirituality (978-08272-27309, $16.99) call 1-800-366-3383 or visit http://www.ChalicePress.com.

Christian Board of Publication publishes educational resources that support congregational ministries for bringing unbelievers to awareness, seekers to belief, and believers to deeper faith and commitment to God through Jesus Christ. Through its Chalice Press imprint, CBP publishes a variety of resources for pastors, seminarians, and laypersons.  CBP is a general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).