Posted in Living Peacefully

Ecclesiastes 7

for Jason

 

Let us make a life together.

Now at the end of all ambition,

Pride, and shame

Let us make start as we should have done.

 

Let us choose wisdom

Looking not at former better days,

But instead choose an inheritance

Free from the anger of what might have been.

 

Let us not forget our sorrows

But know them, so that we can

Be made rich by sadness of countenance

That will make our hearts glad.

 

Let us remember our riches as we

Dig and plant in simplicity,

Counting ourselves fortunate at the plunder of

Our collective and painful sagacity.

 

Let us listen as the Towhee calls us to

Nobler paths seldom trod

When we were seeking ourselves in

Accolades, acumen and praise of humankind.

 

Let us never pass a day without noting the

Growth of our hands’ simple work

Or the nest of the Warbler

Which needs our protection.

 

Let us be thankful for crooked paths

Traveled with the best of intention

Leading us to places of

Quiet and peace.

 

 

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Posted in Living Peacefully

Making Small Talk & Neighbors

 

They pulled in late on a September Saturday afternoon. The house next door had been vacant for months, and we were glad to see a truck roll up the steep driveway that is a twin to our own. It was our energetic Labrador that made introductions, immediately tearing across the short space between houses and lapping the truck in joyful circles. My husband apologetically introduced himself (and Maxine) and welcomed them to our neighborhood.

It was apparent from the dress of the mother and older girls that this family was Middle Eastern. In friendly, broken English the father introduced himself, his wife and children, and shook Jason’s hand. It was a small start to what would become an intentional relationship. It was just small talk.

A few days later, Jason noticed them piling trash at the street. Since we live outside the city limits, we have to pay for a trash service. Day after day, they moved trash from the street to their home, not understanding why it wasn’t being picked up. Jason went over, motioning and mimicking through the language barrier until he made sure they understood to call the number on our trashcan for service.

When I asked Jason how the conversation went he replied, “I just don’t want him to think we’re those kind of people.” He wanted them to know we cared, but the language barrier was so great and our conversation so small.

We noticed the mother or father walking the youngest child, who is around nine or ten, to the bus stop each morning. They would watch furtively over their shoulder and stand several yards away from the other children who were waiting for the same bus. Again, in the afternoon, one of them would wait at the stop – within eyesight of their house – to retrieve her.

It wasn’t until around Halloween that we realized their apprehension was for good reason. While working in our garage one day, I noticed some boys headed up their driveway. I thought it was unusual, but just figured they were visiting the youngest girl. Soon, I saw the boys run across my yard as if the devil himself was after them. This happened a few more times during November, until one day around Thanksgiving I heard one of the teenaged daughters step onto the porch and scream until the boys were out of sight. I ran into the yard to help, but she was distraught and the boys were gone. That day, Jason and I resolved to be the kind of neighbors they needed.

Months passed with only waves and smiles across our yards – but we were far more intentional about it then we’ve ever been before with other neighbors. Then one afternoon my doorbell began frantically ringing. I opened it to find the youngest daughter, distraught and in tears. She’d gotten off the bus to find no one at home and couldn’t get in the house. She wouldn’t come in, but did accept the use of my cell phone. She called to learn that her parents would be some soon and had gotten stuck in traffic. We sat on my front steps and talked about her school, riding the bus, and what she had for lunch at school. Just small talk until her parents arrived.

The next time her parents were gone when she got home, she didn’t ask to use the phone but just sat and talked with me. I told her that I was glad she came to our house when she needed help. She replied, “My parents say your house is a safe place if I have trouble.” I was glad our small talk was working, but I wasn’t sure if they really understood just how much we were glad they were our neighbors.

Then we got the sign.

We put out our sign on a Sunday afternoon with little fanfare. That evening we heard some noise in the yard and looked out to find our neighbors and many of their friends taking pictures of our sign with their phones. Honestly, we just weren’t sure what to think about their interest.

When the doorbell rang the next afternoon, I assumed my friend had gotten off the bus to an empty house once again. When I opened the door, I found two of the daughterstreats with radiant smiles. With arms extended they offered me homemade pastries and this explanation, “We made this for you to say thank you for the sign. We want you to know what it means for our family that you are telling the neighborhood you are happy we live here. These are from Egypt, our home. We made so you know we are glad to be neighbors. We have never seen a sign like this. Why do you have it?”

I told her that we belong to a peace church and that many of us were putting these signs in our yards. When she asked what I meant by peace church, I went on to tell her that we believed in truly loving our neighbors in word and deed. Then, I told them what we believe following Jesus means. They are Muslim, but they smiled and said, “This is what our world needs now.”

We continue to make small talk. Last weekend, they asked us to get their mail while they are out of town in May – at least we think that is what they said.

We’ve made small talk. It’s a small sign. These have been mustard seed moments. Loving our neighbor in small ways that make a big difference, at least on our street.

Posted in Living Peacefully

Child of the Book

 

I was taught to hold it as soon as my small hands were able to grasp it. Miniature covenants filled nursery rooms where I was sent to make friends. We were all supposed to learn to The Book together. It was going to save us.

I hid its words deep within my soul and memory, told that in my darkest hour they would rescue me from fear and loneliness. As a child who was already fearfully lonely, I drank them in trusting they would slake my thirst for hope.

 These things I remember,

as I pour out my soul:

how I went with the throng,

and led them in procession to the house of God,

with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,

a multitude keeping festival. [1]

The classrooms were simple. The teachers were untrained and sometimes unskilled. But the story was enough. It captured my imagination and my faith’s desire. I excelled at knowing The Book. I could quickly manipulate its pages and was taught to use it, accordingly, as my sword.

It was a story unlike any other. Its characters were real and I could see them in my mind. I often wondered about their lives outside the written tale captured on the page. Unbound by time, it bid me come and join its narrative. We were warned that some of our own friends would not continue on this journey along with us. And even though we were cautioned that the price for being a child of The Book might cost us everything one day, I don’t think I ever believed it as a child.

O Lord, I love the habitation of thy house,

and the place where thy glory dwells. [2]

I went on to study The Book with an aim to make teaching it to others as my vocation. Belief in its pages became more nuanced and intentional. My mind was stretched. Theories and difficulties of historical and textual criticism came and were answered in my mind. Questions about interpretation were satisfied and I moved on. Then I learned the largest threat to this child of The Book would come from a place I never suspected.

While the story had continued to compel and speak to me of a new way to love my neighbor as witness to Resurrection Life, for many of my fellow believers it did not. They began to hear voices tell them that this story needed polish in order to be sold, then purchased, by our culture. Soon the story wasn’t to be approached without multi-media support. I was told that children just couldn’t learn it without a video and high-energy game to capture their attention first. Even then, it seemed our culture wanted to hear moral tales that resembled popular psychology more than the story I knew as a child of The Book.

I would soon realize that there was no place for a child of The Book, even within the institution that nurtured them. Yes, I had great dexterity at reaching and equipping people of The Book. And, again, yes I had degreed myself to be at the top of my field. But my love for the story wouldn’t be enough to sway the marketers and captain of this new industry. The Book was a product and it was their job to sell it. My way of telling the story and loving people, just wouldn’t produce enough.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,

that will I seek after;

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

all the days of my life,

to behold the beauty of the Lord,

and to inquire in his temple. [3]

Time and perspective has allowed me to see that it was not me, in myself, that wasn’t productive enough to serve the institution of The Book. No, it is that the story itself is no longer enough. Like people of The Book throughout time, the institution has been swayed by its surrounding culture. No longer set apart as holy, they bow willingly to the idols of success, wealth, intellect and power.

Yet while I can remove myself from this failure, I am still a child of The Book. I feel its rejection keenly. When it is too old to be relevant, so am I. When it no longer sings, neither do I. When the story isn’t enough, I find myself without a home, a stranger lost and alone in a place I pledged to serve yet can no longer have voice.

Maybe this is what my teachers meant when they said being a child of The Book could carry a price. It is lonely and isolating. No longer welcomed by the institution of The Book, I am also rejected by those who spurn it as well. I find myself standing alone between the two, wondering why The Book and I aren’t enough.

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree,

and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

13 They are planted in the house of the Lord,

they flourish in the courts of our God.

14 They still bring forth fruit in old age,

they are ever full of sap and green,

15 to show that the Lord is upright;

he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. [4]

As I grow older, I am still a child of The Book and it is still enough for me. Within its pages I find the only instruction that eases the pain of the world around me. But I have no place to serve The Book, no place to bloom. I sometimes fear the time has passed for me to serve The Book and its people. I am bound by age in an Age that can only esteem the idolatry of its time.

These days I often cradle with it open in my hands, letting my eyes roam its pages and feeling them cool beneath my fingertips. Its passages are familiar. They are a balm for this un-healing wound I will carry until these idols fail, or I am called to meet author of The Book.

 

 

 

[1] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 42:4.

[2] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 26:8.

[3] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 27:4.

[4] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 92:12–15.

Posted in Living Peacefully

Peace, Love & Chickens

Each summer, on a few acres of red Georgia clay, we learn just how incarnational the act of peacemaking really can be. Our church-farm dedicates two weeks to Peace and Carrots Camp, a program focused around peacemaking, reconciliation and creation care. We don’t need to look far beyond the property lines of our urban farm, located in Atlanta’s 5th District, to find examples of peacemakers and those who have spent their lives doing the work of racial reconciliation. But what we find particularly stimulating are the opportunities to show children how to experience and enact peace through care of creation.

When we talk to them about making peace, we feature a “Peacemaker of the Day,”someone who has been a voice for peace in the past or present. The children learn about people and organizations like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, The Heifer Project, and St. Francis of Assisi.There is also a sweet joy in bringing them people who can share with them, in person, stories of ways to make peace in a world that so badly needs it. Children learn that they, too, can can be a “Peacemaker of the Day” in their own neighborhood and school, on their streets and teams.

Of course, the tricky part is that we cannot begin to discuss making peace with children ages 6 to 12 (or anyone else) until we also talk to them about conflict. The children in our small ministry are not strangers to the conflict of this world. We serve children who experience homelessness, refugees, undocumented children, and just those who are hurting like the rest of us. They understand racism and poverty, isolation and marginalization, privilege and pride. Our dialogue wraps around “What do we do when…” each of us bears witness to the ugly conflict, while striving to make peace.

Believe it or not, this is where creation care becomes our catalyst for reflection and change.

Our small farm keeps chickens, goats, sheep, and a pig. Groups of children comprise “farm families” that make rounds caring for the animals during the day. We have found the day hasn’t really begun well until the children have cared for the animals. They will tolerate opening circle and even participate joyfully in singing and games, but they really just want to care for the animals.

When we return from our Farm Rounds, we ask a simple question that speaks volumes. The answers never fail to teach everyone more about the simple intricacies of peace. We ask: Where have you seen peace on the farm today? One day, an answer forever helped me understand our role as co-creators, and caretakers of this world.

In a small voice, a girl answered, “I saw peace today when we were trying to get the chickens back in the pens. Remember when we made a big line and tried to force them back in? But then they would run? It felt like the chickens were playing a game with us. With all of us! It felt like peace to me.”

I believe the chickens helped us understand peace on that day because there was collaborative play with creation. The children recognized the skill and speed of the chickens as they, time after time, escaped their traps. And perhaps the chickens played along because they knew these same children would be back to care for them again.

The children also felt a peace among one another as they performed cooperative problem solving in a way that allowed every member to contribute in a meaningful way. Using imagination and flexibility, they became a community unified in purpose and hope – even if it was only to capture a few stray chickens.

And on the farm that day, peace was seen. There was love one for the other. And there were chickens helping us along the way.

 

Posted in Living Peacefully

The Christianity of the Comfortable

Thinking Peacefully

The faith of those with much
Has no room in its heart
For those who have nothing
It keeps its eyes set far away—
A just-in-case heaven.

The faith of the prosperous
Necessitates the dismissal
Of the injustices of those
Whom their prosperity oppresses
To better enjoy what their brothers and sisters lack.

The church of the healthy
Looks away from the anguish
Of the bodies of the broken.
It sheds an enlightened tear in pity
Then turns to more pleasant things.

The religion of the powerful,
Of the ruling nations and races,
Must assume its dominion
Over the powerless is deserved
By birthright or the sacrifices of war,
Or by self-affirming delusion.

The Christianity of the comfortable
Labors to maintain
Ignorance of the hungry.
It cannot stomach
Their discomfiting presence.
It dare not risk its own hunger.

The church afraid to lose these things
Will gladly believe the lies

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Posted in Living Peacefully, The Autism Gospel

Waiting for Peace

It is Advent, a time of waiting. As we wait in places that are dark and uncertain, we hear the voices of the prophets promise the coming of one who will bring Peace, establishing a kingdom marked by Justice and Righteousness. So we wait in silence, desperately trying to block out the noise of the world so we can expectantly wait for our Peace. We strain to listen for words of Hope in these small spaces where we live and work.

For as many years as I can remember, we have struggled with what we hear. Noah’s autism has gifted him with almost super-human hearing, so we often struggle to block or dampen some of the noise in our environments. These environments include school, home, church, restaurants, cars, movie theaters, and anything in-between. Events large and small are painful because he hears so much. Our noise canceling headphones have made us the object of many jeers and jokes. It is just one more way the space we live in is small.

It has occurred to me most recently that all we are really trying to do is hear very certain things, while we exclude other noise. This way of living seems offensive to many. We hear differently, perceive differently and learn differently. There is a beautiful brain between those headphones that most people will never take the time to get to know because it is “other” than themselves.

Likewise, the time of Advent is a time of listening and waiting. It is blocking out the competing messages that promise hope, but only bring emptiness. But many will never truly know it because it is something other than that in which they have come to find comfort. For those of us who constantly struggle to find even the small spaces of acceptance, Advent is familiar.

“The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.”[1]

So we wait for this Christmas Advent and for the great Advent to come. I live in constant hope that sometime before that great and final Advent that we will be a welcome part of a community – something that is not merely tolerated as “other.” But if we live until that day without “receiving the promise,”[2] we will practice Peace while we wait.

 

For God alone my soul waits in silence,

for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my deliverance and my honor;

my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;

pour out your heart before him;

God is a refuge for us. [Selah] [3]

 

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections On Advent and Christmas, 7/31/10 ed., ed. Jana Riess (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 2.

[2] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Heb 11:39.

[3] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Ps 62:5–8.

Posted in Living Peacefully, The Autism Gospel

Healed on the Sabbath

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” 13 And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it?16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”17 As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. [1]

 

Part of my son’s diagnostic story is that I was once told he would never read, write, or speak. When I report this at IEP meetings, educators often have one of two reactions. Often they smirk and comment on the fallacy of shortsighted clinicians who shut doors too quickly. Others smile sympathetically in realization of just how much work it must have taken to get where we are today.

Today he reads. He writes. He speaks.

For as long as we have been doing it now, it still never gets old to hear him read aloud, or better still to hear him read something that he himself has written. I think this is a small gift I receive for all the tough nights along the way. But nothing – absolutely nothing – thrills my soul like hearing him read God’s Word during our Sunday worship services.

sabbath1
Printing his scripture out in a dyslexic friendly font makes him feel more comfortable.

Our church customarily invites Noah to be a part of our worship in this way. This week his text seemed particularly poignant. Luke records an encounter on the Sabbath Day between Jesus and a woman with a long-term illness. While the thrust of the passage is Jesus’ defense of healing this woman on the Sabbath, it was other wording in this passage that caught my ear when read in my son’s voice.

“Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.”

Other interpretations of the Greek ἀπολέλυσαι (apolelysai) read “removed,” instead of healed or freed. In the place of infirmity of illness, a near definition of ἀσθενείας (astheneias) is “weakness” or “limitation.” This could easily read “you are removed from your limitation.”

You are removed from your limitation. And in that there is healing.

20160821_102818
Noah starts his Sundays with a walk around the farm where he greets the animals – especially Smudge the Pig.

I feel that we are removed from our limitations each time our church seeks to include Noah in leading our service. Because the truth of it is, his reading isn’t polished at all. His fluency is so choppy that you can’t really follow along. His speech impediment makes understanding him difficult as well. Our limitations – disability, illness, weakness – are still present. But for just a little while, he is removed from them.

And we are healed on the Sabbath.

 

[1] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Lk 13:10–17.

Mother Teresa once said, “Our vocation is to belong to Jesus so completely that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. What you and I must do is nothing less than putting our love for Christ into practice. The important thing is not how much we accomplish, but how much love we put into our deeds every day. That is the measure of our love for God.”

Practicing Love