Wednesday, November 19, 2014

QUESTION: Why are we here doing what we are doing?

ANSWER:  We are here to bear witness to our Lord.

This answer came to me during devotions led by a member of the Jubilee community who was quoting Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement:

We are here to bear witness to our Lord. We are here to follow His lead. We are here to celebrate Him through
these works of mercy... to oppose war and the murder of our fellow human beings, to reach out to all we see and meet. We are not here to prove that our technique of working with the poor is useful, or to prove that we are able to be effective humanitarians... We are responding to a life, to Jesus and how He chose to live...

Day's statement of purpose provides me with a keen insight, one that clarifies and illuminates my life and time at Jubilee. Well now, wait a minute, not just at Jubilee; this insight clarifies and illuminates my life and time anywhere, doesn't it? This thought places wherever I am and whatever I'm doing in the Christian context—that I live to bear witness to God's unfailing love and mercy and choose to live as Jesus bids us live, however imperfectly.

So, on December 20, when I return to the Earlewood community in Columbia and to my faith community at Incarnation Lutheran, each with its set of joys and challenges, my purpose is not to prove how compassionate I am or wipe out the injustices of society or see how many individuals I can serve, but to bear witness to our Lord. Where such witness leads and what results it brings is an open question, a path untraveled.

Sometimes the efforts of those involved in the Catholic Worker Movement were labeled as impractical. I daresay that label is applied to many organizations seeking to alleviate the suffering of those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and/or in prison. Again, I resonate with Dorothy Day's response:  “They are right. We are impractical, as one of us put it, as impractical as Calvary.” 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A bigger WE and who is YOU?

I've been musing on the significance of pronouns. In his sermon at the Comer United Methodist Church on World Communion Sunday, Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove used the phrase “a bigger WE.” The text was Jeremiah 29:4-7, where YHWH tells the people of Israel, exiled to Babylon, to settle in there and pray for the welfare of the place. Just like then, diverse groups of people are still coming together because of warfare and other horrendous conditions. As God's children, we are called to become a bigger WE than has previously existed.

And another pronoun. A few weeks ago, we Jubilee volunteers played a game called Win as Much as You Can. Participants play as a team, but within the team are decision-making pairs. The purpose of the game is to acquaint participants with the merits of competition and collaboration. I've seen this game played many times and competition tends to dominate, though collaboration is a clear choice. In debriefing the process, the primary question is who is YOU? The whole team or the pairs? The highest total score is attained by including everybody in the definition of YOU. Apply globally to get the lesson of the game.

And have you ever thought how easily attitudes and talk and actions can transform groups of people into US and THEM? Hmm... barriers identified, injected, oh, so subtly.

And then there's SHE-HE. As a young student learning grammar before the feminism of the 1960s, I wasn't particularly bothered by using HE generically when gender was unknown; I just thought it was weird. I appreciate inclusive language, though, using S/HE, or SHE OR HE, or alternating pronouns. To me, this inclusive approach is appropriate and refreshing. 

One more. IT in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, is the villain, evil itself, and turns out to be a naked, disembodied brain. Though she hadn't consciously named it IT, Madeleine agreed with a reader's observation that IT “stands for Intellectual Truth as opposed to a truth which involves the whole of us, heart as well as mind... the intellect, when it is not informed by the heart, is evil.”

A bigger WE and who is YOU?  Fun with pronouns.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Slow down, you move too fast...even at Jubilee!

            Remember Paul Simon's free and easy tune Feelin' Groovy? (Also known as The 59th Street Bridge Song, I just discovered)  Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last...and so on, lazily kicking cobble stones, talking to a lamppost, watching flowers grow. I have been invoking the opening line as an admonition to myself lately, invoking it in surprise, as I had expected the Jubilee life to move more slowly and be less busy. Nope, and now I'm wondering why I ever thought it would be. Because of the pastoral setting, perhaps, and the daily times for reflection and worship (which are helpful, but still), and the simpler life style minimizing errands and appointments. At any rate, I was wrong!
            One reason for my misconception is obvious. This is important work here, and there is great seriousness about doing it, in the spirit of  “God's work, our hands."* Our 40-hour work week is the beginning point. After hours—after the teaching and driving, cooking and cleaning, planting and harvesting—we have fun getting to know the refugee families better and gather for Bible study or work on projects.
            Another reason for this busyness has bushwhacked me. Somehow, I didn't expect it, even though it is common to any setting:  opportunities. Relevant events—movies and lectures— often associated with the University of Georgia in Athens. Jubilee friends and visitors telling about their adventures. Card games. Adorable children to play with. Scintillating conversations.
            Encompassed in the opportunities is the people factor. Always, people around, who, for this extrovert, present wonderful times of connection and enjoyment, and sometimes they need a little help, or give it. And encompassed in the people factor are family and friends at a distance, and that communication takes time, too.
            We are not like the groovy guy in the song. He's got no deeds to do, mo promises to keep. No, it is not like that here at all. Therefore, just like always, management is required. Set priorities, make choices. Doing so has never been my forté. I want it all. Nevertheless, even though busier than I wish, my soul sings along with the closing of the song, slightly altered:  Life, I love you. All is holy.

*credo of the ELCA

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My First JP Retreat

I don't like the way I'm feeling right now. Funky, out of sorts, at loose ends. Until now, there have been few to none of these moments in the three weeks that I've been at Jubilee. This brief bout with ennui doesn't approach Kathleen Norris's acedia or the “dark agony” described by Henri Nouwen in a piece I read this morning about living in community.

The circumstances:  This Saturday morning (Sept. 5) has been my monthly half day of retreat, and I've slept it away. I am in the retreat shack, encircled by the verdant woods, in splendid isolation, in the silence of nature. My plan was to write reflectively—emails to family, friends, church; possible blog entries; whatever emerged.

After opening the shutters, I settled on the porch and prayed—and slept. I read the provided chapter excerpted from The Intentional Christian Community Handbook about A Spiritual Life for (and in Spite of) Community—and slept and dreamt. I ate a cheddar biscuit left over from last night's supper and sat back down in the chair on the porch and dozed some more. Then, I came inside and hooked up my computer and laid down on the bed for one last little nap--and slept for hours.

Unworthiness and guilt are flirting with me, though I am not much enticed because resting is obviously what I needed. And no wonder, with the hot, humid days of teaching and pulling weeds and picking in the garden and cooking and washing dishes and playing with the other volunteers and partners and on and on. Life is full and busy and nights are often restless, if not sleepless. Oh, and I'm 66 years old; there's that.

Even in this gracious, delightful community of like-minded believers, feeling odd and out of place is flirting with me, too—and I am enticed. I don't know what's happening back there and how I can fit in. There was a “Last Blast for Summer Almost Past” festival in Comer that I had thought I might get in on this afternoon, but I've missed that.  Other vols and I have talked of carrying a picnic to a nearby park later today. Maybe we will.

But I am here and where are they? Alone in a crowd is how I'm feeling. Odd man out. And yet I am confident that all I need to do when I'm done here is pack up my stuff and walk back up to K(oinoia)-House and this melancholy will vanish. Waking up from daytime slumber can be disorienting, and that's part of what's going on. Already, I've shaken the physical stupor and am feeling refreshed.

Thank you, God, for most this amazing day and whatever it may bring next. Now, I will trudge through the woods back to community, and see what's cookin'.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

PLEASE NOTE: On the occasion of moving to Jubilee Partners as a volunteer in August 2014, I am taking up my blog again, after nearly two years of it lying fallow.

      All things new

      Paw paw is a fruit.

Baw Baw is a person.

Eritrea is a country.

Comer is a town.

Karen (Kah ren') is a group of people.

All this is new to me since coming to Jubilee Partners on August 16. These are facts I have learned, experiences that I am having. Paw paws grow here and are mango-like, though smaller and less juicy with multiple pits. Baw Baw is my student learning English as her third language, and we are fast friends, and she teaches me, too. Eritrea is in the Horn of Africa and our newest family is Kunama, a minority group marginalized there due, in part, to scarce resources. Comer, in outlying Athens, Georgia, is a mile away and seems a welcoming place with its village green, a couple gas stations, Food Lane grocery, Family Dollar, Chef Burger and Maggie's cafe. Karen people, as I get to know them, tell the story of fleeing persecution in Burma.

My mind expands with new information, for example that the U.S. accepts more refugees than all other countries combined, around 70,000 in 2013.  

My soul stretches with new relationships and heartfelt worship.

My body tries to keep up with it all, actually doing quite well, relishing even pulling invasive weeds in the heat and humidity and the heavy duty cleaning to get cabins ready for incoming families. Teaching Baw Baw is considered a work assignment but is pure joy. Preparing meals and washing dishes is fun, shoulder to shoulder with others.

Thank you, God, for this place and these people, who glorify you and witness to all things being made new through the power of your love. Amen!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Letting go

    Wow, letting go can be hard, don’t you think? The situation in my life on a daily basis right now is seen in this photo of my baby grandson at nap time. We both have a problem letting go. He wants to hang on to me—he actually clutches my shirt in his tiny fingers as he’s falling asleep. And I love hanging on to him, too.  Holding an armful of sleeping baby is a fine, fine feeling.  My maternal instinct and experience tell me, though, that it would be best for him to fall asleep in his crib, independent of me. Our typical routine is that I put him in his crib when it’s time to sleep, and he screams bloody murder until I pick him up. These actions may be repeated twice or thrice in a single naptime until we have a successful transfer from Grammy to mattress.  I remember this being much easier with my babies, for some reason.
      My family is also having to face the ultimate letting go of one of our own, my sister, who passed over to the other side in October, much sooner than we think she should have. Pancreatic cancer. Her obituary accurately stated that she “reluctantly died;” letting go was hard for her, too, which makes her grace and humor through the eight months of her illness all the more amazing and precious. Rest in the peace, love, and joy of God, Precious. That was her nickname among us sisters—Precious.
      One more letting go that I am doing is letting go of this blog—and of hustling for speaking engagements—and of actively marketing my Sunday by Sunday series. Letting go of these tasks, which I genuinely enjoy, is more of a putting them down for a time to pick up something else:  the writing of my next novel. Now, and for 2013, at least, I will be single-minded of purpose, focused in my writing enterprises on this next book.  Jon Hassler, a fine writer of small town church fiction with whom I had a brief correspondence before his death, said that when he was writing a book he watched no TV, read no newspapers, and had little social life. I thought that seemed extreme on first hearing but have come to accept the wisdom and the reality of it, varying in degrees for each author, I suppose. After several months of little progress with my current project, I know that I've been trying to hang on to too much. “What freedom and relief eventually come as we let go, knowing that God will never let go…” (Cathie Powell, The Anchorage, Greenville SC)
      Meanwhile, I plan to post occasional updates on the book in progress at Please stop by!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Koinonia Farm and Clarence Jordan celebration

       Koinonia Partners, an intentional Christian community, was established as Koinonia Farm between Americus and Plains GA 70 years ago. Clarence and Florence Jordan (pronounced Jerdan, for some reason) and Martin and Mabel England were the faithful founders. They felt God calling them to live out the love, peace and justice Jesus preached and lived. I was privileged to join the celebration of both the past and ongoing ministry of this remarkable and, as it turned out, dangerous and courageous venture.
        Greg Wittkamper spoke at a breakout session I attended, telling his story of being a Koinonia kid in the 1960s when the high school in Americus was forced to integrate. These many years later, he had to pause to regain his composure recalling the daily persecution which he and others from the community were subjected, from constant taunting of “Greg Wittnigger” from “Koinonigger” and paperclips being shot into his back to physical assault. Our hearts were wrenched but then warmed by the bigger story of classmates who had acted so hatefully asking forgiveness decades later. An intentional reconciliation took place at the 41st class reunion.
        Habitat for Humanity and The FullerCenter for Housing grew out of the community at Koinonia Farm, and in a session with Don Mosley I was startled and delighted to learn about the North Korea Initiative--The Fuller Center is building houses in North Korea! For six years, Mosley has been traveling there and helping this happen. Love, peace, justice, radically lived out.
        Jimmy Carter was on hand to give tribute to Clarence Jordan. Their relationship went back at least to a 1952 boycott of Koinonia Farm when businesses in the county refused to buy or sell to Koinonia because the community was bi-racial. Characteristically, Carter was supportive of their cause. Today's huge mail order business of pecans and peanuts started up in response to that long ago boycott with the motto, “Let's ship the nuts out of Georgia!” Carter is now 88 years old, and he and Rosalynn are heading to Haiti soon to help build 100 homes. This is the 29th annual Habitat for Humanity build led by the Carters. (I can't leave out a major disappointment. I had made a very special reservation for a dinner with Rosalynn and Jimmy and missed it because I was mixed up on the time. Big, sad sigh.)
     I find a deep and abiding pleasure in being with people who see faith the way Clarence Jordan described faith: “a life lived in scorn of the consequences.” I yearn to live that way (at least sometimes) and to celebrate Jesus' resurrection that way, and here's what Jordan said about that resurrection: “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples...not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church...” Yes, Lord, please. Amen.