Monday, November 25, 2013

Blessed are the Consumers

I was hungry and you went shopping on "Black Friday" for plasma tvs and video games.

I was thirsty and you bought yourself another holiday latte from Starbucks.

I was naked and you found a nice holiday outfit on sale to wear to the Christmas Party.

I was in prison and you voted to execute me.

My neurons shoot fire through my brain as I read a mesh of thoughts from Paulo Freire, Rob Bell, John Perkins, Jean Vanier, and a translated version of Jesus’ own words.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed challenges me in more ways than one. With my handy dictionary nearby, I walk through each sentence gradually, intentionally, pulling out each word, turning it over slowly in my mind, and linking it to the next, trying to find meaning.  At the end of the paragraph, I sit back, processing.  What did he just tell me? Freire explains that the oppressors do not realize they are oppressors; they are simply people benefiting from an unjust system of advantage, maintaining the status quo. The oppressed are the only ones capable of liberating themselves from this system, because obviously the oppressors aren’t going to do that (they’re the ones benefiting from this whole oppressive deal), and even if some sympathizer from the powerful party came along to join them in their efforts, the once-oppressor would be so influenced by her history as an oppressor that her immediate reaction would be, “These people are incapable of helping themselves. I must help them.” Thus perpetuating the mindset of oppressor-oppressed and never being able to liberate the oppressed because she is not able to liberate herself from oppressive thinking.

This thought from Freire was complemented by an excerpt from Love Wins by Rob Bell in which Bell discusses the biblical story of Lazarus and the rich man, a story told by Jesus in Luke 16. Bell points out that the rich man, when he is in Hades, asks for Lazarus, a poor beggar who is with Abraham in heaven, to bring him some water to quench his thirst:

“…note what it is the man wants in hell: he wants Lazarus to get him water. When you get someone water, you’re serving them.

The rich man wants Lazarus to serve him.

In their previous life, the rich man saw himself as better than Lazarus, and now, in hell, the rich man still sees himself as above Lazarus. It’s no wonder Abraham says there’s a chasm that can’t be crossed. The chasm is the rich man’s heart! It hasn’t changed, even in death and torment and agony. He’s still clinging to the old hierarchy. He still thinks he’s better.”

Jean Vanier in Community and Growth explains that when people get in groups oriented toward issues or causes there is a tendency to divide the world into the oppressors and the oppressed, the good and bad. He says, “There seems to be a need in human beings to see evil and combat it outside oneself, in order not to see it inside oneself.” 

Seeing the enemy as outside myself is easy. Focusing on some obscure idea of who the oppressor is and what the oppressor does is easy.

Seeing myself as the oppressor is much more difficult. Acknowledging the darkness, fear, hatred, bigotry, vanity, and envy within myself is much more difficult. Nearly impossible. Who wants to be aware of their own capacity to inflict pain, the benefits they’ve received from racial and gender inequality, the systems of injustice they perpetuate by buying luxury items made in sweatshops? Yeah, being aware of those things isn’t high on my bucket list. But it’s the only way to become aware of the Kingdom.

Vanier goes on to say, “The members of a community know that the struggle is inside of each person and inside the community; it is against all the powers of pride, elitism, hate and depression that are there and which hurt and crush others, and which cause division and war of all sorts. The enemy is inside, not outside.

Here is how we fight darkness: Be honest with ourselves. Become aware of ourselves as we are, what we have done, what we are capable of doing. Get really pissed at the system, at ourselves, and at the mess we’ve made. Mourn. Start being mindful of our thoughts--where they come from, what they are, and what they lead to. Then gather strength to fight, on a daily basis, in word and deed through big and small acts of real, vulnerable love. 

“To grow in love is to try each day to welcome, and be attentive and caring for those with whom we have the greatest difficulty; with our ‘enemies’; those who are the poorest, the oldest, the weakest, the most demanding, the most ailing; those who are the most marginal in the community, who have the most difficulty conforming to the rules; and finally those who are the youngest. If people are faithful to these four priorities of love then the community as a whole will be an oasis of love.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.”

- Jesus 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

It's Gonna Be Ok

Sometimes things are just too heavy. 

I felt the weight of trying to love everyone in ways I didn't know how, in a capacity I couldn't handle. The curriculum readings, the graduate class work, the trainings, the expectation of intentionally building relationships with my neighbors, my church, and my housemates. Suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, it was too much. I just couldn't do it all. Something had to give. So my mind and body gave out. Physical and mental exhaustion took over, and for a week I trudged through, sleeping as often as possible.

I guess I'm not made for this. I would think.

How can I live in intentional community always angry, frustrated, upset with the people I live with, the people I'm supposed to be loving? How do I love them when I feel so tired and overwhelmed? What about all the things that seem like they will never change? What if I never change?

And, of course, as a last desperate plea: God, help. 

I can't describe anything miraculous, but after a dream Monday night in which God rescued me again, I woke up Tuesday morning with a peace and joy I hadn't known since moving to Houston.

"Sometimes you just have to know...everything is gonna be ok," my roommate Taylor said.

That day I laughed with my housemates at work, met an elderly neighbor who introduced herself as Celeste, and had a beautiful conversation about racial reconciliation while eating cake-in-a-cup with my team.

Everything is gonna be ok. 

There was an exceptional bright spot over the weekend. 

My parents were able to stop by Houston for a day, spending our Friday together visiting Project Row Houses in Third Ward, walking through the Menil Collection, eating the most delicious pizza at Star Pizza, and searching the city for a Family Thrift store that has $1.50 Fridays.

It was a wonderful way to say, "See ya later" as they head back to Kenya in a few weeks. 

Then there was Pinot's Pallete...

Monday night in our house is team night/"date night" when we intentionally spend time together as a whole team or as groups within our team, doing fun things and getting to know one another better.

This week we went out with my housemate Rediet's coworkers to a paint party.

As all the women sat on their stools in front of their canvases, paintbrush in hand, surrounded by pallets of color, Etta James' voice drifted into the room and all 30 women of different ages and races sand together, "Aaaaaat laaaaaaasssssssttttttt, my love has come along..." Beautiful. 

Creating a Farmers Market...

Another beautiful part of Mission Year life is working as an intern at the Fifth Ward CRC (Community Redevelopment Corporation). At the moment, I am working on creating a local Farmers Market to make healthy local food more accessible to my neighbors. 

I LOVE the work that goes into this! It seems mundane and boring, sitting at a computer researching bylaws, State regulations, permits, licenses, certifications, and requirements for creating a Farmers Market, but the behind-the-scenes work is definitely what I'm made for. In this process I am also searching for grants to fund the project which then requires that I learn how to create a Market budget, find a governing board, and seek out people who will run manage and run this project. I'm leaving in July and want to make sure this thing is sustainable and completely owned by my Fifth Ward neighbors. 

My Mission Year Newsletter will be going out this week! 
If you'd like to receive monthly updates on what is going on in my Mission Year life in Houston's Fifth Ward, please sign up below! 

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Five For the Fifth!

Hey friends! 

Check out the blurb below and the video to see what my teammates and I are up to in Houston with Mission Year, and how you can be a part of it! 

We are the Fifth Ward Pleasant Hill team, and we are committed to living simply, growing in love for one another and for our neighborhood through intentional relationships, and learning what it means to truly follow Jesus. We volunteer over 30 hours a week with community organizations, visit neighbors, share meals and devotion times: pray, play, and love together.

We are not paid for anything we do here in the Fifth Ward and we rely solely on donations from people like you! Your financial support covers our cost of living so we can commit full time to our neighborhood. We have created our Five for the Fifth Campaign: each team member has five days to find five people willing to commit to donating $5 or more a week ($20/month) to our Fifth Ward Pleasant Hill Team! We have five days to meet this goal! The campaign ends it this Friday, November 15!

Will you be one of my five? 

If you are one of the people willing to financially partner with us in our efforts to love our neighbors, you can donate to our team by clicking on any of the Fifth Ward team faces below!

Please let me know when you donate because it does not show up on our donation site for a while! 



If you want to write a check, you can make it out to Mission Year, writing my ID number #13-9010 in the memo line: PO Box 17628 Atlanta, GA 30316.

 Thank you for your love and support on this new journey!


Tarrin, Kira, Rediet, Heather, Taylor, Charlie, Caleb 

The Fifth Ward Pleasant Hill Team 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Digging In The Dirt

There is something beautifully simple about sitting in a garden planting seeds, digging in the dirt, and transplanting new growth in the ground.

Yesterday as I walked around the neighborhood, I wandered over to The Last Organic Outpost to do some volunteer farming.  Linda handed me a bucket of soil, some small pots, and a bag of cabbage seeds.  I set up under a ramada as it began sprinkling, digging into the bucket of dirt with both hands, patting it into the tiny pots, and setting a few seeds under the surface.

I was soon joined by the farm cat who tried to take a nap on my back as I hunched over the buckets.

After planting some cabbage and greens, Linda handed me some broccoli plants that had sprouted in pots and needed to be transplanted to a larger plot of land to thrive.  I broke up the ground, reached into the broccoli pots, gently removed them from their tiny homes, being careful of the roots, and set them in the holes I had made in the ground.

As I reflect on my time at the garden, and on the struggles I have been wrestling with over the past few weeks, God revealed some beautiful gems.

I cannot put new growth into the ground without tilling the soil, breaking up the hard ground that has been built up over time through storms and heat waves.  I cannot plant seeds without getting dirty.  I cannot make space for new growth without pulling up the weeds that have overrun the garden.

Gardening my heart is hard work.

It turns out that ground I thought was soft and ready for new seeds, new growth, is actually still littered with weeds, hard in some places, rough in others, unprepared.  I thought I was coming to Mission Year to get some pointers, some direction on how to do intentional community. I did not realize I was coming to Mission Year to re evaluate who I am and where I find my value. I did not realize living with six other people would be so difficult. I did not realize how hardened I can be when I clash with others' lifestyles and expectations. I did not realize how important a clean house and clean dishes are to me (ok, maybe I knew this one, but I didn't know how difficult it would be to live with others who have different expectations).

It turns out, there is a lot of ground that needs to be plowed and prepared for the growth that is to come. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Love And Do What You Will

Prayer of Saint Augustine

Therefore once for all this short command is given to you:
"Love and do what you will."
If you keep silent, keep silent by love;
if you speak, speak by love; 
if you correct, correct by love;
if you pardon, pardon by love;
let love be rooted in you,
and from the root nothing but good can grow.

Last weekend, my team and the two other Houston Mission Year teams headed out to the woods for a three day solitude retreat to reflect, pray, meditate, and culminate the end of our six week technology fast. 

We prayed together and on our own, read our team covenants out loud to one another to symbolize our commitment to one another and to the ideals we've set out to live by, and sat at the feet of our elders listening to their wisdom. 

We also took some time to enjoy one another. 

We are continuing to learn to love, really love. To love when the dishes in the sink pile up, to love when our work styles collide, to love when it's too cold or too hot in the house, to love when we've had a bad day, to love when someone is sick in bed with the flu, to love when the house is completely full of noise, to love when the house is completely silent, to love when we think everyone else around us has gone crazy and we're the only sane ones left...

Love. Still trying to figure out how to do it right.