About lambamile

I am a storyteller. Sometimes my stories are fictional. Often they are personal. Sometimes they are about people I have met, spoken with, or read about. Yet I am an artist too. My canvas is a blank page. Words are the paint that animate my sheet.

Will You Let Your Child Die? MLK Day Tribute

portland-mlk-church

First Baptist Church of Portland, only location in city where Dr. King spoke

“Are any parents of the youth here?” our panelist asked, motioning towards Portland’s Pacific Youth Choir seated behind her. “Please stand.” A handful of adults stood.

“How many of you are ready to let your child die?” she asked.

A wiry woman in front of us shook her head “no” as she looked around and sat down, along with most of the other adults who had just stood.

The speaker was Kim Dixon, an African American woman who was one of twelve panelist at the Empowering the Dream event I attended yesterday.

“Many of us parents didn’t have that choice. My own son was a victim of homicide in 2013.”

Pouring from her personal experience, Kim founded a community-lead campaign called Enough is Enough to counter gun violence, gang violence and trafficking in the Portland area.

“Last year alone 285 were victims of homicide in Portland,” Kim said and then read several of their names, lives cut short.

greg

Gregory McKelvey speaking at “Empowering the Dream”

Kim’s challenge to parents of mostly white high school students in the choir highlighted the severity of racial disparity in our nation. Her challenge was a poignant reminder to me of the cost of dedication to the Civil Rights’ movement of our time, otherwise known as #BlackLivesMatter. Moments ago the youth in the choir had been among the first to rise in giving Oregon’s activist and leader in Portland’s Resistance movement, Gregory McKelvey, a standing ovation following his riveting six-minute speech. McKelvey himself understands what his participation in this movement could result in when he told The Portland Observer:

I will die for this. I think that Martin Luther King was willing to die for what he did, and he knew that he probably would. I think that it would be a miracle for me to live my entire life fighting the way that I’m fighting now, and not have something happen.

james-reebListening to the panelists, I asked myself what I’m willing to give for others to live and experience rights and freedoms like I do. My mind flashed back to photos I had seen at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, displaying images of freedom riders such as the white ally Reverend James Reeb who was beaten and then died.

Another panelist had already challenged apathy that sometimes allures me. She said too many people when confronted by injustice either turn to hate or apathy. As a white person, my privilege allows me the opportunity to plug in as much or as little as I want. I can “go off the grid” and live comfortably or I can get involved with others’ plight for freedom. But for many, unplugging isn’t an option. Every day my neighbors of color experience injustice in ways I never have and probably never will. So when I set off my relatives’ house alarm and the police show up, they don’t so much as ask to see my ID or key to the house. The incident becomes a joke (yes, this really happened last week). For a friend of color, the situation would have likely played out far differently.

Yes, out-spoken leaders get targeted for death, like Dr. King did. Yet systems of oppression are simultaneously targeting our youth of color in the United States today. How much longer will we allow this?  To white readers of my blog, I repeat Kim’s question: “Will you let your child die?” Remember, many parents don’t get to have the option of being asked.

To everyone, leave a comment if you know of organizations like Enough is Enough that are making positive changes to end violence and bring justice in your community.

Coping and Confessions

 

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Road rage had struck me. When I’d pulled into an ARCO gas station about ten minutes prior, I had noticed an orange cone in front of my pump. I’d considered relocating to a different stand in case it was out of order, but figured ARCO’s attendants would have put an “Out of Order” sign on the pump if it wasn’t working. I parked and strolled inside to pay with cash so I could get a cheaper rate. I waited for several other customers to pay; when it was my turn at the front desk the attendant informed me that my pump was in fact out of order.

Walking back to my car I noticed that the pump directly in front of my car was now vacant, so I could simply roll forward to fill from it; as I inched my car forward, another vehicle began backing into that same space. I knew the driver assumed that I had just filled my tank and was leaving. However, I honked profusely until he pulled forward. Then I parked and got out.

“What was that all about?” an older, middle-aged man asked, emerging from the car in front of me.

“That pump is out of order so I was pulling forward,” I explained, pointing towards the tank my car had previously been parked in front of.

“Well you could have just told me that the pump was out of order and you were pulling forward,” the man replied. “I always defer to ladies. Ladies first.”

He’d called me out.

I reentered the station and pre-paid for my gas. When I returned outside, I saw a vehicle parked at the pump with the orange cone, directly behind my car. I was going to inform the driver that the pump was out of order, but then saw it was the man I had just honked at. He got out and came towards my car.

“Let me pump your gas for you.”

Now I was getting served an extra large slice of humble pie with a scrumptious dollop of conviction. I popped open the door for the gas compartment for him.

“They need an out-of-order sign on that pump,” I said.

“Yeah, this place is just falling apart,” the man replied. The thermometer on my car read 27 degrees and patches of snow had not yet melted on the ground around us, but the man was wearing shorts and a light jacket which was unzipped just enough to appear that he had no shirt on underneath.

“I tried to break up a fight two weeks ago but that just landed me with a messed up hand,” the man waved his left hand from his jacket’s pocket and showed off a swollen hand with stitches across it.

“Then my girlfriend of 15 months cheated on me and so we split. I’ve been living out of my car with nothing but the clothes on my back for the last two weeks.”

I wanted to offer to pray for him, but considering that our interaction began due to my road-rage I thought that might just make Christians look bad. Here this man who would likely be shunned in many churches was acting like Jesus towards me and right after I’d treated him like a total jerk!  And this in the same town just about a mile from where I’d experienced God work in a miraculous way at a gas station last summer.

So my confession number one is that I was a total jerk to a homeless guy with a bummed hand. My second confession is that after an intense few months leading up to and following the election, my coping mechanism during December mirrored many others:

I turned off Facebook.

Well, I didn’t get completely off the most-widely-used social media platform. But I logged on a LOT less. I also quit listening to NPR, watching news and scrolling Facebook and Twitter looking for juicy political pieces. Instead, I tromped around in snow-capped mountains, decorated a tree for wildlife, hosted a friend visiting from Los Angeles, bunny-sat for two adorable creatures and gave some attention to my personal life which lead to cupid striking hard in the form of a romantic relationship.

The experience at the ARCO station, however, reminded me of the project I had launched on this blog last November: attempting to build bridges among people who tend to dehumanize one another. It’s just as easy to forget that real people with unique stories are driving the vehicles that form annoying traffic as it is to forget the same of Republicans and Democrats, Socialists and Libertarians, immigrants and police. Whether it’s drivers of vehicles that create annoying traffic or the traffic on our social media, we would do well to pause and listen to the stories of individuals caught in traffic just as we are. And so my project of building bridges by listening and sharing stories continues into 2017.

Give Jesus More Than a Toy 

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“Prison card” drawn by a jail mate of my childhood friend and prayer partner. Inside he wrote, “I pray for you EVERY day.”

One of my fondest Christmas memories from growing up was wrapping piles of presents. The gifts weren’t for me, nor for my family. The boxes of clothes and stacks of toys were for children of prisoners: men and women who were unable to share their presence or presents with their sons and daughters. Mrs. B, a woman at the church I grew up in, organized this gift-giving effort through Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship. At Christmastime, church members would select angel-shaped ornaments which listed on the back a name, age and wish list of a child whose parents were incarcerated. I LOVED wrapping gifts, so every year I volunteered to help with this part of the process. Yesterday I heard an ad on the radio for Angel Tree and my mind flashed back to curling ribbon and tucking the corners of snowflake-printed paper all afternoon in the basement of the church my family attended when I was growing up. Reflecting on our outreach efforts, I recognized that although Angel Tree has its merits, buying a toy for a child can be an easy cop-out in addressing the larger complexities of a system that has robbed the children of spending the holidays with their parents in the first place. Over the past few years, I’ve become aware of this system and the implications it has on our nation.

On the ideological side, I’ve become aware of mass incarceration and restorative justice, that the United States locks up more people than any other nation. On the practical side, developing close friendships with people most impacted by this system has caused me see up-close what it’s like to have family members locked up during the holidays. Participating in Angel Tree gift-giving is a good starting point for those with privilege to think beyond ourselves at Christmas, but what about the other 364 days of the year? It’s easy to wrap a toy and put a bow on it and feel good about ourselves, but what about being in long-term relationship with families and children who are incarcerated? What about working to change system so fewer moms and dads are away from their children next December 25th? What about reconnecting with a cousin, uncle, “black sheep” of your family or high school classmate who’s currently impacted by our system? Rather than ostracizing that person for poor choices, consider establishing a mutually respectful friendship  with them–and their family–throughout the year? After all, according to the One we celebrate at Christmas, doing so is the same as forming a friendship with Him.

I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. ~Jesus, (Matthew 25:36 & 40)

If we genuinely care about the children in our communities whose parents are locked up, we won’t simply buy them a toy. I was delightfully encouraged to find that Prison Fellowship, the larger organization which Angel Tree is an outreach of, works in a variety of capacities throughout the year to support prisoners and work towards justice reform. If you’re looking for ways to get involved year-round beyond establishing personal connections with those you already know, organizing a small group to go through their Outrageous Justice study could be a good place to start.

 

 

Prisons = Modern Day Plantations

National Civil Rights Museum

National Civil Rights Museum

Isaac Franklin was one of richest men in the southern United States a century and a half ago. When he died in 1846, he owned over 700 slaves who worked his six plantations in Louisiana.

I learned about Isaac Franklin while visiting the National Civil Rights Museum a couple weeks ago via their special exhibit on slavery. In addition to reading about this wealthy slave owner, what struck me the most in this exhibit was a plaque in the back corner; had I been in a hurry, I could have easily overlooked it.

The plaque noted the widespread economic impact slavery had on society at the time. Not only did rich plantation owners like Isaac Franklin who benefit from owning other humans. Numerous industries prospered financially from the slave trade and included:

  • Banks that offered loans to slave traders
  • Insurers who underwrote policies to cover slave shipments by land, rail, river and sea
  • Food suppliers who sold supplies to coffee drivers and slave-pen owners
  • Lawyers and bureaucrats who collected fees for each piece of paper involved in slave transfer and sale
  • Brooks Brothers and other clothing companies that supplied plantation clothing
  • Steamboat companies and ship captains who got paid to transport slaves as cargo
  • Medical providers, such as doctors, hospitals and private clinics, who got paid to revitalize slaves to get them ready to sell because they frequently became sick during transportation
  • Tax collectors who received revenue from slave sales and annual personal property tax

These weren’t petty transactions either. For example, William Kenner took out $14,000 in an insurance policy to ship 22 slaves on November 29, 1821, via the New Orleans Insurance Company. This was at a time when an average income ranged from $300 to $1,000 annually. Imagine the cost of clothing 700 slaves for Isaac Franklin, and in an era when goods weren’t mass-produced for cheap by “developing nations.”

Paper Produced by Abolitionist

Paper Produced by Abolitionist

Reading that plaque caused me to realize that abolitionist of the time weren’t just up against wealthy slave owners. They met widespread resistance because slavery had widespread economic impact. I marveled that the system had ever collapsed…then I realized it took a war before change occurred.

Then I asked myself, “Did the system ever really collapse?”

I thought of Michelle Alexander’s work The New Jim Crow book and The House I Live In documentary followed by Ava DuVernay’s 13th documentary that expose mass incarceration as modern day slavery in the United States, particularly for many men of color. Those with a felony charge experience lack of access to education, jobs, housing and even voting. And as these documentaries and book trace, the impact disproportionately impacts communities of color.

Right now, we now have more African-Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves back in 1850s. ~New Jersey Senator Cory Booker

Prisons were one of the few growing industries in 1980’s and 90’s when Clinton passed a $30 billion bill to expand. Michelle Alexander brings us specific numbers:

The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of nearly every developed country, even surpassing those in highly repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran. In Germany, 93 people are in prison for every 100,000 adults and children. In the United States, the rate is roughly eight times that, or 750 per 100,000.

Prisons have been required to keep those facilities filled. And much like slavery 150 years ago, all sorts of industries benefit from our mass incarceration:

  • Taser gun manufacturers
  • Health care providers
  • Phone companies
  • Construction companies
  • ALEC-an organization that writes bills for politicians that usually benefit a corporation.

To take on such comprehensive structures, we must address the economic systems of our day, as Shaun King is doing through the Injustice Boycott launched yesterday. Lasting structural change cannot otherwise occur; it will only take on a new name.

Isaac Franklin’s property is a tangible example of how slavery switched names. Ever wonder what happened to his six plantations where those 700 people were enslaved? Well, four of of the six became what is today Louisiana’s State Penitentiary.

Right-Wing Liberals

img_9352-1“I’ve been shocked by a huge divide I’ve observed between people in the United States living in completely separate realities” I wrote in my last blog post and proceeded to describe those differences in a seventeen stanza poem. I spent the following week in the middle of our country where I saw firsthand this separate reality. Although my experience affirmed the contents of the poem I had penned, I also witnessed deep love and sacrificial giving of my right-wing conservative brothers and sisters:

  • My parents who live on next to nothing but share generously everything they do have–their time, talents, home and money
  • A church that’s been converted into a home for women recovering from addictions where 13 participants stood up on Sunday and called out gratitude to each other plus those in the community of their congregation who have helped to meet concrete needs. Yes, this tiny center is reaching the poor, white community of the rural South
  • A white, middle-class businessman who in the middle of sharing his political views with me on the streets of downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, generously shared his time and resources with those some  might label a “bum”

I found the last exchange to be the most memorable. My friend, the businessman whom I’ll call Phil, had just been telling me his reasons for voting for Trump. Phil said it would take him more than 75 words to explain his position, which is what I had requested per my video project. Phil travels regularly to the East Coast and occasionally to Europe for business. I consider him a genius who could hold a intelligent debate on quantum physics, or any topic really. He also bikes nearly everywhere in a state without bike lanes, a stark contrast to the majority of residents in the South who drive 4 x4 pickup trucks.

“I couldn’t vote for Hillary because of her corruption,” he told me, explaining he did not like the character of Trump, but did agree with a few of his positions.

“But I don’t like that now I’m labeled a racist,” he continued. “Obviously we could talk about white privilege and that would be a different conversation.”

About that time is when the bum approached, an older, African American gentleman. My friend greeted him like he would an old friend and the man seemed delighted, greeting him back with an attempted fist bump, which I noticed Phil didn’t complete. His twenty-something son who rents an apartment in LA where he spends half his time was standing with us and greeted the man as well.

“You shouldn’t be out in the cold like this,” Phil said. “You know there’s a shelter up the street.”

“It’s only for women and children,” the man replied.

“Well I don’t have any cash,” Phil said showing the man his empty wallet. “But if we can find an ATM I’ll get you some money.”

“There’s an ATM just down the street,” the man said.

We strolled to the ATM and Phil took out  a wad of $20 bills (at least $100 worth) and handed them to the man.

“I’m a follower of Jesus and that’s why I’m sharing with you,” Phil said. “Take care of yourself tonight.”

“God is looking after me. Let’s all pray,” the man said. He put one arm around my friend and the other arm around my friend’s son and there on the sidewalk we prayed together. Then he strolled off.

“About six years ago I read Tim Keller’s book on justice and after that decided I would offer a ride to every bum I met,” Phil said. “I only did that for about a year and then felt like I had learned what I needed to learn, but every single one I picked up began talking about God before I did.”

A police car rolled up with two white police officers inside. The driver rolled down his window.

“Did that man ask you for money?”

“Nope, he did not,” Phil replied.

“OK. He’s been pan handling down here.”

“No, he didn’t ask us for anything.”

Phil wasn’t lying. The man hadn’t made a monetary request from us.

“I realize he’ll probably by booze with that money,” Phil said after the police left. “But  if I’m going to give someone a gift, it should show them they are valuable. A small handout is almost worse than nothing at all. I’ve been asking how much it costs in our hometown for someone to enter the Kingdom of God? And I’ve calculated it to be about $150,000. The churches are doing a good job of making people comfortable and entertained.”

“I noticed when I attended my niece’s play on Saturday that the company held their performance in a church,” I commented. “That’s a contrast to Seattle where Christians are a minority and churches often rent a space to meet from the theaters. I’m concerned to see wealth and religion so intertwined.”

“Wealth and religion and politics,” Phil said.

“Yes!” I agreed.

“But the church on the Left is actually just as political if not more so. My concern is that although they don’t care what I do morally-I can have sex with my pet and no one cares-but they want to control the way I think. If I deviate from what’s politically correct, I get labeled as ignorant or, worse, lose everything I own in a lawsuit.”

For over an hour Phil continued his exposition while standing on the streets of downtown Little Rock. We were getting cold and the hour was late when a young man approached us.

“My wallet is empty,” Phil said. “I’ve already given my quota tonight.”

“What about you?” the man looked at me.

“I can buy you some pizza,” I replied.

We began heading to the pizza shop where Phil and his family and I had eaten dinner.

“I’m not sure if the place is still open,” I said.

“There’s a place down that way,” the man told us, pointing the opposite direction. We headed there and found ourselves entering a pub.

“We gotta leave before we go broke,” Phil’s son mused to me as we entered. A bubbly waitress escorted the four of us to a table.

“We just want to order a couple slices of pizza,” Phil said as she handed us all menus.

“We don’t sell pizza slices,” the waitress replied. “But you can order a 12″ pan pizza.”

“OK, I’ll get that and a Sprite,” the young man said. “And what kind of desserts do you have?”

“We have chocolate cake and ice cream.”

“You don’t have pecan pie?”

“We don’t.”

“Thanksgiving is this week and there should be pecan pie then,” I quipped.

“Oh yes!” his eyes lit up. “I’ll make the rounds then!”

When a waitress passed by, he snagged her hand, kissed it and said, “God’s gonna bless you.”

“Be careful,” Phil said half jokingly. “We don’t want to all get kicked out of here.”

Phil insisted on getting the tab and quietly capped the order off.

“I’ll need to leave as soon as the food comes,” he told me.

Our fourth member at the table spoke openly about how he was getting his life back on track, singing in the choir at his church, playing basketball, recording his freestyle rap and finally having an apartment to live in again. We said goodbye when the waitress brought his pizza.

“I’m sorry to cut out, man,” Phil said. “But my wife’s been at home waiting for me for a couple hours now and I gotta leave.”

“You don’t think you can spare a couple bucks?” the man asked.

“No, I can’t.”

“Well, thanks for the meal.”

“I don’t think he’ll cause any disruption,” Phil said as he and his son and I left the pub. “And the waitress will be OK with him staying to finish–I tipped her well.”

“I’m glad to have this experience tonight,” I said. “You guys have given me stories for my blog.”

“I suppose,” Phil chuckled. “About two ‘racist’ white guys in the South.”

However, I thought to myself how my right-wing friends were demonstrating the original definition of “liberal,” of generously distributing wealth. The words of Proverbs 11:25 came to mind:

The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.

I may not have recorded a 75-word video of Phil’s position on the election or immigration, but our time together had shown another view of someone who opted to vote for Donald Trump, an image vastly different from those of rioting Rednecks circulating my Facebook feed. And that story told more than a 75-word–or 7500-word–speech ever could!

If Trump Had Been a Democrat

img_8437After last week’s US election, I turned into a bit of a political junkie, listening to NPR while driving, watching politician’s speeches while exercising and binging on social media late at night, reading articles shared on Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs. I’ve been shocked by a huge divide I’ve observed between people in the United States living in completely separate realities. Conservative Christians accuse the media of making this election about race. Meanwhile, many immigrants feel like they are utterly unwanted by those who voted for Trump. Friends of color have voiced to me that when they see red states and counties, they fear for their lives. Fear has struck even legal immigrants and some are afraid of step outside their house.

Hearing the sentiments of my family and the community where I grew up, however, I try to explain that people I know did not vote for Trump out of bigotry. Most of my family voted for Trump because they hated Hillary Clinton and Trump offered them more hope that he would select Supreme Court judges less leftist than would Hillary. The topic of immigration was barely on their radar to influence their decision to vote the way they did*. By voting for Trump, in my family’s minds they were in no way voting against communities of color.

Yet I am not only shocked; I am also baffled. Baffled that evangelicals could so easily swipe past the morals (or lack thereof) to vote for a billionaire celebrity. Baffled that white liberals are shrugging their shoulders to embrace the status-quo. Baffled that the caller at a square dance I attended referenced the election and said “Let’s just skip it out.” To fully process my thoughts and emotions, I would have had to write a 3,000 word essay. Instead, I’ve channeled them into a poem:

If Trump Had Been a Democrat

To progressive people
Who would you choose
If Trump had been a Democrat
And ran against Ted Cruz

To white liberals
Who want to avoid reality
Simply legalize weed
Flip the channel on TV

To elitist on the left
Who don’t anticipate personal impact
“Let’s see what he does”
Remain a status-quo Democrat

To white evangelicals
Who prayed Trump to power
Voted eighty-one percent
Claimed, “He’s God’s man for this hour.”

If Trump had been a Democrat
You would have fought him as a winner
You would have raised your finger of judgement
Called him a pro-choice sinner

But America has proved

You can call a lady “fat” and “ugly”
You can be a racist bigot
You can grab a woman’s pussy
We’ll still make you President!

You can make up false reports
You can lie all day long
Doesn’t seem to matter
Now the Right’s OK with wrong

The Right are in denial
Refusing to admit mistake
While the Left swallowed complacency
With an impact that’s hard to negate

Social media lusts for attention
Feeds lies to both sides
To harness more clicks
Only furthering our divide

People of color hear
“White evangelicals hate your existence
Say you want to stay here
You’ll be met with resistance”

“Enter a red border
Expect to face a .22
Cross that county line
And it’ll be aimed at you!”

Warm and loving people
Describe many white Christians
Concern for future decades
Drove their decisions

Rural-dwelling ranchers
Hear the need to escape
Cities harboring violence
Riots lead by hate

“Enter an urban setting
Expect to face a gun
Cross six lanes of traffic
Get ready to run!”

Warm and loving people
Come in every hue
Concern for future decades
Drove their decisions too

By listening to each other’s stories
Hearing others’ views
We’ll get a better understanding
Of what’s actually true.

We must hold Trump accountable
Both the left and the right
And in order to do that
We must unite!

Your Story in a Minute

If you’re willing to share your perspective on 1) why you voted for Trump and 2) your personal message to immigrants, let me know.

If you’re willing to share your sentiments on 1) why you fear Trump supporters and 2) your fears about what may personally happen to you once he’s in power, let me know.

I would like to compile a two-part video series of regular people speaking candidly to one another our hopes and our fears. If you would like to participate in this project, you can contact me here.

*I acknowledge that such is the case of white privilege. Living in a community where I’m not the ethnic majority, my friends have taught me about “white privilege”, one trait of which is denial and the inability to see our privilege. To take for granted that people who look differently from us often suffer from our inability to see past ourselves, to acknowledge their plight within our nation.

Politics That Began in Heaven

Cross at a hogar (children's home) I visited in Honduras earlier this year

Cross at a hogar (children’s home) I visited in Honduras earlier this year

At several points in the United State’s Presidential election this year I half jokingly suggested that every Christian simply write in “Jesus” as our leader of choice. Considering our options, if the campaign #JesusForPresident had gained momentum, I wouldn’t have been surprised if even delusional atheists had would have cast their vote that direction. However, one of my housemates informed me that in Washington State, writing in a name for anyone who has not declared they are officially running automatically nullifies the entire ballot. So much for writing in my idealistic candidate.

So if I can’t write in “Jesus” for President (at least, not and still expect my vote to count), how does a Christian synthesize God with politics? This has been a divisive topic for many Christians, particularly this election. Some abstain from voting altogether. Others “vote their conscious” by selecting third-party candidates. Still others opted for Trump or Clinton, warning one another their faith was in jeopardy for supporting the opposing candidate. In such a climate it was easy to wonder: does God even care or should we categorize faith and politics separately?

For the past month every morning I’ve prayed out loud the most well-known prayer in the Bible, the one Jesus taught his followers in Matthew 6:9-13:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.

As I daily prayed these words, the meaning of “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth like it is in heaven” began to deepen.

I realized that “kingdom” translated into modern English would essentially be nation-state or political system.

“No wonders Jesus was considered so revolutionary in his day!” I thought.

Jesus was always talking about a system completely counter to the one his people were living in. Many of his followers thought he was talking about a literal kingdom, a new political system he was about to bring in and become ruler over.

“No wonders their dreams were shattered when he died!”

During his time on earth, Jesus challenged systems of oppression and the rulers who held them in place. These included both religious and political powers which were interconnected in the cultures that he lived among. Yet his form of challenge often looked less like confrontation and more like elevation of the marginalized, healing the blind who were forced to beg, lepers who were prohibited from worship, women who were shunned from society. Similarly, when we pray that God’s kingdom–or rather, heaven-based politics–will be implemented here on earth, we may be surprised by where God is most at work.

“If we are to see God’s kingdom come and will be done, on earth as in heaven, we must first recognize that what we mostly experience here on earth is not heaven, and may actually feel closer to hell for some,” Bob Ekblad wrote in A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God. (p.52).

Bob continues saying: “This recognition is more difficult for those vested with the benefits of this world: credit, capital, economic and social success, acceptance, family support, racial profile, and citizenship that offer special entitlements or any sort of privileged status.”

Bob then points out how Jesus emphasized that’s it’s hard for a rich person to enter this new system, that it’s actually easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter (Matthew 19:23-24).

While Jesus goes on to say that ‘with God all things are possible’ (19:26), his words here show the difficulty of entry into God’s kingdom unless people have first left the kingdom or systems of this world. Ministry among inmates, immigrants, and homeless people has helped me see how systems that work or are at least tolerable for people of relative privilege like myself are completely unlivable for people on the margins. They have already left ‘the world’ in a sense and are a big step closer to reentry into the kingdom of God than many mainstreamers (Eckblad, pp.52-53).

Jesus talked constantly about this kingdom, this other world, this “new system” as we might call it in our decade. The system looked entirely different from what people expected, completely counter to what they expected a leader to do. Jesus shattered divisions and created new ones. He broke down structures and created bridges, across languages, cultures, ethnicities and worldviews. Perhaps most mind-blowing of all was when after he came back to life, he left earth almost immediately with the instructions that the new system he had taught his followers wasn’t just for them and their ethnic group, but for everybody.

No wonders they were shocked when God’s Spirit began to include people from other language and ethnic communities! 

One of these followers, Peter, became a leader of the movement and would later write a letter to those scattered around Asia and the Middle East calling them “a holy nation.” (1 Peter 2:9). God’s “kingdom” or “nation” does not follow country borders. Instead it’s like a wild weed—like mustard—popping up wherever we least expect it. This is why as I write this piece on the eve of Election Day, I have hope. Not in the US political system, not in a presidential candidate, not in a new Initiative, but in God’s nation that’s global and resilient with a just leader who will continue year after year after year. Perhaps it is fitting that election season is on the cusp of Christmas when we celebrate this leader first coming to earth:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. ~Isaiah 9:6-7

Boo Bash at the Beach: A Safe(way) to Celebrate

Children deserve a safe and fun Halloween. That is the basis for a free trick-or-treating event held in a Safeway parking lot of South Seattle.

For the past several years my home church has hosted a Trunk or Treat on the Wednesday before Halloween in which we invite our neighbors to come collect candy from the back of cars we decorate in our church parking lot. This year, our lead pastor asked our community development team to look for ways we as a church could be more out in our neighborhood. One of the ways we found to do this was to partner with a community Halloween event that had already been established: Boo Bash at the Beach.

Our community development team leader called up the organizer of Boo Bash and asked if we could bring a couple of our cars to the event. She was delighted to hear from us, having reached out to over a dozen churches and either failed to hear back at all or received negative replies.

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Pastor Peter hosting a Lego-themed trunk

“Bring all of your trunks,” she said.

Whereas a couple hundred people would participate in our Trunk or Treat, last year’s Boo Bash attracted over 3,000 children and parents. Plus, since Boo Bash began three years ago, crime has  decreased and shootings have been nonexistent in our neighborhood on Halloween.

I arrived mid-afternoon to help set up. Originally I had planned to co-host a fishing-for-prizes trunk in the back of a img_9205friend’s van, but she was sick that plan was scratched. I definitely felt a little out-of-place in my pink camo “fisher-woman” attire and had people thinking I was either on a safari or going for a combat look. Instead of hosting a trunk, I did odd jobs helping set up chairs, hang banners, run to the organizer’s home for a box of supplies she had forgotten and gave breaks to the hosts of other trunks. One of these was Les Miserables- themed and featured blank white flags kids could write or draw their hopes and prayers on for making the world a better place. I was impressed by the contributions by young children:

img_9229“Make People Stop Fighting.”

“I could make the world a better place by planting and growing trees.”

“Jesus”one wrote in the center of a cross.

“#BlackLivesMatter”

Staying until the end to clean up meant I was about a half hour late to a study I had initiated in North Seattle on The Art of Neighboring, but it seemed silly to rush away from a neighborhood event to go read and discuss a book on neighboring. Thankfully, the participants there understood why I valued being part of this Halloween neighborhood event.

 

Love Starts With a Name

Many would say it would be ‘nice’ to know the neighbors better. But as a life priority, that ranks somewhere near the desirability of adding heated seats to their automobile. You can get where you’re going without it, but it can add a little enjoyment to the drive. (The Abundant Community, p. 16)

Many people are familiar with the story in the Bible of the religious leader who asked Jesus what the greatest command was.

who-is-my-neighbor“Love God and love your neighbor,” was the short version of Jesus’ reply.

“Who is my neighbor?” the leader asked, wanting to justify himself.

Jesus replied by telling a story about an outcast (think illegal allien) who came across a guy beat up on the side of the road, helped him out and even paid for his medical bills! This was after two other religious leaders walked right past the wounded man.

“Which one was the neighbor?” Jesus asked.

“The guy who showed pity.”

“Go and follow his example.”

Just like the questioning leader, many of us still try to justify ourselves by redefining “neighbor.” We say, “Neighbor can be my co-workers, my friends, really anyone in the world.”

“When we insist we’re neighbors with everybody, often we end up being neighbors with nobody.” ~Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring (p.35).

These authors emphasize that we need to demonstrate love to our literal neighbors, and to start by simply learning the names of those who live around us. As they explain:

What do you think about when you hear the word love? Theologians write about it, poets muse about it, singers sing about it. We want to be really clear: we are none of those. We are relatively normal guys. We’re not deep thinkers, nor do we have any musical skills whatsoever-we’d embarrass ourselves on a karaoke stage. And, if we happened to rhyme, it’s not on purpose. But we do know this about love: to love someone, it helps to actually know their name. (p.40)

The authors then challenge readers to complete a simple exercise: write down the names of the people who live immediately around you. If you can, write both the first and last name. I have to admit, even though I’ve lived in my current neighborhood for over a year (and just around the corner from my current house for three years prior to that), hosted a neighborhood BBQ, participated in block parties and cleanups and am involved in community development full-time and volunteer in my free-time on a community development team at my church, I struggled with this first step. The exercise highlights how most of us could grow in loving our neighbors, and an easy way to get started: by learning their names!

Once you’ve jotted down names, the next step is to write any other relevant information you’ve learned through conversation with the person. In other words, things you can’t know just by observation such as the color of their car or landscape in their yard. Finally, you write down in-depth knowledge you’ve gained from meaningful conversations such as your neighbors’ dreams, desires, beliefs and motivations (p.37). It may take years to completely fill in the squares with this sort of in-depth information. Yet as we do, genuine love will form between us and our neighbors, replacing suspicion and criticism that has become a marker of our industrialized planet. As I wrote in a poem for a neighborhood block party last year:

“Which is the greatest command?”
A man asked the Teacher
“Love God and love your neighbors
Treat them like your brothers and sisters.”

Yet how can we love them
When we don’t even know?
The people around us
Are just houses in a row!

What we don’t know
We often suspect
Hurl insults
Treat like an object

Upset when their dog
Poops in our yard
We call the police
As we get in our car

Why not walk across the street
Offer to lend a hand
Get to know that neighbor
Turn into a friend

As we know our neighbors
We reduce our fear
Look out for each other
When danger is near

We represent a range
From wealth to poverty
Yet each brings a gift
That strengthens our community

So neighbors, let’s unite
Set aside our worries
Let’s raise our voices
Tell our communities’ stories

Let’s work for change
Safety on our avenue
Decrease the crime
As we reclaim and renew

Our neighborhood as our own
Where we work and connect
Worship and play
Without fear or regret

Replacing Yellow With Black: Mourning the Death of the Thai King 

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Yellow Flags to Honor King in Thailand, 2006

Memories from Southeast Asia a decade ago flashed through my mind when we paused during my  church’s service on Sunday to mourn the death of the king of Thailand.Unfortunately, all I really remembered about the Thai monarchy, though, was that everyone wore yellow shirts on Monday.

“To respect the king,” I was told.
The other thing about the king I could recall was conversations with my expat teammates when they returned from watching a movie at the theaters.
“Everyone stands to honor the king while they play his song and a short video about him,” they reported.”Thai people love their king.”
Had I studied political science or slightly more mature I might have paid more attention and asked questions while in Thailand about this beloved figure. Instead, I was preoccupied with bungee jumping, rafting down rivers, sampling street food and riding scooters or motorcycles.
Learning of his death a decade later, however, I realize that our globe is losing someone special. Although I don’t feel equipped to write a proper tribute, I wanted to acknowledge the legacy of this leader. A little research from a variety of sources lead me to believe that King Bhumibol Adulyadej was indeed a community entrepreneur. In his 70 year reign, King Bhumibol worked hard for the well-being of his subjects, showing care for poor and ethnic minorities. He helped develop farming practices as alternatives to growing opium. He also initiated a variety of other agricultural development projects such as irrigation, drought and flood alleviation and crop substitution. And he was a peacemaker both internationally and within his country [photos of his life including pictures with Queen Elizabeth and President Dwight Eisenhower can be seen here].

Some reflections from Thai people, passed on to me via a friend from Thailand:

  • He was King of our country, but became a commoner to have a relationship with us
  • He chose to dwell among us. He had residences in many provinces, and he chose to not keep to himself in his palace in Bangkok
  • He was the ‘hope’ of the country
  • ‘Father of the Nation’ – Father’s day is celebrated on December 5th, the king’s birthday
  • His Majesty was our ‘soul’
  • He cared for the welfare of his people
  • He put the people’s needs before his own
  • He was a ‘peace’ maker when their was division within the politics

Honoring the king isn’t something we do in the United States. Monarchy has never been part of our DNA. However, monarchy is ingrained in the history of Thailand and goes back 700 years! Reflecting on this makes me realize how ancient cultures are more connected to their story than the I am with my lens as a citizen of a the United States, a nation and political system that began within only one third of that time in history. It is little wonder then that the people of Thailand will be in mourning for their king for an entire year, wearing black, lowering their flag to half-mask and showing only coverage of their king on television for a season. As Will Ripley, author of the CNN coverage, How Thais are mourning the death of their King, put it:

“the nearly universal adoration Thais feel for their late king is undeniably palpable — and unparalleled in the modern world.”