{ Deeper Church: On fighting, farming & feasting }

CabbageHarvest

I’ve come to think that the implements for peace are in the granaries, not the armories. Maybe we need to look in garden sheds, not gun safes, when attempting to address our hostile urges.

I survey the tool shed and find shovels to turn the soil of our too often thin, dry hearts. I see the spades, still caked with mud. Those spades could help us reach the deeper, darker soil ready for some good seed. People hemmed into fearfully small spaces could be accessed with a tiny spade, angled just so. The pile of pruners in the corner can be used early on in the peace-planting process to break open roots of good saplings facilitating quick growth in fresh soil. (Maybe transplanting can teach us something helpful about transformation – it’s worth exploring the possibility.)

We could grab the rakes and clear the distractions, scattered like loose leaves across the lawn, then turn our attention to the necessary discussions about reconciliation and restitution. We will, no doubt, need to use the clawed digging fork to turn unbroken soil. Some places, some of us, are simply hardened by years of hatred. Maybe we don’t know any better – our twisted eschatologies, poorly translated texts and atrophied theologies obstructing our way forward like an overgrown, intertwined thicket.

Read the rest over at A Deeper Story today…

{ ShePonders: Hear, O Israel }

O_Kelley-750-708x400

I open my eyes. The morning light snuffs out the last embers of sleep. Hear, O Israel.

I close my eyes. Lashes and lids become a wet blanket. Hear, O Israel.

Each day bookended with these words, the final desire of the soul before death uttered in these words:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4)

*****

This affirmation – part prayer, part imperative, part invitation – is called The Shema after the initial summons in Hebrew to hear. It is the seminal word for the Jewish community, the call to listen to God. And its not about listening to the God, as if it’s a statement about monotheism. No, it’s listening to our God, a declaration of solidarity with the One who created, delivered and sustained this people.

The words are first uttered at the edge of the wilderness, on the cusp of the Promised Land. The Hebrew people, ready to cross over into a new life, stopped for a final set of sermons from Moses. The last exhortation to this generation begins with The Shema – a call to focus their attention not on the new land, but on their God. Hear, O Israel!

*****

Read the rest of this reflection, on listening to God and one another with more than our ears, over at SheLoves Magazine today. And join us all month as we ruminate on LISTENING – especially to those with other stories we need to hear.

brown boy walking

He was walking to school in the morning air, right before the sun warmed away the chill. Backpack slung over one shoulder, dangling as he shuffled in his high-tops. The entire sidewalk belonged to him – maybe everyone else got a ride with their mom or arrived early for a free breakfast.

He didn’t look lonely or sad. He didn’t look worried. To the naked eye he didn’t look vulnerable.

But as I drove by him in the school zone I prayed, “Lord, keep this boy safe today and every other day of his life.” It was instinctive.

I saw a brown boy walking as a call to prayer. This is the new normal.

Or this is my new normal, the perpetual awareness of my own son’s vulnerability when he is the brown boy walking to school, to the mailbox, to the park. To be brown is to be vulnerable, it has so little to do with what he does or does not do, it seems. A brown boy walking threatens people, even if it is my son walking to the park with a pocket full of marbles to play in the dirt.

Beware of brown boys with bulging pockets – that is the new normal.

But this isn’t new. This has been reality for too many brown boys for too many decades. Now it’s newsworthy, now it’s trending and has a hashtag. Now I have my own brown boy and can’t un-see what I’ve seen on the nightly news or un-hear the stories other mothers tell. Now every brown boy I see, no matter how tall or how young, is a call to prayer. I pray for each one to be safe, for each mother to have peace.

Now I see brown boys and their mothers, women like me who love them, and feel a solidarity that is more than skin deep. Love for our sons; fear for their lives and hope for their futures bond us. I pray for the mothers, too. I pray for them to be protected from the agony of ever losing a son to racism or hate. But I know the landscape is often hostile, riddled with a pale fear, and so I also pray for these mothers to be strong.

Maybe this sounds like hysteria to you – a brown boy walking alone demands my immediate prayers? But when your son lives life in brown skin you can never be divorced from the risk posed by racism, you cannot easily (or ever) forget other boys who were unarmed, assumed dangerous and shot. Did fear pull the trigger – or hate? Doesn’t matter. Those brown boys, plural, aren’t coming home. And irrational or not, I fear a day that my own son won’t come home.

I keep remembering the young boy walking to school, his backpack hanging haphazardly off his shoulder. He has yet to fully grasp the weight of what he carries. Or maybe he has. Surely his mother has considered the heaviness of brown skin, the burden of vulnerability.

It was a week ago and yet I still see him, like a phantom, reminding me to pray.

I saw a brown boy walking – and he remains a call to prayer. They all do.

 

 

{ Deeper Story: Speaking of the Spirit }

passionflower

I began my life in the Catholic Church, and she is my mother in undeniable ways. But one day my parents rushed me out in their own kind of exodus and we crossed into the land of  the Spirit-filled, non-denominational church. I lived in this land for all my adolescent years and most of my adult ones, too.

In the past set of years I’ve reconnected with my mother church. I’ve also recalibrated my charismatic practice. My own experience, good and bad, has informed my thinking and doing. More and more I relish the utter mystery of the Spirit, accept those unknowns as beautiful. I might go as far as to say the mystery of the Spirit is necessary for my humanity somehow. What I don’t know, can’t know, can still be holy.

This post today over at Deeper Church is one recent episode in my on-going recalibration.

I’ve been trying to recalibrate my own charismatic practice. I’ve kept my impressions about the Spirit’s movement to myself and instead allowed them to inform my prayers. When I’m aware of the Spirit’s presence I’m grateful and more mindful in the moment, but I’ve put away my bullhorn. I allow the Spirit to shape me and trust the Spirit’s capacity to form others.

When I speak of the Spirit, I do so in retrospect. I’m better at knowing where the Spirit has trod, seeing the holy wake trailing the Presence. In retrospect I can offer confirmation and share in celebration. I can also sink deeper into reverence somehow, acknowledging the One who visited and accompanied me, who helped and held me or those I love.

Read the rest HERE.

If you are interested in another part of my charismatic recalibration, you can read my words on becoming a careful charismatic HERE.

 

{ Do Not Shun the Small Things }

SmallBlue

Often in community development work we focus on the big things – the massive ideas that will transform the local economy, the construction of classrooms or strategies for improving local human rights. The challenges are not small, so our work efforts expand to meet the needs – we make our best, biggest attempt, anyways.

Today I was thinking of the small things.

We started a school last year. It took the better part of the year to secure the land, design and build the school, decide on curriculum and recruit teachers. I got to make one small decision – the color of school uniforms. Most of the students in Burundi wear khaki uniforms, but technically olive green and blue are also acceptable options. Khaki – the color of the dry dirt that covers the hills of this community and a drab green were immediately ruled out. I wanted bright blue for these boys and girls, vibrant and saturated with life.

Bright blue uniforms for kids with bright futures. It’s a small decision, but not insignificant.

Read the rest over at A Life Overseas…

{ShePonders: My Present Embarrassment}

IceCreme

I got heartbreaking news recently. I’d seen it coming for weeks, but the audible words still knocked the wind out of me.

Disappointment came first, the sensation of stillbirth. My dream that I labored on for well over nine months was a casualty. I carried an almost immediate emptiness due to this incomplete creation, this conversation I’d not contribute to anytime soon. It’s sad to hold a dead dream in your hands.

But I was unprepared for what came next – stinging embarrassment.

I needed to report my loss, but when I went to make the call to my friends, my co-laborers, I stumbled over the searing embarrassment. I couldn’t get the words out. The weighty shame kept me silent; rendered me utterly speechless in the face of…friends.

Read the rest over at SheLoves Magazine… 

{ What I’m Into: August 2014 }

Great August read...

Great August read…

August was always meant to be a month of transition, starting with 30+ hours in transit from Burundi to Arizona. Once landed, there would be the move from summer into the school year routine and from hours spent reading to writing deadlines demanding personal discipline once again.

But August surprised me with more angst than anticipated, bringing me to the unexpected threshold of lament and liminal space.

Lament for the loss of children in Gaza, Jerusalem’s shadow still ignorant of what makes for peace. Still too many swords and not near enough plowshares, too many air strikes when we need to re-tool for airborne agriculture.

Lament for the death of Michael Brown and the systemic racism gripping our country, an original sin haunting some, out right oppressing others. And on the streets of Ferguson we see too many tanks and not enough tractors, flash bombs instead of disco balls – leaders resorting to violence because we lack ample imagination to forge peace by other means.

And I suffered my own loss, of sorts. I decided to table one project and opt for another. The new project is bright with hope and vibrating with potential – and I’m excited to start. Yet turning away from the former endeavor still makes me a bit sad, grieving the incompleteness of it for now. Alongside the grief there is trust – that nothing is wasted and this work will be good seed for the season ahead. But this has catapulted me into liminality, like a tight crawl space that hems me in on both sides right now. I’m in between and while that’s not all bad, it isn’t easy either. August has taken and given… opened a new door with a bold welcome matt but left me stymied at the same time.

So other than lament and liminality, what am I into?

Currently re-reading... first read in '92.

Currently re-reading… first read in ’92.

BOOKS! Always books!

In August I haven’t read tons, but I’ve read well:

A Wall in Jerusalem: Hope, Healing, and the Struggle for Justice in Israel and Palestine by Mark Braverman. This is a follow-up to hi stunning Fatal Embrace, which I read a couple of summers ago. In this more recent volume Braverman, an American Jew, speaks to the on-going pursuit of peace between these two peoples. He pulls from African American civil rights leaders, Jewish and Palestinian theologians and South African luminaries as he works to weave together another rich and generative conversation leading us toward peace.

Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness by Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas. I find these kind of projects so energizing, bringing a practitioner and scholar together in joint reflection on one subject. Here we have Jean Vanier of L’Arche communities for the disabled in conversation with Stanley Hauerwas, a skilled theologian, to explore vulnerability, community and whatever else emerges from their interactions. A gentle and deep work and worthy read.

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. This was a small volume MLK kept with him as he traveled, which intrigued me. Published in 1949 by an African American theologian, activist, advocate and educator, this funded MLK’s imagination (alongside the Bible). Reading this in one hand and my Twitter feed in the other amid the critical week in Ferguson was surreal, with each illuminating the other. Sadly, not enough has changed since 1949.

Justice & Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation by Naim Stifan Ateek. I’ve been reading from the region diligently and deeply over the past 10+ years, but as I began the first chapter I realized this is the first time I’ve read from the perspective of a Palestinian Christian. What a stunning and penetrating book, to put it mildly. I read the final chapter in tears, knowing something in me had shifted in the reading. Yes, I learned new things about the regional dynamic and discovered new readings of well-known scriptures. But there’s something more – something I can’t articulate quite yet. This book changed me and right now I can only say thank you… and recommend others read it!

Also, I realized in August that I take lots of pictures of books. My Instagram feed has almost as many pictures of books as my kids… seriously!

Here is a glamour shot of the books to be read sometime soon…

StackBooks

I’ve been into copious amounts of ice cream – Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and Red Velvet Cake are my favorites.

I’ve been into skirts – simple A-line numbers that fit easy and keep me cool in the AZ heat.

I’ve also been into selfies, sort of. I find myself taking pictures of outfits and sharing them with a friend, just one friend. She gives me the thumbs up or thumbs down – and the girl is honest. Maybe with skirts being new and all I’m reaching out for assurance and a bit of guidance! Thank God for good friends to walk with you through the depths and the shallows of life… lol!

These just arrive via UPS today!

These just arrive via UPS today!

So that’s a sampling of what I’ve been into this August… what about you? (Link up with my friend Leigh to share what you’ve been into or to see what others were up to in August!)

 What I'm Into

cleaning my cup

cup

I find it interesting how text and context rub up against each other on common days. For instance, I went to mid-week Eucharist to retreat into the silence of sacred space, to look another person in the eyes and say “Peace be with you” and hear “…and also with you” in response. I entered thirsty, my cup empty but extended in expectation.

*****

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier things… You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

 

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup, but inside it is full of greed and self-indulgence… First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.”

A match struck across my graveled heart. Featherweight herbs, tiny gnats, the exterior surface of a cup…  A thought ignited. I need to clean the inside of my cup – do the internal work that justice requires.

If I spend all my energy calculating the tax rate for the herbs, I’ll be too exhausted for the heavy-lifting that just economics require. My focus on the minuscule gnat floating in my tea might divert my attention from the camel in my cup. And speaking of the cup, it’s possible I can be so fixated with a shiny exterior that I miss the unclean bits inside entirely. And it seems that the bigger deal is what happens inside that cup.

The admonition points toward doing the internal work, trusting that as I scrub the inside of the cup the outside will be cleaned in the process. And somehow the great work of justice requires clean cups, or clean hearts, able to move throughout the complexities of the world without the residue of bitterness, the debris left behind by hostility, hurt or hate. So If I clean the inside, or allow the inside to be washed by Another, then the exterior will not be my worry. But I will be clean(er) and more ready for service.

*****

I dip my fingers into the cool basin of holy water on my way out, a final blessing as I cross the threshold and dash toward my car. I check Twitter before I even leave the parking lot. Another match “I can’t clean my cup one tweet at a time. Cleaning my cup is off-line work…”

Here’s the thing… leaning into the weightier matters of justice involves some invisible work. I need to address my own prejudices, repent of my own judgments, pluck out the splinters obstructing my own vision – and the logs, too. I need the quiet places where I can sit, listen and maybe hear the Spirit blow by. The sight of my own complicity in systemic sins might make me weep. I may sit and read for long stretches, allowing old narratives and terrible lies believed about others to be unlearned. Maybe I need to confess my ignorance, listen to the story from a friend who knows better than I, ask questions or ask for forgiveness.

I remember Jesus talking about almsgiving, fasting and praying in private. He indicated that one hand ought not always know what the other is doing…maybe we ought to update that to say one thumb shouldn’t always know what the other thumb is texting. But privacy had some currency in spiritual formation according to Jesus, and I think it still must. I know it seems harder or counter-intuitive in this social media milieu where everything is tweeted or Instagrammed, but everything can’t be public or external.

My point is that off-line work is required. None of this is tweet-able; it’s invisible soul work. But this cup-cleaning work allows us to engage in the practice of justice with unblemished hearts and clear vision.

I am committed to pursuing justice, which means I plan to spend a lot of time at my proverbial kitchen sink of the soul cleaning cups from the inside out. It’s solitary work, often done in secret or without much fanfare. You might imagine I am ignoring the weightier things by my silence or absence, and I’ll understand the mistake. But I’m going to keep cleaning cups and try to avoid swallowing a camel. In God’s crazy upside down way – this is weightlifting. The more I do it, the more stamina I’ll have for moving mountains, enacting emancipation and participating in jubilee economics.

 

P.S. If you seem quiet about things, I’m going to guess that you are also cleaning some cups. Don’t tell me I’m the only one with a sink of dirty dishes in need of cleaning…

watching for missiles

 

 

This tweet from Gaza stopped me in my tracks this afternoon. For a moment, I put myself in this man’s shoes, standing on his street amid piles of rubble, watching for the missiles that will demolish my home. Waiting, watching… for weapons targeting my home.

His staccato dispatches tell of a harrowing day thus far. The Al-Zafer Tower crumbled to the ground. This stood 7 meters from his tower. Neighbors got calls from Israel telling them their building was next. He evacuated – with only the clothes he was wearing. And then this tweet that arrested my attention… watching and waiting for the missiles.

I try to wrap my mind around the scene on his street. Two heavy airstrikes this morning. A residential tower (11+ stories by my count) demolished. Body count unclear as dust and debris still cling to the air. Little in the neighborhood looks familiar now.

And they’ve called you, or a handful of you, to say your next. Truth or threat? The effect is the same – you run out with your life and what bit of hope you can still muster. Now you watch and wait for those missiles. You most-likely will see your home destroyed before nightfall. If not, you sit and know that your sense of home as a safe place is already in the ash heap. Your one pair of clothes might as well be sack cloth.

Jehad Saftawi is a Palestinian photojournalist living in Gaza. Soon he might be homeless. It is only by a very thin thread of tweets and photographs that we are connected at all. But while he is standing on the street, I am standing in lament alongside him and his neighbors.

*****

Lament seems to be a perpetual posture these days. I bend under the weight of sadness, the sight of our brokeness. I cry tears for my children and the children of mothers I do not even know. I worry after the welfare of a photojournalist and his neighbors. In such moments I glimpse the deep fracture that I imagine cuts to the molten core of the earth… and I groan with all of creation.

This gut-wrenching groaning is the closest I come to feeling a kinship with nature, these times I sit on the earth’s floor and know we are shared substance in our anguish at the state of things. I’m learning what the earth knows – we are pulling this world apart with wars. I lay prostrate on the ground, mourning in tandem and waiting for redemption.

The longer we fight, the less we farm, the further off is The Feast. This, too, Creation knows.

I roll over onto my back and look beyond the clouds and field of blues. I dream of airstrikes averted because the jets have been converted into agricultural aircraft and are on a hydro-seeding run right now. I dream of useless missiles now only valuable for their metal, now melted and refashioned into shovels, quick hitches and rotary tillers. I dream of plantations of shalom as far as the eye can see… Creation redeemed.

Why is this the way for me? Lament and imagination connected like the inhale and exhale? But I cry and dream. I lament and imagine. I watch and wait for missiles even as I envision weapons transfigured mid-air.

We watch and wait for more than missiles. We watch and wait for transformation… though it feels a long way off on days like today.

“How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!

How like a widow she has become…

She weeps bitterly in the night…

But there are none to comfort, none to comfort, none to comfort.”

 

 

the scars of our sons

My son is dead on the street. A part of me lay dead, too. The whole of me crumples over with the weight of ‘Why?’

I look around at everyone watching and hope they do more, hope they witness to my irrevocable, unspeakable loss in broad daylight.

Don’t let me bury my son alone.

*****

Will you step in as a pallbearer for our dead? The mothers want to know – will you walk with us the final distance to the mouth of the grave?

All life is lost, whether to old age, sickness or the anxieties too heavy to shoulder with our frail human frame. We know that, really we do. But many of our sons go down fighting the color of their skin, brown puddles on the pavement. Mingled with their blood – splattered dreams and unknown possibilities staining their brand new Nike trainers.

So will you shoulder the weight of our sons, hoisted high in a coffin too soon? Will you sit graveside – so close that there’s no light between us?  And will you let us weep out of control, wrecking your best sweater set with our tears (we’ve been through all the tissue in the house already)?

Can you bring a homemade pecan pie to the wake? We can eat together, but forgive us if we just push the pie around our plate. Our appetite for sweetness is diminished these days. But you eat – and let us bring out the worn photo albums and show you the baby pictures, tell you our favorite stories of our beloved boys. “Gone too soon” we’ll say. (Just nod and agree with us, “yes, too soon.”)

Please stay when things turn dark. Share the quiet with us – the silence of our sons is the hardest to stomach. Sometimes people forget – the news trucks drive away and the media features other matters. But we never let go, we stand as living tribute to our boys. Will you stay?

If you are with us, healing might be near. We might dare to hope for resurrection.

*****

Don’t let me bury my son alone.

I don’t want the cameras, reporters, bloggers there. No tweets required.

But friends – come.

Peacemakers – come.

If you are sad and speechless like me – come.

If you’ve lost your son (or are afraid you might) – come.

There’s room at the graveside for all the mothers bereft of sons, there’s room enough for all who would mourn with me.

*****

I’ve been told that even if you don’t come, I won’t stand by his grave alone. The Mother and her Son will be with me. I will hold her hand, squeeze it so tight, and we will remember the scars of our sons.