Archive for October, 2011
“How can we expect to remain full of creative vitality, of zeal for the Word of God, of desire to serve, and of motivation to inspire our often numbered congregations? Where are we supposed to find nurture and strength? How can we alleviate our own spiritual hunger and thirst? (12-13)” Henri Nouwen asks these questions in his book The Way of the Heart. He offers that through the disciplines of solitude, silence, and prayer these questions can be answered. Using the history of the Desert Fathers and Mothers from the third to fifth century, Nouwen uses their stories to show how these disciplines are possible.
To put into practice what we read over the past couple weeks, all the teams from Atlanta went on a solitude retreat Thursday night to Friday evening. We drove to a state park about an hour outside the city to spend time in solitude, silence, and prayer. Slowly increasing our times of solitude with periods of group reflection in between, we were all provided with the chance to spend time with just God.
Initially I wasn’t the most excited about the solitude retreat and I was actually a little bitter. Friday was my day off, my Sabbath. I had scheduled things I wanted to do. But by the time Thursday evening rolled around and the exhaustion of a long week had settled in, some alone time with God my Father sounded pretty good.
What most excited me was the opportunity to spend time in the changing leaves of Fall. I grew up in Ohio with Fall being my favorite season of the year, with the yellow and red leaves on the trees, the Fall festivals, and carving pumpkins. Here in the city the leaves seem to change from green straight to brown and fall off.
As the times of solitude began, I realized that through all my excitement to be alone in nature with God I was actually quite anxious and scared of what thoughts might come up and where God would take me. As Richard Foster stated in his book Celebration of Discipline, “One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silent who will take control? God will take control; but we will never let Him take control until we trust Him. Silence is intimately related to trust” (88).
Through the discomfort of the silence the realization hit me that in the silence and solitude much could happen. As Henri Nouwen wrote, “Solitude is thus the place of purification and transformation, the place of the great struggle and the great encounter. Solitude is not simply a means to an end. Solitude is its own end. It is the place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world. Solitude is the place of our salvation” (31-32).
Mission Year keeps me fairly busy. During the week I am up early and going all day long between being at my service site and being out and about in my community. I spend all day Saturday at community events or meetings and trying to get to know my neighbors. On Sunday I am at church from 7 am until about 12:30 pm, and the rest of the day is spent doing chores, laundry, and grocery shopping. Mixed in with each of these days are my quite times that can sometimes be productive, but other times I become focused on what else is going on that day. To listen to God in those times can sometimes be hard.
Solitude provides a time to reflect, recharge, and connect. It provides me with the time to understand why God has called Josh and me here to Atlanta. During the solitude retreat I was able to recognize that God has been talking to me through all the busyness of life I was just choosing not to listen. I learned that the times I feel God is being silent are times he is calling me into that silence with him. As Oswald Chambers states, “A wonderful thing about God’s silence is that His stillness is contagious – it gets into you, causing you to become perfectly confident so that you can honestly say ‘I know that God has heard me.’”
I loved playing Uno growing up. I always felt like it was an easy game I could understand and actually beat the adults I played against. It’s always exciting to play those +4 or +2 draw cards, skip someone, and most importantly yell out “UNO!”
Monday through Thursday afternoon my teammate Shannon and I help out at the afterschool program here at Emmaus House. There are 10 kids in the program, and while we try to work with the same kid every day, it has been very easy to get to know the other kids. Two weeks ago we had one of the kids and her mom over dinner, and news traveled fast to the kids that this one little girl got to come over. Instantly we found ourselves in a situation where everyone wanted to come over. We quickly told them all that we had to meet their parents before they could come over, and immediately many responded “OKAY!”
So Tuesday evening following the afterschool program, we found ourselves playing Uno at our dining room table with Mackenzie. She told me how much she loves the game but doesn’t get to play that often. Remembering back to my love for the game, I could definitely relate. As we were each taking our turns playing it came around to Mackenzie and she played a couple cards, and I stopped her saying that wasn’t in the rules. She looked at me and simply stated that’s how she and all her friends played. I looked at her, relaxed, and responded that if she wants to play that way we would.
Sitting there I realized does it really matter what rules we follow. What I was finding more important wasn’t the game at all but the time I was actually getting to spend with Mackenzie. The relationship I am building with her is far more important, and I look forward to more games of Uno around our dining room table.
What do the words Relocation, Reconciliation, and Redistribution mean to me? This is a question that I have been mulling over and over for the past several weeks. During our time with Mission Year we are reading a book or two a month, and over the past month we read the book Restoring At Risk Communities edited by John Perkins, the founder of the Christian Community Development Association. Throughout the book these three words are discussed and analyzed over and over again. While we talked about the book at weekly curriculum discussions, it is even more of a challenge to figure out how these topics really relate to my ministry, Josh and my ministry, and our MY:Married Team ministry.
The book focuses on the idea of Christian community development, which is based upon the vision of what true community will look like when God is in complete control. Relocation, Reconciliation, and Redistribution (the 3 R’s) are viewed as the foundation and daily strategies needed for Christian community development.
- Relocation is “the need to live and work among those to whom we are attempting to bring the hope of the gospel” (36). For Biblical foundation check out Matthew 28:18-20 and the Great Commission where Christ commands the disciples to go out into ALL nations.
- Reconciliation is bringing and reuniting people with both God and others. It is simply “reconciling people to God, and reconciling people across the toughest human barriers” (108). In Genesis 3 people broke apart from God by eating the forbidden fruit and Genesis 4 people broke from each other when Cain killed Able, and from that time on there are countless stories in the Bible of God attempting to reconcile people back to him and to each other.
- Redistribution is viewed as a natural result of relocation and reconciliation. It is not the idea of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, rather it is “putting our lives, our skills, our education, and our resources to work to empower people in a community of need” (23). Take a look at the economic system God presented in Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15.
All three concepts may be simple to read about, the challenge comes when attempting to take and implement them.
Josh is a Social Worker, and he spent the past several years working with the foster care system in Cleveland to assisting individuals coming out of prisons and re-entering society. Many of the people he would work with lived in the inner city neighborhoods of Cleveland. I spent the past several years working in a hospital in downtown as a RN, where many of the patients came from the surrounding neighborhoods.
The issue we faced was that amongst these opportunities we would always end our days by driving home to our apartment in the suburbs. So the discussion emerged of what it would look like for these people we worked with to transform from clients and patients to being our neighbors, where we would actually be in solidarity with them. The problem was we had no idea how to go about doing this, so Mission Year became a catalyst for Relocation, and it has opened the door of Reconciliation and Redistribution to us.
Reconciliation of God and his people is concept I feel comfortable with, but when I have been honest with myself over the past couple of weeks the reconciliation of us with our neighbors seems daunting and intimidating. Facing the truths of racism in our culture isn’t easy, and being White and moving into a predominately Black neighborhood has challenged me to face the “truths” I thought I knew. I am learning that “reconciliation is profoundly spiritual concept – one that tackles some of our worst human tendencies with some of the best that God has to offer his people” (123).
While still facing the challenges of Reconciliation and what that truly means for me personally, I look at how this affects our culture and the neighborhood we are living in. Through my experiences so far serving at the Lokey Center (Poverty Rights Office) here at Emmaus House, I see the discrepancies in services offered to people in Peoplestown and surrounding neighborhoods versus those living in more affluent parts of town. By talking to our neighbors and leaders in the community, there is an overwhelming desire for more viable opportunities for everyone to access.
Through these moments and conversations, the concept that Redistribution is needed and reliant on Relocation and Reconciliation is much more evident. They open the door for Redistribution to be possible. Without the willingness to relocate and build the bridge between us and our neighbors, there is no possibility of working together to build up the community.