Category Archives: Community development

My Ebenezer…

In Hebrew the meaning of the name Ebenezer is: Rock or stone of help. Famous bearer: the Old Testament Samuel gave the name Ebenezer to a stone set up in recognition of God’s assistance in defeating the Philistines.

Today we were given this Ebenezer, a very heavy exact replica of a huge look alike on the property of Neighborhood Ministries. The Ebeneezer on the property holds the prayers of children. Kids like those who will converge on the property tomorrow for Kid’s Club, 500 plus a hundred leaders. The stones there are the prayers, hopes, dreams, and unnamed pain and violence of their stories. It is a beginning for them, a naming. Even this small private act gives courage to name these raw things to a person. And we know that the words written on those rocks have been heard by “El Shama“, the God who hears.

But these rocks today were placed one by one by hands dear to us. This was our goodbye. Written on the rocks were words representing a prayer for us. Courage. Risk. Adventure. As each person passed by, they placed a stone. Before it was placed, there were long hugs, many tears, eyes locked in raw seeing.

Here in the desert, in this often overlooked part of Phoenix, we have shared life together. Overlapping three generations now, these thirty years. Neighborhood started as a simple act, really. What if one group of people committed to one distressed neighborhood in Phoenix, for the long haul? We were assigned to this fledgling ragtag group to “grow up” a little. True story.

Today looks a lot like family. Bio family was there, surrounding our boys with tears. Today is Father’s Day, often a day of pain for me. Family can be messy, and this group of people is raw and real. None of the in-the-box church here.

And so I am grateful. Grateful for words spoken, and for those left unsaid. Grateful for rocks held in hands full of love. Grateful that we can carry them with us on the road to Oregon.

I talked with my kids later about why Kit used the word Ebenezer. We had heard that word sung in an old song Come Thou Fount today, a change from the vibrant Spanish melodies.

Here I raise my Ebenezer

Hither by Thy help I’ve come

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home

My daughter recognized it, and sang thT verse. Then she sang another line and it sounded a bit different than the one I heard in my growing up years.

And my heart says yes. Yes, to the God who Hears. Yes, to the God who Heals. Yes, to the God who goes before and behind. Yes. May it be so.

Here’s my heart, oh, take and heal it

Heal it for Thy Home above.

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The gift of presence

Leaving is like a slow grief. As we leave this place we have put roots down in together for thirty years, there is pain. Actually, counting childhood, I have been in the desert for forty years. Not sure about the wanderings….

And so we gather with groups of folks we have loved. These are people, young and old and in between, whom we have done life with in raw, bold ways. And in those places I have an invitation before me. Do I dare to remain present? Am I willing to listen with my heart?

Part of me wants to bolt! (And this from an “extrovert”)!

There is something I am startled by in this season. I have “done” many things; written curriculums, facilitated groups, midwifed women, taught classes. These are not the things I am hearing back.

From the teen moms, now grown, the take away is simple. I greeted their babies and drew on their bellies (belly mapping a baby). Greeting babies, so common to me, gives connection to that little human. And I asked permission (may I touch you?). This is life changing for those of us who have been violated.

Not the curriculum, the knowledge, the program. The things that stick are put into words: respect, dignity, permission, voice. And I offered my eyes.

This theme I also heard from my journey-mates. “You gave me your eyes.”

What is that, the offering of eyes, of presence? It is an invitation.

I also hear that I invited story, that we created places that flowed from our own stories. It seems small, really, the inviting of story. But this is radical, revolutionary stuff. When I engage my story deeply, and wrestle with its pain, only then do I have the right to dive into story-waters.

This desert landscape has been the place of my deep wrestling. Everything I thought was true about me, and my childhood, has been exposed in the light. Layers upon layers have been stripped away, until I stood figuratively naked in the arid landscape.

It is only from this place that I have the privilege to hold space for stories to emerge.

These are things that I am invited to notice. I am going to a place, in grad school, where other things matter. Titles, letters behind a name, publications, position….

And in this season of goodbyes none of those things have been spoken once.

Eyes, presence, respect, story.

This is the invitation, to my heart. Am I willing to enter a new place and offer my eyes? Am I willing to be present, in that green and rainy land, to another? Am I willing to offer my story, to create safe spaces for stories to emerge? In a more scripted, techy birth environment, will I continue to ask permission, to honor the yes and no of a woman young or old?

I am listening.

Thank you for gifting me with your words.

I am not alone

Sitting at neighborhood this morning, I felt waves of emotion. The reality is hitting me. I am leaving this community where I have woven into the lives of now the third generation of this Neighborhood.

How do you begin to form a community in a new place? I know that it starts by being willing to open my heart. And then, the risk is, I don’t know where the journey will lead.

But that is the only way. The reality is, that’s community. I have to be willing to enter with my story, to listen to the stories of others. And it is in this sacred space of story that the bonds began to form.

I am in the midst of the grief, of goodbyes yet to come in the move and now the long goodbye to my dad.

And so this morning the song washed over me.

I am not alone. I am not alone. You will go before me. You will never leave me.

And my heart says yes. This is truth.

It stands in stark contrast to the cry of evil that resonated through my childhood; you are alone.

Truth says, I am.

I will go before you.

You are not alone.

Listen to the song Here

The Lenten Writings: remember

God of peace,

God of justice,

God of freedom,

We give you thanks for your cadences of peace, justice, and freedom,

Cadences that have surged through the lives

Of Martin,

And Ralph

And Rosa,

And John,

And Fred,

And Hosea,

And Jesse,

And Andy,

And all that nameless mass of risk-takers who have been

Obedient to your promises

And susceptible to your dreams.

Deliver us from amnesia

Concerning their courage in the face of violence,

Their peace-making against hate,

And their hunger for you in a devouring economy

Deliver us from amnesia:

Turn our memory into hope,

Turn our gratitude into energy,

Turn our well-being into impatience.

That these same cadences of your will may pulse even among us.

Amen

Source: “Deliver us from amnesia”, from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, Walter Brueggemann, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2003.

The Lenten Writings: just you

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

(By Teresa of Avila)

The Lenten Writings: Jesus and the disinherited

The disinherited will know for themselves

that there is a Spirit at work in life and in the hearts of men

which is committed to overcoming the world.

It is universal, knowing no age, no race, no culture and no condition of men.

For the privileged and the under privileged alike,

if the individual puts at the disposal of the Spirit the needful dedication and discipline,

he can live effectively in the chaos of the present the high destiny of a son of God.

High Destiny, by Howard Thurman. From the Lenten Poetry companion, neighborhood ministries.

I was first introduced to Howard Thurman in the Mystic Activists. His book, Jesus and the Disinherited, was our focus this fall for a month. It was not enough time to do it justice. But I am learning that theology must come from the bottom up.

We are in a focused time of prayer for our Dreamers. Tomorrow is the deadline for a permanent solution for these children, now grown, who were brought to the states before age 5. They are woven into the very fabric of our culture and society. They are our teachers, they are in nursing classes and serving in our Armed Forces. Dreamers work in every service profession. And they live in a constant state of uncertainty. They never know when their permission could be suddenly gone. And so, quite literally, would they.

The challenge of Scripture must also be read from the bottom up. This is who Jesus hung out with, which often earned harsh criticism from the powers that were in place. The validity and application of Scripture is only as significant as its application to the lowest among us. In fact, when we understand Scripture in this manner, we also see ourselves in that same way. We are the they, living in the most need and desperation.

It is only from this reading of Scripture that we can form a compassionate response to any issues of justice. Literally, the word for compassion with passion or with feeling. Compassion comes when I am moved in my innermost self by the pain of another. I must choose to enter the story. And today, the story is that of our dreamers.

I would ask you today to stand in prayer for the dreamers.

#PrayForDreamers

The Lenten Writings:

“We are not experiencing utopia here on earth.

But God meant things to be easier than we have made them.

A man has a natural right to food, clothing and shelter.

A family needs work as well as bread.

Property is proper to man.

We must keep repeating these things.

Eternal life begins now, “all the way to heaven is heaven, because He said, ‘I am the Way.’”

The Cross is there of course, but “in the Cross is joy of spirit.”

And love makes all things easy …

Love is indeed a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, of each of us, but it is the only answer …

to the saints everyone is child and lover.

Everyone is Christ.”

Utopia by Dorothy Day. From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Neighborhood Ministries.

A harsh and dreadful thing…

The phrase reminds me of the Denise Levertov reading where she equates mercy to rage and joy.

Why do we make the gospel into a Hallmark movie? This thing that we are asked to do is both easy and hard. The call to love God and love neighbor, is the whole deal in one phrase. And it takes a lifetime to live into.

These natural rights are not the norm for many even in our “wealthy” country. Privilege is real, an unseen line that divides and creates distinction. If you don’t believe that, you probably live from a place of invisible privilege.

Eternal life begins now.” The kingdom of God is a both and. It is coming and it is here. I am to long for it and work for it today. It is the sublime paradox.

It is in this paradox that I find hope. And love, as easy to love as it is to love a little child or a lover.

And this is the kingdom of God. Even so come.

The Lenten Writings: not yet…

Beginners

Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla

“From too much love of living,

Hope and desire set free,

Even the weariest river

Winds somewhere to the sea—“

But we have only begun

To love the earth.

We have only begun

To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?

— so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?

— we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,

only begun to envision

how it might be

to live as siblings with beast and flower,

not as oppressors.

Surely our river

cannot already be hastening

into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot

drag, in the silt,

all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet—

there is too much broken

that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other

that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know

the power that is in us if we would join

our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must

complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

~ Denise Levertov ~

(Candles in Babylon)

So much is unfolding that must complete it’s gesture…

I am in a place of unfolding. The unfolding of things that are new, much of which is unseen at this time.

The unfolding also means a closing.

Why is it that grief enjoy so often go hand-in-hand?

This poem is haunting.

We have only begun to imagine justice and mercy…

At Neighborhood, we swim in rivers where we talk about justice. And sometimes, in the river, The current threatens to pull us under. The fight for justice is real. It has faces. It has stories. It is salty with tears.

And then in the invitation to step into new arenas, the questions remain, hanging in the air.

Not yet, not yet–there is too much Broken that must be mended.

Source: Levertov, Denise. “Beginners” from Candles in Babylon. New York: New Directions, 1982.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

The Lenten Writings: unencumbered

My soul feels lean, trim, sparse, excess clutter left behind, desire and clutching set aside.

And for the sake of what, of what value is this the thinning, weaning, letting go?

Only for the sake of a clear eye, and open mind, and emptied heart.

All this, yes, to enter unencumbered into oneness with the One

Where nothing is everything.

This is this season of letting go. Physically, letting go of 24 years of accumulation in a house. Emotionally, letting go of a place where we have invested, one family, one group of families, committing to one neighborhood of families. That is the essence of community development, is it not?

I don’t know, really, what is on the other side.

What I do know, is that there is an invitation to release. Release into the not knowing.

Could it be that in that space, is the place that is unencumbered? Perhaps even in my soul?

A wise voice in my journey says that this will be a season where grief and joy hold hands.

To the journey ahead.

 

Source: “my soul feels lean” from My soul feels lean: poems of kids and restoration, Joyce Rupp. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2013.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

The Lenten writings: Going on a trip…

I’m thinking about taking a trip. Would you like to join me?

How I loved those words as a child. Today, I was invited to go on a journey. At the Mystic Activists study at neighborhood ministries we were given a Lenten poetry companion. I asked if I could share it with you, day by day.

Want to come along?

Ash Wednesday.

A new experience for this recovering evangelical. It is profoundly moving to me to be marked by the ashes. Such a strong symbol, so visible. I see people looking at me differently, focusing on the forehead. Kevin Starr led us this morning, from the Catholic Diocese. Normally, he is in the jails; but he said we were not so different.

That’s what I love about neighborhood actually, such an awareness of being in the mess together.

Opening Words by Denise Levertov

I believe the earth

Exists, and

In each minim mote

Of its dust the holy

Glow of thy candle.

Thou

Unknown I know,

Thou spirit,

Giver,

Lover of making, of the

Wrought letter,

Wrought flower,

Iron, deed, dream,

Dust of the earth,

Help thou my

Unbelief. Drift

Gray become gold, in the beam of

Vision. I believe with

Doubt. I doubt and

Interrupt my doubt with belief. Be,

Beloved, threatened world.

Each minim

Mote.

Not the poisonous luminescence forced

Out of its privacy.

The sacred lock of its cell

Broken. No,

The ordinary glow

Of common dust in ancient sunlight.

Be, that I may believe.

Amen.

And so it begins. Welcome to Lent.