Monday, October 31, 2005

redemptive relationships

According to Bryant Myers, relationships are the key to transformation in the Kingdom—for the poor and the nonpoor. In order to illustrate this idea, I’ll share a little bit of my own transformation.

I grew up in the suburbs but I was always aware that I did not fit the middle class mold that most of my friends fell into. My family struggled to make ends meet—there were times we went without telephone service, relied on public transportation, and even faced eviction. These experiences gave me a small glimpse of what poverty is like…in my narrow experience, I found poverty to be profoundly relational; the financial situation of my family created a real sense of isolation and disconnect (physically and emotionally) from our neighbors and classmates. My parents spent so much time and energy just trying to keep our family afloat that they were unable to build friendships with other people in the community—and for my part, I did everything possible to avoid acknowledging to my peers that anything was amiss.

When I responded to the gospel and joined my first Christian community in 1995, remarkable things happened. Suddenly I found myself embraced by people who wanted to know everything about me and did not judge my worth by the economic status of my family—they cared about my family’s hardships, brought us groceries on holidays, and helped me go to college. My spiritual gifts and contributions to the community were encouraged, nurtured and celebrated. People treated me as someone who bore God’s image in the same way that they did. My family’s poverty, which had previously isolated me in fear and shame, no longer defined me.. My sense of value and purpose as a child of God has subsequently transformed my life, worldview and vocation.

This is the power of relationships in the kingdom of God.

beautiful big bend

my muscles are sore but my heart is full after an amazing weekend at big bend national park. 13 of us made the 6+ hour journey across the southwest texas desert friday night, through the border town of del rio, where i had the best entomatadas ever for dinner, and then onward through counties more populated by cactus and sage than people until we reached the entrance to the park. 45 minutes later we found our home for the night--the basin campground. it was pitch black but the stars were bright and beautiful company as we set up our tents and prepared for bed.

the sun rose early on us the next morning and an amazing site greeted us. tall, reddish brown mountains on every side, and trees, lots and lots of trees. we packed in our gear for the trip up to the south rim, where we would be spending the night. it was a long, long, uphill climb (6.5 miles) on the pinnacle trail that took us up and around the mountain. we left our base camp at 11am and 5 hours later reached the first of many amazing sites along the south rim. from the rim you can see down into the valley endless hills, the rio grande, and the mountains of mexico in the distance. it was breathtaking and exhilirating. after a brief rest, we journeyed on to a higher cliff where we rested and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset and a delicious dinner-szechuan chicken (it's amazing what can be done with a small fire, a pot, and some canned chicken and couscous)! after dinner, we hiked a little further (in the dark) to a wooded camping area where we spent the night.

sunday morning came too soon, but the prospect of finishing the journey gave us all momentum and we made the downhill trip in just under 3 hours. every step of the way there was beauty to soak in, company to cherish, and moments to savor. i remember talking with a girl friend as we meandered down the mountain--this is the kind of thing that teaches you about yourself--handling adversity and challenge, learning to accept help from others, stretching beyond one's comfort zone. for every lesson learned and friendship created or renewed, i am grateful.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

what i'm learning (part one)

I learn best when I write about what I'm learning. Right now a lot of my learning is on the subject of transformational development. Below is a reflective summary of what I've taken away from my reading on that topic lately (part one).

Both the poor and the non-poor have an ontological problem—a “marred identity”, in the words of Bryant Myers. The poor’s sense of identity has been marred by the lack of value they perceive that they have in the eyes of the world and, in turn, their Creator. The non-poor’s identity has been marred by an accumulation of wealth and power that has developed within them an internalized belief in their right to behave as gods themselves. So, even when the non-poor try to address the problems facing the poor, there is a significant danger that the manner in which these problems are addressed will actually cause further damage (for both parties).

Because the poor are so used to being ignored, belittled, or oppressed, if they are not actively encouraged to use their knowledge and skills to contribute to solving community problems, they may never recognize their inherent value as fellow stewards of the earth, called to be fruitful in God’s economy. Simultaneously, if the non-poor’s methods of “helping the poor” involve dictating to them how they should address various issues in their community, creating the infrastructure, pouring assets into the community, etc., the non-poor will perpetuate the damaging effects of their power and privilege on the poor, as well as further ingrain the non-poor’s own assumptions of the superiority of their wisdom and methodology.

This cycle cannot be broken as long as the poor and the non-poor’s stories do not intersect or overlap in any way, for without shared stories there is no opportunity for relationship. And relationship is the key to transformation. The Biblical narrative reveals that God’s relationship with us, our relationship with one another, creation, and ourselves, while all created beautifully, have been broken over the course of time, and are in need of redemption. These relationships can all be restored as we (both the poor and the non-poor) locate ourselves in God’s wider story, and embrace our common need for Him and each other. More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

2,000 and counting

The total number of US soldiers killed in Iraq reached 2,000 today. The total number of civilian deaths are over 26,000 (minimum).

Lord have mercy.


A new Nichole Nordeman CD recently came out, and I really resonate with the title song, Brave. Some lyrical highlights:
"The gate is wide/The road is paved in moderation/The crowd is kind and quick to pull you in"
How easy is it to just go with the flow in life? Accept society's definition of everything? Build your life on worldly security?
"'Cause it's been fear that ties me down to everything/But it's been love, Your love, that cuts the strings"
People ask me a lot if I am afraid to leave the United States for so long--or if I am afraid of what may happen to me while living in another country. It's true I have some fears--but the greater truth in my life is God's love is much stronger than those fears--and the strings that might tie me here have lost their power over me.
"So long status quo/I think I just let go/You make me want to be brave/The way it always was/Is no longer good enough/You make me want to be brave"
Not only does Jesus make me want to be brave, but he is the source of my courage and the well that give me life.

Monday, October 24, 2005


i wrote this poem upon returning from the Dominican Republic last year. i reread it periodically to remind myself how i felt about the glorification of excess in our culture after a time away from it.

aisle after aisle of colorful displays
compete for my attention
playing on emotion
so much more than what I really need
sign after sign drawing my attention
advertising more stuff than I have breath to mention
causing me to question, "am I missing out?"
shiny paper in my mailbox,
alluring pictures in the black box
images all screaming at me
"don't you know that money talks?"
a convincing oasis disintegrates into a pile of sand
no thirst can be quenched in this barren land
yet an eternal spring of water lies undiscovered in our midst
waiting for us to open our hearts and unclench our fists
where we hold treasures days away from rust
rather than steadfast love for the One who created us from dust
if only we could let go of all the glitter and gold
and fully embrace the living hope that in JesusChrist we hold

five years and counting

This past Saturday I attended my 5-year college reunion. About 50 of my classmates gathered in the twilight under the watchful eye of the landmark Trinity tower to reminisce, share stories from our evolving personal and professional lives, and marvel at how much has changed on the campus that was our home from 1996 to 2000 (or in some cases, ‘til 2001). President Brazil made a cameo appearance to welcome us back and thank us for our “class gift”. For someone like me who has yet to have or implement a career plan of any kind, it was comforting to converse with classmates whose careers have been characterized by confusion, change, or chaos so far…(wow, that was a lot of alliteration). Many people are avoiding grad school because of indecision or lack of motivation, leaving their original fields of interest in favor of new pursuits, or biding their time in one job until they figure out what it is they really want to do with their lives. What a great reality check. Somehow I had managed to convince myself that I was in the minority in experiencing all of those things—and that not having a clear direction and a Masters by age 30 would be a terrible waste of the talent my professors told me I had back in the day. Despite my confidence in my current vocational calling to Nicaragua, I still find it difficult sometimes to avoid measuring the quality of my life by the standards of others. I wonder if it’s any easier to avoid such unhelpful comparisons in developing countries…

Friday, October 21, 2005

viva books and bonhoeffer

I admit it: I am a bookaholic. I have 5 books sitting on my table at home, only 2 of which I am actually reading. I visit every week to see what’s been added to my recommended list. And I love going to the bookstore. I could spend hours there. Last night I was at Viva Books (one of my new favorite places on earth) perusing the shelves before a talk on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The gentleman who came to talk about Bonhoeffer, Dean Skelley, brought an impressive collection of books about the German theologian with him to share with his audience. In quick but thorough fashion, Dean shared with us the unique features of each work dedicated to various aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life, theology, and legacy. He also gave us an extensive handout, summarizing Bonhoeffer’s life from his childhood in Berlin to the sequence of events that led to his death at the hands of Nazis in 1945. Although I had read two of Bonhoeffer’s most well known works, Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, I knew little about his personal background and how he was influenced by his experiences abroad, including time in Barcelona, New York, and London. Bonhoeffer’s theology is as captivating and relevant today as it was in the 1930-40s. His five problems with religion (overemphasis on individualism, portraying God as distant, dividing life into sacred and secular, seeking religious protection through societal privilege, and false dependence on God) still exist in various forms today. Perhaps the most controversial element of Bonhoeffer’s theology, however, was his commitment to pacificism.

“There can only be a community of peace when it does not rest on lies and injustice…there can only be a community of peace for Christians when people choose to forgive each other for their sins. This forgiveness of sins still remains the sole ground of all peace, even where the order of external peace remains preserved in truth and justice.” (Bonhoeffer)

In 1934, Bonhoeffer gave a speech at a conference in Denmark, in which he said:

“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture, and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security…peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes…[Battles] are won when the way leads to the cross.”

This is a remarkable statement for a man who deeply loved his country, but also recognized that unless it was destroyed, it could never become beautiful again. Often patriotism is defined today as support for the military, the actions of the government, or national interests. As an American, I feel an intense love for my country and want the best for it. As a Christian, my final loyalty is not to any kingdom on this earth, but to Christ’s eternal kingdom. Therefore, I hold loosely to the security and privilege that comes from my earthly citizenship and prayerfully lay the destiny of my country in the hands of God alone.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

of traffic tickets and theology

Thanks to my impatience while driving and the untimely appearance of a policeman several weeks ago, I had my first encounter with the legal system today. After walking through the obligatory metal detector, I made my way down a dimly lit hallway to what I thought was my destination—the cashier. After waiting 20 minutes to pay my fine, I was told I actually needed to appear before a judge first. Being poked and prodded like cattle in and out of the appearance docket room are a cross section of San Antonio’s population—defiant teenagers, working women, past offenders, families with small children, elderly men. I join the dozens of people seated on the wooden benches and wait for my name to be called. A tall man in a blue pin striped suit walks into the room, picks up a handful of forms, and calls out a list of names, mine included. Off we go into Court 2. It turns out the man in the suit is the Judge. Shuffling through papers, he calls each person up to the bench, quickly renders a judgment or passes on an administrative task to the clerk beside him. “Your case is dismissed.” “Are you able to pay anything on this today?” “Take this form outside to the prosecutor.” After being ushered in and out of Court 2 twice, I am sent to Court 1 for instructions on documenting my defensive driving course. Finally I am back where I started—the cashier—paying my debt to society for poor decision-making (intentional law breaking). As I walk out the exit, I find myself very unsettled. Not only because of the financial drain (though that does hurt), but because justice seems so cold, so indifferent, so incomplete. The thought crosses my mind: what if there were only justice, and never mercy? What if there were only the law, and no grace? All hope would surely perish from the earth.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail”
(Lamentations 3:21-22)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

a world without hunger

is it possible? people over at the united nations think so.

"During FAO's lifetime, the planet's population has almost tripled to more than six billion people. Thanks to the efforts of millions of farmers, to the creativity of scientists and to the growth of industry, trade and communications, we now produce more than enough food to feed everyone. Average daily food intake per person has risen by 23 percent since 1945."

so if we produce enough for food for everyone, what is the problem? in a word, distribution. that's the simple answer. a complex answer would involve an in-depth study of politics, economics, natural resources, history, and more. but i think the deepest answer lies within the human heart and in the reality of our fallen world.

"Today, with the continued existence of world hunger -- 852 million persons still suffer from chronic undernutrition -- and increasingly frequent globalized food emergencies, it is more necessary than ever to have a global forum where consensus can be reached on the international dimensions of food security, including food production, safety, trade and consumption."

a global forum is good, but what can i do today? how can individuals like me who care but have limited resources respond to this issue? perhaps buying fair trade products...which help many independent farmers make a living to support their own families. perhaps seeking discipline in my consumption of food and other products. "reduce, reuse, recycle." i learned about that green triangle in middle school and i think it's still useful. perhaps giving away books and other things that i am no longer using to people who might benefit from them. perhaps borrowing books instead of always buying (ouch, that one hurts me). perhaps volunteering at the local food pantries in town to meet the needs of neighbors we may not know. perhaps writing to elected officials and sharing my concerns with them.

"That nations invest some $975 billion each year in military spending and spend just under $80 billion in aid that could reduce the hunger and poverty that breeds conflict confounds common sense."

Perhaps, most important, praying to the Lord of heaven and earth for "daily bread" to be given to all, and that the day would quickly come when nations would beat their swords into plowshares and not train for war anymore.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

why poverty persists

Jim Wallis gives us two reasons.

"THERE ARE TWO obstacles to making real progress against poverty: the lack of priority and the lack of agreement on strategy. The poor have been near the bottom of our priority list, if they are on the list at all. It will take a moral and even religious imperative to change our priorities, but the time has come to do so. But we have also been paralyzed by the debate between liberals and conservatives on what solutions to pursue, with the Right favoring cultural changes and the Left endorsing policy changes."

hearts set on pilgrimage

Have you ever been in the presence of people who made you feel warm inside and deeply loved, simply by being among them? I had that kind of experience this past Sunday when I spent about 30 minutes with some friends who are starting a missional community known as Trinity House. I was there to share a little bit about the journey that had led me to commit 3 years of my life to living and serving among the poor of Nicaragua. Their community meets in an inviting, colorful space on the inner west side of San Antonio. Couches and large easy chairs form a semi circle around a coffee table adorned with a simple embroidered runner, tea light candles, and the sacramental elements of communion. As the community gathers that morning, children are playing, women are sharing stories of joy and meaning from their lives, men are playing guitar and preparing for the time of worship and learning Truly, the presence of God is in this place. The gathering begins with a short reading for reflection and then I am invited to share. As my words tumble out, I glance around the room, seeking connection with my brothers and sisters, hoping they can see my heart. I am humbled by their nods of understanding, their affirming looks of encouragement, and their heartfelt prayers. Truly, the Trinity abides with us. Finally, I bid my friends a temporary farewell, but I know we are united in spirit, for all of our hearts are set on pilgrimage…sojourning with these kindred spirits over the last several months through common reading and discussions about faith and practice has drawn me deeper into the mystery of knowing Jesus and following Him in the world…I can think of no better fruit for a community to bear.

Monday, October 17, 2005

choosing Life

In Walking with the Poor (my current read), author Bryant Myers describes the concept of transformational development—transformational, because the word “development” alone has come to suggest something in our culture that is more about material newness or economic prosperity than foundational, lasting change. He argues that truly transformational development:
“takes hard work…involves choices…setting aside that which is not life in us and our community while actively seeking and supporting all that is for life…this requires that we say no to some things in order to say yes to what really matters.” (3)

Myers’ words remind me of the words spoken to the Israelites in the day of Moses:
“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life…” (Deut 30:19-20)

“Choose life”. A pithy phrase narrowly adopted by some people merely to suggest an opposition to abortion actually encompasses so much more—Jesus told us that He came so that we might have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). Now, and in the life to come. Yet how often do I make choices that are not life-giving at all? What do I need to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to what really matters? And how can I even attempt to answer these questions for my friends and community if I have not individually grappled with them and reoriented my own life towards true Life-giving attitudes, priorities, and actions?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

John Edwards is coming to Trinity

Tuesday, November 29th
Laurie Auditorium

More info.

In an ironic turn of events, Edwards, champion of the working class during the '04 election, is now working for Wall Street as a "global dealmaker". Hmmm.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

where are the architects?

From the Christian Science Monitor

"Today's images of what it means to be a success undermine a democratic culture. The good life is defined by private pursuits, whether shopping in the mall or battling it out on reality TV. Cooperative labors that solve problems are more empty pieties than principles we live by. Consumerism contributes to the erosion of human solidarity, as religious leaders such as the late John Paul II have observed, but part of the problem also comes from liberal education. Professionals are trained to look at people in terms of their deficiencies not their talents, and to be detached from the civic life of places."

(Excerpt from "To rebuild after a hurricane, be an architect of democracy" by Harry C. Boyte)

fray of the day

An interesting discourse on Slate's Fray Watch's an excerpt:

"For all the black days in the interwoven history of Church and politics, it might behoove Hitchens to recall that revolutions inspired by atheist appeals to "reason" racked up a far bigger body count in the 20th Century than either Osama Bin Laden or Eric Rudolph could ever hope to achieve. Lenin. Stalin. Mao. Pol Pot. Not a choir boy among them.Modern secular liberalism is built upon the principles of Enlightenment humanism, but it is also a rather clear, linear outgrowth from the more radical aspects of the Christian message. When Germans beat their swords into plowshares, learned to love their neighboring nations, and built social services to care for their citizens, they were led not by secular revolutionaries, but by a party known as the Christian Democrats. When Abolitionists railed against slavery, and when Civil Rights marchers challenged the hierarchy of racism, they were led by Christian ministers. The very core of modern Western Civilization is composed of a trust in reason and science, tempered by a faith in the values of peace, compassion, and brotherly love, and a humility regarding our role in the universe that precludes absolutism."

principles of reconciliation

In the spring of 1997, I spent a week living and serving in Jackson, Mississippi with a dynamic racial reconciliation ministry called Voices of Calvary. Two families--one white, one black--shared a split level house as a witness to the transforming power of Christian community to overcome generations of racial division. John Perkins and Chris Rice were my first introduction to racial reconciliation--and my encounter with their ministry began my journey of understanding how through Christ, God desires to reconcile all things (Col 1:19-21) to Himself by restoring right relationships both vertically and horizontally in the world.

Authors Glen Kehrein and Raleigh Washington identified 8 principles for reconciliation in their work on the subject, Breaking Down Walls (1993). They are:

-Commitment to relationship

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

cooler heads prevail

Given my future in Nicaragua, I have been watching with much concern the escalating political crisis there. Thankfully, cooler heads have prevailed, with the threat of lost US aid hanging over the beleaguered Nicaraguan government.

Monday, October 10, 2005

hurry up and wait

this is the beginning of my adventures in online journaling/blogging/whatever you want to call it. as some one who has journaled for much of the last 18 years using the primitive tools (also known as pen and paper) handed down to me by my ancestors, the whole idea of blogging seems a little odd to me, but i am ready to embrace change and hopefully discover something new about myself through this electronic medium.

now, to the subject of this post. i have been doing a lot of waiting over the last several weeks...the kind of waiting you don't realize you are experiencing until you stop your normal pace of life long enough to observe that while your life appears to be in motion, in fact many things are in pause mode. first, i was sick for a week. during that time, i did a lot of waiting. waiting for the pain to go away, waiting for a friend to call, waiting for the awful tv shows of the noon-3pm variety to cease, waiting for my antibiotics to work, waiting for my brain to feel like attempting mental activity, waiting.

second, i am in a long journey at the moment toward future mission work in nicaragua with a great organization called Food for the Hungry...a calling i have been drawn to and confirmed in my pursuit of many times over, but only now (3 years since the moment i knew i was called to latin america to serve the poor in the name of Christ) is coming to fruition. and while i have been in a period of what i call "active waiting" (i have been reading books on nicaragua, praying, raising support, etc.), a lot of what happens and when it happens is still not (and never will be) up to me. it's up to God. these lessons in patience and trust are some of the most challenging for me, as a woman who tends to be fiercely independent (to all external observation) but internally craves the security of knowing that the issues and realities of my life are in far more capable hands than my own.

i was taught a new lesson in waiting just recently at a local shelter where folks from new orleans are still living. a sweet, gentle, octogenarian woman with add who was part of the convention center horror three weeks ago told me her story of being transported from place to place, just waiting to be able to get back on the medicine she needed to function normally, waiting to be seen by the right kind of doctor, waiting to be assigned the appropriate caseworker to help her, waiting for news from new orleans, waiting to see if she can move to delaware where many of her friends are now, waiting. and in the meantime, where is she? in a church gymnasium, eating whatever she is given, sleeping in close quarters with 20 other special needs evacuees, appreciative of the smallest gesture of compassion or kindness. while i was there, she told me she wanted to read the paper. i happened to have a copy in my car, and when i offered it to her, she gave me a big hug. how often do i display as much love to others in the midst of my own time of waiting? that's my food for thought today.