July 5, 2012 – the day after

Posted on www.lifelinecdc.org   by Monika Grasley  Merced, CA

July 4th  the day we celebrate independence, the day of BBQ’s and fireworks, the day we remember our history. The day of community gatherings and parades, the day when we come together, often as strangers, to enjoy the park, the beach, the events.

Today is July 5 – nothing has really changed! We are still the same country, still have liberties, we still have a justice system and we still can pursue happiness. So why does today look so different? Why do 24 hours make such a difference?

We all seem to be running; running to get things done, make more money (or enough to pay the rent), running from event to event, day to day, week to week….without ever stopping to celebrate what we have.

We are busy ‘pursuing happiness’ only to find that we are missing out on justice, and that the liberties we have really mean imprisonment for others.

How do we live ‘the day after’ or better the next 364 days in a way that reflects the real values of America? It never was about how much faster we can run to pursue our ever more eluding dream, it always was about a bigger picture.. Justice for everyone, opportunity for everyone, liberties for everyone.

There is so much talk about the welfare system, the healthcare reform, the agenda of the future president, that we often forget the here and now.

When have you looked into the eyes of a homeless instead of handing him a buck? When was the last time you heard the story of a drug addict, listened to his pain, heard his struggles instead of condemning him? When was the last time you helped a senior citizen, not because she was not moving fast enough in the checkout line, but because she had a story to tell that might teach you something?

I am finding myself tired of politics, where people are numbers and only measured by outcomes, where the individual dream does not matter as much as the results that are required to fulfill the grant requirements, where we herd people through appointments and systems only to give them one more handout.

My experience with people is that we all want to pursue happiness, that we don’t always want a handout but want to relearn how to live on our own feet, that there is way more potential and ability in people than we can ever imagine.

That is why at LifeLine we don’t do handouts (except in emergencies) because we know that dignity is more important than hot dog buns, and that their dreams and values are as valid as yours and mine.

So for the next 364 I want to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with a creator God who is for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (although happiness might look much different from His perspective).

Want to come along?

Call Vignettes- A Series of Surrenders 4- A Call to Embrace

A friend of mine called the other day to ask what my theme for 2011 is.  For the last seven years or so I’ve operated with themes that keep me on course throughout a year.  It started a few years back in the Fall when the Lord was speaking to me about hope.  I embraced hope as a theme for that next year and each Fall since then the Lord seems to show me an area of my life to focus in on.  One year it was “Rejoice” and I was excited because I was looking forward to celebrating many things.  Instead, that year everything fell apart.

As I cried and watched things unravel the theme would come to mind- Rejoice.  Rejoicing despite disappointment and pain got me through that year.  Another year the Lord spoke to me about gratitude and not taking things for granted so I chose “Thanksgiving” as the theme.   Every day I would write something I was thankful for on a strip of paper and make it into a loop. I lived each day looking for reasons to give thanks.   By the end of the year I had a chain of gratitude looped all around my room and a grateful heart.  In the process of intentionally practicing hope, joy, gratitude and such, I have experienced my life more fully.

So when my friend called to ask about this year, it was as if he was waiting to hear what he should be looking for in 2011.  Luckily I was ready with an answer.  My theme for 2011 is “Embrace.”  I know it’s vague but it’s supposed to be big enough for the whole year.  Besides, I don’t make it up, it comes to me as I sit with the Lord and he gently exposes parts of me that He is refining.  It is fun, like a game almost or a challenge to see if I can listen and focus in enough to see the opportunities and ways he is teaching me to embrace others and their ideas and his timing and his ways.  I think of that Sunday School song- “His Banner Over Me is Love”.  It’s like this year his banner over me is “Embrace.”  And instead of beating me over the head with my stubbornness, he marches out with me under the banner of embrace, out on another adventure.

Really he could beat me over the head with my stubbornness.  I am not the most embracing of people.  I tend to have an idea of how I want things and if I’m honest, I like to have things my way.  But lately the Lord has been whispering, “embrace” to me as I listen to others’ ideas and when I meet people that seem just a little off.  “Embrace” knocks around in my head when there is an opportunity for a new experience or new way of doing the same old thing.  In 2011 I am looking forward to embracing all that the Lord has for me.  I anticipate letting go of my own way and embracing the ways of others.  I look forward to a whole new cast of characters that enrich my life because I choose to embrace them this year.  And already I can see some realities of my life that I need to stop fighting against and embrace.  This year I plan to embrace my limited budget.  I will embrace my loved ones for who they truly are.  I can learn better to embrace my shape and my own feelings.   And perhaps in practicing embracing I will learn something of what it is to walk humbly with my God, freed up to embrace His leading.

What theme would you choose for 2011?  What will you choose to embrace this year?

Crissy Brooks MIKA CDC, Costa Mesa, CA

Mika CDC
Kingdom Causes

Call Vignettes- A Series of Surrenders 3- “The Crash”

My mom talks of the crash in terms of a year, not a week. She talks about our household being off for a year, my dad distant, stressed and hurting after losing his friend; my mom trying to navigate their upturned relationship and maintain a household. There was much happening around me that I was insulated from by my own self-centeredness and ego.

The morning of the crash I crawled into bed next to mom. Dad was already up and out of the house. Mom rolled over and said, “It’s going to be a hard day for the Ketchum’s.”  It seemed like a strange thing to say first thing in the morning. The Ketchum family definitely wasn’t what was on my mind. Then she told me- the police helicopter had crashed in the middle of the night and my dad’s flying partner and friend, Dave Ketchum, had been killed along with two other men.

I was twelve years old and Penny Ketchum, Dave’s daughter, was my friend. I didn’t know what to do so like any preteen, I called my friends. After school a bunch of us went over to Penny’s house. She was sitting on the bumper of a car in front of her house. As we walked up she said, “Did you hear my dad is dead?” It seemed like such an obvious thing to say. Of course we heard, that’s why we’re here. But what else do you say when you’re twelve and your world just fell apart?

For the next week I vacillated between the two awkward preteen extremes of completely smothering my friend to staying away out of a total lack of knowing what to do or say. In my self centered mind the whole week played out like a big party. Mom and Dad were completely disconnected and unavailable for us kids.  They didn’t check our homework or make us dinner. We were at the Ketchum’s every night after school. All the kids rode bikes in the cul de sac as people came and went from the house. The adults sat around and ate and drank. They drank a lot. And they cleaned. The women buzzed around the house always cleaning, keeping themselves busy while Mrs. Ketchum sat on the couch.

I remember a couple sobering moments when I would be snapped out of my party mentality and be forced to remember why we were gathered. The second night we were over at the Ketchum’s, a few of us kids were in the front yard with Penny. She had broken down and was crying, and began asking all kinds of ‘why’ questions. “Why did that man have to steal a car?” “Why did it have to be my dad working?” Then she looked straight at me, “My dad tried to trade shifts with your dad. It should’ve been your dad! Why wouldn’t your dad trade shifts?” I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if it was true or not. But I figured it was a legitimate question for anyone feeling that much pain.

The evening of the funeral we were all gathered back at the house. TVs were on in the bedrooms with a constant parade of news coverage of the police funeral. We kids were sprawled on the bed and playing on the floor. One kid was playing a hand rhythm game against the wall, slapping the floor with her hands every few seconds in a constant rhythm. It seemed as if everyone was talking at once but no one was speaking to each other. All of a sudden Hilary, Penny’s sister, screamed at us, “You are all playing and acting like nothing happened. My dad is dead.”

The room was silent.  No one said a word. I felt ashamed and yet so estranged from her pain. I went to find my own dad in the swarm of adults. I found him sitting with Penny’s grandmother quietly listening to her despite his own grief. In the middle of the noise and chaos and pain, he sat peacefully, his presence comforting a grieving mother. It was then that I saw the difference between saying I believed in Jesus and choosing to live like Him.

In the midst of all the pain around me I saw something of the Kingdom of God. I recognized the difference between my parents and the other adults around them. This was the first time I saw my parents interact with non Christians over an extended period and there was a marked difference. Everyone was dumbfounded. No one knew what to do. The cops drank. Their wives huddled in corners whispering, so glad it wasn’t them, pitying the Ketchum’s. The news media buzzed around the periphery. But my parents and the other believers among us knew how to rally. They kept their heads. They sat on the couch with Mrs. Ketchum and sent her to nap when things were overwhelming. They had words of encouragement.  They were beacons of hope in a sad, sad place.

In the brief moments when I stopped thinking of myself, I recognized that we were different because we were Christians. We had a hope for the future and we had a trust in God that others could not muster up on their own. And in the year of the crash, I decided how I wanted to live my life.  I would live as a Christian, not because my parents did, not because that’s how I was raised, but because I wanted to stand out as a light in dismal situations. I wanted my heart to carry the hope I saw my parents leading with. In the year of the crash, I saw the difference I had heard about my whole life.

Crissy Brooks MIKA CDC, Costa Mesa, CA

Mika CDC
Kingdom Causes

Call Vignettes – A Series of Surrenders 2

I was a headstrong child.  When I wanted to do something it was hard to stop me.  I don’t remember why I decided it was time for me to be baptized but I remember telling my dad that it was time.  I figured if baptism was something you had to do to follow Jesus, then I wanted in.  I was nine years old and we were sitting at the kitchen table, Dad at his spot at the head of the table and me across from him.  “I want to get baptized.” I told him.  “Getting baptized is a serious thing, Crissy, are you ready for that?”

I don’t remember my exact answer but I remember him kind of trying to talk me out of it, implying that I wasn’t big enough.  Whatever I said must have convinced him because come Easter Sunday I was in the second row of baptism orientation.  I was the youngest one there, and the most excited.  No one else seemed to share my enthusiasm.  I volunteered to be the practice example for crossing your arms.  I raised my hand to answer the questions.  I was ready.

As we filed to get our white robes, the deaconess ladies struggled to find one that would fit me.  They finally settled on a modified version of a robe. It had big wide pant legs and a zipper up the back.  I felt disappointed that it wasn’t an official robe but trotted off to suit up anyway.  Then the time came for the baptism.  It was a Sunday evening service and all the baptism candidates sat in the front rows.  I sat patiently, swinging my feet as the others took their turns.  I don’t remember looking for my parents.  This was very much something I was doing on my own.

When Pastor Wood called my name I eagerly went up to the baptismal tank.  He asked me if I understood that by choosing to be baptized I was making a public statement that I wanted to live my life for Jesus.  He stuck the microphone in my face and I boldly declared, “Yes!”  I understood.  I crossed my arms like I had been oriented and went under the water.  I stood for a minute, waiting for something to happen, expecting to feel differently.  But I didn’t.  Next thing I knew I was ushered out, being covered with towels by the dutiful deaconess.

While nothing dramatic came over me, I felt happy and satisfied, like I was somehow one step closer to being who God intended me to be.  As I think back on this overly confident little girl standing up to her father, insisting on being baptized, I wonder where the drive came from.  What was this deep desire to take a next step in faith?  What compelled me to this public moment of surrender?  Was it the strong will of a little girl, a desire for attention, or the Father calling me to Himself?

Crissy Brooks MIKA CDC, Costa Mesa, CA

Mika CDC
Kingdom Causes

Call Vignettes – A Series of Surrenders 1

I am often asked, “How did you get in to this line of work?”  I assume they are referring to me living and working in neighborhoods that many people purposefully avoid.  Sometimes others will answer for me, “Oh, she feels called to this ministry.”  Which I suppose is true, if by called they mean compelled or led by Jesus into these choices.

When I think of being called I think of Moses and the burning bush or Abraham setting out for Canaan.  My journey has been more like a series of surrenders, a progression of saying ‘yes’ to the Father’s reign in my life.  Each surrender has led me deeper into relationship with the poor and with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I suppose the first person who taught me to love the marginalized was my mother.  It wasn’t so much that she reached out to the poor but she gave me eyes to see them.  Before school each morning she would pray that my sisters and I would see the kids who didn’t have friends and befriend them.  That’s how I started bringing home latchkey kids and newly arrived immigrants, kids who stuttered and were generally marginalized.  Even when I didn’t reach out or was held back by wanting to be accepted by my friends, I still noticed the lonely kids.  I believe it was because of my mother’s prayers.  I would hear her in my mind while I played at recess and moved about in our classrooms.

The first time I remember this happening was in kindergarten.  Our teacher, Mrs. Zebock sat perched on her chair up front, her light green eyes scanning the room as we found our places in rows on the carpet.  As I settled in I caught a glimpse of the boy’s underwear in front of me and my kindergarten mind started to snicker.  There before me the Cambodian boy’s pants gaped open in back and I could see that he was wearing pink girl underwear with a ruffle across the top.  As I began to nudge my friend next to me, something stopped me.  In the split second it occurred to me that he was wearing girl underwear for one of two reasons:  either he was too poor to afford anything else or he was so new to our country he didn’t know the difference culturally.  And it is in that moment I remember feeling compassion for the first time.  That is the first time I remember really seeing the poor.

It was 1980 and thousands of refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia were landing in Huntington Beach, CA, our city.  That split second encounter, under the laser green eyes of Mrs. Zebock, set me on a path to understand the plight of immigrants that I have continued on to this day.  Of course, I didn’t understand the significance that day in kindergarten, but I remember the moment clearly and see how the Lord was leading me even then.

By second grade it was established who the “bad kids” were. In our class it was James and Jason.  They had to sit way in the back in their own section of the classroom, away from the rest of us.   My heart did not beat quite so compassionately for these two boys but I remember being confused.  The teacher often told me I talked too much and corrected me, but I was never sent away or isolated.  This seemed unfair to me.  I couldn’t figure out what those boys had done that was worse than me.  So I asked to be moved to the back with them.  I didn’t become friends with James or Jason.  We rarely talked but I sat in the back with them in some sort of eight year old statement of solidarity.  At the time, being friends with them was just too socially risky but I could see them.  I could see that isolation wasn’t solving anything.  I could see that we were treated differently.

Before I felt compassion, before I decided to follow Jesus, before I chose to act justly, my mother prayed that I would see and the Lord continues to answer her prayers.  When was the first time you really saw the lonely or marginalized?

Crissy Brooks MIKA CDC, Costa Mesa, CA

MIKA CDC
Kingdom Causes

Two Crosses

Yesterday we had our first “Good Friday Prayerwalk for Peace” amongst the churches of Monterey Park. We had no idea who would come since it was at 1pm, but garnered at least 70 odd people across a wide variety of ages. I thought it was a great show of unity as a concrete example of what “Church of the City” looks like when we talk about it in Kingdom Causes.

Anyway, from a more personal reflection, I had the chance to carry two crosses during the prayerwalk: the gold processional cross to lead the walk, and the simple wooden cross at the end of the line. Carrying the processional cross out on the streets of Monterey Park carried mixed feelings–one of being a little proud to be so publicly witnessing on the streets, saying “We are Christian” to the gawkers and pedestrians on the sidewalk we almost barreled over at times. And then a strange feeling about how this gold cross represented the sort of Constantine/Crusader emblem of conquest and triumph in much of Church history.

Then I got a call from my intern who asked for me to slow down, since she was holding up the back with the wooden cross. She called TWICE to ask me to slow down. So I ended up transferring the cross (while still holding the heavy stand for it) over and having the group proceed while I waited to see what the hold up was.

After all the prayerwalkers had passed me, I saw way off at the street corner of Garfield and Garvey my intern with the wooden cross and one elderly, deaf woman walking very slowly towards me. We walked together for a short while, but the stand for the gold cross needed to go to the front of the line. I told my intern to go on ahead with the stand, and I would walk with this woman with the wooden cross. And so we did, a veritable two person prayerwalk, with me holding this wooden cross that now felt foolish and strange, and also a marked contrast to moments before: no longer leading the crowd, but now with the one almost forgotten, the one easily marginalized.

I was glad to be able to be first and last during the prayerwalk. If I had spent too much time leading the way, the way of the cross would not have included those most easily forgotten and marginalized. Maybe next year, we’ll have the leader and sweeper switch places at each transition, so as not to forget this central aspect of bearing the cross of Christ.

It was a Good Friday.

by Jesse Chang

Tokers Town

I am sitting at my desk in church that was built in the 1950’s of cinderblock, located in the Maple neighborhood, or what is better known as Fullerton Tokers Town.  Behind me is Fernando Garcia working hard on asset mapping the neighborhood.  Fernando is our newest staff member through the Americorp program.  A block from here my wife is unpacking boxes while our children play in the front yard of our new home.

When I tell people who are familiar with this area that we moved to Tokers Town and we live on the corner of Truslow and Lawrence, we often receive a perplexed facial gesture that communicates the basic question of, “Why?”  Yesterday my wife was playing with our girls at the pocket park caddy corner to our new home.  She bumped into some teen moms that she met earlier and said hello.  Accompanying them were a number of younger gang members followed by another teen mom who was pushing her child in a stroller with one hand, clasping a bottle of liquor in the other.  Welcome to Tokers Town.

In three weeks time God has called us out of the Garnet neighborhood, found us home in a perfect spot in the Maple neighborhood, found renters for our condo and provided the funds needed to move.  Rachael and I are very excited to be in this new neighborhood and we are looking forward to being a part of what God has been doing and will do in the Maple neighborhood.

It’s like starting all over again but this time God has brought some amazing partners our way.  Lifeline Ministries, run by Pastor Joe Olvera, is the connection to the neighborhood.  As a lifelong resident Pastor Joe knows everyone and is our gateway to this community.  Also joining us is Newsong North Orange County, the church body that I teach at every so often on Sundays.  Together we occupy the Lifeline building (the abandoned church I currently sit at in TokersTown).  In addition one of my best friends, Steve Carter, who is now the campus pastor for Rock Harbor Fullerton that meets blocks from our neighborhood.  These partners along with Solidarity’s long time church partners are part of something big that God is doing in Fullerton.

Come and join in this movement and play your part in this transformation.

By Tommy Nixon, Executive Director 

www.solidarityrising.org

Hoops

People are usually excited and ready to try new foods especially when it’s ethnic.

Last week I invited my friend Zack to try some Mexican cooking from the neighbors that meet at the Shalimar Park for Hoops, their weekly block party and food sale. I felt a little uncomfortable for a second when he asked, “Are you sure? Isn’t Shalimar the street with shootings and drugs?”  I felt good to be able to share with someone else the work that Costa Mesa residents are doing in their community- I said “Yes! That’s the street, but it’s different now. The street used to be rough back in the day but now the neighborhood has changed, and it’s all driven by the neighbors – they have been making a difference.”

I felt as if he was not convinced or was interested in coming so I drove to Hoops thinking to myself “maybe next time.”  I was about to drive onto Shalimar when my phone rang. It was Zack. Before I could say “hi” he asked me “you think if I drive over there immediately there will still be food?” Feeling ready to show him what the Shalimar neighbors have done to improve their community and way of life, I patiently waited for him. To my surprise not only was it my friend Zack but his sister as well eager to eat some homemade Mexican food.

Zach was able to see first hand what can happen when neighbors join together with a common vision for their community.

http://mikacdc.wordpress.com/

http://www.mikacdc.org/

Reflection on Missional Living

Guest Intro: Eunice is an intern for Kingdom Causes this year. She is living and worshiping missionally in Monterey Park. Below she shares about her experience teaching a Sunday School Class at her church on “Missional Living.”

Although I knew that mission work did not have to involve getting on a plane and going to another country, there was still a part of me that believed that it was not fully mission work unless I traveled elsewhere. But since taking classes at Regent College and learning to read the Bible better, I know otherwise. True mission work is wherever I am. This is not because I can do so much. It is because God is a missional God. And since He has a desire for all humanity to know and love Him, mission exists everywhere, including the hodgepodge suburban city of Monterey Park.

As an intern for Kingdom Causes, my basic job description involves helping my own church in Monterey Park to be more missional in our own community. But the general mentality of the people who attend my church is still very much like mine was before learning more about missional living.

In the class, we basically covered four big concepts with Bible learning, application discussion and field trips. Here is a short and imperfect summary of each concept:

•    Incarnational Hospitality: Jesus was hospitable (welcoming) everywhere he went—in others’ homes and in public areas. How can we be hospitable everywhere we go—in our residential neighborhoods, in our churches’ surrounding community, at the grocery store, in restaurants, while eating with our friends/family, while driving, etc.?
•    Shalom: Because of sin, we are no longer fully in shalom. In other words, we are not wholly the creations that God wants us to be. How do we seek shalom (wholeness) for ourselves and in others?
•    Kingdom of God: God’s kingdom is not a place; it is His realm over all things. It is here and not yet. This is the concept that God is in control, and not us. When we do mission work (as all ministry should be), we are not doing things for God, but we are participating in what God is already doing for His people.
•    Church of the City: In the past, there used to only be one church in each community. That church was then responsible for the spiritual growth of the entire city. But in the present, there are often several churches in one city. In Monterey Park alone, there are over 25 churches. How can all these churches (despite different denominations, cultures and buildings) work together as the Church of the City?

Now that the official class has ended, here are a few personal reflections.

Highlights:
•    Most of the students were regularly consistent. I hope this means they were interested and learning.
•    A few of the students told me that they were seeing their lives differently—seeing how being hospitable to those around them was part of being missional.
•    Our McDonald’s field trip showed us that people in the city are in need and how we can be hospitable in a public setting.
•    Our church-visiting field trip opened our eyes to what other churches are doing in Monterey Park and how we can maybe join forces in being the Church of the City.
Challenges:
•    One quarter Sunday school is not sufficient. In fact, two years of seminary are not sufficient for fully learning about our missional God and how we can participate. But in being and doing, I hope we will all keep learning.
•    There are over 700 regular weekly attenders at my church. Only 10-15 students were in the Sunday school class. We wanted more. But the hope is that these few will spread the word. After all, the entire Christian church spread from 11 totally inadequate guys who learned to follow Jesus closely.
•    We are so big and have so many resources that we think we can handle many things on our own. But so much more could be done when the Church of the City works together.

Regarding this Sunday school Jesse asked me, “Would you do this again?” My answer is “Yes!!”

Kingdom Causes Alhambra & Monterey Park Blog

Prayer Garden Walk Reflection

This reflection is from guest blogger Tiffany C, one of our walkers of the 4K prayerwalk and garden fundraiser on 10/31/09. A gardener herself, she also started one of our neighborhood gardens in Monterey Park and helps maintain our current gardens. Pictures courtesy of Tiffany as well.

When I take the time to walk someplace instead of drive (if possible) I notice things that I wouldn’t if I was inside a car. When I sit in a car with the heater on or the air conditioner blowing, the windows up, and music playing, I am blocked off from the world around me; I don’t notice the details I am driving by.

On the prayerwalk this past Saturday it was an opportunity to notice the details in the city. I saw beauty: roses, birds of paradise, pumpkins, pomegranates, and new growth on trees…Fall. I saw neighbors: people going on walks, working on their garden, washing cars. I saw community: churches preparing for a Fall festival, friends walking and talking with each other, and new friendships being made. As we prayed for the city of Monterey Park we were blessed with meeting new brothers and sisters in this city. It was a blessing to experience God’s children acting as one body, regardless of what church we go to on Sunday or our political affiliations.

I am so excited about what God is doing in this place. It is so encouraging to see people praying for neighbors they do not know, for students, and businesses. I am so excited about the neighborhood gardens that are growing. It is a blessing for me to be a part of planting these gardens and helping them grow. I can see how they are helping build community and friendships in addition to just growing a crop of vegetables. And I can’t wait to have a harvest that is bountiful so that we can share food to our neighbors, some of whom may be hungry. For where there is food people will gather. Kingdom Causes Alhambra & Monterey Park Blog

A Look Into Solidarity’s Spiritual Formation Nights

The first Wednesday night of every month Solidarity invites everyone to something we call Spiritual Formation.   There is time and space set aside to simply be with God, to get to know Him better, and to listen for His voice.   When Solidarity was first founded, we were a bunch of college students who just wanted to love others in ways that drew them closer to Christ.  So we created a bunch of different programs in order to foster relationships of love with people in our neighborhoods.  The organization got good at loving others but there was so much more missing.  We were a group of people who were “do-ers.”

The original need of Spiritual Formation nights when it started a few years ago, was to help the Solidarity staff learn how to rest and abide with God.  The staff, at that time, was about doing the things of Jesus, but we needed to work at learning to be with God.  We discovered that the crucial aspects of following Jesus were to love God, love others, be loved by God, and to allow ourselves to be loved by others.  These four values are the basis of our Spiritual Formation nights.  We hope that these four values start to become a natural rhythm in the lives of everyone who participates with Solidarity.

Every first Wednesday night of the month we invite you to journey with us as we attempt to love God, love others, be loved by God, and allow ourselves to be loved by others within every aspect of our lives.  We want to love God within our jobs, be loved by God when we are dropping the kids off at day care, take time to accept love when we’re out to lunch with friends, and love others as we stroll down the aisle at the supermarket.  During Spiritual Formation we seek to make these four values to be a lifestyle as a community.

Kevin Mo-Wong, Church Development Director

Solidarity’s Website

Space to Care

On the right is a picture of the crumb of one of my favorite crusty breads, ciabatta.Those huge holes are like caverns to explore and collapse as you eat it, the aftermath of a perfect storm of bubbly yeast, heat and moisture interacting with the dough.

This week I was reminded of how much space we need to clear in our calendars to be caring. And by caring, I mean being available for others in a way that’s an unhurried exchange. In yeast breads, flavor and crumb are formed best when there are long rise times. So it is with our appointments.

The nature of community work with Kingdom Causes seems never ending in my mind: there’s always another contact, another church, another meeting, another project, another deadline, another grant to pursue. It may be just because it’s all new to me, so I haven’t fully settled into a rhythm yet. But it can easily feel overwhelming.

Still, this week I’ve had the chance to have dinner with my neighbors, meet with a friend I haven’t met with in awhile, have an extended meeting with KCAMP’s intern and a local pastor, and share breakfast (unplanned) with some guys who helped me grab soil from Home Depot for one of the gardens. In each of these meetings, it was unhurried time, an open-ended appointment. No dashing about to the next thing, the next deadline. There was space to care.

I suppose this sort of “scheduling my margins” is a foil for my other job, which is often about efficiency and immediate results. Folding in the space to care will be difficult, even though it’s so necessary!

Jesse Chang

Kingdom Causes Alhambra & Monterey Park Blog

Kingdom Causes

How Far Does Compassion Go?

The other day my friend asked, “Can I have a hug?” The vulnerability of the request took me off guard. Some days you need to be squeezed. I thought of this as I got ready to visit another friend in jail. I wondered what it is like to go for years without a hug. My friend is facing 25 years to life. 25 years without feeling rain, without smelling flowers. 25 years without a friend wrapping their arms around you and holding you tight. I can’t imagine. It seems so harsh.

Then I snapped out of my compassion and remembered that he is a criminal. He did something to be in jail. He shot at someone. Perhaps my compassion is misdirected. Would I be as compassionate if my friend had been shot at?

Perhaps my compassion springs out of witnessing the arbitrary, seemingly unjust system my friend is entangled in. There are some people who murdered and got seven years. Then there is my friend, who shot a gun but hit no one. No one was hurt and he is looking at 25 years to life. It doesn’t look like justice to me.

As I struggle with this tension of how far my compassion should go for criminals, I reflect on the scriptures. In Matthew 25:36 Jesus said, “I was in prison and you came to visit Me.” This passage teaches that in visiting prisoners we are serving Christ. It even uses visiting prisoners as one standard by which Christ will judge who his followers are.  Nothing is mentioned as to if the prisoners are guilty or which Christ will judge who his followers are. Nothing is mentioned as to if the prisoners are guilty or not.

I am struck too by one of Christ’s final acts- to forgive a guilty, convicted criminal on the cross. It was clear that he was guilty and yet Christ had compassion on him. So maybe I’m not that far off. Maybe compassion does not have to make sense. Forgiveness is not logical. The wisdom of God is foolishness to the world.

So how far does compassion go?

Crissy Brooks

For more from Crissy Brooks go to:

http://www.conversantlife.com/blogs/crissy+brooks

Solidarity Director’s Update April 09

Every year after Easter I am disappointed that I didn’t really take the time to reflect and truly thank God for the event that we celebrate every spring. This year was different but not in the way I had hoped. I knew Easter was coming and my wife and I discussed ways that we could really celebrate it and start to make some traditions for our family. As I thought about what the week would look like I envisioned a lot of down time and a lot of time spent reflecting on Christ’s act.

Instead, we dealt with support issues, sexual abuse issues in our neighborhood, gang violence, and the anxiety of watching our precious friends and neighbors make life shattering choices. Even as I write this I am still heavy with grief over some of these situations. Not the Holy Week I had in mind. Then I realized that my week more accurately resembled pieces of Christ’s experience over the week leading to that glorious morning.

The last couple of weeks we have seen God do amazing things in our lives and the lives of our friends and neighbors. It has been amazing to see how God weaves relationships together that better glorify Him and work for His Kingdom. I see this time as the triumphal entry piece of Christ’s week. As Christ got closer to accomplishing His task things became ugly, the darkness started celebrating and the darkest parts of human kinds soul came out and the same Christ that they welcomed into Jerusalem was the same Christ that they had beaten, humiliate and crucify. That week was really a week of turmoil and a battle was raging that was unseen.

We are in that place. We are seeing a surge of darkness starting to push back. We are seeing the enemy becoming bolder. This has been a tough few weeks, and just as the first followers of Jesus were devastated because they watched Christ die, we too are devastated by the brokenness and hurt in our world. At times it is too much to bear. But that was Friday. Unlike the first disciples we know that Sunday came and Christ conquered.

Dearest brothers and sisters, what is needed now is commitment. Commitment to a way of living that acknowledges and confirms the hope we have in Christ. We deeply know what it is like to live in this economy, we don’t get paid a lot, we don’t have insurance and we live in community to survive. There are times when we want to quit because our relationships are too traumatic, but we can’t, we are committed to the hope that Jesus gave us on Sunday. We ask that you continue to join with us in this commitment to the Jesus way, whether you give, volunteer, or pray we ask that you push through these tough times to continue to support what God is doing in a lost and broken world.

Tommy Nixon, Executive Director, Solidarity

For more on Solidarity visit their website:

www.solidarityrising.org

Alleys, Scars, and Day Laborers

It is amazing to what lengths we will go to avoid seeing what is hard.  This morning on my way home from my run I thought about going down the alley.  I like to pass through that way every once in awhile to check out what’s going on.  The alley is a bit of a “behind the scenes” look at my neighborhood.  – When I walk down it I can see which crews are active by the graffiti.  I have a chance to notice whose landlord is not keeping things up.  Sometimes I can tell if a family has to live out of their garage.  Walking down the alley is one way I take the temperature of how we’re doing as a community.  This morning though, I didn’t want to run down the alley.  I didn’t want to know what’s going on.  I didn’t want to see graffiti.  I didn’t want to notice furniture discarded in the alley.  I didn’t want to know what was wrong.

This willingness to embrace denial has crept into my heart as of late.  There has been a general discontentedness that I have tried to avoid through various methods.  I’ve been shopping. I’ve cleaned house like a madwoman.  I went for long runs.  In this attempt to make myself feel better, I decided I needed to get rid of my scars.  I bought some scar removal anointment and committed to the suggested three times daily application.  It seemed that the more I applied the anointment, the more scars I noticed that needed to be removed.  I was diligent, even rigorous, with applying to each unwanted mark.

Somewhere around day 3 of my manic application of scar lotion I realized that I was removing scars from my body in an attempt to make my heart feel whole.  I was willing to commit to a system of scar removal, yet not willing to sit quietly with my hurting heart.  I did not want to know what was wrong.

Today as I walked to work I thought about taking a different route.  I did not want to see the day laborers on the corner.  We have worked on several initiatives together in our city that have not been successful.  I feel like I’ve let them down and this morning I did not want to answer their questions about our next move.  Plus now with the economy being so bad there are more guys and fewer jobs.   I feel the burden and urgency when I’m with them.  Today I didn’t want to know what was wrong.

I am convicted by what Albert Edward Day wrote in The Captivating Presence:

“I came to a new understanding why Jesus passed up the religious establishment of his day, the economically secure, the socially prestigious, and sought out the poor, the outcast, the sinner, the broken, the sick, the lonely.  He felt, as we so often do not feel, their sorrow.  He was acquainted, as we too seldom are, with their grief.  On Calvary he died of a broken heart.  But that heart was broken long before Black Friday, by the desolation of the common people. ‘In all their afflictions he was afflicted.’

Most of the time we are not.  We seem to have quite a different conception of life.  We avoid as much as possible the unpleasant.  We shun the suffering of others.  We shrink back from any burdens except those which life itself inescapably thrusts upon us.  We seek arduously the wealth and power that will enable us to secure ourselves against the possibility of being involved with another’s affliction.  Lazarus sometimes makes his way to our door step.  We toss him a coin and go on our way.  We give our charities but we do not give ourselves.  We build our charitable institutions but we do not build ourselves into other’s lives.

May Jesus give me his heart to enter into the lives of others.  May he strip away the anointments and alternate routes that keep me from seeing and feeling what is.

Crissy Brooks
Crissy Brooks is the executive director of MIKA Community Development Corporation. To learn more about MIKA visit their website by clicking here.

Click here to view Crissy’s Blog.

Elevator Speech

I was on an airplane recently and the lady sitting next to me asked me: “What do you do for a living?”

It is really hard to tell someone what I do. It is way too complicated. A consultant once told me that if you cannot tell someone what you do in the time it takes an elevator to drop you off at the fourth floor, you are probably wasting a lot of time, energy and resources doing your job.

It made me think: What is my elevator speech? What do I do? What does the team I work with do? Here’s a sample of my elevator speech:

Have you heard of the Lord’s prayer? There is one sentence in it that goes like this: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. The team I work with teaches and coaches churches and faith based organizations to focus some of their time, talent and resources on the “on earth” part. A question we ask a lot is:
If your church would disappear from neighborhood, what would the neighbors (neighborhood) miss? Anything? In what ways does life get better for the common good (especially the poor, the disabled, the widow, the orphan, the stranger) because the church is there? Is the community getting stronger, better, a bit more like heaven because the church is there working with the community? Is the community itself stronger better, more able to take corrective action on things it cares about?

Our journey has been progressing for over 3 years. We are very excited about our progress and growth. Life in many neighborhoods is getting better. Churches are gaining health and vitality as members work with their neighbors in community transformation activities and programs.

Praise God with us!

Do Nothing In Particular

by Jeff Littlejohn

Recently, I was “pouring” over a recently purchased book, The Great Neighborhood Book, authored by Jay Walljasper.  Within contains a storehouse of things—simple and fun—people can do to build trusting and meaningful relationships with each other right where they live.

The subtitle “A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking” suggests it’s not a heavy read.  It isn’t.  Short snippet ideas like “going to school on a walking bus,” “making a paradise out of a parking lot,” “intersection repair,” “fighting crime is a walk in the park,” etc, keep you wanting more!  Who thinks of such cool things!

Delightfully, there at the very end of the book Walljasper concludes with his chapter, “Do Nothing in Particular.”  With glee, let me share it with you.

***

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world,” wrote the great American essayist E.B. White.  “This makes it hard to plan the day.”

Ah, that’s the dilemma.  You live in a nice place.  But it could be nicer—if only the park were fixed up or the traffic slowed down, if the schools were better or the business district brighter.

So what to do first?  You’d like to plop down on a bench for while, soak up the sunshine, listen to the birds sing and the kids play, or just watch the world go by.  But you really ought to be organizing a meeting, handing out flyers, and enlisting volunteers for the big fundraiser.

Actually, it’s important to do both.  Without taking time to truly savor your neighborhood, you lose touch with why you love it in the first place.  Soon, all you see is what’s wrong.  And that quickly diminishes your effectiveness as a community advocate.  No one is inspired by harried, humorless leaders who would really rather be doing something else.

On a strategic as well as a personal level it’s smart to take a long stroll every evening, linger at the sidewalk café, stop for a chat with neighbors, and just generally revel in all the great things your community offers.  Otherwise, what’s the point of living there?

In the Irish Hill neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, the Professional Porch Sitters Union is coming to order.  Crow Hollister, who founded the union, explains …that the organization attracts hard-working activists, professionals, artists, mothers, revolutionaries, and gardeners.  “People like you,” he says.  “They work hard, volunteer in their community, sit on boards, have schedules to keep and chores that need tending.” An agenda is dutifully handed out for each meeting, but there is nothing written on it.  Iced tea is served, followed by beer.  Stories begin to flow.  Andy describes how his neighbor was visited by the windshield wiper fairy.  Mike has the inside scoop on how to get the slabs of concrete they use on public benches for free.  Then, Hollister dutifully reports, “a neighbor walking her dog is enticed to join us.  A lot is getting accomplished.”

The Professional Porch Sitters Union began on Crow Hollister’s comfy front porch in 1999 and now features chapters across the country.  Hollister encourages you to start your own, keeping in mind that the organization is governed by only one rule: “Sit down a spell.  That can wait.”  He’d like to hear how it goes, but don’t sweat it if you don’t get around to writing him.

* * *
Do you hear Walljasper’s message?  Thanks Jay, I do.  I glimpse earthly images of a heavenly reality—life and life to the full! (Jn. 10:10)

The joy of “soaking in” life and life together.  Often we are so dang busy we miss much of that laid right before us.

In this work, however we label it:  mission, ministry, community development, lets do nothing in particular first, but to smell the roses—even with our neighbors.  JL

Excerpted from the Great Neighborhood Book  by Jay Walljasper (New Society Publishers).  The book was written with Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit organization that has been helping citizens improve their communities for 30 years.  You can order the book from www.pps.org.  Walljasper is a senior fellow at PPS.

Fight, Flight, or Something Else?

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:7

Some may suggest—that was then, this is now!

There and then Judah had been uprooted from the comfort of their “homeland,” placed directly under the authority of a “heathen” king and commanded to live normal lives in every sense.  Normal lives?  Living en-mass as kidnapped exiles!  Sure…

It could be argued—today is a different matter entirely.  History, culture, conditions and the redemptive prelude are 2500 years far removed from present-day Christian witness.  Some today suggest, the necessity to separate oneself from the world…”let not it’s evil ways entrap you.”  Thus, in many cases we find people who live down the block or even next door, effectively withdrawing from the “public square” of life together.  Or, they want to go to war against it.

While striving toward a right mind and heart before the Lord is certainly godly, it does seem though this waiting until the “end” IS a confused final mission.

In this work, which Imagine NW is about providing leadership in all sorts of communities with endless diversities and troubles, we find such fight or flight theologies less than Kingdom-building useful.  Our work is to take the “old” call by God and see ourselves as still exiled.  Yet this time, we cannot find a place or circumstance where we are NOT exiles…there is no escape…for now.  Theologies built on fear, withdrawal, “against” attitudes, anger—effectively and quickly lose the sweet fragrance of the King’s Gospel.  Absent the agape love of grace that comes to the world through unlikely messed up vessels like ourselves, “truth” statements simply ring hollow.

There is another block of Christians, dear to my heart, who do not view things so black and white.  They, and this is much of our evangelical culture, do indeed go out and reach out.  Bless them!

Yet we still find something out-of-balance, as Bob Lupton (FCS Urban Ministries-Atlanta) discovered.

Bob had challenged a church in Atlanta to send its members into a struggling urban community.  This relocation effort, by its long-term nature, was designed to be “life together” with those who struggle with very basic life necessities.

Many years had passed where some 250 mostly white families had relocated.  Yet Lupton found little evidence for positive change that brought about less crime, better literacy and health, increased ownership of homes, and more just political structures.

Bob was intensely baffled and began asking “WHY?”  After looking deeper, he discovered that the mindset of the bulk of people who relocated was centrally one of trying to “get people into the church.”  Getting people to come to church, had gotten in the way of the greater Kingdom impact.  In this case, seeking the peace and prosperity of the community was reduced to church-centric activity.

My limited read on things today suggest people are not much interested in joining things (clubs or churches), so much as developing real relationships.  Transferring people from one cultural box to another—is simply not the bridge people are much interested in anymore.  The bridge we should be looking for are lifestyles bringing the whole Gospel (Word & Deed, Hope Now * Future Hope) to those living near us while in our exiled status.

Seeking the peace and prosperity of our communities, means Christians: engaging people and places, being with, sharing with, praying with, struggling—long-term—letting the results shake out according to our Lord’s plan.

Jeff Littlejohn

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