“On becoming a daughter and becoming a mother. There is something awesome about pregnancy. Two flesh are one in the purest form. The bond is intense. In the beginning, the connection seems natural, long cuddles, snuggles, total sacrifice of oneself for another. There is a dance and the child nuzzles back. It is taste of unconditional love.
However, somehow as the child grows older it becomes harder and harder to feel that intense, vulnerable connection. What is this small wall that is beginning to develop? Why when I ask my child for a hug does she reject me? And, why does she have to say my name more than once to get my attention? Where did this conditional love come from? Can we find the purity of birth again?
I sense this distance with my own mother. I love her but it is a rare occasion when I feel the intense connection that I long for. Likewise, I feel the same thing happening between my daughter and myself. I long for the deep, intimate closeness that we had when she was in the womb.
I don’t know if it’s possible to have that feeling on a consistent basis but I will spend the rest of my life trying to find that pure connection again, both with my daughter and with my mother. I love you mom. I love you daughter.” ~Jana Holland, Written in Chicago on an early Sunday morning, January 30, 1999.
The idea of visiting Oakland, CA. really wasn’t on our radar, however after a brief shout out on a group forum via Facebook we found a welcoming host, Josh Harper excited to have us come to his New Hope community.
Oakland, isn’t that the city we always hear about in crime reports? Highest murder rates per capita, gangs, drugs, sex trafficking, homelessness, orphans, violence, immigrants, and extreme poverty. I mean, who just goes to Oakland? And yet, as we learned from our visit, there are a handful of highly educated, doctors, lawyers, nurses, social workers and teachers that have moved purposefully from their exterior, safe, comfortable lives into this dynamic and dangerous neighborhood. They have moved here intentionally to live in community with one another and with those they feel called to engage, inspire, and protect. These saints are the crux of our story about Oakland. These saints are the “Real Raiders.”
There is something intriguing that happens when we pull our big ol bus into a tight city block, it takes all of the neighbors efforts to make it happen. This means, that all of the normal ‘hello’s and get to know ya’s” have to take a back seat, because there is problem solving to do. And, so when we finally settled into our little nest of a driveway (let’s just say we had about 6 inches on each side to spare) we were already fast friends with our host family, the Bekaert’s. They are precious people who just returned from four years in Guatemala. Nic, a frenchman and social worker, and his wife Mo, a nurse, Layla and Gabriel. Prior to Guatemala, The Bekaert’s lived in the New Hope community for about 15 years and are considered “pillars” of their community. They are wise beyond their years, they are generous and they are kind.
Along with the Bekaert’s welcome, was the fella we had been corresponding with via the world wide web, Josh Harper. Josh is the ultimate host. He is an organized, highly social visionary and his wheels are always spinning. He’s the husband of Marjie and the father of Lucy ad Beatrice. He’s also the National Coordinator of Urban Projects for a group called InterVarsity. However, you would never know that he’s the “big dog” as his focus is often on listening and meeting others needs. If not for his willingness to hear, we probably would not have connected in the deep way that we did. There are kinfolk and then there are “Kinfolk.” The Harpers are “Kinfolk.”
Josh knew exactly how to plug us into his community. In the five solid days that we were with them, we shared a movement and song class with the pre-school that New Hope runs, and we offered a workshop for third-fifth graders on “Sound scape.” We also performed a house concert and shared our gifts of music on Sunday morning at Sacred Space. We enjoyed meals within the community, enjoyed encouraging and rich conversation and learned much about the history of New Hope’s vision to care for the “poor, orphans and aliens” by living and engage in an area where there are obvious consequences. Sometimes in life we feel stuck in the place where we are at. Here, in Oakland, with the New Hope Community, it felt quite the opposite. It felt vibrant and purposeful.
On our final full day together we shared an intimate moment where everything about why and what made sense. Sunday morning, we gathered to worship in unity. The morning started out with prayers. Specific prayers for this community, this neighborhood. It was tender to hear prayers for individual teachers from the local school, for specific people enslaved by poverty and hopelessness, for International Blvd. which borders the neighborhood and is where much of the sex trafficking in Oakland takes place. Their were prayers for specific neighbors, for local government, for peace to come over their neighborhood and for unity. It was deep, meaningful and reflective. During that prayer time, it all made sense, why 60 or so educated folks would move into this neighborhood, why they would risk safety and give us monetary gain. If not for their purposeful decision to engage, their prayers would have been second hand. Their is nothing wrong with praying for communities far off, but there is something profound about living out the message of reconciliation in and with those you pray for. To see the gospel manifested in a way where the sacrifice was apparent, humble and in it for the long haul. That inspires us! And, we look joyward to more times with these “Kinfolk.”
There is a bit of a culture shock that happens when we get into a big city. Mostly because of the poverty that is overtly apparent. We see it in smaller towns but it’s much more hidden. It stirs such a deep emotion in me, deep to the core. A feeling of helplessness and contempt. The system is broken. I am broken.
I recall back to our time in Minneapolis in Sept. We decided to offer a week of service at the CCDA conference on Reconciliation. We had no work that week and were broke so we decided to busk (play music on the street corner with our case open for tips) We have never really busked as a family, so it was a bit of an uncomfortable experience, however we all buckled down to make some money for dinner. We picked the spot right in front of the Target because it was shaded and had a few spots for folks to sit. We started playing and crowd seemed to really get into it. A few coins started to trickle in but after about ten minutes we realized that we had set up our profiteering efforts smack dab in the middle of the homeless. We felt sort of ridiculous knowing our intention wasn’t necessarily to help anyone but ourselves. However, we decided not to move because we were exhausted from the uncertainty of it all and though we’d just finish up with thirty more minutes of songs. Then a middle-aged black man approached me, he smelled of alcohol and was wearing a leather jacket. He handed me a piece of paper, on it a poem about salvation through Christ. He said he wrote it. I asked him to read it. He did in sort of rap style. I knew, as he was reading it, that he wanted something in return. I waited and sure enough about ten minutes later he came and asked me for the money in our case. I hesitated but then bent down to grab out a few of the dollars. He smiled and walked away. A few minutes later he waltzed across the street holding up a pack of cigarettes, waving them in the air and smiling at me. Such an awkward interaction. Connection failed.
Recently in Denver, I was shopping for groceries. I had our last $20, but we’re always at our last $20 (it’s like manna, just enough for each day) none the less, it was all I had and I wanted to use it to get ingredients to make a Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake for Craig’s birthday. I was at the back of the store and a woman in her late 50’s about 5’7, long dark brown hair in a low pony tail, maybe Native American or Hispanic, jeans shirt and pants approached me and asked if I had $2.00. It was a flash of a moment and I instinctively responded, “no.” She turned and briskly walked away. I immediately felt like a jerk, I totally just lied to her. I turned to follow after her but she was gone. Connection failed.
I’m still processing these moments, but the hypocrisy is apparent. I’ve grown up with an understanding that caring the poor is of the upmost importance and I have a heart to serve. However, the challenge comes when I am just going about my daily business and a ‘pop up’ moment, like the examples above happen. I hope that next time I would engage more and really understand the questions. Both experiences were brief and I wonder if I had taken the time to really communicate with these people if we both would have been able to see clearer, to see the tie that binds us together. So, until next time, I wait… understanding my own depravity, thankful for the grace given me and hoping that in times where I’m engaged by poverty it opens more opportunities for connection success.
At our deepest core we are all connected and getting to that base line and trusting it’s really there is one of the keys to understanding reconciliation.
How many of us have longed for community, had group discussions about how and why community is important, read books about community building and built empires on the ideal of community?
We enter into these ideals but because we live in a society that has mass produced, fabricated community, we find our desires wanting. We find communities plagued with secrets, betrayal, unkept promises, clichés, failure, and rejection. So, we continue on, maybe wounded and bitter, and prescribe a new set of books, discussions and ideals about what “community really looks like.” The cycle continues until we are potentially left with a deep skepticism and ultimately isolated.
An underlying story I often hear when I meet kinfolk and why they have moved into an individualistic approach to life, involves failed connections with friends and/or spiritual family during difficult times. Stories of an upbringing in a community that was rigid and controlling or maybe feelings of abandonment from a taunting God that was distant and harsh. I’ve even experienced this failure myself and in the times of deepest dispar have often felt alone.
However, I have had the privilege of experiencing a grace-filled and faithful God who not only is patient and kind but actually already has this community built. Once I recognized that there was a baseline of connectivity that we all share, all created things, ancient passages about knitting together of the body and when one falls we all fall, when one is honored we are all honored and love your neighbor and most importantly love your enemy all started to make sense.
And so, I restate, at our deepest core we are all connected and getting to that base line and trusting it’s really there is one of the keys to understanding reconciliation.