Reflections on Racism and Privilege from a Kingdom Perspective

If you’ve read any of my posts in my “All Saints Diary” tab then you know that I see life through a particular faith lens. You know that I have a tender heart towards humanity and that I see the Creator of the Universe, aka Abba, as more than just a big genie in the sky but as a personal, relatable, reliable person to whom I have deep fellowship with. And not only me, but I see that I am part of a greater assembly of saints, past, present and future all in unity with Christ as our head. I believe whole heartedly that when one falls, we all fall, and when one is honored, we are all honored.  It is through this faith lens, I write to that assembly.

If you’ve read much of the news in the US these days, you’ll find that there is quite a bit of political and civil unrest. All sorts of words are being thrown around; racism and privilege to name a few. They are words I hope to paint a more in-depth picture of in this writing.

First I want to address the concept of identity. Who do you say you are? Who do others say you are?

In his book, Soul, Self, and Society, Rynkiewich suggests that identity is a social construct, set by the greater mass of whatever social construct or family systems that we live in.

For instance, according to my social construct,  I am a white, American woman. These three descriptors identify me and each has a certain understanding attached to it. If I meet someone from another country, gender, or ethnicity, those descriptor helps the other person make sense of who I am based on their understanding and vise versa. Until we each affirm or redefine ourselves to one another, those identifiers set the tone for our interaction.  

*Identity is not personality, likes, dislikes, communication styles, etc…

For better or for worse, identifiers put us into categories of hierarchy and privilege which organizes how our society functions. Thus, if we are on the top of the identifier mountain, then welding power over others is essential in making sure our identities stay in tact. If we are in the valley of identifiers we may fight to find footing to climb up the mountain. Like it or not, this is just the way the world works. 

However, I want to think more about this idea of redefining ourselves to one another, using our new identifiers to set a tone of peace and harmony, advocacy and reconciliation in our interaction. To do so, I ask three questions…   

What does it look like for the social construct of the Kingdom of God to define our identity rather than our worldly society? How do we understand who we are as Children of God? What does it look like to function in the tension of being in this world but not of it?

Let’s start with Yeshua and the kingdom come. A long time ago, one afternoon, a large group gathered on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee in Northern Israel. Here, Yeshua laid out what the Kingdom of God or the “Kingdom of Heaven” as some call it, looks like. In doing so, he challenges the social construct of identity and turns everything on its head.

He says things like…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 Blessed are those who mourn,  For they shall be comforted.

 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.

 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be  filled.

 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.

 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.

 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.

 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Through these blessing in Matthew 5, Yeshua paints a picture of what it looks like for His kingdom to define our identity. These are the markers for what that identity looks like on full display. And so, if we who call ourselves believers want to understand what it means to have our identity in this new kingdom, then we have to understand it may go against everything our worldly society or family tells us. 

In Romans 8:14-17 we are called God’s children: Paul writes, “…For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship/daughtership. And by him, we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Ephesians 2:3 we read, that before this transformation or adoption process, we were “by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Thus, it is important to keep a confident but humble posture, understanding that it is by grace and not by works that we have been adopted into the family of God. It is a privilege. 

Understanding our new identity as Children of God, we gain perspective on this word “privilege.”  

Privilege simply means unearned rights, rights someone else paid for. (Brene’ Brown)

When we are adopted into the Family of God we are given unearned rights, rights that Jesus paid for. Instead of fearing God as judge, we have the great privilege of coming to Him as our Father. We can approach Him with confidence and ask Him what we need. We can ask for His guidance and wisdom and know that nothing will take us from Him. We also rest in His authority and respond to Him with trusting obedience, knowing that obedience is a key part of remaining close to Him.

And, when our identity is defined by God’s rule, found in Christ we have the privilege to be the light of the world and salt of the earth. We are directed to use that privilege to display God’s glory, to set captives free and to bind up the broken-hearted. This identity has no room for prejudice or racism. We can not call ourselves sons and daughters of the King and have a heart of hatred and exclusion for those the King has created. 

Even the young fella’s who walked with Yeshua, James and John, didn’t get it at first. These are guys that were known as the Son’s of thunder, meaning they were hot-tempered and quick to act. They walked with Jesus for three years, saw him feed thousand with a few loaves of bread and some fish, they saw him heal people, cast out demons and at one point they are on their way to Jerusalem and Yehshu sends messengers on ahead, into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. So, when the disciples James and John hear this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call-fire down from heaven to destroy them?”

What? Seriously, call down fire! Destroy them? They obviously didn’t get Yeshua’s heart for humanity and he turned and rebuked them, saying, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are;  for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” D’oh! 

Fast forward to when they were together for the last time and they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom? Is this the time?”

He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is Abba’s business. What you will get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and… Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”

These were his last words to them as they watched him ascend. However grand that the ascension was, I am struck by his final words to them; knowing how John and James at one time wanted to call-fire down from heaven and destroy a whole people group, I imagine Yeshua looked right at them when he came to this part and slowly spoke the word SA-MARI-A. Interestingly enough it seems John got it, as all of his recorded writings center around the theme of unconditional love and unity in the body. Including the infamous Revelations 7:9 where he records a dream of heaven being filled, not with all of the same kind of people, rather with every tongue, tribe, and nation.  

Lastly, with the context of our identity as children of God, being shaped by the social construct of the Kingdom, I want to look at what it means to live in this world but not of it.

In a letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul calls us “ambassadors” for Christ:  “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us”. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Generally speaking, an ambassador is a respected official acting as a representative of a nation. Sent to a foreign land, the ambassador’s role is to reflect the official position of the sovereign body that gave him or her authority.

Our new identity as Children of the King, completely changes our relationship with God and our families, just as it changes the way we see the world. As we go through this world, we represent the Kingdom, that is our nation and it is our responsibility to reflect the “official position” of heaven. And, when we walk in the confidence of our identity shaped by the Kingdom of God, then words like “white privilege” or “rich privilege” no longer evokes a feeling of shame or defensiveness but rather, empowers us to use our unearned rights to represent the official position of heaven, which is love. 

This is not just an individual perspective, this is our corporate identity. In our cultural context, we tend to read the “you’s” throughout scripture as an individual “you.” However, that is not the correct context. Except for a handful of times, “You” is collective.

We are collectively a part of a heavenly, God-ruled kingdom. That is the social construct that shapes our identity. 

I have had the privilege to see Abba turn the story of racial hostility upside down and I want to share this final field story with you. Over the past two months, He has woven us together with kinfolk who understand their identity as Children of God and Ambassadors for the Kingdom. The following is an account of Abba’s Glory seen in and through those who call themselves the body of Christ.

We witnessed and participated with believers in Muskegon MI, Elkhart, IN, St. Louis, MO, and Denver, CO. These were all congregations representing every tongue, tribe, and nation. And, although English was the dominant language in each of these churches, some of them offered translation in Spanish, some in French.

The messages were on:

Matt 5:14 “being the light of the world,”
2 Cor 5:11-22 “the ministry of reconciliation,”
Eph 2:1-8 “being adopted into God’s family.”
1 Peter 2:11-23 “living Godly lives in a warped society.”

We sang African spirituals. We worshiped in Swahili, and in Spanish. In St. Louis we saw 20 Elders stand and pray for a couple they were sending out. Of the 20 elders, three were white! That’s in a city where the Government has called a state of emergency because of racial discord and civil unrest! I actually had to film some of it because I was so inspired by these Saints commitment to each other and to God. (video below)

They preached the gospel and they worshiped with all of their hearts!

Then this week I spoke in Salt Lake City on Eph 2:11-22, with a conclusion that when, the church, views herself in the light of this passage, that it is impossible for her to be conformed to the divisions which exist in society.  It is her nature to be the place where divisions are healed. (William Radar)

Let it be so! This is the work of our Abba.

 

 

Re-membering

Re-membering
 
Like a thief in the night, betrayal has come and it's all out war. 
 
Time stands still in the wake of denial, as the bombs hit the floor. 
 
Disheveled and dismembered, our sundered bones are flung here and there as a high pitched hum rings in our ears. 
 
All is an echo of what once was. 

Harmony is silenced, completely silenced, broken, paralyzed by the nuclear lie that your life matters more. 

But, you are me. We are we. And the betrayal affects us all. 
 
We, like the sea-pen roaming the ocean floor, polyp attached to polyp, each with a purpose, not one less, all attached to the core. 
 
Some say forgive and forget but we know that the forgotten prolongs captivity.

Remembering is the secret to this redemption we all long for. 

So come one, come all, bring your missing, dead, and broken pieces.

It is this 'Re-membering' that will heal our wounded souls. 
 
May we re-member so that our collective melody, harmony and deep bass lines can all be restored.

Betrayal is one of the most relationally debilitating experiences one can have. It evokes feelings of rage and engages that dark part of the soul that longs for revenge, power and control. When one is betrayed, they are wounded and without the proper antidote their wounds can fester into victim stance, whereby one believes he or she is always morally right, is not responsible or accountable for their actions, and is entitled to sympathy from others. Looking through an habitual lens of victim stance leads to perpetration, for a victim is consumed with regaining lost power and will eventually take it from others in some manner. Thus, the one betrayed becomes the betrayer.

So, what is the proper antidote?

In his book, Sin, Fr. Hugh Connolly talks about the idea of “re-membering” as a process which calls to mind the deepest convictions and possibilities of people, encourages them to heal forms of dis-memberment and to work toward a better, more integrated society. In order for re-membering to happen a sincere sense of humility is an essential for both betrayer and betrayed. That is, to see past what others do to us, we must be willing to “look in the mirror” so to speak.

For the betrayed, although it is counter intuitive, resting in this humility empowers the victim, as it keeps them from falling into the trap of becoming the betrayer.

For the betrayer, confession, admission and acknowledgements of responsibility and ultimately of personal depravity are necessary purgative, purifying and ultimately healing acts.

When both parties take these positions, a healing tone is set and the cycle of discord can be broken thus allowing for re-membering, reconciliation and restoration.

 

Moon-fession

hi, it’s me

the moon

i have a confession to make

i have no light of my own

there i said it

it’s true

i am just an empty

dark

lump of rock

floating in the sky

but, you say, “we have seen you light up, full splendor, oh so bright”

well sure, most have seen me light up

some have even given me names like super and blood and blue

however, i am only the star of the show because the Sun has made me whole

you see, it is the Sun that gives me light

it is the Sun that makes me bright

without the Sun, I am nothing but an empty

dark

lump of a rock

floating in the sky…

…i feel much better now

how about you

have you any confession to make

quote-in-confession-we-open-our-lives-to-healing-reconciling-restoring-uplifting-grace-of-him-who-louis-cassels-339982

 

The Dusty Feet Mob

You know how it goes for us nomads, we meet kinfolk who find out were heading towards their friends. Then we meet those people who find out our next stop is in the same town as their friends and on and on. And so it was, that we made our way from Melbourne, to Adelaide to the Dusty Feet Mob in Port Augusta.

We were in Melbourne, VIC, Australia with our friends Nick and Anita Wight. We met Nick and Anita in March of 2014 at Surrender Conference, a gathering of all sorts of kinfolk doing amazing things around the globe in their communities, from offering hospitality to refugees, to creating sustainable/recycled goods, advocating for those who are oppressed to living side by side with folks in some of the poorest parts of the world. We were excited to hear about these like-minded kinfolk and wrote Anita (who was one of the directors at the time) and asked if we could share our music or help in any other way and she said yes! And, that was that, we became fast friends and continued to stay in touch, stopping in to see the Wight family at their Footscray home on our way from here to there.

It’s an encouragement to find friends like the Wights because their friendship not only allowing us to anchor when we need a rest or re-supply but their friendship fuels our hearts with love.

img_2531One night we were sharing a meal and talking about our upcoming trek across South Australia and up to Alice Springs, when their friend Ian Dempster called. Ian was from Adelaide and happened to in Melbourne, driving by their home on his way to a meeting. He didn’t have time to stop over but thought of them as he passed and decided to give them a quick call for a chat. While on the phone the Wights told Ian about us and our desire to come alongside and encourage others and he said, “send them my way.”

We were blessed to meet up with Ian at the Central Market for a coffee and hear about his work with the UAICC (Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress). He shared about his passion to collaborate with and encourage his Aboriginal counterparts. Although our time with Ian was brief we shared our desire to meet and hear more of the Aboriginal story as we made our way north and he connected us with his dear friends 3 1/2 hours north in Port Augusta.

img_2596As we neared into the industrial town of  Port Augusta we experienced the vast rose-colored salt lakes, broken mesas and massive rock formations that lifted out of the ground commanding our attention and we were reminded of one of our favorite states in the US, New Mexico. Our hosts, The Wallace family, lived on a pink salt lake around the corner from the railroad and welcomed us to their Port Augusta home. They invited us to settle in, share a meal and do a load of laundry. We found them easy to connect with, specially after they whipped out the Settlers of Catan board. Then it was game on. As a bonus, Anna shared her gift of sewing with us and mended up some of our broken backpacks.

The next day, we joined the Congress Port Augusta – Uniting Church, where we met Jesse Size, Auntie* Maria and the rest of the mob*. The service was informal yet reverent. We all sat in the round, taught each other songs of praise and shared in story. They asked us questions about our travels and we shared the practical stories of how Abba cares for us along the way, making sure our needs are met, just as he cares for the birds of the air. A question was asked about how we deal with conflict and betrayal, an issue close to the Aboriginal heart. We shared the story of the betrayal and reconciliation in our own marriage.  As a legitimate victim, I shared how difficult it was to wait without bitterness or blemish, in faith, for my husband to “own his stuff” and finally how Abba liberated him from his twisted thinking; thinking that kept him bound to a false sense of justice.  As we laid down our pride and trusted, Abba did it all. Faithfully the Great Physician put our marriage back together again. We shared another song or two and said a prayer of blessing over them. It was an honor to be with these saints, to tell our hard story and the story of God’s trustworthy-ness.

Afterwards, there was a lightness in the room as folks were getting ready to move to the next part of the day, a Sunday afternoon picnic. Auntie Maria invited us to join in and explained that it was a picnic for the Dusty Feet Mob, a dance troop that her daughter, Wanita choreographed. She was excited to have us join them and for us to see the children dance.

When we arrived, Maria shared the story of the Dusty Feet Mob and explained that Port Augusta is made up of 36 different Aboriginal groups and the Dusty Feet Mob is inclusive towards them all. She stated their dance troop was created in 2014 to provide a medium for elders to pass on their knowledge to younger generations and as a way to communicate about Aboriginal issues, specifically regarding reconciliation.  The group’s debut performance was at the Peterborough Art Cultural Festival in Port Pirie and since then they have been invited to perform at the NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) Week and many other state and national events. One of their most riveting performances was alongside famed Aboriginal folk singer, Archie Roach, at the Reconciliation South Australia Event in February 2016

Film Maker Dave Laslett. 

img_2628-1What we learned, and what we shared in Port Augusta was life-giving and inspiring. And, even more was the quiet evening that we spent in Jesse and Chelsea Size’s home, sharing a traditional Aboriginal meal of Kangaroo Tails that Auntie Maria made for us. It was during this meal, as the sun setting in the sky and heat lighting was bolting here and there that Auntie Maria shared her personal story. A story of resilience, perseverance, and faith.

Auntie Maria must have been about my age, maybe a bit older, (meaning she was probably in her early 50’s). So she would have been born during a difficult time in Australian/Aboriginal history. Her people were originally from Maralinga but had to flee thousands of Kilometer into Oak Valley, Cundalee Mission in 1955 after the British Government, along with the Australian Government, dropped an Nuclear bomb on their lands. Some went north, east and west after the bomb to find comfort. Unfortunately, some never recovered and many who have lived through the travesty still feel the effects today with sore eyes or blindness.

Many of Maria’s family were taken to Mt Margaret Mission, Kurrawang Mission or Norseman Mission and placed there under the guardianship board when they were taken from their families. This is now known as the stolen generation. Maria’s mum fled all the way to Perth where she had Maria. However, from what Maria was told her mother died when she was 3 months old. A native welfare worker contacted Maria’s extended family and her oldest sister took her under her wing with other family supporting. Maria was born a half-caste and expressed her deep desire to know her connection to country, to family especially around native titles, etc. Unfortunately, for Maria there is not a lot written about her mum so all she has to go on is what family tells her about who is family and where she fit in.

She spoke fondly of her childhood, growing up in and around Laverton, Mt Margaret and Leonora. She said she was a bit of a cheeky child, later returning to her hometown to see her name still etched into sidewalks and buildings. She said she respects and values her culture and has a deep longing to connect with country but explained that her Brother-in-law, who raised her like his own, had a strong Christian faith and for that she was thankful, for no matter what may come her way, she knows that Jesus is her rock. When all else fails, and she’s seen her share of failings, she falls back on her faith as her firm foundation. Auntie Maria’s story was so inspiring and it was an honor to even have heard a small portion of it.

*Mob is a word used to describe a tribe or family group of Aboriginal people. *Auntie or Uncle are the respectful terms to address an elder woman or man

When Worlds Collide

The plan had been in place for months. Craig Greenfield and his Alongsiders in Phnom Penh, Cambodia had been in conversation with a group from Singapore about hosting a round table discussion about the heart of God for justice and how that translates to our worship. It would be a sort of meeting of minds, an opportunity to gain perspective, learn and have eyes opened and hearts reshaped. At the same time, we wrote Craig about a potential visit to Cambodia. We met Craig two years prior at a social justice conference in Australia called Surrender. We were taken by his story and stayed in touch with him. When our vision shifted from bus life to backpacks, South East Asia came on our radar and we reached out to Craig. He responded to our request stating that our dates lined up with the gathering he would be hosting and invited us to participate. He asked us to put together a few ideas for workshops and began preparations around the subject at hand. He painted a picture of what to expect when we arrived explaining that we, along with a handful of kinfolk from Singapore, would be staying in Phnom Penh for a few nights and then taking a van south to a small village for a weekend homestay, learning about local life and faith. It would be during this time that we would be sharing our workshops with the local villagers. He explained it all, however no words could have really prepared our hearts for what we would experience. We had no idea that we were about to experience the ministry of reconciliation.

imageWe arrived on a Sunday evening and were welcomed by one of the Alongsiders staff, Darath. It was late and dark, our least favorite time to arrive in a new land. But Darath was very helpful in getting us acclimated to our new surroundings. The next morning we rose and met the Alongsiders staff, as well as, the Singapore team (KCC) at the office for our first of many Khmer meals. The meeting was surreal. It was pure joy to be in the same room with so many saints from this side of the globe.

Over the next two days we would all ride tuk tuk’s (local form of taxis) to the Killing Fields and to S-21 Prison where we would take a tour and learn about the recent Cambodian history and genocide. Our first stop was the Killing Fields  and the mood was sober as we all donned the headsets and began our way through the horrifically descriptive and heartbreaking tour. The emotion felt after learning about the Khmer Rouge left us all dumbfounded, angry and sad.

imageFor those who haven’t learned about the Cambodian Genocide in school, the basic gist (and, this is very basic, and in no way is meant to minimize or justify, it’s juswhat we gleaned from our visit. So please investigate more if you feel led) as I was saying, the basic gist involves a rebel party of farmers and men from the countryside who felt city folks were exploiting them and had esteemed goals of transforming their country under a communist ideology. They fought the existing Government for five years, simultaneously during the Vietnam war. In 1973 the Vietcong tried coming down through Cambodia to attack South Vietnam and to stop them the US launched bombs on Cambodian soil, killing thousands of Cambodians. This strengthened and fueled the rebels as they believed the US was in bed with their oppressive government. In 1975, the US pulled out of Vietnam and subsequently out of Cambodia, leaving a hole in the armor and the Capitol city for Slaughter. At that point, one of the rebel leaders, Saloth Sar emerged as sole leader (killing off some of his inner circle), renamed himself Pol Pot and declared himself Prime Minister and leader of newly named Democratic Kampuchea. He renamed his rebel forces Khmer Rouge and set out to systemically purge his country of anyone he felt opposed his views, really anyone he felt like killing. Most of those murdered by Pol Pots Khmer Rouge were educated city dwellers but many country folk were killed as well. Over time, the KR soldiers began to doubt the sanity of their leader as they saw their own family members, who were meant to be protected, murdered. And in 1979, the Vietnamese had had enough of the Khmer Rouge threatening their borders and in the name of liberating the Cambodians they initiated an assault and swiftly defeated the Khmer Rouge. They were ruthless in their “liberation” and for a period conditions did not improve but eventually, the Cambodian people pulled themselves up out of the ashes and began a slow, even to this day, rebuild. In the end, the Khmer Rouge murdered 2.2 million of its own citizens. Pol Pot was never brought to justice, in fact from 1979 till his death in 1998 he and a remnant of the old Khmer Rouge operated near the border of Cambodia and Thailand, where they clung to power, with nominal United Nations recognition as the rightful government of Cambodia.

Sounds like a nightmare right?! Like something from another dimension, another time. But it was only 40 years ago. Only 40. And, although we were horrified to see the evil man can fabricate, it is really nothing new. It happened to the Jews and many more in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Guatemala, East Timor, in the US and Australia to its First Nation peoples, and even today in places like Tibet, Iraq, Syria and Ethiopia.

It’s more than heartbreaking, it’s paralyzingly. It’s one thing to engage and learn, but something wholly other to awaken awareness and empathy for those oppressed. So, what do we do with the emotions evoked by such evil? For starters, our family, had to sit down over dinner and talk about the feelings we had. They ranged the gamut from sadness, fright, paralysis and when we heard that no justice had come for Pol Pot we had to admit feelings of rage and thoughts of murder in our own hearts, our own depravity staring us in the face. Which then, forced us to remember the aged old story since the fall of man and seek something more, something beyond ourselves. We turned our focus to Love and read the ancient text that promises justice, promises that death will be swallowed forever. We read texts that declare that God is Sovereign and will wipe away the tears from all faces and remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. And then, we had to dig deeper and find more of the story.

It’s one thing to look at the history, read and visit museums but to meet those who have lived through the travesty and find out from them how God was proving faithful is an important part of the process. So when we met Rev Chea, who pastors a little church in the slums of Phnom Penh, and heard his story of losing his family and fleeing the Khmer Rouge, then life as a refugee. To hear the story of a victim finally finding grace and forgiveness was a significant piece of the puzzle.

imageThen we met Pastor Kong, we actually stayed in his home in the little village south of Phnom Penh. He and his family welcomed us to their home, village, and parish for three nights. It was here that we were meant to lead our creative workshops, which we did gladly. But something else was going on in our hearts and souls during our time in the village, specially after hearing Pastors story. This time we heard from a man who was once a soldier with the Khmer Rouge. We heard how he was seduced by the ideology of a better life for he and his family. We heard about his disillusionment after finding the leadership riddled with lies and corruption. We heard about his families decision to flee and life as a refuge in Thailand. We heard about his families decision to return to their village to reestablish a broken but new life. He told us about a man, who was also a refugee and sent to Canada. It was there this man was introduced to Jesus and the redemption story. The man spent the next years in seminary and finally in 1990 this man came back to Cambodia to tell his people about the God of all gods. In fact, during this time thousands of refugees who had had encounters with God in their host countries, returned to Cambodia to testify of Gods grace. And so it was with the man who walked into Pastors village and shared this good news. Pastor, his wife and six children were one of three families that turned their hearts toward God. They experienced forgiveness and mercy for the first time in theirs lives and made radical decisions to become beacons of light in their village.

We were absolutely wrapped in his story but honestly really had to grapple with the fact that he was originally the enemy, yet standing before us was a man genuinely transformed. Pastor Kong was once lost but now found. The words of Jesus rang in our ears, “love your enemies.” And, here standing with pastor, hearing his story, it all made sense. Love your enemies for they may one day become your brother! We glimpsed another piece of the puzzle. It’s true, we can’t see the whole puzzle yet, emotions are still high but we do know God is faithful, even during the darkest hours.

I don’t think either pastor would wish to go back to those dark days of genocide again but I do know that through it all they both found God and in finding God, they found each other, and in finding each other they found us. And, we are one. And, that is a miracle!

Tried and True

This March we celebrated our first love in Key West, taking in the beauty of a sunset and enjoying a fantastic dinner by the sea. While we sat there enjoying each other and our surrounding we took a sobering look at our marriage journey line, remembering the heights and depths that we have traversed over the last 15 years. We fully embrace every aspect of our journey, the good and the ugly and the truth is that we know that without every single moment we would not have the conviction or drive to live the way we do now.

Many have heard our story sitting around a table, sharing a meal or through listening to our second album, Ashes to Beauty, which poetically chronicles the first ten years of our rocky marriage. When we sit with kinfolk from all walks of life, we understand that they are influenced by different subcultures and lingo. However, through the face to face conversation process we are able to really work through meanings, finding common ground and understanding.

I have rarely written about our story of covenant, mostly because of the limitations of language when writing prose. It’s also a long story and I never know where to start. However, recently I stumbled upon some old journal entries, like the one below and felt a prompting to share it in it’s raw, vulnerable form. I’ve sat on it for a few months now, but can no longer hold it in. I believe story, specially stories of restoration, redemption, and reconciliation are valuable to the heart of humanity. When we hear these stories it is like taking a shot of wheatgrass, revitalizing the soul, infusing goodness and building faith.

Ours is a story including three characters, God, Man and Woman; all working out this thing called covenant. Whatever your predisposition to spirituality, our hope is that you will find it encouraging and begin to see the value in sharing your own story.

This particular sequence of events was written in 2010, during the darkest hour of our marriage. In this entry I remember back to 1999, back to the beginning of our relationship.

“Nov. 5, 2010

Betrayal is one of the most relationally debilitating experiences. It evokes feelings of rage and engages that dark part of the soul that longs for revenge and justice. In the past, I have experienced the fruitlessness of bitterness but this time my heart longs for more, I longs for reconciliation. However, reconciling is a process that is a mysterious as the idea of grace and I don’t know how to make it happen on my own. Over the months I have fought, waited, fasted and had hard conversations with my beloved with seemingly no result. It all came to a head last night but didn’t end with an apology, it actually was the darkest, loneliness night of our marriage, I ended up sleeping downstairs and woke up with deep deep heartache. To occupy my mind, I spent the day cleaning and in prayer. I was reading through the old testament book of Isaiah chapter four, which was poignant as I had read this once before during a very important moment in our past.

It was 1999, the year Craig and I were dating. I was learning how to discern my voice from God’s. (another conversation for another time) I had been given a very clear impression that Craig was going to be my husband but as we neared that pivotal time in our courtship I started to wonder if I heard right. I struggled with so much insecurity and was very unsure of my own feelings. Not towards Craig. No, I was smitten by him, but rather I was scared I was being selfish and of falling back down into that deep dark pit. (that’s a whole other story…) I really wanted to be on the right path and I wanted assurance. So, I “fleeced” God the first and only time in my life. For those who don’t know about fleecing, it’s often involves seeking God’s will through a predetermined sign. And so, I asked the Creator of the Universe to show me “rain” in the morning when I woke. If he did, I would know it meant that I was on the right path and that I had heard right, Craig was to be my Beloved.

I know, I know, as soon as the words came out of my mouth I wanted to take them back. What was I doing? Of course I heard right the first time. I felt like a silly child. I prayed and asked God to forgive my unbelief and to just never mind but I knew it was out there. And so, I laid my head to pillow but barely slept a wink, arguing with myself about how ridiculous I was, yet waiting with great anticipation, hoping for rain.
I woke up to the brightest, sunniest day EVER and my heart sank. I apologized again and again. I felt so silly. My day continued on with breakfast, taking my daughter to her pre-school and heading back home to contemplate what I had done. I was reading through the sacred text of Isaiah. Isaiah chapter four to be exact. I sat there in a fog reading about the Branch of the Lord and how it will be beautiful and glorious. I continued on… bla bla bla…I was reading but my mind was distracted and numb. And then, these words nearly jumped off of the page “God will bring back the ancient pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night and mark Mount Zion and everyone in it with his glorious presence, his immense, protective presence, shade from the burning sun and shelter from the driving RAIN!” I began leaping in the air, screaming out, “Wow! Wow! Oh God! Wow!” Oh, how thankful I was for God’s clever sense of humor and his amazing mercy and faithfulness. And,  honestly I had no idea what the actual chapter was about, all I knew was The God of the Angel Armies graciously and tenderly affirmed me, showing me rain, giving me the confidence I needed to enter into covenant with Craig.

But, here I am eleven years later and I am just as insecure and unsure about God’s faithfulness. Wondering if I really did hear right, for how could my beloved betray me. How could “the little foxes breach our walls and wreck havoc on our vineyards?” I am still committed to my husband, but these are really hard times. The perfect timing though, in remembering this moment in 1999 is one more gift of assurance, for I am reminded of God’s unfailing love and desire to turn our ashes to beauty. I can feel something brewing, as discouraged as I have felt over these past six months, I know that something has to break. We are His. He put us together and He has our back.”

Nov 6, 2010

My beloved came home from work early. He looked forlorn and as he set his lunch bucket down, he reached for me and embraced me like never before. His heart had broken and he offered a sincere apology asking me to forgive him. The light changed in his eyes, they were no longer haughty or proud but humble before me. As his tears fell, I could feel my anger, hurt, angst, and pain instantly start to melt away. I literally felt it flow from the top of my head down my shoulders, lower back, all the way to my feet. It left my body and a peace that is pure filled my being.

This was real. This was a miracle and as the sense of aloneness and the relenting need to stand alert dissipated, I could breath again, I could see again.

Thank the Lord for this miracle of reconciliation, for freedom and for faithfulness. We’re ready to rebuild!

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It was Jan of 2011, just two months after this entry that we began to dream of a life that was simpler, less fragmented and community driven. The idea of giving away our possessions and buying/converting a bus, came over the course of the next eight months. Finally leading to the our lauch in Oct 2011. The joy of making our way, sharing our gifts and talents, merrymaking and encouraging those we meet along the way as well as, the impact this experience has had on our marriage and family has been more than we could have ever dreamed.

It is a delight to share our story and we will continue to do that. But, even more it’s amazing how your stories encourage us and keep us on our way. So, if you have a story to share, please do, we’d love to hear.

“We have broken bread with some along the way during their darkest hour, some well after the miracle of reconciliation has come. Always it is an honor to share in this journey with you.” ~Craig & Jana Holland

The Clock Maker

antique pocket watchAs the hands of time move freely around the face of the clock we find harmony in our day. But say there is a catch in the second hand, and it ceases to move the way it is meant. We may not notice at first, but when an appointment is missed because our clock has let us down, we would surely take it to the clock maker to repair the glitch; for the watch can not repair itself. So it is with the heart of man. We are created to function in love, justice and truth and when there is a glitch in those areas it takes an open mind to seek healing through community and creator.

Recently we rallied with another bus traveling family on a large plot of land adjacent to a nature preserve. The plan was to come alongside and neighbor with the traveling family of six and the property owners who had a family of four. We arrived Easter weekend, just in time for a Seder Celebration (Jewish Passover Fest) held in the barn on the property. Our hosts, welcomed us with bright smiles and open arms. Once we settled the bus we got our musical gear together and made our way over to the Seder, where we shared in community and song with about 50 kinfolk from the surrounding area. That evening we met a handful of the crowd and were excited about the week ahead.

In the morning we all gathered in the bus for coffee. Immediately, conversation and story ensued and over the next 48 hours, barely stopping to eat or sleep, we all shared testimony after testimony of God’s faithfulness in our lives. Even the children were invited into the conversation and we were all blessed by their willingness to share. At one point, we all made note of how the week felt like a mini-retreat and by day three, we were so filled up with goodness and satisfied in community that we were ready to enter into “task” with a mind full of grace. Our plan was to help with some much needed maintenance and building projects on the property, as well as, prepare for a wedding the next weekend.

As the tasks were being completed, many started to realize that there was a relational storm brewing. And yet, we continued on, waiting, praying and all sharing our hearts openly. It was near the end of the week that a meeting was initiated and we all gathered to discuss the “glitch in the second hand” so to speak. We had all tasted the beauty of that initial connectivity and although the tendency would be to move back towards the beginning by brushing over the conflict, our hearts were stirred for more. We all agreed that we were divinely put together for this moment and recognized that God was offering, through these relationships, liberation and restoration. And so, over the course of the next few hours we fought towards unity as we hashed out interpersonal communication issues, ever aware of the masters presence through it all.

Honestly, we have all traveled this road and there are times it does not end with liberation or restoration. Some times it ends with pride and closed thinking. But, this moment was different, this was difficult and unnerving at times but in the end, this was life giving. In this situation, we all chose to move through the storm, with confidence that God was going to put us back together. What we found, as the glitch was being repaired, was not just function, but hope. That hope ushered us into a weekend of wedding celebration, which as we look back, was quite symbolic of the joyful “times” to come.

“The end of the matter is better than the beginning and patience is better than pride.”

“Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!”

As we continue on, we give humble thanks for the ways we are woven together with kinfolk, and the willingness of others to to allow us to be used in a way that encourages and liberates.

Surrender14: Walk Alongside

The opportunity to sit at the feet of a stranger is a gift. It takes an exercise of willingness, a movement of the mind and a softening of the heart for both the listener and the giver. When these moments happen there is an intense infusion of unity into the body and both walk away knowing that God is the one who weaves this body together.

As a family, we seek out these opportunities to be both the listener and the giver. And, thanks to a friend, David Neville Cook’s (Anglican Oversea’s Aid) referral we were gifted with a chance to be stretched further than we ever have been. We reached out to him asking if he might know of any kinfolk we could connect with while we were in Australia, specifically we wanted to learn from and about the Aboriginal people. He put us on to the  Surrender Conference, a gathering of all sorts of folks doing amazing things in their communities, from hospitality to refugees, to creating sustainable/recycled goods, living side by side with folks in some of the poorest parts of the world to intentional communities. We wrote the directors and asked if we could be involved in any way and they said yes! The theme was “Walk Alongside” which suited us, being that that is really what we do as we travel, connecting with communities, to learn from them and walk alongside, sharing in whatever way they desire.

Photo credit to UrbanSeed.org
Photo credit to UrbanSeed.org

The day began with an Aboriginal welcoming ceremony in the courtyard. The Elder from the Wurundjeri people welcomed us to his country and there was a traditional blessing, dance and then the floor opened for others to say a thank you to the elder. Many other Aboriginal people from all over Australia stood to say thank you for welcoming them onto his peoples land. Then others followed including a Cornish man, who gave a blessing. A group of New Zealand Māori’s shared their Haka dance, there were folks from Africa that offered a word, Matt LaBlanc Director of IEmergance, representing his Canadian indigenous people and gave a traditional thank you, and there were many more.  To experience the depth of culture during this ceremony was an honor and the perfect way to start our weekend journey learning and listening.

We played plenty of music but the goal was to be present and allow the Spirit to work in our hearts and minds.

14 yrs ago Craig and I merged our cultural backgrounds, foods, music and customs, ideals and beliefs. Craig’s music collection is enormous, eclectic and one of the things that attracted me to him. He introduced me to the music from his land. Bands like the Dirty Three, Nick Cave, and some of the beautiful indigenous music from Australia. I fell in love with one particular band from Victoria called Tiddas, which is Koori for the word sisters. Their music was filled with emotion, tender harmonies and intense lyrics that told the story of their people. One of my favorite songs that they sing was a traditional called Inanay. I learned the song and began to sing it to our daughter at a very early age. I introduced the song to my mother and the three of us would showcase the song in three part harmony at family gatherings and performances. The song had become an interracial part of our journey as mother’s and daughters. And so, as I was sitting across the table from Tracie and Denise, two aboriginal women, I asked them about the song. Wondering if they knew the history or origin? They knew it and were pleased that I did too. It is a song sung by mothers to their children but they were unsure of the origin or language as there were over 250 seperate Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia.

Wycliffe AustrailaThrough the course of the weekend, we listened to different folks share about all different sides of “coming alongside.” We heard advocates from Wycliffe share about the 35 year journey of translating the first ever indigenous scriptures in Australia, which mean 30,000 Kriol-speaking indigenous Australians (and countless generations to come) now have the ‘Holi Baibul’ in their own heart language.

I went to a session on how good intentions are not always in the interest of those we are trying to care for. I heard a woman named Hannah share her story of growing up bi-racial, her mother was Irish and her father Māori. She shared about difficulties that it brought but also the joy of being able to move cross culturally with understanding and grace. We learned from many Aboriginal people how folks have failed in the past at “coming alongside” of them and were gracious in sharing traditions and customs to better help their “Whitefella” counterparts to have a better impact. Personally, it was difficult to listen at times, as pride would well up or my own victim stance would try to cloud my ears. Insecurities would seep in when I would have conversation and at times I felt like a fumbling little child. However, I pressed on, releasing my need to be in control and literally made room for the new information in my brain.

Surrender 2014Meanwhile, Craig was also connecting, sharing story, listening to and meeting new friends. The kids were also taking it all in, each in their own way. Our daughter, is more of an observer but found herself in a position where her heart was moved and experienced a very personal moment with God. Our son, is more hands on and always looking for mates to hang with. He brought out his drum during the first late night session and was invited to jam with a mob from the Gold Coast. (Mob is a traditional word for clan or tribe) It was a joy to see them include him like a brother all weekend. They included us too.

As we were jamming, I became aware that they were rehearsing for Indigenous night, where all of the clans would share their music. And, as it turned out they invited us to share the traditional song I mentioned earlier. What an honor to be included in their special night, to be able to feel like we were part of their mob.

At the end of the day, us Hollands really do believe we are one body. And, when we can begin to look deeper into the tie that binds us all together we see a richness of culture, creed and custom. We see the blood of Christ. We see reconciliation as a miracle and not something we can white knuckle. We see the body as God sees the body and that is worth more than our pride or opinions about politics and borders and who’s who, and what’s what. It’s a beautiful thing to experience a little bit of heaven on earth. It’s a precious thing to be apart of this great big tapestry of humanity.

PS. We captured a little video of us singing Inanay and will post it soon.

Maybe This Is The Storm That We Won’t Make It Through

“Below the street,” is a term counselor, Jerry Price, uses in his teaching on “twisted thinking.” It represents going deeper, being more transparent, removing the mask. You have to go below the street if you want to find out what’s really going on, if you want real change.

Well, for the past two weeks I have had a bitter root taking hold of me. Fears about things that might happen to my children to harm their minds and faith. Fear of what our future holds, how we will sustain. Little thoughts of discord, here and there, about my husband. Anger brewing, to the point of tiny outbursts. Stupid little moments would arise where I would feel he was not protecting me or the kids and I would blow up at him. Things that were totally out of his control or things that I misunderstood.

For instance, a few days ago we stopped in at a local youth center. We got out of the car and my husband made his way a cross the street. I was still back at the car and shouted, asking if we could get a business card out of the trunk for the director. Looking back, I’m sure my tone was harsh, as I felt he was abandoning me by going ahead so quickly. He responded, with a slight shift of his head and plainly said, “no.” He then stated that the case was buried under all our luggage. I really didn’t hear his whole comment but everything in me went hard and I began to yell at him, scolding him for speaking to me that way, like I was a child. He was a bit taken back and begin to explain that he was just stating a fact but I read it so differently. We didn’t really take time to work it out then and there but rather kept walking into the building; greeting the director only moments after this outburst.

After our meeting with the youth director (which went fine, by the way. Amazing how we can put a mask on and just soldier on when we want to) we returned to the car and just carried on with life but deep down I knew something was going strangely wrong. Harmony was absent, but who’s fault was it?

I could feel a storm brewing, and remembered Jerry Price’s teaching in our  More Married sessions, where we learned about “storming” and how it’s a natural process in relationships. However, we learned that when we don’t enter into the storm we go back to a dysfunctional “norm,” and stunt our growth, keeping everything on the surface. However, if we engage the storm and allow it to clean house, so to speak, we come out in a new form; a form that allows deeper connection and harmony.

Investigative, I scoured through the gamut of reasons to why my heart was so hard. From dire straits “this is it, maybe this is the storm that we won’t make it through,” to the more rational, “this is definitely a storm, how do we make it through?”  I began to move from focusing on what my husband was doing wrong to what I was doing. I considered that maybe it was hormonal or maybe it was the change in my diet, maybe it was living out of a suitcase in a foreign country or the uncertainty of life and feeling out of control. What ever it was, self loathing crept in every time a little blow up would happen. I felt more and more insecure and I began to feel extremely isolated.

I’m practiced at “white knuckling” and was able to fend off some of the outbursts; keeping them at bay, specially when we were around others. And, I even choked out a few prayers. However, all I could get out was a whisper of “help me.” What in the world, I hadn’t felt this way in years. What was going on?!

 

Then the final straw broke. We were planning on going out to a local coffee shop to work on web stuff.  We had spent a comfortable morning, sharing breakfast and getting ready for the day. I was lingering and at a certain point in the morning, my husband announced that he was going to get in the car. That was it, just a simple announcement and I flipped out. His declaration seemed abrupt to me. I began to bark at him, “What? What about the computer… and the bag…and what about the kids…are the kids ready?” I panicked, trying to reel the words back in. He stood there looking at me like a deer in the head lights, asking what he was meant to do? He asked, what did I want him to do? No words came but rather I began scurrying around gathering the computer and bag, yelling at the kids and we all clumsily made our way to the car. Once inside the car, we all sat utterly stunned. My mind was racing, what is going on with me? Why am I so out of control? And, then I saw it plain as day, a manifestation of my past began to come forward.

My husband sat patiently, quietly, and then the vision became clear. Seems that when he announced that, “he’ll be in the car” it triggered a memory from my childhood and my dad saying this to my mom and then leaving the house. Then for the next 15 or 20 minutes my mom would hurriedly try to get all of us children out the door. I don’t really know what was going on between them but from my little person perspective, it seemed that my dad abandoned my mom to do all the heavy lifting. I made note of this at that young age and developed a belief system about men based on that belief.

I began to weep. I was paralyzed and didn’t know what to do next. Seriously, everything could have gone south at this point. He had every right to admonish me but he didn’t. Instead, he began to speak gentle words of truth over me. He declared harmony in our relationship and then he asked if he could pray for me and not is a sappy patronizing way, but in a genuine I care for you way. I wept even harder and said yes. What followed was an experience I can only describe as supernatural. His petition for Abba’s mercy, power, discernment and his declaration of Love began to envelop me to the point that the hard casing around my heart shattered. I felt immediate relief. I could see clearly now, all that had bound me up.

Look, working to get below the street was no easy task, as my ego was bruised and my natural tendency was to try to hold face. However,  the more his love covered me the more my pride was laid low. His was a true act of grace; the kind of grace that bleeds for another. The kind of grace that trusts the repentance process, that leads the recipient back towards Abba’s original intent for our lives. Not the cheap stuff, not the fabricated kind that says, “it’s OK, you’re just living your truth, you can be an ass and we’ll all get by” but the kind that says “this isn’t who you’re created to be and I will cover you in order that you might actually have a moment to reflect without the distraction of self-protection.”  It was in this moment that I could see my twisted thinking errors, my stubbornness, victim stance and manipulative thinking. I could see that my own ability to “fix” them was not enough. I began to pray silently along with my husband, weeping for forgiveness, thankful for this relief and new hope.

freedomLook, we don’t always get it right, but in this situation, my husbands humility and grace, is a beautiful example of how we are called to care for one another in the body. His faith carried me to the cross and in doing so, carried me into the presence of God. He fought for me, stepping out-of-the-way and allowed Abba to heal me. Had he allowed his pride to get in the way, we would probably be at ground zero, still storming. His willingness to fight for me and surrender his own pride set a wise tone that allowed me to surrender my own pride, see clearly and fight for us.

In the end, we stormed and can now get on to enjoying the new form. Everything is above the street. For now. 🙂

 

ECM and Casa Shalom

IMG_8380In the center of the East Central neighborhoods of La Mesa and Trumbull there is a light that shine brightly. This highly transient, low-income neighborhood is vulnerable to devious activity but with a deep commitment to the ministry of reconciliation and a persevering spirit, East Central Ministries offers an alternate reality to one of Albuquerque’s most violent and poverty-stricken areas.

ECM was developed in the spring of 1999 by John Bulten as a inter-denominational missions ministry in Albuquerque.  John spent the first two years walking the streets, talking to our neighbors and the relationships that he built during that time continues to be the foundation of the ministry today. In the summer of 2001, ECM moved into a boarded up building that was being used as a drug house. They renovated the property and opened with two community programs, “Wings of Eagles” youth leadership program and the Community Food Co-op.

Over the past years ECM has evolved in several directions and has become a vital part of the community. However, ECM primary focuses continues to be to build long-term lasting relationships with their neighbors. This is a unique approach in a “social service” organization because they actually encourage people to participate in their programs/community on a regular, long-term basis.  They are committed to long-term development and economic projects within the community as well as providing community led classes and initiatives.

We met John when we arrived for our tour. His welcoming presence and enthusiasm for his work and neighborhood was apparent. We met Morgan who runs the Urban Farm, Becky and Katina who facilitates the community youth programs, Louise, Shirley and many others who live at the Housing cooperative, Casa Shalom. We also met Bob who manages Common Goods Thrift Store and the staff at the Community run health care clinic, One Hope, which is the primer work site for medical students at the University of New Mexico.

There was a lot going on at ECU! We observed vibrant life and a people with a commitment to continue to work out relationship struggles. That openness to seeing cracks, discord and seeking reconciliation was most encouraging to us. It’s one thing to care for the community around you, to have great programs but we believe to be a people willing to nurture and seek reconciliation in the most intimate relationships brings true life to the community around us. We know that commitment is what will sustain them through the years. We are blessed to have met these “Tillers” and look forward to more times of community with our new Albuquerque friends. We also encourage you to connect with them along your way. Visit http://www.eastcentralministries.org for more info. Give them a call, they are your global/local neighbor.