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.

 

 

Advertisements

Reflections At Uluru 

The iconic rock named Uluru sits in the middle of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National park on Katiti Aboriginal Land, smack dab in the middle of Australia. From a physical perspective, Uluru is a mammoth singular rock taking hold of the eye from miles off and commanding respect. The rock was breathtaking but also quite oppressive in its sheer nature.

img_2955Not far away, in the same national park, sits Kata Tjuta (meaning many heads) which gently pulls the viewer to its many domed shaped mounds. Kata Tjuta in it's communal nature felt welcoming, serene and allowed for a time of contemplation.

From a spiritual perspective Uluru is a most sacred space for the traditional aboriginal people. It is a sacred place of ceremony likened to the Pagodas in Bagan, Myanmar, the Great Temple of Yandi Shennong in China, the Mahabodhi Tree in India, Nuestra Señora de Luján in Argentina,Mount Parnassus in Greece, Sergiev Posad in Russia, Ka’ba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican in Rome, Mount Sinai in Egypt, the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City Utah, the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming and so many other sacred sites around the world. It is a place where “Tjukurpa” law for the Anangu people, is taught. And so, while there we took the time to learn what was offered to us about their sacred law.

On a side note: there is an on-going conversation/ argument about who's and what law should be practiced in this land. More specifically, should Australian law or should the Tjukurpa be the dominate law. Although I believe this is a valid and important conversation, that is not what this blog will focus on. This piece will however address law but from a viewpoint of the spiritual condition that law brings about regardless of the culture.

img_2947While visiting Uluru we followed the directions of the signs posted. We did not take photos in areas where we were asked not to and respected the wishes of the elders to stay off of the rock and kept to the walking tracks provided. Our understanding of the culture and place was limited to the information written on teaching plaques and videos and had I someone with local knowledge, I would have probably asked more questions. None the less, this is what I gleaned.

In the visitors center three stories of Tjukurpa (law) were shared. The first was about two ancestral beings – Kuniya, the woma Python, and Liru, the poisonous snake. In this story Liru kills Kuniya’s nephew. Kuniya enraged kills Liru with a blow to the head. This hit to the head, draws blood, and continues to be practiced during the “sorry business,” which is a part of their mourning ritual. The presence of these two ancestral beings – Kuniya, the woma Python, and Liru, the poisonous snake is believed to still be around the Mutitjulu waterhole and can be seen in the markings on the rock.

The second story shared was of Lungkata, the greedy and dishonest blue tonged lizard. In this story the lizard steals a meal from two pananpalala’s and when caught is put to death by fire. His story teaches the Anangu people what happens to the greedy and dishonest.

The third story was of the Mala, rufous hare wallabies, who came to Uluru from the north and west. They had come for an important men’s ceremony at Uluru. While in ceremony, their women and children gathered and prepared food in a cave at Taputiju (and can be seen on the northeast side of Uluru). During the ceremony the men received an invitation from the Wintalyka men, the Mulga seed men from the west, but because their ceremony had already begun they declined the Wintalyka men. This enraged the Wintalyka men and they conjured an evil monster called Kurpany to wreak havoc on the Mala men.

No one seemed to notice as the monster approached, except for Luunpa, the kingfisher woman who lives at the Ininti waterhole. She screamed out a warning and the women ran to the meeting place called Malawati. The ceremony ceased but many Mala men were devoured by the monster. The rest fled hundreds of kilometers to the south with the monster following behind. It is believed that Luunpa still keeps watch over that place.

Kuniya, Lira, Kurpany & Mala are ancestral beings who help form the basis of traditional law and customs for the Anangu today. They connect Anangu with county in all directions around Uluru. These stories along with many others that are not accessible to non-aboriginals are their families inheritance. They guide Anangu culture in all facets of life, organizing male and female roles in the community, child, adult roles and in the purest form, uncontested, Tjukurpa law should result in order throughout daily life.

As I contemplated the stories at the visitors center and walked around the rock noting the places of ceremony and ritual I noticed a similarly to the many stories I’ve read in ancient texts and stories from other oral cultures that we’ve had the privilege of learning about. The Anangu stories confirmed the age-old story of humankind with themes of murder, revenge, deceit, offense, and curses and was just one more confirmation to me that we are all made of the same mud. Every person, through the sands of time, has had to fight these demons within and the human solution has always been law.

This is what I know about law. Every religion, culture, people group or family has its own code or law to live by which defines the reality of those who live by that law. My father says, “those who define the process, control the process.” And so, some of us have been living by the same code for a very long time and some of us have had revisions over the centuries depending on the powers that have taken hold of the process.

Law teaches us how to navigate through the depravity, how to manage our circumstances, how to bring order but law does not bring harmony nor peace and law does not liberate or redeem the heart from the darkness of death. Law requires a hierarchy where some rule and some are ruled. As a result, the spirits of shame and condemnation run a muck, keeping many in their proper place. All the while, the self-righteous heart grows darker and the divide between creator and creation grows wider and wider.

As I walked around the rock, as much as I appreciated the opportunity to learn about Tjukurpa, the oppression of law in general laid heavy on my heart. I felt a deep longing well up within my soul, a longing to hear the stories of faith, hope and redemption and silently I cried out “Abba have mercy. Liberate us all from law and reconcile us to one another. Show us your grace, show us your glory.”

Abba heard my prayer and as the wind gently blew on my face, he answered, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Me, and I the Word. Through Me all things were made; without Me nothing was made that has been made. In Me is life, and that life is the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light that gives light to everyone has come into the world. I was in the world, and though the world was made through Me, the world did not recognize Me. I came to that which was My own, but My own did not receive Me. Yet to all who did receive Me, to those who believed in My name, Yeshua, I give the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of Me.” (john1)

My heart was overwhelmed as I reflected on Yeshua, The Word, there in the beginning, all things made through him, made flesh, dwelling among us. We all live off his generous bounty, gift after gift after gift.

For many of us, the law was prescribed through Moses, for others through Mohammad, Buddha, Darwin, the Dali Lama, the Pope, Plato, Desmond Tutu, Confucius, the Emperor of China, the Government, the Illuminati, the Shamans and Oracles of oral cultures, or whomever else has taken the position of telling the stories of culture and tradition; but grace and truth, this exuberant giving and receiving, This endless knowing and understanding— all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.

I believe it’s good to have a healthy respect for law, to understand our histories, every tongue, tribe and nation, to learn the law so that there might be some sense of order. I believe it’s important for us to learn about and respect other religions, cultures and family laws for the more we understand each other, the more it reduces uncertainty and it helps us to communicate more effectively. However, it is also good to remember that law is limited and can be corrupted by the depravity of those defining and managing it. Thus I believe that law can not have the final say. For it is only through the mystery of grace, that Yeshua offers, that we find our way back to Creator, Abba, God and the result of that is we find true freedom.

Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” It is through Jesus that we find our way to peace and harmony. It is through Jesus that the truth liberates us from law and it is through Jesus that death is overcome and life eternal is found.

How that plays out practically in day-to-day life for me is Jesus becomes The Voice that defines my reality. Jesus prescribes and fulfills the law. And we, who are the God-begotten, are bound by this law that first and foremost says “love Abba with all your heart and love others as yourself.” The love mentioned here is not some romantic notion or a teaching of tolerance. No, it is a supernatural unconditional love that comes when we believe Abba is who he says he is and we believe we are who he says we are as sons and daughters.

Yet, there are many who know but do not believe. They call themselves children of God, they call themselves enlightened, they call themselves the originals but they run around this planet conjuring death and destruction, reckless with their words, betraying and forsaking, hasty in judgement, and closed in their thinking. They are ungrateful and selfish children who have bought into the age-old lie that law is all we need.

I purpose that law is not all we need. Law may sustain us throughout the centuries but law without love is hopeless.

Unconditional Love is the key to redemption and Jesus is the tie that binds all of our hearts in that love. He models this knowing through his teachings, miracles, life, death, resurrection, ascension and promise to return. He is unconditional Love and the source of all life. And, that’s what I’m after.

How about you? What are you after?

 

The Highlands of Vietnam

Di Linh (Vietnamese: Di Linh; French: Djiring) is a district (huyện) of Lâm Đồng Province in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam.

As of 2003 the district had a population of 154,472.The district covers an area of 1,628 km². The district capital lies at Di Linh.

And, that is about all Wikipedia has to say about the place. But, we would add so much more!

IMG_7729First off, going from sea level in Phan Theit, rolling through hills up to about 4000 feet into the highlands was spectacular! And the stops on the way up offered a taste of some of the best coffee in the world. And, for those who don’t know, coffee is one of Mr. Hollands love languages.

The coffee city that gets the most attention in the region is Da Lat and I’m sure it’s a wonderful place for tourists. For us, however, connecting with locals and learning about life through their eyes is more important. So, we were pleased when our friend Joe invited us to come with him up to visit Di Linh, to share a meal, story and sacred space with his kinfolk, who all happen to be coffee farmers.

IMG_1214The community treated us to a traditional meal, coffee of course, and we sang together. We were honored to find out we were there first international guests! We shared our story and they shared theirs and what we learned is that they have the same struggles many of us have around the world with desires for a good, healthy, long life and dealing with the many obsticals that can get in the way.

IMG_1230We met Than, a generational coffee farmer. Thans ancestors had farmed over a hundred hectares but after the war, his families land was seized and he now farms about two hectares. From that 2 hectares he produces 10 tonnes of bean; Arabica, robusta and a third coffee which is a blend. Most is sold to dealers to be exported.

He taught us about the growing process stating that the trees last for about 50 years, and produce bigger yields each year. Harvest time is in December and he hires on about 6 extra migrant workers to help with the harvest. A tarp is set on the ground that catches the beans as the workers pull them off the branches. Then the beans are then set out in the front yard to dry for 10 days before being packaged. Than also grows red flamingo flowers in green houses through out the year and sells them to stores all over Vietnam.

Honestly, Di Linh could have been any little rural town in the US where folks are hard working, value the land they live on and care about their families and their faith. It’s off the beaten path but for us Di Linh and the people we met there will always hold a special place in our hearts. And the coffee, that was just the warm up to the truest love language there is, connection.

 

 

Sacred Space

IMG_3435We talk about sacred space, sharing sacred space and creating sacred space often. It’s not a common term in our circles but it’s not a foreign concept either. Understanding there is nothing new under the sun, we take the idea of going to church, in its limited construct, and usher the sacred into any space that we are in, nature, buildings, buses, etc… so that the space around us becomes “sacred space,” paying sole attention to the Creator of the universe, with hearts of thanksgiving and humility. We do this by leading and participating purposefully in acts of worship, song, reading sacred texts, meditation, reflections, sharing woes and joys, prayers, seeking wisdom and encouragement.

As we travel we are often invited into others expressions of sharing sacred space and it’s always a joy to partner with these folks committed to moving beyond religion and dogma, to the deeper act of worship and sharing in community. Sharing sacred space for us is a necessary part of our journey, it’s like going to the well to refill our water jugs. It’s life-giving and we don’t take it for granted.

Sometimes we meet folks along the way who have grown up in a particular religion and have had what we call “an allergic reaction” to that religion. The result is an on going struggle with guilt, shame, anger and resentment. The conversation tends to revolve around someone or some ideal that they felt betrayed by, leading to disillusionment as well as apathy. Yet, they long for more, but fear and potential lack of desire to push through the pain keeps them from finding the deep connection that comes when we share in the sacred. Our bus rider, Chris, was one of those souls. Our first stop after picking him up from the Mega Bus depot in Washington DC was Frostburg Maryland, where we parked and lived community life with the good folks at Savage River Farm. It was a jam-packed first 24 hours getting to know Chris, digging in the fields, getting to know our hosts and on our second night we made a huge dinner for the everyone, along with about 15 other kinfolk who came to share sacred space. After dinner, we all gathered on blankets and chairs, Ben read a reading from the book of Common Prayer, we spent five minutes in silence, taking in the sounds around us, listening past those sounds in hopes of hearing that still small voice and then we spent the rest of the night sharing our story, bearing witness of our Makers faithfulness in our lives, encouraging those there in their pursuit of God and community and closing with a song. Afterwards, we made our way back to our bus where Chris let us know that maybe he wasn’t on the same page as we were regarding our faith. We answered, that’s OK. It was late and we suggested a sit down in the morning where he could share his spiritual story with us.

The next morning he took us on his journey through childhood including a mama and grandmother, a pastor and a teacher all with a strong but simple faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; a faith that included a beautiful beginning, then a disconnect from God, then reconciliation and restoration through God’s son, Jesus. Chris said he was wrapped in this story as a child but that as he got older he met others with different beliefs about God and some with no belief in God at all and began question this simple story of redemption. He felt a swaying towards apathy and eventually claimed to be agnostic, throwing himself into a sexually and status driven mindset. He said that he found some success and happiness during those years but there was always something missing. He expressed a longing to be in union with the God of all gods and a longing for the sacred. And, that lead him to this conversation with us, sitting on our bus. He expressed an acute awareness of this longing and an openness to seeing where the journey on our bus would lead and we continued forward. We knew God was orchestrating the ride of Chris’s life and we were excited to see it unfold.

Through out the course of the month on board, Chris met people all along the way, who without knowing it, answered questions, spoke wisdom and truth and lived out the simplicity of their love for God. We spent loads of time engaged in sacred text with the lens on inquiry, spending time working out some of those pending questions from years prior, finding that somethings were evident and some were mysteries yet to be unfolded. We read and prayed, asking what the text was trying to communicate about Gods character as well as our identity in the story. At one point, Chris began to understand the preciousness of his mother’s simple faith and that was when the invitation came from Chris’s childhood pastor, also named Chris, whom he hadn’t seen in five years, to come and share his faith journey with his church, Grace and Truth Chapel, just outside of Boston, MA.

We were also invited by Pastor Chris to bring an offering of worship, incorporating a time for Chris to share and to deliver a word of encouragement regarding God’s faithfulness. We love to share in any setting, with any group of kinfolk but it’s especially wonderful when we get to meet those we are preparing a spiritual meal for and learn from them first. So, we were pleased to be able to meet Pastor Chris and his beautiful wife, Rose the evening before and share a meal. We found out that they originated from Ghana and were delighted to also find out that their community consisted of folks from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo and other parts of West Africa. Having never met someone from Ghana we spent most of our night asking questions about their lives, cultural traditions and faith. We listened intently as they shared the dramatic story of their recent trip home to deal with the death of a loved one. They shared that their cultural traditions are wrapped up in “spiritism” and much of the story consisted of their constant redefinition of the local gods (spirits) who were always needing appeasement and would anger easily to the living God who is loving, patient, relational and kind. Rose and Pastor Chris respected their elders by showing a consistent love, embracing the relationally healthy traditions and rejecting those traditions that were relationally destructive. And, although their time there was tremendously wearing, they were fearless in their dealings with the local spirits, setting a new tone of faith that celebrated life but was free from the bondage of fear and ritualist slavery.

This conversation was very helpful in understanding how we would share in sacred space with the kinfolk at Grace and Truth. We knew that our time with them would focus on God’s faithfulness and we began to look into sacred text for ways to communicate this truth. We found Psalm 145:8-21 which paints a picture of a king who is faithful and compassionate, specially to those who fall. Also, we sourced Paul Penley’s book, Reenacting the Way, and found many stories of Jesus declaring his Godship and setting a new tone. For instance at one point Jesus sits down to share a meal with his friends and takes a cup, holding it up and declares it the blood of the new covenant. Why would he say that? Culturally, this statement correlates with the first covenant meal ever (you can read about it in Exodus 24:3-11), where there was a meal that took place in the Sinai wilderness a few weeks after the first passover. At this meal God made covenant with the Israelites and they respond that all that the Lord had spoken they would do. Fast forward to Jesus at this passover meal and he announces that his body would be broken and his blood poured out to inaugurate a new “covenant” which frees people to love and serve the living God. God promises faithfulness by stepping towards us, so that we may fall in step with him. This covenant is pure and relational and requires a two-sided commitment. And, even when we fail in our commitment God is still faithful, slow to anger, quick to love and like the prodigal father, welcomes us back, no matter tribe, tongue or creed.

IMG_3436We love because God loved us first. This is our story, this is Chris’s story, and best of all Chris got to share how this awesome covenant had new meaning for him with people who cared deeply for him. And, this really is the beauty of sharing sacred space.

On a fun side note; for those who have never shared sacred space with West Africans, the gathering lasts about three or four hours and includes loads of “amens,” rollicking songs, clapping, dancing, speaking out prayers, praying over others, words of encouragement, hugs and more words of encouragement and finishes with a hardy and delicious meal!

 

South Texas, The Land of Milk and Honey

20130325-144311.jpgAfter a few months in the browns and reds of the desert, the lush greens, slight humidity and rolling hills of Austin were a welcomed sight. Our time in Austin was eclectic with opportunities to be in community with our hosts, the Newell family and friends, connecting with new friends, sharing music, sharing sacred space, lending a helping hand with projects and enjoying some quality family activity, including paddle boarding, kayaking, dining out and a little bit of shopping.

20130325-144300.jpgOur first weekend we enjoyed the sounds and sights of SxSW, which was significant in and of itself. However, our week with the Newells was when all of the magic happened. Our favorite restaurant was Torchie’s Taco’s! Pete, Lori and their three darlings took us there after church our first Sunday in town and we fell in love. Torchie’s started out as a food truck and now has about four locations throughout the city. Through out the week we made it to three of the locations. 🙂 Monday evening we shared our first BBQ on the grill with them. I made my Grandma’s potato salad, the sun was warm and there was a cool breeze. The kids had fun running and jumping on the trampoline, listening to music and taking a load off.

Tuesday we helped Lori set up the house for a house concert. They invited all sorts of friends and neighbors and acquaintances. The energy was high and all of their guests made the evening so lovely.

Wed. it was 91 degrees and we decided to hit the water. We went paddle boating and kayaking down on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake which is part of the Colorado River. It’s calm, pristine and offered us relief from the heat. We floated for about an hour, watching the University of Texas rowing team practice along side us.

Later that evening, we all meet the Newell’s at Rudy’s BBQ for a Texas favorite. I’ve seen Rudy’s sauce in the grocery story but it was fun to actually be eating where it was created. And man, is it good!

Jesse and Janae
Jesse and Janae

The night didn’t end there, after dinner we trekked about a half hour southwest to Dripping Springs, TX to visit with the Heikkila’s who we had met through the Newell’s. Jesse, Janae and their four children live on a beautiful property with his Sister and her family. The Heikkila’s moved to Austin a few years back and have been building a “Tiny House” on the property. We entered their warm home with delight and amazement. We were excited to hear about their journey in marriage, family and building this fun home. Janae made the most amazing candied nuts to top ice cream sunday’s and Jesse and Craig talked shop (building).  We love meeting kinfolk along our way, especially those who are taking risks and swimming upstream. It was so encouraging to be with them.

20130325-144832.jpgThursday was our last day in Austin and it was equally as delightful as the days that ran before it. I met a woman named Ruby James. We had actually met at Steel Bridge songfest in Sturgeon Bay, WI the summer prior. She had approached us after we played our set and thanked us for waking her up gently. Later that summer, we saw her again at another venue and had an opportunity to chat a bit more. There was something about her bright spirit and so when we arrived in Austin and I saw she was living here, I thought it would be great to see her again. There was an ease when we chatted on the phone and through the course of our conversation I shared some of the struggles we were having with our son. His transition from adolescents into manhood were taking a toll on us as parents and her listening ear was kind. She had an idea, a way to maybe encourage our son and lined up an opportunity for him to meet a fella named Dony Wynn. Dony is a world-class drummer and has worked with folks like Robert Plant, Patti Griffin and Robert Palmer. He met us at his front door with a bright smile and invited us into his space. There were percussion instruments everywhere and Dony was open and inviting, engaging our son in conversation and sharing his story. It was an honor to meet him and I’m sure will be an important part of our son’s story down the line.

20130325-144740.jpgLater that night we were invited to share in sacred space at a Bahai’ New Years celebration. We met Rose, our host, at the Newell house concert a few days prior and she gave us a little overview of her vision to bring together community in her neighborhood and her efforts to host weekly multi-faith gathering. This week they were focusing on music. We shared with her a potential offering/workshop we call “sound scape” which is an exercise that allows even the laymen and opportunity to be creative. She loved the idea and so we arrived,  shared a few “Hollands!” songs and then had folks break into two groups. Because the gathering was meant to have a spiritual bent we used sacred passage from the bible as the inspiration and each group began to create a sound track that would be played behind the reading of the passage.

Craig’s group choose John 1:1-22, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…” My group choose Revelations 22:1-5,  “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” Each group entered into the exercise wholeheartedly and the creative interpretations that they each offered was so inspiring. We topped of the night with Persian Tea and lots of hugs and well wishes.

20130325-144823.jpgFriday morning before we set sail we invited Dony and Ruby over for farewell scones. And then we said goodbye to the Newells!

There is such a richness in this life that we lead. Joy is full, pain is real and we accept it all, knowing there is hope and we are not alone. Our week in Austin is proof of that richness and we hold fast to these moments as examples and encouragement for our lives.

Big Texas Love

20130324-123754.jpgWe crossed the state line into Texas on March 8, 2013. First stop Lubbock, TX. The drive from Albuquerque was long, hot and the landscape was flat for miles and miles. In fact, it was so flat that it felt like we were plastered to the ground. Trains ran along the highway and we had fun counting the cars and wondering if we knew any train hoppers on board.

20130324-123816.jpgIt took us about 5 hours to reach our host home, the Latham family. We were referred to this big ol’ Texas family by our friends, the Morfords, in Bend, OR. Scott and Diana along with their teenage and adult kids are real givers. They are actively involved in the spiritual growth of their community and host regular gatherings at their home for young adults and couples. They are beautiful, thoughtful kinfolk and graciously welcomed us into their community. It was inspiring to be around the depth of conversation and experience that they offered, specially listening to their children share the genuinely positive influence growing up with parents who live by faith and service.  They offered us an opportunity to share our gifts and talents in sacred space at a little Methodist church on a Sunday morning.

This was our offering…

Call to worship- Song, Come Before the Lord.
Deceleration of God’s faithfulness- Song, No Other.
Reading: 2 Cor 4:18 The things we see now are hear today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can not see will last forever.
Sharing/Teaching: Walking by Faith, Our journey learning to “swim upstream”
Lectio Divina: (prayerful reading of scripture) Psalm 62
Response: Song- Unfashionable Wisdom (No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived, what God has for those who LOVE him)
Closing Songs: Morning Star, Old Timey Trio- I’ve Got a Home in Gloryland,I’ll Fly Away, Amazing Grace, Oh When the Saints.

20130324-123853.jpgSunday evening we drove down to Snyder, TX to visit with an old friend, Brad Floyd. Brad is one of the brightest stars we know. His smile is contagious and he’s about the kindest big ol’ Texan you’ll ever meet. He introduced us to his wife Sally, mother and a few friends, made us Chicken fried steaks. Dinner was a hoot as we heard stories from one of their friends, Anne. She’s in her 50’s and suffers from MS. However, her spirits were high as she declared her mischievousness and shared about some of the nonsense she got up to as a youth. For example, the time she and a few friends shot an arrow into the town generator and the whole power grid went out. Or the time she stood at the top of a water fall and dumped laundry soap down the falls. The bubbles filled the river so high that they began to spill over onto the streets. Our favorite story was of her two friends who’s fathers owned the two car dealerships in the town, one Chevy and one Ford. One night the three of them snuck into the showrooms of both car dealerships and switched the hub caps. It was a few months later that a customer came in questioning why his new Chevy had Ford hubcaps? Ha! Meeting folks like Anne and experiencing these kinds of moments are so special to us. Later in the evening it was a natural progression to for us to share a few songs with these kinfolk, and so we did. The next day we followed Brad down to Fort Worth, where he treated us to a tank of diesel, a stay at The Comfort Inn and dinner out. Their gift to us was more than we can possibly repay and so we are glad it’s a gift 🙂 and we are honored to call Brad and Sally friends.

20130324-123910.jpgOur next stop took us to Dallas were we stayed at an RV park for two nights. We meet up with our old friend Donny. He, his wife, Jenny and baby daughter came out to our bus and we shared dinner, while hearing their story. It’s amazing where life takes you. When we met Donny in 1999, he was a tattoo ridden, cool drummer dude. In fact, he was drumming at the time, in a band called Unwed Sailor that performed at our wedding in March of 2000. Then fast forward to March 2013 and he’s newly wed to a precious woman named, Jenny and has a son who is 11 and beautiful little girl. He has his PhD in Biochemistry/ Chemical Biology and is working at UT Southwestern Medical Center, researching cancer. It was an honor to hear his story and to be able to encourage him in his marriage, faith and efforts in science.