Sunday, April 29, 2007

shanty town Sunday

I woke up this morning in a house of cardboard and tarps. Inside, seven friends slept beside me. Outside, 4,000 others crawled out of ramshackle huts and sleeping bags strewn across the ground. On a hilltop in Parker, CO, the sun was rising on a chaotic mess of cardboard shanties and unshowered people, all cramped inside a make-shift displacement camp.

We were there for an event called Displace Me, put on by an organization called Invisible Children (IC). For the past couple years, IC has been beaking the silent shroud surrounding the 21 year war in northern Uganda, and has been opening the world's eyes to the atrocities being committed there. For years, rebel forces called the Lord's Resistance Army have been raiding villages, conscripting children and teaching them to kill. In this time of chaos, the Ugandan government has moved millions into crowded displacment camps, lacking ample food and water, as well as proper sanitization. Many people have been in these camps for over 10 years. IC began with a documentary on the issue, and since then has been effecting change in northern Uganda in ways they could not have imagined. Displace Me was just one small part of it.

I would like to say that my night on the hilltop was about understanding what the people of Uganda go through, but that would be ludicrous at best. I did have moments where I felt crowded-in and uncomfortable, and was stunned at the thought of doing it for 10 years. And when we were waiting for crackers and water to be distributed at the "relief station", I really was hungry and thirsty (Saltines have never tasted so good in my life). Yet I know that one night in a cardboard box, hanging out with good friends and knowing I have home waiting for me the next day, does not even come close to providing a glimpse into their lives. No, my night of displacement was about raising my voice. It was about being one more body, one more face in the swarm of people speaking out on behalf of the oppressed.

During this year of reading Proverbs, one proverb has been the most impactful:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

The people of northern Uganda are not the only ones around us who don't have a voice, who cannot speak up for themselves. The homeless man in the park, the underprivileged child, the refugee, the migrant worker, the sick who have no access to healing...all these people lack the power that we take for granted--the power to speak up and actually be heard.

Is there a particular group of the oppressed that stirs your heart? Do you hear the cries of the poor and orphaned and widowed? We have the power to say something about it, to effect change even when we feel like we may only be making a tiny dent. When we see the forgotten, the silenced, the invisible, we have the power defend their rights. The task seems so daunting, and at times hopeless, but I believe the gospel challenges me to overcome that.

It challenges me to stand up and raise my voice.

(for some great links to practical venues for raising your voice, check out my friend's post about the event

Monday, April 23, 2007

simple joys

These are a little outdated, but I wanted to go ahead and post some of the pictures from a great bike ride. It was a little cool for diving into the mud, but I found other ways to entertain myself.

I mean, really...the company of Pedro and one of my dearest friends, a nice sloppy mud puddle, and a stick for digging around in doesn't get a whole lot better than that!

small town Sunday: the few will bless the many

In the eyes of most people, Green Mountain Falls is clearly a town of little consequence. New York City has 10,000 times as many citizens. My house is bigger than their Town Hall. There isn't even a store there, remember? But don't tell that to the people in my church. I have been encouraged again and again by their sense of connectivity with the world.

When our Pastor went to visit his ailing grandfather in England, he took with him a prayer shawl knitted by the women of the church. He returned to tell us that the gift had brought tears to the eyes of his grandfather, who asked why someone so many miles away would care about him. A similar prayer shawl was recently sent to a missionary in Indonesia, the nephew of a church member. Before it was sent, the shawl was passed around the church so that it might pass through the hands of everyone present, prayed over individually by each soul in the sanctuary. When I held it in my own hands, praying briefly for the man who would recieve it, I was suddenly so aware of the bigness of the body of Christ.

Last week, when students 1,500 miles away were killed at Virgina Tech, the church did not simply make brief mention of it, using it as a point of departure for a theological discussion of suffering. Rather, each victim's name was read aloud, slowly and clearly. The silence that followed was broken only by the sound of the church bell, sounded once for each of the deceased. The pastor told me later that he'd heard many pastors talking about their plans to discuss Earth Day, or to simply continue with the sermon they had planned before. To him, this was unthinkable--the suffering of our brothers and sisters must be recognized, and names must be remembered.

The examples go on. As the weather warms, many migrant workers will be coming in for the summer work. In Green Mountain Falls, church members are creating small bags of hygeine products for them. In support of children with Cancer, an elderly woman shaved her long, grey hair. How beautiful.

In the sleepy, unknown town of Green Mountain Falls, I am learning a little about what it means to care for my world. I am witnessing a group of people who are abundantly generous, despite having a budget that is probably less than ten percent of most of the more recognized churches. I am learning that being small doesn't have to mean being insignificant. Yes, it's true that the vast majority of the world has never heard of Green Mountain Falls, but those small town hearts are loving and blessing their global body nonetheless.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


A week or two ago, during our Bible study, my small group decided to look at Matthew 12 using the ancient practice of Lectio Divina. Through quiet reading and contemplation, we allowed the Spirit to speak to each of us through some element of the passage. Honestly, I went in knowing which section I wanted to focus on. Yet, all the while I knew that God had other plans, something else to say. As I reluctantly listened, he pointed me to a particular set of verses:

"When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first." (Matthew 12:43-45)

The goal of Lectio is to allow God to highlight a specific word or phrase from the larger passage. I have never been able to do this well--I am too indecisive and always end up with a ridiculously large chunk I've "narrowed it down" to. That night, however, the Spirit led me to one word: unoccupied. I could not stop staring at that word.

I thought about some recent battles I had fought, brutal fights to drive out the enemy from places in my heart. By God's grace, I had been spared from total disaster and was now trying to pick up the pieces and put things in order. I have done so with gratitude, but also with an element of fear; I know that the enemy still desires to bring death to that part of my heart. The years have shown me that he leaves us the same way he left Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:13): he goes away already waiting for a more opportune time.

What did the Spirit desire to show me through that chapter in Matthew? He wanted me to see that it is not enough to clean house. It is not enough to pick up the pieces and open a window hoping for some fresh air. We can walk free from sin for a period, and yet still leave our hearts unoccupied. We can get back on our feet, all the while leaving our hearts spiffed up like a hotel room, ready for uninvited guests who will just bring even more pain and destruction.

The most important thing I can do when picking up the pieces is to truly let God take up residence in my spirit, in those places of my heart that have been violated and vandalized by the enemy. I need to face and tear down whatever boundaries I have set up that have kept him from moving in. And then I need to put out the welcome mat and let the King of Kings, my Strong Defender, make himself at home in me.

Then, when the enemy returns for my precious heart, he'll find that someone's home: he'll find a heart that's occupied.

a talent for distraction

One day, while enduring too many hours of Greek on end, I made a great discovery: you can completely distract yourself without even getting up from the table where you're working. I offer here the fruits of my procrastination.....

Friday, April 20, 2007

fodder for dreamin'

I took a bike ride today in a place I've never explored before. After driving up into a canyon, we parked and hit a dirt road (with sections of trail). The terrain was a little skree-esque, so it was slow pedaling at points, but the views were awesome. Other than doing a face-plant while attempting to cross a stream (I know that at least one of you is laughing now), the day was perfect.

And that dreamin'? Well, apparently the road goes all the way to Cripple Creek. Good long ride, ice cream from the general store... Yep, pretty sure I'm a-goin' to have to do that sometime before winter comes 'round again.

Chris forgot his shoes. You can't tell, but he's navigating this sweet stuff in loafers.

Man, I love where I live. I biked last summer when I was in Oklahoma, and believe me, it did NOT look like this.

See the rock in the middle of the stream on the right side? I have a beautiful impression of it on my shin now. I'll be honest...that really really didn't feel good. But it was a great fall otherwise!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

long awaited....

It is that time of year! It's the time to say (with great rejoicing):

Adios Winter!

Welcome back Spring!

(All of those from Colorado know the sad truth: I have just jinxed us into one more giant blizzard....ooops).

Monday, April 16, 2007

small town Sunday: ordinary holiness

I didn't want to go to church yesterday. I was feeling tired, a little heavy-hearted and anti-social, and I was worried about the gas money. Still, I have learned over the last few years that I want to be someone who is committed to community. And I want to be someone who is committed to trusting a God who wants to speak even when I don't want to listen.

It was like a breath of fresh air for my heart. Not because of any spetacular movements of the Spirit or astounding words from a sermon. Yesterday, for the first time, I was really able to experience what I have read about from lovers of liturgical traditions: I found rest and encouragement in the rhythm of the invocation and confession of faith, in the prayers that were prayed and the music that was sung.

As we began the morning, the invocation was read: "God of all our beginnings, may this day and every day begin with our praise to you. Let every breath become a witness to your Spirit, dwelling within and among us. Open our hearts to receive your saving gifts. Loosen our tongues to proclaim your unsurpassed greatness. May the noise of our celebration help your people to sense your powerful presence and to claim the joy of serving you, in Christ's name. Amen."

The noise of our celebration. The noise of tongues loosed to proclaim the greatness of God. I was struck by this in a way that lit fire in me for a moment. Am I celebrating? Can people hear the noise of my jubilation? I felt so challenged to live a life that is a rowdy celebration of the the joy of knowing God.

A moment later, a section of the affirmation of faith struck me: "We believe the God of Jesus encounters us in the whole of life--not in the special and extraordianary so much as in the ordinariness and reality of our lives and they are lived, and died."

Encounters the ordinariness and reality of our lives. Have I been looking for him there? Have I been inviting him into my day-to-day? Perhaps to do so would be cause for that great celebration that serves to remind many of his presence.

As the morning went on, there was beauty in the words of the hymns, truth in those sung by the choir. There was encouragement in the call to confession and the recitation of prayer. Yes, worship came in the rhythm of participation...of words to read aloud in community, of listening to those sung aloud to me. My heavy heart did not have to muster its own song or affirmation, just to stand with those in the family of God and declare aloud words of faith and belief. I had only to offer my yes--Yes, I believe this to be the determining truth of my life. I suppose it was God revealing himself, as in the pastor's prayer, to be a "God who makes the common holy." It was God ecnountering me in the ordinariness of the tradition.

How extraordinary.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

if oddity is endearing...

...then we're downright adorable. Evening bathroom time at my house is a special time. Karen and I (and Leah, when she's still up) talk and brush and talk and wash faces. She hogs the sink while washing her face. I share the sink. Nicknames have followed.

Last night, we somehow got the idea to brush our teeth wearing our ski helmets. Jamie meandered upstairs and joined us after a while, eventually offering a lesson by using our dry erase marker on the mirror.

I've never looked so cool in my life. Until this picture, I never realized that I hold my toothbrush so funny.

My tooth-brushing buddy and me! We are normally sans the helmets, if it makes you feel any better about our sanity. It shouldn't.

We discovered that self-pictures are great in front of a mirror. You can see the screen in the reflection and make sure you have a good shot!

Karen discovered that washing your face while wearing goggles is slightly less effective....

Jamie passes on wisdom, complete with illustrations for those of us who are a little slow.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

what my eyes don't usually see

As I have thought a lot about the poor and oppressed over the last several months, I have been challenged to think about the lens through which I understand theology and the Bible. I have been challenged to realize that I am a white, middle-class American, and that I read the Bible through white, middle-class, American eyes.

As a seminary student who is required to take several classes in Systematic Theology, I have had a chance to think through how my station in life affects my understanding of our faith. I have always heard of liberation theology and sort of passed it off as a little radical and misguided--too focused on political freedom. Some wise teachers and authors, however, have helped me to see that I have the luxury of seeing it that way. I can get away with having a theology that has nothing to do with political freedom in the here and now, because I am not oppressed. I don't really need the aspect of God as Deliverer right now, because I am not being crushed under the weight of actual, human oppression.

For most Americans, then, the foundation exists for a theology in which the enemy is understood primarily as spiritual. Our theology accomodates an understanding of the fight against oppression as some sort of cosmic reality. David cries out for rescue from his enemies, and it speaks to us in the battles we face against spiritual oppression, against the pull toward sin and wickedness. The Bible offers the promise that the righteous will not go hungry, and we feel assured that our spiritual hunger will not go unsatisfied. These are legitimate, important understandings of truth.

Yet these understandings are limited, as well. The truly oppressed and hungry are not afforded the a luxury of such a one-sided understanding. They have enemies who are flesh and bone, whose bullets are peircing the bodies of their children. Their spiritual hunger is accompanied by woefully undernourished bodies. A God who is not a Deliverer in the here and now seems irrelevant to them. Surely, God cares about their plight. Surely he is one who desires freedom for his people--not just in some cosmic sense, and not just on some distant day when we see him face to face. If he is who he says he is, then he must care about the literal orphan and widow, the literal alien and slave.

Am I now a hard-core proponent of liberation theology? No, but I'm thinking it over a little more. I'm trying to step back and ask how the words of Scripture I read might sound to a hungry child in an African refugee camp, robbed of her home and security. Psalm 10 today provided a perfect example:

"Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself, "He won't call me to account"?
But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evil man;
call him to account for his wickedness
that would not be found out.
...You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth,
may terrify no more."
(10:12-15, 17-18)

I challenge you to take some time and read the Word through new eyes. Try to think about God's workings in the world from a perspective that is a little foreign to you. It has been hugely challenging for me. In the end, perhaps such a practice will open our eyes to a God who is much, much bigger than our American eyes have ever seen.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I guess I'll never know...

In the bathroom at Dorothy's Tamales (see previous post), I happily filled my water bottle and moved out to let Carrie take her turn. Thankfully, I hadn't yet sipped the stuff when I heard from the bathroom, "Hey, you didn't fill that up in here, did you?" When I replied that I had, Carrie drew my attention to a sign (of course, NOT placed above the sink). It read:

Now, here's the real question: Do they really mean palatable, or were they trying to say potable? Does it really just taste nasty, or might I have developed some horrid tamale disease and started smelling of chiles or corn or something?

I poured the water out. I guess I'll never know.

small town Sunday: Hartsel

Since I went home to Glenwood Springs for Easter, I wasn't in Green Mountain Falls yesterday. However, on the drive home, Carrie and I passed through Hartsel, a tiny town in the South Park area. This one's even smaller than GMF, and it made me smile in a big way! Oh, how I love small towns!

Our dinner stop was at Dorothy's Homemade Tamales. This place used to be a house out in the middle of nowhere. I guess they hit the big time and moved into town. Of course, we were the only ones in there on a Sunday night. For not much cash, we had three tamales, a huge order of tots, and (drum roll please).....a fried pickle spear! (Just to say I did it, of course.)

This is almost on par with the Marshall's office in Green Mountain Falls. Hand-painted signs are awesome. Unfortunately, this one's abandoned. The office in GMF is alive and kickin'!

Hartsel Bible Chapel. This thing is literally one of those insta-structures that is basically canvas-y stuff over some odd frame. It looks like it seats about 30 max. Still, it's an official church of the SBC!

This old one-room schoolhouse is now the community center. It reminds me of the town hall building in Green Mountain Falls.

Praise God for friends who will exlpore small towns and funky diners with me! She even gave me some of her tots:)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

what a woman knows

I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty, and have found myself with some new perspectives.

For one, women are beautiful, every single one of them. They are not all beautiful in the mind of a Cosmo photographer, or a movie caster, or even in most of our own culturally conditioned eyes (let’s be honest). Yet in the few moments when I can set aside those lies and listen for the truth, then I see it—every woman bears within her a unique and God-given beauty of the kind that runs much deeper than some shallow cultural categorization. Now, the fact that all women are beautiful may not sound too much like a new perspective to some people, because we may say it a lot. God, however, desires for us to see and truly believe it.

Still, that has not been the most eye opening part of this time for me. What has rocked my world is that I am beginning to believe that every woman knows she’s beautiful.

What!? That’s preposterous! Anyone who has listened in on a few conversations between women on the topic of beauty probably feels like they have proof to the exact opposite effect. Women (myself included) judge their own beauty and that of others mercilessly. We are vicious! We put ourselves down. We cast critical glances. We compare and envy and are never quite satisfied. We sound like we all believe in our core that we are far from beautiful, and we grieve.

Yes, we do grieve. More and more, however, I don’t think it is because we don’t think we are beautiful. Like I said, I think it’s because we know we are.

The thing about a woman’s beauty is that it is meant to be drawn out and fostered. A father and mother, friends (and particularly guy friends), a husband, a community —and above all a healthy understanding of God—are meant to draw out and actualize the incredible beauty that resides within every woman. One teaches her the right ways to accentuate that beauty physically (how to stay healthy, how to dress in an appropriate yet flattering way), another impresses upon her the value of her purity and the fact that her sexuality is a gift to be guarded, while others draw out the particularly feminine part of her spirit and affirm its great worth. In all of this, a woman feels that the beauty God has created in her is being beckoned to the surface, to be truly seen and to bring glory to God. Indeed, a woman who humbly and truly knows her beauty brings glory to the creativity and artistry of her God.

Yet most women’s beauty remains in hiding, either broken or simply undiscovered. They throw themselves at men who promise to call out that beauty, yet who only call out what image of beauty best suits them—usually right in line with the cultural concept that crushes the heart of a woman. They under-eat in the hopes that the hidden beauty will begin to show as their ribs do, or they over-eat in the hopes that the broken beauty will at least be insulated by comfort. They dress in clothes too tight or woefully baggy, they act like ditzes or over-accentuate the masculine side of themselves. They are doing whatever they can to cope with the fact that they contain a loveliness that they fear will either never be restored, or will never be drawn out in the first place. They know they are beautiful—and they know that beauty is lying inside of them, wasting away.

And so we grieve…I grieve. Not because of a beauty that is lacking. But because of one whose true depths I fear will forever remain unseen.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Dear Mom, I need some new...

...Duct Tape. I need some new duct tape. See, the roll I used to fix these puppies was kind of old, and I think it had lost some of the stick.
The shoes? Oh, those work just fine. All nice and broken in. Or maybe just broken--it's all a matter of perspective.

Monday, April 02, 2007

great quote for the day

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."

– Lyndon B. Johnson, upon signing the Wilderness Act in 1964

small town Sunday: the charm of foibles

Palm Sunday in Green Mountain Falls. My friend Carrie came with me this time. It allowed me to sort of watch the church service with new eyes again, as is usually the case when aware that the person next to me is doing so. Everything about it endeared me as much as ever.

In most other churches I’ve attended, have grown accustomed to a praise band, often times a recording quality one. In Green Mountain Falls, the choir sings their praises from a small choir loft, wearing blue and white choir robes. It is not polished, and far from recording quality. There are a lot of wrong notes, and there are moments of sweet harmony. It’s beautiful. Equally beautiful is the sound of the congregation trying to navigate the melody of some obscure hymn. I do not know who chooses the music, but they seem to have an affinity for the hymns which no one has ever heard before.

The children’s sermon is never void of hilarity. This week, the pastor was trying to drive home a point about courage, and began by asking about things the children might be afraid of: the darkness, scary stories, that sort of thing. When he asked if they were ever afraid of creepy sounds at night, a rather verbose girl spoke up: “Well, I do have mice!” The pastor chuckled. “Oh, you have pet mice?” She does not have pet mice. She has mice that live in the walls of her house, and when they scratch at night, someone has to hit the walls to scare them away. As she cheerily passed this information on to the entire congregation, we all sat laughing, at the same time feeling great sympathy for the parents whose poor living conditions were being exposed to anyone they might ever have wanted to have over for dinner.

Many more winsome qualities marked my moments in that sunny back pew. The old man who read the Scripture passage for the morning had a funny voice and read with many a pause for emphasis. During communion, another old man stood holding the bread and chalice, his aged hands trembling as he offered me the body and blood of his Savior. During the sermon, the pastor poked fun at the quirks of liturgy, and at the awkwardness that can come with the weighty silence of the call to confession.

Afterward, we all gathered in the fellowship hall to raise money for missions by dining on soup, salad, and homemade bread. I discussed seminary with a woman next to me, an elderly member of the PEO with a wonderful British accent. While up to get seconds, or to grab a cup of lemonade, I found that I am able to greet several people by name now. On the way to not feeling new, you know. At some churches that takes a year to accomplish.

As we discussed all the charming foibles of small town church life, Carrie put it perfectly: The imperfection of things there at that tiny church—the unpolished music, the outspoken tots, all the quirky moments—have a way of putting you at ease, making you feel as if you don’t have to be perfect either. I think she’s right. It may be more than the quiet streets that bring me rest on a small town Sunday.