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Prayer is an Egg

On Resurrection Day God will say, “What did you do with
the strength and energy your food gave you on earth? How did you use your eyes? What did you make with your five senses while they were dimming and playing out? I gave you hands and feet as tools for preparing the ground for planting. Did you, in the health I gave, do the plowing?”

You will not be able to stand when you hear those questions. You will bend double, and finally acknowledge the glory.

God will say, “Lift your head and answer the questions.”

Your head will rise a little, then slump again.

“Look at me! Tell what you’ve done.” You try, but you fall back flat as a snake. “I want every detail. Say!”

Eventually you will be able to get to a sitting position.

“Be plain and clear. I have given you such gifts. What did you do with them?”

You turn to the right looking to the prophets for help, as though to say, I am stuck in the mud of my life. Help me out of this! They will answer, those kings, “The time for helping is past.
The plow stands there in the field. You should have used it.”

Then you turn to the left, where your family is, and they will say, “Don’t look at us? This conversation is between you and your creator.”

Then you pray the prayer that is the essence of every ritual: God, I have no hope. I am torn to shreds. You are my first and
last and only refuge.

Don’t do daily prayers like a bird pecking, moving its head
up and down. Prayer is an egg. Hatch out the total helplessness inside.

-Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. 2001.

I come back to this poem over and over again–moreso lately, as my time with Tierra Nueva is a blessed regular breaking of my heart. Maybe an answer to prayers offered years ago, asking to be made useful in God’s Kingdom, asking that the things that break God’s heart will also break mine.

I emailed recently with a local services provider. They wanted to participate in our annual Christmas gift drive for the families of incarcerated individuals. (A program that I would be cynical and snooty about, but ask me how I feel now!) They had reached out to the local Toys for Tots chapter, but were rebuffed because the jailed population “don’t have rights, do not qualify, and should have thought about the consequences when they broke the law.” AKA their children do NOT deserve presents on Christmas morning.

Newsflash to the Toys for Tots Skagit coordinator: None of us deserve presents. The actual recipients of your drive don’t deserve it, and the people who can afford presents for their families deserve it. It’s an act of grace and compassion and undeserved joy, in spite of our self-destructive and decrepit selves. Left to our own devices, we have no hope. Looking at our world, we are torn to shreds. We deserve all the pain and suffering we inflict on each other and ourselves. Jesus is our first, last, and only refuge. Rejoice, rejoice.

 

 

What is Christianity Today?

I found this short, interesting bit through Medium. (I think it was on Medium; I don’t how I got there. The internet!)

[W]hile Christianity may never be relevant or cool, here’s what it will be: Attractive.

People will be curious why you were kind to them when they may have been a jerk to you. That’s attractive. People will wonder why you value the broken, poor, and marginalized and use your finances, life, and time to help them (even if they never change). That’s attractive. People will marvel that your friend group doesn’t just consist of people the same color, sexual orientation, or nationality as you, but it spans different beliefs, races, and political views. They’ll be shocked you serve, love, laugh, and mourn with them. That’s attractive.

And finally, people will come to understand the truth of what we believe as Dr. Timothy Keller so eloquently put it:

“So loved that we don’t despair when we do wrong, but so sinful that we have no right to be puffed up when we do right.”

It’s a post by HeartSupport, which is a Christian organization that offers support, advice, and answers to practical, contemporary questions. That’s my description, from about fifteen minutes of poking around on their site. (I suggest you do the same!) They travel to schools and set up booths at places like the Warped Tour. They post blogs with titles like, “Why American-ized Dating is Screw Up Our Marriages,” and “Ten Random Good Things I Remember When My Heart is Smashed To Bits.” These are intriguing headlines! And I’ve opened several of them for reading. But if you’re like me, you start to worry that you haven’t seen the word Jesus or grace or sin after ten minutes. I literally thought, “Whew.” when I read this bit from a post titled, “Why I’m a Christian (and Continue to Suck at Being One)”.

[T]he cross where Jesus died was a reminder that as good as we try to be, we still need someone to save us from ourselves because at the end of the day we love to compare ourselves to scoundrels. But Christianity teaches that if anything we realize what a train wreck we are, and so when we see people in this light it humbles us.

I say hallelujah for bits like this. While I hope to see more of this kind of truth in HeartSupport, I understand this kind of Christianity-framing that often invites criticism from “learned Christians.” The criticism may well be valid on its own, but I often notice that when I am postured to see WHAT I WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY, I end up feeling primarily really good about myself. Of course, that’s entirely beside the point. The truth that is being clearly touted here, to a people that (I would imagine) rarely hear this kind of truth, is that Christ brings grace and mercy.

 

 

Holistic Liberation

Holistic: characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.

Liberation: the act of setting someone free from imprisonment, slavery, or oppression; release.

My second course with The People’s Seminary is titled Healing and Holistic Liberation: Biblical Foundations and Principles. We began Wednesday evening. The first session was “Identity and Authority in Christ”. Fourteen (or so) professionals from the area gathered to become better equipped in transformational ministry.

The first question: What are the obstacles that keep you from living as an empowered son or daughter of the Father? 

We receive our identity as individuals from many cultural and social sources–primarily from our family, from our parents. What spiritual authority do we place and worship in our lives? What authority do we receive from these sources? If you were as interested in Fight Club (1999) as a high schooler as I was, then you know where I’m going with this.

Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?

Our individual understanding of our own selves (our self-worth, ability, worth, and value) are wildly affected by the relationship we had and have with our own fathers. So what do we know about them?

  • Raphael’s dad was absent his whole life. He sought, denied, and struggled with several father-figures while trying to grow up to be a strong, healthy man.
  • Monica’s parents were alcoholics. They divorced when she was seven, and she saw her dad at important events. Her mother remarried to another alcoholic, and she left home at 17.
  • Dylan said he only had bad stories about his father.

(Names changed to protect privacy.) 

These are the people seeking to die and be resurrected in Christ. Here’s the specific strategy for ministries that seek to celebrate Christ’s transformative power. We must realize that we turn away from God, seek false authorities, and carry a warped understanding of love, security, and family. Only then are we able to look to Christ to turn our shoulders toward God as our authority, as our model of a loving father, instead of the other way around. We are made whole, we practice forgiveness, and we, the broken and weary, are being equipped to bear witness to God’s lost people.

I am grateful that this ministry seeks to first address the most foundational cracks in our hearts.

No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 1:12-13

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.
Romans 8:14-16

Socks Are Not Enough

There is a parable called Upstream Downstream that has guided me in my work as a street nurse. It’s about visiting health care workers in a developing country. Standing by a riverbed they suddenly see bodies floating down the river. Frantically, they start pulling the bodies out and begin resuscitation. When they look up they see a continual flow of bodies down the river. They call for help and keep pulling the bodies onto the riverbank and apply CPR. Finally, one of them asks: “Who or what is upstream pushing the bodies into the river?”

This is an article by Cathy Crowe, written for RABBLE.CA in December of 2014. It is one of few arguments that point out how to think smart(er) about helping people. Crowe helpfully and humbly submits her perspective as a street nurse to illustrate what the 1/3-1/3-1/3 model of effective mobilization might look like to combat homelessness.

The downstream one-third would support the front-line organizations in your community that directly help homeless people. Think homeless shelters, violence against women shelters, drop-in centres and outreach programs…

The upstream one-third would support affordable housing. This involves finding out who is building affordable housing in your community…

The final one-third is also an upstream solution and it involves advocacy. This is the work by individuals and groups that ensure more shelters are opened to meet the need, that cold alerts are called and warming centres opened, and keep the campaign for a national housing program on the national agenda…

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Crowe’s writing here exists because of good, compassionate people who live in an unjust world and want to see it transformed. The people who dedicate their careers to understanding how to do so need to be louder. When churches and elementary schools gather mittens and toothbrushes for the local shelter before Christmas vacation, there should be more frank discussions about additional, underlying, systemic, and interwoven injustices.

Living in awe and fear of the Father, the power of His Son, and the example of the Spirit fulfills all three 1/3 parts of effective change in a community.
Tierra Nueva’s highest value is in hosting God’s Presence. We worship with migrant workers, incarcerated individuals, and gang members in many ways.

  • collecting and distributing immediate necessities at the Family Support Center
  • assisting and advocating on matters of labor, housing, insurance, and legality
  • empowering and training members across the world through The People’s Seminary and New Earth Refuge
  • holding elected officials and legislators accountable in governing justly and effectively
  • partnering with believers of Christ around the world in telling the stories of a broken world that is transforming

I’m wildly grateful to be part of an effort that is holistic and grounded on the redeeming power of Christ.

If you’ve read this far, please offer the convictions in your heart and community, and how they are being addressed. 


In our own Skagit Valley, Shelter from the Cold, Friendship House, Reverie BBQ, Love Inc., and Family Promise provide immediate provisional shelter, sustenance, rest, and security.

Agencies, ministries, and organizations like Community Action, Northwest Youth Services, Catholic Community Services, Brigid Collins, New Earth Recovery, and Love Inc. walks with individuals and families to empower growth and healthy life decisions, often while providing needs such as housing and addiction recovery.

(This is an incomplete list! Hallelujah!)

Gaga Ball, Campolo

There’s a new-ish recess game at Immaculate Conception Regional School, which is my current day job. It’s called GAGA BALL. It’s crazy. I love it.
To play Gaga Ball, you put a bunch of kids in an arena-like pit and throw a ball in. It’s so crazy. The object of the game is to hit other players with the ball. It’s the best. So many bloody knuckles and twisted ankles.

gaga-ball

  • You can only hit it underhand, and can’t hit it twice in a row. (If I hit it, I can’t hit it again until it bounces off the wall or another player hits it.)
  • If you hit another kid above the waist, you’re out.
  • If you hit it and the ball flies out of the arena, you’re out.
  • When one kid gets out, a new kid jumps in.
  • Play only stops if the ball gets out of the arena.

The rest of the kids line up on the outside of the arena and jeer, holler, and whoop at the players inside. The next kid in line to go in is the INFALLIBLE UMPIRE. It’s in the rules that you can’t argue with the umpire–it’s incredibly important that this rule is enforced to keep the flow of the game AND to instill a sense of duty and justice in our kids.
I can’t tell you how proud I get when I see a meek, awkward, sweaty 5th grader call out a loud, boisterous 8th grader. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s the best game. It’s one of many things that educators dissect and analyze because we are concerned about childhood development.

I’ve seen 6-year-olds figure out that you can “dribble” against the wall to get better positioning.

3rd graders are coming to school with special gloves.

I saw one girl whose strategy is to NEVER BACK AWAY FROM THE BALL because she’ll (almost) always be able to block her legs with her arms. And if she crouches low the whole time, she’ll get hit on the back or the head. She’s fantastic.

But what often happens, because of humanity, is that the loud, boisterous 8th grader will pretend he didn’t get hit and keep playing. If he gets called out, he’ll argue. If more people call him out, because he’s breaking additional rules, he’ll dawdle SLOWLY out of the arena… and then he’ll go to the next place in line, not the end of the line. I’ve seen this happen, and I hear about it from teary 5th graders. It breaks my heart when the other kids allow this to happen because that means that one kid thinks he is more important than 30+ other kids, many of them younger than he.

It’s an incredibly important game. Many kids have quit playing when certain older kids play, even though they love it. They LOVE Gaga Ball, but they tell me it’s not worth spending all that recess time in line.
(I hesitate to send them back and give the older kids a thrashing, but I HAVE had more than a few all-together reviewing of the rules.)

I was reading THE GOD ASK, and came upon a note on Tony Campolo’s sociological study of people over the age of 95. (The takeaway: take more risks.) Campolo was speaking at the 2006 National Pastors Convention in San Diego, and I am unable to find the transcript of his message. (Please help.) But here’s a short take from Christianity Today.

What is the hard truth we need to be prophetically declaring? Campolo (glasses removed and squinted eyes buried in his skull) rebuked evangelical church leaders for being silent on issues like poverty, education, war, government sponsored torture, and economic injustice.

I love this stuff, and not only because it’s so similar to Bernie Sanders’ platform, but ALSO because it’s so similar to what Gaga Ball teaches the kids at Immaculate Conception. The meek 5th grader summoned up all the courage she had to call out an older kid. If you know kids who are just about to enter high school, you know how nasty they can be, especially when they’re surrounded by their peers.

2016 was a nightmare, and I can see my part in it. I did not meet with people in my community who held differing political worldviews–even people that I regularly speak with on friendly terms! I shook my head at atrocity and continued sitting on the couch. I continue to allow oppression, violence, abuse, and injustice to take place in my community and across the world.

After singing Christmas songs, festooning our homes with lights, and celebrating the incredible strangeness of a Savior in a manger, I believe the appropriate next step is to follow convictions and solve problems.

On the other page, I talk about traveling around the world and seeing the outcome of oppression. It’s a similar outcome to what I hear about and see in the Skagit Valley. Gangs, substance abuse, homelessness, exploitation, and other grotesque realities are a globally present for the same reason that people jump out of burning buildings: they’re desperate to escape. And the role of the government (the people) and the church (God’s people) is to make whole what is broken and live justly. “Come quickly, Lord Jesus,” a million times AND let’s get to work. 


The day after publishing this blog, Senator Bernie Sanders wrote this.

I don’t want to minimize the difficulties facing us. But throughout history, serious people have fought back. That’s where we are now, and that is exactly what we have to do. It is not acceptable—it really is not—for people to throw their hands up and say, “Oh, I’m giving up.” It’s not about you. It’s about the future of this planet. It’s about your kids and your grandchildren. It is about American democracy. It is about some very fundamental issues. You’ve got to jump in and start fighting.

Heal the Sick, Raise the Dead

I was worried it was going to be weird or gross or blue jeans-feelsy. I had recently been hired with Tierra Nueva and was asked to attend a training to better see the kind of work I would help organize and promote. Having grown up in the church (my father is a theology professor, my oldest brother is a pastor), I’ve been in the Church my entire life. I knew of ministries and organizations like TN that fought to balance theological rigor with Spiritual enthusiasm and liturgical admiration.

The training was called Transformational Ministry at the Margins. About twenty of us met, seeking to be equipped to deliver God’s Word to God’s People. Our small group explored the political, cultural, and thematic posturing of different passages. (“What were the bystanders thinking?” “What was the power dynamic between the leper and the people who brought him?” “Who is God? What are people?” “So, they broke a hole in Jesus’ roof. Do you maybe think Jesus was mad? Like, he was tired from his trip. Right?”) It was intensive and applicable and exciting.

The last day included a unit on Spiritual Healing. Oh boy. Everybody, let’s just take it easy. Don’t jump to any conclusions. I mean, when our church prays for sick congregants, we usually leave it at, “Guide the hands of the doctors,” or “May you be a comfort to their family in this time.” So, don’t get carried away here.

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Except I had forgotten ignored the multiple passages in the Bible (the New Testament, even!) where the apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit and literally heal disease. Jesus sends his team out and tells them to heal sick people. And if they’re dead, raise them from the dead. (Matthew 10:8)

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
Acts 4:8-10

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
Acts 5:12-16
 

These are distinct instances from the practice of medicine, which is an equally important practice in the Kingdom of God. John Piper writes* that these instant, miraculous healings point to the sovereignty of Christ over every earthly principalities. Disease, of course, is included on that list as it falls under Christ’s authority.

I realized the way I had been praying for the sick was not acknowledging that my Savior defeated even death to show his love for us. I should have at least been praying something like, “Lord, remove the cancer because I know you have power to do so.” The audacity of laying hands over someone’s body and directly asking the Holy Spirit to transform it was strange and unsettling to me. When I had heard those stories growing up, I rolled my eyes and wanted my life to remain normal.

Bob and Gracie shared similar stories of their reaction to such instances, though they were actively working as ordained pastors at the time. Like me, they were skeptical about the stories of incredible things happening. Of course they happen! Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to accompany us in bringing Good News. That didn’t stop happening. Dear reader, I can tell you that it happened at the training. I saw healing take place. Ask me about it. It was crazy.

When I told those stories to my wife, she (wise social worker that she is) helpfully pointed out that Christ has the power and love to heal. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s not the point anyway. (“Tuesday night at the Bible study, we lift our hands and pray over your body but nothing ever happens.” **) The point is the Kingdom of God. The point is our becoming Christ’s righteousness, body and blood, through His reaching out and bringing us to him.

The Peoples’ Seminary*** began as a way for Bob and Grace Ekblad to work with Honduran farmers in learning sustainable growing practices. Those farmers showed other farmers their methods, and it spread and developed to individual needs.

Then, it was a way for the Bible to become accessible and celebrated by people on the streets/farms/margins/jails.

Today, it is a continual series of training for those in ministry to reach people on the streets through the power of Scripture.


*Piper, John. Why Don’t We Experience the Miracles That the Apostles Were Capable of? 2009.

**Casimir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens.

***more info on The Peoples’ Seminary here