Gifts that give back, 2016

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Lettering by Em click on the link to visit my daughter Em’s Etsy store

Next Tuesday is “Giving Tuesday,” did you know? The link takes you to a Youtube video that explains why Giving Tuesday was created to follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I thought today–before Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the day before THANKSgiving–would be a great day to post my annual “gifts that give back” post. More and more we have the opportunity to give gifts that give twice: to the recipient AND to a ministry that practices Biblical generosity. If you have already completed all your Christmas shopping, then this post isn’t for you, but if you’re just starting to think about it (I’m in this camp!), then I hope to give you some good ideas in this post.

And if you have other ideas, please leave a comment and tell me about them! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back. Feel free to share this list with others.

GENERAL GIVING

You can use Amazon.com’s Smile program and choose a charity to receive a portion of your purchase price. (Mine is locked in at Compassion International currently, but there are thousands on Amazon’s list.) The link above gives more info, and this program is not just for the holiday season but operates all year.

FOR THE TEENS/PRETEENS IN YOUR LIFE–OH, AND FOR EVERYONE ELSE, TOO!

Check out www.mudlove.com and Bel Kai.

MudLOVE, based in Winona Lake, Indiana (home of my wonderful in-laws and my alma mater, Grace College), sells made-on-site clay bracelets, necklaces, mugs, and more. The most popular version is stamped with a word or phrase, and you can even custom order a word or phrase that has particular meaning to you. Twenty percent of each purchase goes to provide clean water in Africa, and $5 spent provides an African with clean drinking water for a year. My girls (ages 12, 16, 17, and 19) ALL love them. (Honestly, I do, too!)

Bel Kai, which sells beautiful handmade jewelry, is another company that gives-back, and when the creator of MudLOVE married the creator BelKai, their shop Belove was created. Great story (check it out at the Bel Kai link above) and just as great products!

BIG-TICKET BEAUTY

Hand and Cloth sells gorgeous, one-of-a-kind blankets made from used saris by women rescued from the slave trade in Bangladesh. I’ve featured this ministry before on my blog (https://journeytojen.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/blankets-handmade-by-women-women-handmade-by-god/).  These are perfect buys for the person who appreciates beautiful, handmade artisan items (hmm—maybe that describes you yourself!). They start at $98 dollars and go up to around $200. Check out the blankets at the website—which itself is beautiful—and read their story while you are there. “Blankets handmade by women. Women handmade by God.” Wonderful work! (They also have stockings–each one unique! So cool!)

Renew Project and Loom are both incredible ministries. Renew is based in Chicago’s western suburbs and trains and employs refugee women who have been re-settled in the area to make beautiful items from recycled textiles. Bags, baby items, tablecloths, etc., and their work is incredible (these women are artisans!). Best of all, each purchase helps a refugee woman thrive in her new home. At Loom, which is much like Renew but based on the north side of Chicago, “women from Iraq, Bhutan, Congo and Afghanistan gather together weekly to produce beautiful handmade products designed in collaboration with local Chicago designers. Women have the opportunity to create, market and sell their products as an additional source of income for their families. Training focused on financial literacy and necessary skills associated with savings and earnings is offered to each of the women. As a result of this social enterprise, women who have fled war and violence from all over the world have the opportunity to work together in Chicago, learn new skills, produce beautiful handmade products, earn an income, and be a part of a community of creative and enterprising women.”

SIX FOR WOMEN AT RISK

If you want something other than blankets made by women rescued from the slave trade, visit WAR International. The acronym WAR, standing for Women at Risk, was started in 2006. You can find jewelry, accessories, home décor, and children’s items made by women in 13 countries, including the United States.

Narimon employs women rescued out of the sex industry in Bangkok, Thailand. the woman make beautiful jewelry, handbags, and some clothing at The Well, where the women not only work but are ministered to. Narimon is the products division of Servantworks. Seriously, their work is beautiful.

Jo’el Worldwear‘s website says this: “We support artisans and fashion designers affected by wars / conflicts, human trafficking / slavery, refugee status and other economically challenging situations. We honour those who teach, inspire and help develop these professionals to success.”

Sseko (what a cool name) Designs was started by Liz Bohannon. Read this great article about her and her business at Relevant Magazine–and shop here, too! Their tie sandals are awesome, but they’ve now branched out to bags, clothing items, scarves, etc.

Noonday Collection and Trades of Hope both offer beautiful fair trade items (primarily jewelry, scarves, bags, etc.) made by women artisans in developing countries. Great businesses, great products, great stories. I have friends involved in both of these businesses, and they are passionate about their work and what it is providing for other women around the globe. I encourage you to check out their websites.

LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

Need to shop for kids, men, women—want to spend a little for this one, more for that one? Go to www.tenthousandvillages.com. Gorgeous jewelry, decorative items, and woven/knitted items for women; toys and games for children; even things like chess sets, bookends, and bicycle-chain frames for men. Their website is very easy to navigate and has some very helpful tools. If you click on the “gift ideas” tab at the top of the page, you can shop for holiday items, for men, women, or children, or by type of item.  You can spend a little (items as low as $4) or a lot. They also have shops (there is one in Glen Ellyn, IL) across the U.S. You can find a shop locater on the website.

Feed My Starving Children (a ministry that provides food packs for ministries around the world) has a pretty extensive marketplace as well. Some great offerings here, from a fantastic ministry that supports so many.

FOR THE COFFEE LOVERS

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company has “Drink Coffee. Do Good” as its motto. It started with farmers in Rwanda (the founder saw the effects of the genocide and had to do SOMETHING) and now works with farmers in Haiti and Thailand as well. They sell 100% Arabica, fairly traded, fresh roasted coffee. They sell ground, whole bean, and decaf, teas, and coffee accessories.

I Have a Bean “was created for a purpose–to positively impact the lives of post-prison men and women, their families, and the communities in which we live.” This business employs post-prison men and women. If you’re in the Wheaton area, drop in their store on Fridays for free coffee and a chat with their awesome staff!

If you’re in Chicago’s western suburbs, drop in at River City Roasters in Wheaton (if you’re not, you can visit them virtually) and pick up a few bags of their direct-trade blends, which River City Roasters roasts themselves. Sometimes they also have their Venture blend, which supports Venture Corp (www.entertheventure.com), a small nonprofit started by some young friends of ours. Each bag purchased helps support two wonderful ministries in Africa. (I am privileged to have met both Mary and Ronnie, the leaders of the two ministries Venture supports.) Speaking of Venture, you can visit its website and support its ministries through buying beautiful Ugandan necklaces. Just click on the “enter the venture” link above.

LOOKING FOR HANDCRAFTED CROCHETED ITEMS–AND MORE?

My husband just told me about this one, and I checked it out and love their website. What a great story! A group of high school guys learned to crochet simply because they wanted unique ski hats on the local slopes. Others dubbed them the Krochet Kids. Long story short (if you want to know the whole thing, visit the website), they taught these skills to women in northern Africa and then Peru, and they sell these handmade items at www.krochetkids.org. Each item carries with it the signature of the woman who crocheted it, and you can visit the website to learn her story. They’ve also branched out and now offer several ethically-made clothing and accessory items as well.

AND, FINALLY, FOR THE PERSON WHO HAS EVERYTHING

Buy them a goat—bet they don’t have that. Seriously, go to World Vision or Compassion or Open Doors USA or International Justice Mission or Kids Alive (the links take you directly to their online gift catalogs). The first two have items like school supplies, ducks, and clean-water wells–and goats! Open Doors has items that are specific to the needs of the persecuted church worldwide, and IJM allows you to pay for trauma counseling or legal representation for those suffering injustice. You can honor someone with your gift, and that person will receive a card telling about your gift and what it will accomplish. If you want to keep the idea of giving in front of you this season, request that a print gift catalog from either World Vision or Compassion be sent to you. It’s a fantastic tool to use with kids during this season when they are constantly faced with advertisements that fool them into thinking that their “wants” are actually “needs.”

ANY OTHER IDEAS???

If you have other ideas, please leave a comment and share! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back. Feel free to share this list with others.

Thanks for reading! I sure enjoyed pulling the list together.

Consider others…

I read this quote today: “This election was a referendum on the echo chamber, and the echo chamber won. We can choose now to retreat once again into those echo chambers or begin to listen more attentively to one another—to love our neighbors by learning about them and their needs and perspectives whether black, white, Asian, or Latino/a; whether Christian, Muslim, or none; whether upper, middle, or working class; whether voter or one of the nearly half of eligible voters that sat out this election. Following this election, I’m convinced that we don’t know our neighbors well enough to begin to truly love them.

The quote above is from Karen Swallow Prior, and it was included in a Christianity Today article on evangelical leaders responding to the presidential election. Prior, who wrote the above quote, was speaking of a divided country, and I agree with her point that it is important we get to know people who are unlike us. But as Christians, we are first, before dealing with a divided country, dealing with a divided Family, and I want to start with getting to know some Family members who have different viewpoints than I. One of the ways I’ve been trying to do this is through reading the writings of Christians who are minorities in this country and in the American church.

Today I’m sharing some of those voices with you. I’ve gathered a lot of articles and blogs and websites; some are specifically responding to the election; others are simply blogs in which the authors share their heart; still others are looking at specific issues from a particular perspective. I’ve listed them below under the name of the author or the organization, even if what is linked is a specific article. One area that I feel is lacking in the list I’ve gathered below is the perspective of individual Latinos/as, so if you are a Latino/a writer or you know of a Christian Latino/a writer with a blog, please comment and share the address. (I have, though, included the websites of two Latino evangelical groups–and they do not share the exact same views). One thing: I realized after I had compiled the list that I included more women writers than men. Sorry about that.

Last weekend my kids watched The Hunger Games. In the film, when the people in District 11 revolted and rioted after their Hunger Games representative (Rue) died, the ruling people in the capitol were bewildered and shocked, but, of course, my kids weren’t. They’d been able to watch the film from the perspective of Katniss, a representative from another district very like District 11. This allowed my kids to understand the anger and hurt. In the same way, some of the pieces shared below also express strong anger or sorrow. They may make you feel uncomfortable. You may feel diametrically opposed to the writer’s views. Try to work through this and consider this a window into the writer’s world,  a chance for you to look deep into someone else’s heart.

One last thing: this is certainly not meant to be a substitute for actually getting to know people; it’s simply a starting point.

Thabiti Anyabwile

Esau McCaulley

Kathy Khang

Dennis Edwards

National Latino Evangelical Coalition

Dr. Soong-Chan Rah

Ruthie Johnson

National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Andrea Ramirez

Patricia Raybon

Austin Channing

Deidra Riggs

Osheta Moore

This last one is not a particular person, but I thought the women highlighted in this article had some great wisdom and thought I would share: “How do we parent our kids during this political season?”

Kingdom Vision

My last post was seen by a few as being somewhat divisive. Division is not my hope for my blog, for my voice, for my life. One of my deepest desires is for unity in the Church, for us to look more and more like the kingdom, where people from every nation and tongue and people stand shoulder to shoulder and worship God together, where we see ourselves as one people—God’s people—together, and THAT is our primary identity, where there are no poor, no mentally ill, no addictions (other than the supreme, life-giving one of being addicted to our God!), no wars…

All right—clearly, the Church can’t do all of that now. That’s a beautiful, Revelation picture of the future when the KING is visibly reigning, but that vision of the Kingdom should drive us now. If that’s what God’s love fulfilled in all our lives looks like, then that should dominate much of the work of the Church. Think of what a picture that would give to the world—to those in our communities who have no eternal hope, who have no community, who recognize a longing deep in their soul.

I think the division in my last blog post came because I was lamenting the election of our new president, and some reading it concluded that I would not have been writing it had Hilary Clinton been elected.

They’re right. I wouldn’t have. But nor would I have rejoiced. She wasn’t my candidate either. I didn’t have one. I don’t think either of them gets us closer to the Kingdom of God vision.

Truth is, they’re not supposed to.

That’s the vision for the CHURCH, not America. The Church is supposed to look different, is supposed to BE different and winsome and beautiful (though messy).

So why did I “rant” about Trump if I wouldn’t have about Clinton?

My answer follows, but, please, before/if you read any further, please know that what I write next comes from years of the Lord moving in my heart, comes from a place of personal repentance and not finger-pointing. It comes from a growing-ever-deeper love for the Church—and from the understanding that I, too, have recognition and continual repenting to do following this election.

So why did I “rant” about Trump?

Because the white church in America (of which I am part) hasn’t done a good job of working with all its might for the Kingdom vision. It hasn’t crossed racial and ethnic divides; it hasn’t encouraged humility and lament for past sins; it hasn’t stayed in the places of greatest need; it hasn’t continually welcomed the stranger and shabby and needy ones.

And because that is the history of the white church in America, and the current white church (I hate that it’s still so divided that this adjective still very much applies) hasn’t made serious steps to heal that history, we must take some ownership in this very divided America, an America in which a lot of marginalized people are seen as “other” by the white majority, an American in which a lot of marginalized people feel they are seen as second-class and not completely welcome among the white majority, not as equals at least.

But, white church, we must go beyond this because this is true inside the Church as well. Inside Jesus’ church here in America, our brothers and sisters who have a skin color other than white often do not feel that the white church at large sees them as equals—they do not feel that the white church fully welcomes them—particularly not in leadership positions. Many see our separateness as a way for us to continue to have our own worlds. Many feel they are welcome to visit or even be in our worlds, as long as it’s not in such large numbers that they affect our culture or have some element of authority. Many have deep wounds of mistrust caused by centuries of supremacy and oppression both outside the Church as well as within it.

With these feelings and this viewpoint, can we understand, have we tried to understand, what it must have felt like when the white church turned out in large numbers and voted for a candidate whose rhetoric and proposed policies support a form of white supremacy? Have we tried to understand why some of our brothers and sisters feel so hurt and so threatened by his election? I understand that many of us voted for Trump for totally unrelated reasons, but now it is time–in the humility Christ calls us to–to look at the other side of it, at another’s view.

We have not progressed beyond separate-but-equal thinking in the white church (there are times I’m not sure we’ve progressed that far). And if you’re reading this and you’re part of the white church and you find yourself thinking that separate-but-equal church sounds okay, if you think, What’s wrong with that? Or if you can say, Well, we have some minorities in our church, and I think that’s great—but no person of color is in a position of leadership in your church and it would be a little surprising to have a person of color in leadership… well, I would say there is work to do, vision-casting work—and acknowledging there is work to do is a wonderful first step.

I know the last few days have put many white evangelicals on the defensive, that they’ve been accused of racism and sexism, and that’s hard. But it’s nothing—nothing!—compared to what our brothers and sisters of color collectively have endured—for centuries—and are enduring even now. As followers of Christ, we must not go on the defensive; we MUST empathize; we MUST try to understand; we MUST listen and learn. We must practice stillness before God and allow the Holy Spirit to give us supernatural insight into the pain of others.

I am not saying this is easy. I am not saying there are any quick solutions (far from it, in fact), but we must remember that we will not be segregated in the kingdom.

And we are called to start practicing the kingdom now.

the Love

As the presidential election results came in last night, one of my sons watched with a Mexican flag wrapped around him. He did this in support of his Mexican-American friends. He did this because he loves them, because he doesn’t want them to be seen as second-class citizens, because he doesn’t want them to live in fear for those among them who are undocumented—like some of their parents.

My husband teared up this morning as he got ready to go in and teach his Latino-American and African-American students. “What do I tell my kids?” he said. “A lot of them have been really scared about this. What do I say?”

A few weeks ago when Trump made comments about African Americans in inner-city neighborhoods living in “hell” and how “stop and frisk” would be a possible solution, my children wanted to know what that meant. Then they asked, “Who would they stop? Our neighbors? On the street?”

They knew it probably wouldn’t be their white dad getting frisked on the way home. The gentleman across the street, though, the one they wave to every day and tell where they’re going and how they’re doing—he might.

A couple weeks ago, an ad popped up of a mother whose son has autism. She was offended by Donald Trump’s hand-flapping gesture. She said something like this: “My son isn’t welcome in Trump’s world. I don’t agree with much of Clinton’s stances, but I can’t vote for him.”

_________ isn’t welcome in Trump’s world. You can fill in the blank with a lot of words, all of them representing human beings, generally marginalized, without much voice. I couldn’t vote for him either.

I know some people reading this would say that my husband and I have filled our children’s heads with a lot of soft, pie-in-the-sky ideology.

But in the course of the evening, one of my older son’s friends—who would identify as a Christian—posted a pro-Trump slogan on social media and followed it with the hashtag “#build that wall.”

My son, tears in his eyes, asked me, “Mom, where’s the love?”

Oh, I’m glad for that heart.

Where is the love?

I understand that some at this point—were this a dialogue—would refer to love for the unborn.

And I get that. I really do, but I also wonder this: if we can’t love those right in front of us, those that some in the majority might see as “not-like-me, might-be-taking-my-tax-dollars” folks, then any love for the unborn, who are easy to love because we’re not changing their diapers and footing their bills, seems a little suspect.

And, I might add, what also seems suspect is that Trump has some sense of love and justice for the unborn.

The electoral college just elected a businessman whose entire career is based on success for himself regardless of the cost to others; a man who sees women as little more than sexual objects; a man who seems to view most others as beneath him (and that’s almost automatic if you have a different skin color or ethnicity than his); a man who wants a return to good old days—days when almost all white churches supported or tolerated racial injustice of many kinds.

I don’t think small government and lower taxes were worth that much.

I know I’m simplifying this—that so many will say there were other issues, but I fail to see the biblical, ethical, righteous concern in many of them. I find a lot of “rights” involved, and I struggle with this because I don’t find my rights touted in Scripture, and I do find a lot of statements about standing up for others when they’re oppressed.

At one point this morning, my children gathered around me in the kitchen, “What do we do?”

“We remember who we are,” I told them. “As Americans, President-elect Trump will be our president, but we are not Americans first. We are followers of Jesus. He is our King, and we live first and foremost as his followers, as his citizens. We will love Him, and we will love our neighbors, and when we need to stand with and for them, we will.”

An unexpected neighbor

I was in full mom mode, in route from an evening parents’ meeting at the elementary/middle school to pick Em up from art class across the city.

I stopped at a red light in North Lawndale, Douglas Park dark and deep on my right, and noticed a girl standing on the corner. The lights from across the street barely lit her face.

But it was enough to make her tears shine. It was enough I could see her mouth, open with sobs, her hands, clenched in fists, pressed tight against her cheeks.

I rolled down the window. “You ok?”

I startled her; then the words came rushing out.

“I missed my bus, and another one hasn’t come. I need to get home, but I don’t know how.”

I pulled around the corner onto the deserted dark street leading into the park and called her to come to the window.

The red line. She needed to get to the red line, and she needed a bus to get to the red line. She’d missed the right bus, ran after, but didn’t make it. And she’d stood there, alone on this corner, till fear kicked in and she started crying.

Anything beyond the green and brown lines, and I’m a bit clueless about the Chicago L system. In that moment I couldn’t even remember which direction the red line runs.

But I knew this girl couldn’t stand on this corner any longer.

“Will you get in?” I asked her.

She hesitated, then figured the gray-haired woman playing soft music in her car was a better option, and got in.

I turned the car around and headed east, into the city. Em’s art class is on the north side; surely there would be a way I could get this child to the red line on the way.

We talked. I tried to drop as many reassuring bits of information as I could. Mom of four (turns out she’s the oldest of four), the ages of my kids (she’s fourteen, a freshman in high school; siblings are 12, 10, and 5), mother of twins (she’s a twin, too, though her brother died soon after birth, right on her mother’s chest. “His lungs weren’t developed enough.”) My name, her name.

She wasn’t breathing so hard any more, but I had to check. “Did anything bad happen to you? Anything besides missing the bus?”

She said no. My shoulders relaxed.

“You need a Kleenex?” I asked her.

“Yes. Is it okay if I blow my nose? Sorry, I got a little cold, so it might be noisy.”

I laughed and told her that was just fine.

She asked if I was a teacher—I have no idea why: do I still give off that vibe?

“Used to be,” I said. “Now I’m a writer.”

She wanted to know if I was famous.

I laughed again. Far from it, I said.

“You write books, though?”

“Well, I have one written, but it’s not published. I write magazine and news articles for a school.”

We talked about her school then, how her mom and grandma and she picked it because it’s college prep, because it helps its students get scholarship money, because she wants to go to college.

I pulled over to check the red line map, making sure I was under a street light, telling her what I was doing.

I called Dave just to confirm what I thought would be the closest stop to Em’s art school.

We talked more as I drove. Her face lit up when I asked about sports. Basketball is a favorite, track, too.

We talked about her siblings, what they’re like. Younger sister by a year is actually taller, but she doesn’t want to play basketball; she wants to be a cheerleader, even with her long legs. Their aunt said she should play basketball like her sister, that if she became a cheerleader, she’d knock out the whole first row of fans when she kicked. We talked about her grandma, a police officer, about her own long commute to school from the south side to the west side, about where she lived before moving to Chicago.

I saw the L track ahead and pointed it out to her. “I’m going to turn left just before it,” I told her. “The side street’s not so busy and I can let you out. And I’m gonna’ give you my business card so you can call or text me when you get home and let me know you made it safe. Will you do that for me?”

She said she would. I told her again where to cross the street, where to go up the steps to the platform. She got out and was gone.

Later that night I got a text from her grandma.

Her grandgirl had made it home safe.

She’d made it home safe.

And her grandma was very, very thankful.

On Roosevelt Road at 7 p.m.

Driving from one mom “job” to another,

Unaware of the Father’s hand orchestrating/planning/moving,

I’d been exactly where I was supposed to be

To see a neighbor.

O God, make haste

I’m struggling with worry right now. On the other side of this move, with some things settled (like Dave’s teaching position), other things are still very much up in the air: a job for me that brings in more income but still allows me to homeschool Em and “mom” my kids well; Em’s schooling—is this the best path longterm?; soccer and friendships for the kids; church; adjustment to a decreased budget…

I finger all the strands in my mind, till it’s simply a snarled mess and I’m hopelessly tangled in it.

In very low moments, I ask, “Are you there, God?”

In other moments I know He is. I remember His faithfulness, the fact that he has never, ever failed, that the darkest moments of the past have then turned into seasons of watching and marveling at the creativity and goodness of God.

I feel like I’m cycling through the lament psalms, repeating the psalmist’s rhythm of despair/crying out/remembering God’s faithfulness/hope.

By the time I get to the remembering part, I’m ready to dump my entire snarled mess in God’s lap. “Please take this. I can’t do it. I can’t figure this out.” This brings relief, because his lap is large, big enough to hold me as well as my mess.

But, just a day or two later, sometimes only a few hours later, I find a fresh snarl of yarns in my head and the cycle begins again. Who knew my mind could gather fluff so quickly and spin so much so fast!

God has used my neighborhood to help shred my worry web, to help me move past myself to others. When I get out and about in the neighborhood and pass mothers waiting at bus stops, holding children on hips, others by the hand, I think, How many of them are running a rat race that feels hopeless? How many are working minimum-wage jobs, trying to feed and shelter a family on $350 a week, with childcare swallowing up a huge chunk of a paycheck? And, comparing these struggles to my current light-in-contrast worries—which I’m flattened by pretty easily—I wonder how long it would take before the hopelessness of that kind of grind would wear a person into the ground.

My husband’s work also shapes my perspective. The other morning he got a text from one of his student’s mothers, asking if Dave has heard from her son, that he ran away the night before and she’s hoping against all the fear in her heart that he shows up at school, that he hasn’t succumbed to some gang that’s promising him belonging, that he’ s not using, that… oh, the darkness that can swallow up all our hope.

And so my prayers change, and when I say, “O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us,” I do not have just my family in mind but my neighbors, my city, beyond.

As I recite Psalm 143, I imagine myself standing before God linked hand-in-hand with a long line of people: “Hear (our) prayer, O Lord, and in your faithfulness give ear to (our) supplications; answer (us) in your righteousness.”

And for those who are so burdened they cannot even whisper the words, whose heads are bowed low, whose knees are week, I change the singular pronouns to plural; I speak louder; I raise my voice: “Our spirit faints within us; our heart within is desolate. We stretch out our hands to you; our soul gasps for you like a thirsty land.

“O Lord, make haste to answer us; our spirits fail us; hide not your face from us lest we be like those who go down to the Pit. Let us hear of your loving-kindness in the morning,

For in you we put our trust.”

Fear driving out love

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Photo and lettering by Emily (daughter). If you like what you see, visit her Etsy shop LetteringbyEm to see if you’d like to order a piece. 

I have tried to stay out of the current political storm for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t know a whole lot, so I don’t see much point in my making a less than fully informed comment. Second, I simply don’t want to add to the division, and I’ve got friends on both sides.

And it’s these “sides” that are getting to me.

You see, I’m taking a Jesus and the Gospels class right now, and we’re looking at Jesus’ message and life and how he didn’t fit into any of the political camps among the Jews of his day. He wasn’t a seize-back-control/power militant; he wasn’t a “maintain differences” but work-the-system guy; and he wasn’t a separatist who withdrew from politics and society completely.

He said things like the Sermon on the Mount and taught people to pray for God’s kingdom to come, for his will to be done on earth. He told stories about crossing ethnic divides and putting ourselves out to love our neighbors, and he ate with “sinners” and outcasts.

He didn’t fit into anybody’s mold. As soon as someone tried to make him a member of their camp, he said something that made it clear he wasn’t.

But he wasn’t a maverick, just out to find his own way, different simply to be different. He was adamant about that. He was actually following orders. He was doing his Father’s will, doing it all the way to the cross.

And Jesus encouraged his followers to do the same. “Take up your cross and follow me,” he said, in his invitation to a cruciform, God- and others-focused life.

N. T. Wright wrote this about Jesus’ call: “Jesus was summoning his hearers to give up their whole way of life, their national and social agendas, and to trust him for a different agenda, a different set of goals.”*

I don’t think Jesus is summoning us today to anything less than this.

Now I don’t want to simplify the political complexities of the United States. I don’t want to make it seem as if we shouldn’t have opinions or discussions about the current campaign and issues.

But I’m seeing a lot of anger on Facebook and Twitter, and behind the anger I see fear. There’s fear that the world ahead will not look anything like the world of the past—and there’s fear that it will look far too much like the past. There’s a fear of lost power, lost say and influence and majority control. There’s a fear that our agendas and goals might be set aside.

And this makes me think of this verse: Perfect love drives out fear.**

I know sentences are not like mathematical equations. You cannot simply flip the two sides of that sentence around and have it mean exactly the same thing. But I’ve wondered if many of us Christians have let “Fear drive out perfect love.”

When we fear (and anger is often, I believe, a result of fear), it is a sign of a lack of trust. Somewhere deep down we are not trusting in the perfect love of God. We are trusting in something else, something less certain, something other than God.

And why?

Because deep down I think we know God’s agenda and goals do not match up with our own. His agenda and goals are not about our safety and comfort; His agenda and goals are not about Christianity retaining power in our political and economic systems. They are not about America being seen as a great nation.

His end goal is that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven, that Christ reign as King, and God be worshiped by all.

And while he promises that all of the workings toward this goal will result in our good, he doesn’t promise that this good won’t also involve discomfort and danger and tribulation for us. In fact, he promises the opposite.

But that is perfect love: love that is perfect not only in character but also in foresight. It knows the good end and understands what trouble along the way is necessary for that end result.

This is the perfect love that can drive out fear.

But we must trust this Perfect Love.

We must trust this God.

Where does our hope lie?

If it depends on a candidate or a party or a human agenda, we will fear, and love will be driven out.

But if we trust in the perfect love of God, fear will be driven out.

We will know we are loved.

We will live without fear.

We will love…

Without fear.

 

*from The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Here’s a link to a recent Christianity Today article in which Mike Bird, author of What Christians Ought to Believe, interviews N. T. (Tom) Wright about his latest book, The Day the Revolution Began.

**Please follow the link to see this verse in context (I John 4:8). I have to admit I am taking the verse a bit out of context, as the fear it is talking about specifically is fear of God’s judgment. But in our modern, Western world, I feel we have swung so much to the other side of who/what we fear, that we must acknowledge that misplaced fear, remind ourselves that God is the one we SHOULD fear–and then take great comfort from this verse.

Housekeeping Notes

flower-side*I have a couple of blog/writing-related notes at the end of this post. Thanks for reading!

Earlier this year, trapped in a quiet waiting room while one of my children was doing academic testing, I picked up a book from a shelf and flipped through it. It was a book about Christian missionaries ministering to Muslim women, and it was compiled from the experiences and wisdom of women missionaries who’d served in Muslim countries for many years. I loved reading the accounts, but oddly enough, now there is only one I can recall with any clarity. It was from a woman missionary who felt amazed she’d been asked to contribute to the conversation. She, her husband, and their two daughters had been sent, years before, to a strict society, one in which she had very little freedom even as a Western woman, one in which her daughters had even less freedom.  She said something like this: “I have spent most of my time ministering to only two young women, our daughters. I have been their teacher, their spiritual mentor, and their mother. That has been my ministry. I do not know what wisdom I will be able to share.”

And yet, I remember clearly, she had much wisdom, the kind that comes from humility, quietness, watching, waiting, praying.

I wonder if I have been called to just such a season. My husband’s work is most definitely ministry, and it requires deep attention. It is good, good work, and we know he is impacting young men and women who desperately need good education and good male role models. Many of them need father figures. He is being used.

My children are in the middle of good work as well. They go to schools where they are the racial minority (except for my youngest, of course); they go to an after-school program with kids from our neighborhood; they befriend the three young boys who end up at our house many afternoons.

And I? I get them all out the door to do these works. I do the laundry and fix the meals and help with homework and encourage and remind and pray with and, when belonging seems far away, cry with. I homeschool the oldest child part-time, and my paid work is writing, which most of the time is done in quiet. Most days, I do not feel as if I am doing much of anything that is related to what we feel we’ve been called to here, to the work of being integrated, to the work of equality and justice and being/showing Jesus.

I recently wrote an article on the documentary film made about Lilias Trotter, one of the pioneer missionaries to Algeria in the late 1800s (look for a blog post in the next week or so about this). In the research process, I read this quote from her:

Surrender – stillness – a ready welcoming of all stripping, all loss, all that brings us low, low into the Lord’s path of humility  – a cherishing of every whisper of the Spirit’s voice, every touch of the prompting that comes to quicken the hidden life within: that is the way God’s human seed-vessels ripen and Christ becomes “magnified” even through the things that seem against us.
– 
Parables of the Christ Life

This, too, I am reminded, is good.

This, too, is God’s good work—in me, through me.

~~~

NOTE 1: If you’ve never visited my “freelance writing” page (follow the link here or scroll to the top of the page and click on the link there just under the header picture), check it out. If you have any writing or editing needs, please feel free to contact me. I love to help people get their ideas out of their heads and onto paper in clear and lovely ways. No job is too small!

NOTE 2: I added a donate button to my blog (well, actually it reads “Buy Now,” simply because I can’t get the formatting right for it to say “Donate”–oops!). Please do not feel any obligation to donate; I just wanted to give readers the option of contributing to the work of this blog and, through it, to the pro bono work I do for non-profits and churches.

 

Insignificant barriers

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When Emily and I toured the Frank Lloyd Wright home in Oak Park, IL, a couple weeks ago, I was struck by the quote carved above the fireplace: “Good friend, around these hearth-stones speak no evil word of any creature.”

A few days ago at the small fenced park where I let the dog (Chai) run, she chased a squirrel behind some deep, thick bushes. When I crouched down to check on her, I noticed a piece of foam tucked against the fence behind the bushes, a small blanket spread along one edge of it.

“Someone’s been sleeping there,” I told Em.

Today I met the someone.

The man on the bench on the sunny side of the park wore a ball cap, a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, a big stadium jacket, insulated work pants, and boots.

A big bottle of liquor, almost a jug, sat at his feet.

I entered the park on the opposite side, tied Chai’s leash to a bench there, sat down, and started to work. I assumed the man would soon leave, and I could let Chai run free.

He didn’t leave, and something tickled the back of my brain.

What if Jesus had entered the park with me?

Because, after all, didn’t he?

Come with me, be in me?

Suddenly sitting there, across the park, back turned to this person, waiting for him to leave—it didn’t feel so right, didn’t feel like Jesus’s way.

I shoved my laptop in my bag, stood up, and turned in the man’s direction. He waved. I waved back and walked the circular path toward his side of the park.

I stopped next to his bench.

“I don’t bite,” he said, his voice gravelled but warm.

I smiled. “She doesn’t either,” I said, gesturing at Chai, and sat down.

We shook hands, exchanged names—John, Jen—and talked.

Mostly, he did. Felt like he needed a listening ear.

His eyes were heavy lidded and watery. He wiped them often on his sleeve. His nails curved over clubbed fingertips, reminding me of my Pappaw, whose hands looked the same. When I was a kid, my mom told me it was from years of smoking. I looked it up later. In my Pappaw’s case, she was right: the smoking led to the lung disease, which led to the clubbed fingertips.

John “confessed” first—not with any sense of guilt, but more to get it out of the way, probably to stall any questions from me. Maybe he noticed my cross. Maybe he’d heard the questions a hundred times.

It was cheap beer in the bottle, no apologies. He likes beer.

It’s his bed in the bushes; new tenants bought the place where he was staying, so he’s in between “permanent” housing. He should be sleeping on foam for only a week. He’s just praying the rain holds off.

He does odd jobs, cleans a little, wears a mascot suit for a local business (“That’s me behind the mask,” he laughs. “They started me at $9 an hour; now I’m up to $14).

He hangs out at different places, is “like the furniture” at a local bar.

He showed me his ring of souvenirs, given to him by different friends who’ve travelled, a bracelet from a friend from Africa, his phone, his latest phone bill. Each item led to a story.

And then, unprompted, he went back, launching into tales from childhood, growing up in Canada, in French Canada.

He spoke some French for me, talked about learning English because, “Well, you just had to.”

He played baseball growing up.

One baseball buddy was Italian. He remembered eating at his house once. “So much food! We sat there for four hours! I told them they’d have to roll me away in a wheelbarrow. But I couldn’t refuse the food. Those Italians, they’re crazy about food! You can’t offend their mama’s cooking!”
I laughed. “I know. I’m half Italian. Maiden name is Del Vecchio.”

He nodded. “That’s Italian.”

He got off on a tangent then, and it was time for me to go, so I waited for a break and told him I’d enjoyed sitting and talking with him. “You’ll probably see me around,” he said.

I probably will.

When I thought about this later, I wondered at the ease of it, at the simplicity of sharing a park bench. What almost kept me from that?

Why would I let anything keep me from that?

Oh, Jesus, you wiped away the biggest boundary ever when you put on flesh. With that chasm crossed, how silly the gates we humans erect of status and race and gender and education must seem!

Help me.

Help me to see them as insignificant as well.

Doing and Being

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pic by Emily Underwood

As I pray for Chicago and my neighborhood, I often find myself saying to God, “I don’t know what to do.” “How do I get involved?” I ask, “How do I feel as if I am helping in some way?”

He’s not answering the way I’d like—with a beam of light or voice from heaven, or even an email or phone call. Instead I hear, “Patience. Steadfastness. Stillness,” the words I believe I was given months before we moved—that I thought were just for during the move.

Maybe not.

I’m reading A Light to the Nations right now, a book about the mission of God revealed in the Old Testament, about the nation Israel as a participant in that mission to bless and bring light to the entire world. The big idea is that Israel’s very reason for being—for being chosen, for being a nation—is missional, is for the purpose of revealing God to the entire world. “All the nations of the earth will be blessed through you,” God told Abraham. God’s people are chosen and privileged not for their own sake or for the purpose of hoarding or mere enjoyment, but to be a display and contrast people to those around them.

But Goheen makes the point that this mission was not primarily about going but about being, about “living an attractive lifestyle to God’s glory before the surrounding nations,” about living “publicly to God’s praise” (Barth, quoted in Goheen 634/7002, Kindle edition).

So when I asked God again this morning, “What do I do?” these ideas from Light to the Nations came to my mind. I have, honestly, plenty of “doing” to do. Much of it seems mundane or even focused primarily on my family rather than my neighborhood, but this everyday doing, when “done” in the sight of my neighborhood or the other places I go in the course of my week, is a display, a way of being.

My next question, then, is if my way of doing/being is also a contrast. The Torah given to the Israelites reached into every area of life so they would understand that even the normal, everyday things all humans do belong to God. He is God of every area of life, and all can be done in the knowledge that we are his and not our own; and this is to His glory. When everyday life is done with this truth in mind, then it will certainly be a contrast from those outside the faith. It will also be a way of being, a distinct and different way of being.

I pray that through this being, we are a light to the neighborhood…

and I pray for patience, steadfastness, and stillness to wait for and recognize God’s calls to “doing” as well.

P.S. This piece came out of a class assignment that I wrote for my Former Prophets class at Northern. When I read the original assignment to Dave (husband), he suggested I should add it to this post, so it follows below. The post above stands alone, but if you’re interested in the topic of God’s mission as it is revealed in both the Old and New Testaments, then feel free to read on. The class is studying the books of Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel.  

Gile (professor teaching the class) expresses the concern that many Christians have jumped for far too long from Genesis 3 to Jesus, from God’s promise that the serpent would be “crushed” to the coming of the One who defeated sin and death. The intervening story, including all the history of Israel, has been reduced, sometimes to mere examples or morality lessons. And when we look at it this way, we lose sight of God and his big story, his mission that did not take a hiatus from chapter 3 to the New Testament but has always been in motion. God breaks onto the darkening scene in Genesis 12 with the promises given to Abraham, chosen by God to participate in God’s mission to restore his fallen creation and move them forward into the consummation of a full restoration on a new earth. In this action of choosing one man and through him, one nation, it is as if God has focused his intense beam of light on one side of a prism, not for the purpose of hiding it or simply making that one side glow, but for the light to move through that and emerge on the other side as a full spectrum, revealing the holiness and goodness of a God who longs for all his creation to be in right relationship with Himself and each other.

Looked at in this way, the Old Testament becomes God’s story, with Israel commissioned as its major participant. Goheen (author of Light to the Nations, referred to in the above post) quotes Wolff and calls Genesis 12:2-3 a “‘stupendous utterance’ for ecclesiology—indeed for the whole story of the Bible” (740/7002). Election has a “so that” purpose: “God’s people are a so that people: they are chosen so that they might know God’s salvation and then invite all nations into it.” This makes the story of Israel a revelation of God’s mission, of God himself. As God redeems his people, binds them to Himself in covenant, and dwells with them, the people of God are empowered to a particular kind of being, a holy people on “display” who live in right relationship with God and then reveal and mediate him to others as a kingdom of priests. Their display is one of great distinction from the nations around them; their entire society was to be righteous, walking in the way of Yahweh, and characterized by justice for all, the least as well as the great. This distinct display, this “light to the nations,” was to be winsome, drawing people in to learn more of the God who so transformed his people and then inspiring them to worship and praise this great God.