Tag Archives: community

Your Neighbor’s Dreams

How are you caring for your neighbor’s dreams? Is this a startling question for you? How do you answer it? Do you know your neighbors well enough to know their dreams? How different are your neighbor’s dreams from your own? How similar?

 

Although caring for our neighbor is one of the ways we care for and live our love for the Holy, many of us have learned that caring for our neighbor involves giving time in service to good community and ecological causes, giving money to care for those struggling with poverty, imprisonment, and illness, paying taxes to support healthy communities and a healthy world, and keeping the volume of our personal soundtrack at a personal level, at least during the wee hours of the morning. Our neighbor in all of these scenarios is either abstract or an object, not real people like us with real struggles and real celebrations and real dreams.

 

As we answer the call to live humbly, love the Holy, and love our neighbors (strangers, enemies) as ourselves, how can we do this without knowing and having respect for our neighbors’ dreams?  The neighbors we know, more of us call friends and consider those people in the “ourselves” category, a category that includes friends, kin, country, and self.

 

Do you know your neighbor’s dreams well enough to care for those dreams? Do your neighbors know yours well enough to care for them? Living, healthy, vibrant communities are ones where we can say yes to both of those questions – for they are communities where we connect past the “I” and live into steadfast love of the Holy, present and calling us back to the courage to be vulnerable as well as the courage to care.

Extraordinary Takes Ordinary Together

Extraordinary people do work with other extraordinary people to accomplish amazing things – for example, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel working together for peace, equality, and justice.

But extraordinary people mostly work with ordinary people like you and me to accomplish amazing things. Ordinary people show up when the going is tough, when life is extra dangerous, when the air reeks of fear, and when the dull tedium of staying fast grinds away at our spirits. These ordinary people are the folks whose generous creative daily endeavors really make the extraordinary possible.

Extraordinary happens when ordinary works together in generous, courageous, creative, steadfast love.

Civil Rights came about in the United States – and continue to be defended when they are threatened, such as with recent efforts to disenfranchise more people – because ordinary people show up generous and present in every day. Irena Sendler was able to be part of saving more than 2500 children in Poland during the Holocaust because of ordinary people who showed up and risked everything. Lives have been saved through crowd-sourcing peace projects like PeaceTxt. Lives are being changed through multifaith youth leadership working together with the Interfaith Youth Core. Name a life-changing project, program, or community event. Chances are that was brought to you by ordinary people committed to extraordinary generosity and steadfast love.

Are you a Jesus follower?  We have the ordinary people Joseph and Mary to thank and so many more ordinary people along the way. Is Moses one of your sources of inspiration and wisdom? We have rebellious midwives and resisting parents to thank, and many, many more ordinary people who were with Moses. Who first was with the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)? Ordinary people were – a slave named Abu Bakr and the Prophet’s wife, Khadija, and a child, Ali Ibn Abou Taleb. Look to your faith tradition: who are the ordinary people showing up in steadfast love to help make the extraordinary happen?

One of our blessings is that we cannot do extraordinary things alone. We need each other, our diverse gifts, our differing experiences, our varied ways of being to accomplish extraordinary goodness. We can contribute to trouble together. We can contribute to generous compassion and courageous love together.

What you do can make a real difference. What you don’t do makes a real difference. How will you show up today, tomorrow, and next week for the extraordinary goodness that can happen through steadfast love?

 

Authority & Generosity in Welcoming Strangers

Strangers on Holy Ground: Reflection & Assignment for November 6

Read:

Romans 12 & 13

2 Corinthians 8 & 9

Context & Reflection:

Paul wrote to specific issues and contexts. As we read Romans chapters 12 and 13 and 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 this week, what do issues do you find these two communities are facing?  What is the story these communities are telling and living? How does that story relate to the ones we’ve been exploring, stories of being strangers and of welcoming strangers, stories of resistance and stories of risking and change?

 

When Paul was writing, what would become known as the Christian movement or the church was still part of the larger Jewish community, complete with converts from the larger Roman empire. The developing community might be attracting attention for its sectarian beliefs, evident in Paul’s writing by his understanding of how Jesus, as Messiah, brings the whole of humanity back to the One, but it was still part of this larger Jewish world. Under the Roman occupation, many different Jewish sects arise, including those who withdraw, like the Jewish community at Qum’ran. The Qum’ranic texts (often called the Dead Sea Scrolls) have become a window back into that time of intensifying exploitation, resistance, rebellion that result in the Roman army destroying the temple in Jerusalem.

The seven letters we know as the reliable letters come from this period of tumult and change under harsher Roman rule. These reliable letters are written a generation (20-30 years) before the Gospels and the book of Acts are set down. The other letters attributed to Paul date to a later era, when Christian identity is emerging separating from Judaism, and there are more issues of differing teaching and arguments among different Christian communities. The seven reliable letters are: 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and Romans. The later letters are: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and Hebrews. When we recognize the difference in authorship and context, how we interpret the letters changes. Paul is writing as a Jew, even though the history of Christian interpretation prefers to name him the first Christian. That tradition, however, arises after Paul. Readers meeting conflict between Acts and Paul’s letters have historically chosen Acts. We can choose differently. We have choices to make, choices now influenced by a long history of Jewish and Christian relations, a history Paul did not imagine, but whose legacy we must answer.

 

Turning to Romans 12-13, the community in Rome is evidently struggling about authority and what faith asks. This is a live question for any of the Jewish communities under Roman rule, one we see being addressed in the Gospels, too, and also part of the larger body of Jewish literature of this time. Indeed, we see that issue in the prophets from the time of the Babylonian exile through the Book of Daniel. That there is trouble around authority and faith makes a lot of sense when we realize that there is no separation of faith and state in the Roman Empire. In the Empire, public religion is the public order. Where possible, part of the strategy of conquest is to absorb indigenous religions – syncretism. But Judaism is resistant to the Roman model of syncretism, and thus, the issue of which authority is in charge becomes critical. How do you relate to this struggle about authority and living what you believe?

 

Turning to 2 Corinthians 8-9, the community in Corinth is evidently going through some struggles of its own around enoughness. It often read as literal financial insufficiency, but it could also include some spiritual elements. Being generous when we’re feeling fearful and pinched is a challenging practice, and Paul adds to that challenge by dispatching two leaders, Titus and a brother famous for preaching, two more folks to be supported by and part of the community. By sending strangers, Paul is interrupting the community as it has grown used to being. Paul encourages the community then to be faithful, less attached to particular outcomes and more attached to the practices of generosity and love.  How do you relate to the struggle in community around generosity in difficult times?

 

If welcoming strangers is a core piece of how we are as a religious people, then when our larger societies are suspicious of or persecute the stranger, we will be in conflict with the governing authorities. If welcoming strangers is part of practicing the generosity of abiding love, then when we find ourselves in less abundant times, we will meet conflict with how to live generously. Generosity is most expressed and most tested in time of want, whether we’re living in times of hunger, thirst, homelessness, hatred, persecution, or isolation. The stories we choose to live into demonstrate where we place authority, and how we accept persecution, hatred, isolation, hunger, thirst, and lots of other trials and troubles living in the authority of Abiding Love.

holy ground is wherever we find ourselves called to risk faithfully

Transforming Love: Value One

How loved and loveable do you feel? How does love challenge and stretch you every day in your larger community, in your family, among your friends?

 

The first of our core values at the City of Refuge is everyone is loved and loveable and called to make the world more loving. The world of scarcity says love and loveability only is available to some people. Love is something so scarce that we must scrabble and maneuver for a feeling that is part of what makes us fully human – and while we’re working hard to get some love, we threaten the kind of mutuality and generosity that makes for truly loving relationships. Love doesn’t have to be scarce. Love, we believe, is part of every person’s birthright and calling.

 

Love is not optional, yet we choose how loving we’re going to be many times a day. Love is a necessity for our lives, yet it is also frightening because of how vulnerable love makes us. Love is about more than feeling good or valued, though these are ways we learn how to express love. Love is about more than generosity and sacrifice, though these, too, are way we learn how to express love. Love is about belonging and sacred connection, knowing whose we are and how we are to be.

 

When we lose our sense of loveability and of being loving we can do bad things. We can hurt others. We can hurt this world. We spill tears and we spill blood. Cities of refuge were named in Deuteronomy and Numbers as ways to repair a world torn apart (Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19). The cities were for people who had spilled blood upon the land, a place where folks could flee and study under a teacher and learn how to live a different way than before. The cities are places for turning in a new direction, turning back to the Holy and turning in love’s transforming power to how we are really called to be. The cities of refuge were places where we learned anew what it means to become neighbors, to cease being strangers at odds with one another, to becoming a community together of merciful justice. Creating contemporary cities of refuge we seek the same transformation through love. We learn how to take faithful risks together, how to trust, how to be vulnerable, how to make a positive difference in our cities, how to create places worthy of living in, places that resound with the sounds of love and not with the sounds of fear and hate.

 

The Holy already loves you and made you loveable. Together, we learn how to live into our belonging and our calling.

Living Humbly With Whose We Are

Strangers on Holy Ground Assignment for October 23, 2011

Few religious liberals I know spend much time with of three-fiths of the Torah. That’s too bad, because there’s a lot of really amazing wisdom in these books. Part of it is because although stories are woven in and around Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers, there’s lot of naming specifics of how to live, and sometimes it seems really far away from the issues most of us face. Part of it comes from disagreement with some of the specifics and what they seem to imply, such as including a ritual of forgiveness and reconciliation for man who sexually assaults an enslaved woman (Leviticus 19:20-22). I’ve survived multiple sexual assaults and surviving one doesn’t make it any easier the next time. Sexual violence attacks us at the core of who we are, and corrodes our loving connections, alienating us from being wholly part of the community.  Sexual violence is now understood as violating human rights, although it is apparent we don’t all understand and appreciate how damaging sexual violence can be, as places like Kansas City decriminalize domestic violence.   I believe that sexual assault and slavery are wrong and if there is merciful justice, there need to be ways of accountability, restoration, and reconciliation. I know we’re not supposed to bear grudges (Leviticus 19:18), so I’ll also argue that for restoration of community, it requires us to do so work around healing for the sexually abused and ending slavery.

That so much of the Torah deals with so many obligations is a reminder to us:  when we’re feeling absolutely sure we know what’s ethical and how to live well, perhaps we want to pause for a moment and find our humility we’ve set aside. Living humbly with God well is complicated, and we have to do that living with what we meet each day. I can find a number of requirements I do not appreciate or understand or that feel really bound to a particular place and time to me. Yet I have neighbors who seek to live every single one of those obligations, with great care and great love. That’s where we come together: that God calls us to live in humility, mercy, love, and reverence, caring for one another and this earth.  Living humbly with God requires us to live humbly with one another and this planet (Deut. 10:12-14).

We are obliged to remember we were once aliens and strangers (perhaps even actively are aliens and strangers!). Rabbi Jill Jacobs, in Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community (2011) tells us that our obligation of memory means two different actions (p. 6). We are called to lirot et atzmo – seeing ourselves as part of – and to l’harot et atzmo – showing we are part of those who are suffering oppression, marginalization, and alienation. Liberation theology, working from a different tradition’s perspective, speaks of incarnational practices of being one with those who are oppression, marginalized, and alienated, which, for people who are privileged not to have those experiences, begins with choosing to empathize, to reconnect our hearts to those suffering. In this obligation to memory, we answer the question, “whose are we?” We belong to God. We belong to one another, including every stranger and when we find ourselves once again strangers. We belong to the land.

If a practice is good for ourselves, it needs to also be good for our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is everyone who isn’t already our kin, every stranger, every alien, every one suffering from bondage, every one. In a multicultural world, this is a common place for us to develop misunderstandings, a common place where we struggle for analogies that might lead us to a merciful justice and lovingkindness. Living humbly with God isn’t easy; it isn’t even always obvious what we need to do. Fortunately, we have a great many stories and other texts that recall us in shared humility to the shared difficult path of tending whose we are.

 

Study:

Leviticus 19-20 (esp: 19:33-34 & 20:24-26)

Deuteronomy 6, 10:14-11:7

Exodus 20:8-11

Exodus 23: 1-13

Matthew 25:34-46

 

Summary Question: What does it mean to remember we once were strangers? Why is honoring God connected with caring for aliens?

 

Restorying Restores

That old and yucky story drags us down. I can take a quick trip to the land of overwhelming cynicism and retreat to mockery and despair pretty easily. I’ve been well trained to do that and I’ll meet plenty of my friends and neighbors in that space, as we grimly feel the weight of powerlessness and hopelessness grind further on our souls.  That’s when I need to stop, breathe, and remember how I’ve known peace, hope, and joy before. Those memories remind me of the story I’d rather live. If I can’t find those memories close by, then I might need to retell a story that will take me to the same place.

Restorying is a way of restoring ourselves, of beginning again and of picking up where we left. When I’m in the cynical place, the primary story seems to be one that cultivates apathy and exhaustion. When I’m living in the story of having moral agency – just because I breath, just because I feel – then that’s what seems to be the primary story. Restorying restores.

In the story we really want to live – the one where we all have gifts and we can make a difference for good – we need to know our gifts, know who might make use of them in our communities, and know our community partners who share a calling to working on particular issues or with particular people in our community.

Name your gifts. Repeatedly in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, people are asked to offer the gifts they have, not someone else’s gifts, not to all be one kind of person in a very narrow way, but to offer the gifts each has. Musicians make music. People who take joy in weaving, weave cloth. Those who love the alchemy of cheese take the milk and the salt and the enzymes and make the cheese. Write down the gifts you have to offer.

Who needs your gifts? Every community has need of every gift. If your gift is encouragement and you’re finding yourself appreciating and cheering people on, who most needs encouragement in your community? Where are the people who’ve lost hope as you travel around where you live? If your gift is teaching people through the martial arts to find their center and to feel more capable and stronger in their lives, who in your community most yearns for that way of being? If your gift is telling stories that call forth stories from others, who most needs the stories you have to tell or yearns to learn how to tell their own? Next to your list of gifts, make note of who in your community can use those gifts. Your gifts shared will open the way for those with whom you’re sharing to do likewise. Circle a couple of the gifts and folks in your community that tug at your heart.

Who are your community partners? We don’t make healthy vibrant community alone, as individuals, although each of us together does make that way of life possible. There are other people who share your heart tug to be with particular people yearning for your gifts so they might share their own. Who can you partner with? An institution like a school, a library, or a shelter? A group, like one for parents or a storytelling troupe or the community gardeners reclaiming abandoned land? Or will you form a group with some others you know who might be interested, and identify together other community partners with whom you can work? Name the community partners for the gifts and folks you’ve circled.

Pick up your gifts and know who needs them. Connect with those community partners. Make and live into the commitment.

You have the ability to be an agent of hope, to live a story that restores. How will you start or enlarge that agency today?

four ibises work the shoreline in their unique way