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June 2007
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August 2007

Normale's Conversion


The title of this writing is “Normale’s conversion”.  I am going to share with you how I moved from being totally against spending so much money on an Elevator to being totally for spending the money. 


I was against us spending so much money “on ourselves” because there are so many deserving outreach ministries that need our money.   One morning, I was thinking and praying about the Elevator Proposal when I had a big change in attitude.  To put it in a biblical context I would call what happened a “road to Damascus” experience.  To put it in other terms you could say I had a complete shift in my “paradigm”.  Whatever, the name you would use, my mind and heart were transformed about spending money on an elevator and sound system.


When Columbia was first conceived, one of its most important goals was that it be inclusive.  During that time discrimination was rampant with white people and black people not allowed to live in the same neighborhoods.  Inclusive then meant including all races.  Now in Columbia we have people of all races living side by side and we are enriched by the experience. 


Today we have another group who are victims of our discrimination:  the aging and people with disabilities.  In the past, these people were integrated into their families.  But now we have a new system in which they live together often separate from the rest of the community.  And we can ignore them and feel no guilt since the cost of inclusion seems so great.  We tuck them away neatly and seldom invite them to interact with us.  It’s true, the places we “tuck” them are often lovely places to live so it is easier for us to feel no guilt at keeping them separated from us AND we are still creating an “us” and them.


To be in touch with the aging and disabled people calls us to face into our own mortality and that reality is uncomfortable for many of us.


One way we at KC keep aging and disabled people out of our sight and out of our minds is by not making our worship space accessible to them and another way is by not having a sound system that works well enough for decreased hearing. To have worship space that is not accessible to all of God’s people is to create an “us” and a “them” and to create an “us” and a “them” separates us from the great Oneness of God’s creation. 

I see the elevator and improved sound system as a way of inviting the aging and disabled members of our Christian family to fully participate in our worship experience.  Our community is good about welcoming all races and creeds to share our building, it is very exciting that now we will be including those who have different abilities to walk and hear.  We will surely be blessed by the people who use our new elevator and sound system to join us in worship and share their faith journey with us.

More Wisdom from Marie

I've just returned from another precious visit with Marie who is back at home and doing pretty well. She and I talked a bit about Martha and Mary, and about how being able to receive is not always easy to do. She talked so beautifully of the impact that receiving so much love and care over the past six months has had on her, spiritually. Here's a quote, as close to verbatim as I can remember:

"People have commented to me about how I must have prayed quite a bit during all my recent ordeals. But the truth is, I often didn't even feel able to pray. I felt Jesus close by me, but I didn't even have it in me to reach out to him, or to talk to him. But I was constantly aware of receiving prayer--of being prayed for. It was like the whole process of praying was reversed for me. Instead of offering it, saying it, doing it, I felt like all my pores were open and every inch of my body drunk in the prayers of all of you. It was all part of learning to receive."

Wow. I feel like I just spent an hour at the foot of the master. I wish Marie could preach this Sunday instead of me!

Portland Bound

Hello all!
This is the first blog among many that I'll be sending out to keep everyone updated with my life as I head out to Portland, Oregon on August 6th .  I hope to post updates at least once a month.  For now I just wanted to fill everyone in on some details about the next year...some of you may have heard some of this stuff already so feel free to skim over it...
So here's the gist of it...  I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) and have committed to living out a lifestyle that reflects values of social justice, spirituality, simplicity, and community. Over the course of the next year I'll be living in a community with 5 other JVs as we volunteer for different social justice organizations. I have no doubt this next year is going to be challenging in more ways than one.  I only hope that I can grow from my experiences and gain a deeper understanding of social justice issues, my faith, what it means to live simply in a consumer driven society, and how to live in a community with others.  And just as importantly, to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between these four values.  Good thing I'm always up for a challenge =)
Where I'm working
I'll be working at Sisters of the Road Cafe which is located in downtown Portland.  Sisters is a cafe that sells low cost meals ($1.25) to the homeless.  My job responsibilities will include a number of different things such as helping to maintain a safe environment, greeting people, building relationships with our customers, working the cash register, assisting with the newsletter, helping with fund raising, etc...I basically go where I'm needed. 
One thing I do want to mention is that Sisters is not a soup kitchen.  A lot of people have asked me why Sisters sells meals to the homeless instead of giving meals away.  Here's the short story - Genny Nelson and Sandy Gooch were two social workers in Portland who discovered that most of the shelters and soup kitchens weren't safe for women.  In fact, most women had first-hand experience with rape, molestation, and physical threats.  Additionally, many homeless people felt embarrassed and shameful for accepting handouts. Genny and Sandy spent 100s of hours asking the homeless what they felt was needed in the community, and it was this answer they heard over and over again - "a place where we can dine with dignity and work for a meal if we don't have money."  So, Sisters of the Road was opened in 1979 and the rest is history.

Here's a blip from the Sisters website explaining their philosophy:
Sisters Of The Road supports community driven solutions to the calamities of homelessness and poverty, in an atmosphere of gentle personalism and nonviolence.  Our Portland, Oregon café is open to everyone, serving low cost, hot, nutritious meals that can be purchased in a variety of ways, including with cash, food stamps, or in exchange for work. We also provide job training, support to parents and children, and innovative solutions to the issues surrounding poverty and homelessness through self and community advocacy.

Sisters Of The Road is about changing hearts and minds-- by building cross-class community, addressing root causes, and creating systemic change that goes to the root of hunger and homelessness and ends it forever.

Sisters Of The Road is profoundly about love. 
The Sisters website is updated pretty frequently and there is a TON of information on there so check it out when you get the chance.
Contact Information
Here's my new address:

3924 N. Williams
Portland, OR 97227

and my house phone:

I head out west Aug. 6, but won't actually get to my house until Aug. 11th (we're all going camping first!).  I'll have access to a computer during working hours Monday - Friday, and you can reach me by using this email address.  I also hope to post as many pictures as possible on my google photo page so I'll let you know when I've made updates.

I think that's about it.

Thoughts on Martha and Mary

Note from Heather: I am again posting this note by John Lobell on his behalf...

I’m writing this in response to Heather’s invitation to think about the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday: Luke 10:38 – 42, the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary. She presents us with four questions to consider.

1. What do you hear Jesus inviting Martha (and Mary) to?

Martha is in the kitchen taking care of the practical matters of preparing a meal for the three of them, and is angry that her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teaching. Martha complains to Jesus that he doesn’t tell Mary to leave him and help Martha. Jesus loves eating and drinking (he was accused by some of being a glutton and drunkard) and Martha and Mary both know this. So his refusal to send Mary to the kitchen was no put down of the work Martha was doing. He acknowledges Mary’s important work, but points out that what Mary is doing is more important than that – indeed is “necessary.”

I think he is inviting Martha to join Mary and him in this more important work of listening to Jesus’ teaching. In my mind he could well have added, but it didn’t get recorded, “We’ll pitch all pitch in to prepare dinner when our talk is done. A pastrami on rye with do fine for me.”

2. What about his invitation to you?

I was invited by The Southern Baptist Church’s minister, who baptized me when I was thirty, to get “a personal relationship with Jesus.” I really liked that idea and set about trying to do so. But my Fundamentalist attitude toward the Bible, combined with the rigidity that I imposed on my perfectionistic efforts, kept me from ever relaxing into Jesus’ love. I exhausted myself with self-criticism too effectively to allow any such intimacy with Jesus. All through my subsequent searching through many churches and denominations, and my seminary education and ordination, my own Fundamentalism and perfectionism kept me on the outside looking in when it came to a personal relationship with Jesus.

What finally allowed me to enter a personal relationship with Jesus was writing conversations with him on my computer. For almost two years I have done this daily with very few exceptions. At the very least I’m accessing a part of my mind that I’m usually not in touch with. As our conversations have deepened, and his availability and supportive love for me continue to be steadfast, I am learning to trust him and his counsel.

When I don’t agree with him, he doesn’t get angry or demanding or punishing; he invites me to “go inside” to seek out exactly what I disagree with. When I do that, my disagreement evaporates as I discover the anger, pride or fear that gets in my way. Revealing that to him as well as to myself is a healing experience – over and over.

The subsequent joy that comes to me, at least a little bit every day, and some days are full of it, is persuading me that something very much more important than any or all parts of my mind is happening to me through these talks. I dare to hope that my correspondent is Jesus himself. He does promise to live in us through the Holy Spirit.

3. Are you eager to accept, or do you find yourself resisting? What form does your resistance take?
Hmmm. See above.

"Thank You For Teaching Me"

Yesterday, I accompanied my daughter Rosa to her violin lesson. Rosa has been studying the violin for about two years now, but we only found this particularly wonderful teacher about 4-5 months ago. She uses the New Approach, a modified Suzuki method, with great results.

Anyways, at the end of every lesson, she has taught Rosa to tuck her violin under her arm and face her teacher, bow and say, "Thank you for teaching me." Then, her teacher bows to Rosa and says "Thank you for listening." Sometimes the teacher goes first and Rosa responds. I've seen them do this before, but last night this simple exchange really caught my attention, and struck me as very beautiful.

So, today I spent some time with someone in our community who is learning to use the blog. A number of "old dogs" around here try to remind me how hard it is to learn new tricks, but I have faith in each and every one of them. But I am not very experienced at teaching people how to do things on a computer, and sometimes my blogging lessons have ended in mutual frustration. Today, things went a bit better, and as I was leaving, I thought of Rosa and her teacher. I suggested that my "student" and I try the same ritual. I bowed to him and thanked him for listening to me. Then he bowed to me, and said, "Thank you for teaching me." It was simple--almost a bit silly--but I found myself deeply touched.

And then a funny thing happened. My friend turned to his wife and said with a bit of a wink, "That would be a good practice even for people who live with each other." His wife looked a bit bemused. "I keep trying to teach him things," she said, "but he doesn't listen!" "All the more reason to say these things out loud," I said. "That way you can let her know that she has, in fact, taught you something. And you can let him know that you have noticed him listening." I invited them to find some time this week to say these words to each other.

"Thank you for teaching US," my friend said as I left. "Thank you for listening," I said, getting choked up.

Wow--who knew something so simple could be so powerful? Now I want to say these words 20 times a day! Who has taught you today? Who has listened to you as a teacher?

Shifting the Focus

There is one more thing that didn't really pop into my head until I was speaking with Anne at the end of the night, and I think it's worth saying.  I'll start with a quick story.

When I arrived in Kenya, I piled into one of the vans that Edward (the pastor at City Harvest Church) was driving.  A bunch of people began asking him about his church and one person asked, "How big is your church?" .  He replied that it was actually quite small, maybe 200-250 people (City Harvest Church was planted 4 years ago).  Right after that another person asked, "But how many people does your church serve?"   Edward replied that they served a couple thousand people in their community. 
Over the course of the next few days we visited several of City Harvest's ministries, and every single one of the ministries we visited served people in their community - a free AIDS clinic, free counseling for people with AIDS, a school in the Kibera slum, AIDS support groups, microfinance initiatives, etc.  What became clearer and clearer to me was that City Harvest never organized things at their church in order to entice people to attend because they weren't focused on growing in numbers.  City Harvest was naturally growing due to their involvement in the outside community.  People they were serving in the community began attending City Harvest because City Harvest attended to them. And I think it's so important to underscore here that City Harvest wasn't serving their community with a hidden agenda to recruit people to their church.  There was natural growth within their church because they relational engaged with others while serving their community.
I tell you this story because last night there were a lot of heartfelt thoughts thrown around about what, if anything, should KC do in order to attract people in their 20s and 30s to attend KC without having to sacrifice KC's style of worship.  My suggestions are these:
1.  Don't assume that people in their 20s and 30s aren't attracted to KC's style of worship.  I was!
2.  Don't change anything about KC for the sole purpose of attracting a younger crowd.  It's important for the community to stay genuine and not try to be something it's not.   
3.  KC has been asking "How can we attract a younger crowd?"  But maybe a better question would be, "How can we serve the younger crowd in our community?"  Similar to what happened on the van in Kenya, shift the focus of the question from the inside to the outside.  Shift the focus from what KC should change on the inside of its walls, to what KC can do outside of its walls.  Find volunteer opportunities or create your own where you can engage with people in their 20s and 30s, and do it with no agenda other than to love and serve your community.  I have learned an immense amount from the KC community and know how much you have to offer - Love, time, wisdom, experiences, resources, encouragement, laughter, and a heck of a lot more.  And through all this giving of yourselves you may, like the Good Samaritan, end up receiving so much more.  A new friendship, a new insight, a new perspective, a new younger population at KC.  And even if the younger population at KC doesn't naturally grow from this outreach, I don't think there will be anything lost in serving this age group in your community.   
I hope these thoughts are helpful, and I'm more than happy to carry on this conversation...although it will have to be over email for now!

Giving, Receiving and the Kingdom of God

Note from Heather: John Lobell asked me to post this reflection for him. He's still getting the hang of blogging! Thanks, John, for being willing to give it a try....

This morning, Heather’s sharing took the form of an interactive discussion with the congregation – a conversation that began with this morning’s reading from Luke 10:29-37, the story of the Good Samaritan. We first established that the obvious meaning of the parable is that we should treat everyone as our neighbor and serve them - give them what they need from what we have to give - and this meaning is true and precious.

Heather then suggested another reading as she reminded us of the multi-layered context for this story. In the immediately preceding passage Luke 10:25-28, Jesus confirms the lawyer’s answer to the lawyer’s question about how to inherit eternal life, i.e. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. and your neighbor as yourself.” Then she invited us back to the next previous reading, in which the seventy-two apostles (just returned to Jesus from the mission he’d sent them on, with his repeated instruction/command to tell people, “The Kingdom of God has come close to you.”) and they are in a jubilant mood, having learned that what they received from their labors on mission was more than what they gave.

What I drew from today’s sharing was the glorious truth that I’ve been experiencing with ever more power recently – namely, the Kingdom of God is among us here and now. Learning to live in the always-present Kingdom of God is the simultaneous learning that giving and receiving (although formal opposites) are really two aspects of one act; they are complementary, like the two sides of one coin. You can’t have only one side of a complementary; they necessarily go together.

Hallelujah! Life is getting simpler as well as richer.

Marie Gives Me Hope

Marie is back in the hospital, and I know she's disappointed to be there. She's been struggling with heart problems for years, but things have gotten significantly more challenging since she slipped on the ice on the way to her mailbox back in February. Now, every time it looks like she's resolved a problem, another one occurs. I went to the hospital yesterday with a very heavy heart about this, fully expecting to find Marie discouraged, depressed and frustrated. But she wasn't at all. In fact, her spirit was so bright it lit up the room.

Marie is a person with a strong sense of "call", that is, she believes that God is personally involved in her life, and has work for her to do that joins with God's larger purpose for the world. Her sense of call has been nurtured over many years through her involvement with our church (which puts such an emphasis on this theology that is sometimes even describes itself as a "call based community") and with other organizations like Faith@Work.

I've wondered about this emphasis in KC's theology at times--it's one thing to embrace God's call when you're young and active, but is this really a theology that you can grow old with? Isn't there an implication within the idea of call that God is more connected to your life when you're doing something useful?

But Marie makes me think otherwise. She's quite clear that she's where she needs to be right now, and not just because she can get the medical help she needs in the hospital. She has a sense of God's call in her life right now, even in the midst of near-constant medical upheaval. She is deeply grateful for the care she has received from medical staff, including the people who transport her to tests and drive ambulances, and she showers them with praise. She's overflowing with gratitude for her church friends, her neighbors, her daughters, and has story after story of how important relationships in her life have been deepened over the course of these difficult months. And her faith continues to deepen as well. "I feel Jesus walking with me, every step of the way," she told me some months ago.

Marie gives me hope that God's call isn't just a to-do list, and that it extends to parts of our lives when we are not about giving or doing, but receiving and embracing. And Marie gives me hope for churches where there are aging people, because she models to me, even from her hospital bed, the kind of life I want to live into.

Another story from Africa: Everiste the Tall Pygmy

I've had some email correspondence recently with Everiste, one of the many fascinating people I met while in Uganda as part of the Amahoro-Africa conference in May. Everiste, I was fascinated to discover, is a pygmy, which is to say that he is part of the Twa tribe, one of the earliest tribes to inhabit the Great Lakes region of East Africa. Everiste is taller than me, so he challenged some of my images of pygmies from the moment I met him. How perfect that he is named after the tallest mountain on the planet!

He also challenged many of the stereotypes of the Africans on the trip. I found out that the Twa suffer a great deal of discrimination within African society. Everiste is from Barundi, and he said that in his country the Twa are a landless people. For many generations they made their living by crafting pottery out of clay which they dug from the river bank, and so they lived in largely temporary structures near rivers. Now that pottery is no longer an essential item for daily life in Barundi, they are even more destitute than they were. Very few continue their education into secondary school, and Everiste said he was one of only 5 Twa students at the unversity.

I talked to Everiste while on an 11 hour bus ride between Kampala, Uganda and Kigali, Rwanda. Like many Barundians, he is much more fluent in French than in English, so our conversation was assisted by Josephine, another Barundian who was sitting next to me, patting Everiste on the back in support as he talked. He told me about the ways in which Twa children are discouraged from going to school by the intense teasing of other children and the extreme discrimination of teachers who often regard Twa as mentally deficient and not capable of learning. Josephine underscored much of what he said, and told a story of an adult Twa woman she knew who, as a child, had been put to work as a servant of her whole classroom when she had attempted to go to school. She was clearly sympathetic to Everiste's work to help his community develop.

"The most important thing my community needs" Everiste stumbled, looking for the word "education". But before he could find the word, Josephine jumped to he assistance declaring with conviction, "You need SOAP!"

It was a funny moment for the Americans listening, but it did speak volumes about what the Twa are up against, even from sympathetic Africans of other tribes.

Everiste was involved with a number of compelling projects to help the Twa--everything from building a boarding school for 40 secondary school students to sponsoring a dinner for all the Twa considering continuing their education. He is looking for support for all these projects. To learn more, talk to me and I will give you his email address.

How to Catch the Wind of the Spirit

Some amazing things are happening at KC right now, and I haven't quite figured out how to make room for all of it to come to the surface during worship. About a month ago, we had a two-hour-long worship service (due to a variety of factors--not just a long sermon!) but I know we can't do that every week, at least not without some discussion. And a bathroom break!

So this week, we encountered another amazing invitation in scripture to go out into the world with an open heart, ready and willing to receive...what? Food? Hospitality? Surely that couldn't be all that Jesus thought the 70 would receive. I think their mission was also a spiritual practice--the more open we are to the gifts of other people, the more open we can become to the Holy Spirit, who then works through us to reach into the lives of others.

Then, we passed out pieces of paper and suggested that people write down what they want to "offer" to God, and we collected the papers along with the financial offerings. After worship, I collected all the written offerings, brought them up to my office, and later in the afternoon I read them. I hadn't told anyone I would do this, so I hope it wasn't a violation of anyone's privacy (these statements were addressed to God, after all, and not me, and I'm quite clear on the difference).

What an amazing set of responses we wrote today! I was stunned by the power of our promises--to be open and receptive to the gifts that we might receive from strangers, from family members, from those with whom we disagree. Many people wrote of praying for the Holy Spirit's guidance in EVERY encounter they are to have this week. And a number noted that they wanted to listen for the deeper meaning behind people's words, and find opportunities to inquire further, to find entry points for deeper conversation.

One response would be a wonderful mission statement for the week: Share myself with joyful expectation.

Thank you, Jesus, for making us bold enough to respond to your call, not just with our words, but with our whole joyful, expectant selves.