vocation is finding me

Eyes twinkled like the stars above as we watched curses go up in flames. Curses that had leaked venom into our lives, lying to us that we weren’t enough, that we had enough, that we were unseen, that we had to stay seen. And as the papers crumpled beneath the crackling logs, voices around the circle began to speak blessings into being. We have victory. We will never be forsaken. We will live into the dream. We are freedom.

Earlier this month I had the immense gift of meeting bright young individuals at FTE’s Regional Discernment Retreat in Minnesota. For three days we indulged our curious spirits (and hearty appetites), exploring our questions and questioning our assumptions. And in our exploring and questioning, we found space to dream big.

I had arrived weary. Tired of trite messages about God’s sovereignty, about God. Tired from fears of rejection, of misjudgment, of criticism. Tired of the Church. All I had was a little flame inside that gasped for oxygen. And I prayed, God, fuel that flame.

God heard me all right. I watched with wonder as hope creeped in, dusting the cynicism off my heart and mind. People celebrating God through song, dance, and poetry. People praying like they meant it. People listening. It was the first time in a long time that I could share how the world broke my heart without it dismissed as too sad or too depressing. And it was the first time I was asked, What would it look like if that which breaks my heart was magnificently solved? (Thank you, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra.)

Too often, life feels like an endless round of Whac-A-Mole. Syria is a mess; call out al-Assad. East Africa is suffering famine, again; send emergency food aid. The planet is heating up; bash climate deniers and shop with tote bags. These are over-simplifications, of course, but it can be so easy for us who have more privilege to let “compassion fatigue” stifle our imagination – each of us standing there with our own hammer instead of coming together to create a brand new game.

A game where everyone gets to play, where justice and mercy rule, where swords are beat into plowshares.

So where does vocation fit into all this? I’m on the road to finding it – and according to Dr. Parker Palmer, who crashed our party like a boss, I’ll probably be on this road for a while. In a way vocation is already finding me. It finds me when I make music. It finds me when I weep for the world that breaks my heart. It finds me when I envision weapons of destruction turning into tools of cultivation.

And the best part about all of this is that I’m rolling with a crew. We’ve packed our bags with blessings, and together we’re moving forward.

el tamarindo in the news

A STORY OF El Tamarindo’s struggle appeared in today’s edition of El Heraldo, a leading newspaper in the Caribbean region of Colombia. El Tamarindo is a community of small farmers who were displaced by their country’s armed conflict. In recent years they have come under threat of eviction because the land they occupy has become part of a duty-free zone.

Below I have translated the news story as best I can. The original story is found at http://www.elheraldo.co/local/familias-protestan-en-la-catedral-para-evitar-desalojo-232378. According to my knowledge at the time of this blog post, the unlawful eviction scheduled for today was once again suspended. The families of El Tamarindo are staying put for now but remain vulnerable to the whims of the local government.

Families protest at the Cathedral to prevent eviction

By Álvaro Pión Salas · Monday, Dec 7, 2015

Norma Baldovino holds a banner with a clear message for the mayor’s office of Barranquilla: respect our rights, NO to eviction.

The 40-year-old woman is part of one of the 44 families living in El Mirador, a strip of the property known as El Tamarindo, who could be evicted today as an effort moved forward by the owners of the land before the Police Inspectorate.

The terrain is located on one side of the road La Cordialidad, between Barranquilla and Galapa, in the International Duty-Free Zone of Atlántico (Zofía). The Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial (POT) established that the land in that zone are for industrial use and therefore cannot be inhabited.

Baldovino is a native of Chalán (Sucre) and raises her poster because she fears passing the Day of the Little Candles (today) on the street. She arrived in 2007, after having been in different places, trying to get settled.

The reason for her nomadism is that she had to flee her town after her house was attacked in 1996 “by the 37th Front of the FARC” and her mother was wounded and consequently passed away in a hospital in Corozal.

Like hers, the other 23 families were displaced by the violence of the Colombian armed conflict. They arrived from Cesar, Magdalena, Bolívar and Sucre to rebuild their lives but again have to gather their belongings to move to a place that is yet to be determined.

“We are tired of being moved from one side to another. We are not fighting for those properties, we only want a place where we can cultivate our food and our animals. The only thing we ask is that they relocate us,” Baldovino assured.

Solutions

Alfredo Palencia, director of Unidad de Víctimas in Atlántico, pointed out that an agreement had been reached last week to make sure the eviction would not be immediate.

“The order for exit is tomorrow [Monday], but the victims will have 15 days to leave the land. Money will be deposited in a trust fund for them to use to buy land elsewhere and continue their economic recovery,” Palencia indicated.

Regarding those who are not injured by the war, he asserted that it is the District Government that should find them a solution.

Other proposals that were presented in negotiations were to relocate the families en Villas de San Pablo, although the argument remains that the families cannot farm and that the only thing they know how to do is to work the land.

That’s why they hope that the administration will help them relocate when they leave the premises and that they won’t keep moving around the country to settle.

repost: angels in el tamarindo

ON THURSDAY I joined a group of about 15 faith leaders, lawyers and justice & peace advocates on a visit to El Tamarindo, a community of women, children and men who have been displaced at least once and have relocated to land just outside the city of Barranquilla. It was my 4th visit to El Tamarindo, and I was excited to see familiar faces again.

I’d like to share the following piece by Rev. Sarah Henken, a short but compelling story on our time at El Tamarindo. Sarah is my site coordinator/mentor this year and serves as mission co-worker in Colombia through the Presbyterian Church (USA). The original post can be found on her blog.

Angels in El Tamarindo

Posted on December 4, 2015 • By Sarah Henken

Today is Angel Gabriel’s birthday. Yesterday, our words shrouded by the uncertainty of whether his home would be destroyed today once again, he told me that his birthday always brings sorrow.

Gabriel is a member of ASOTRACAMPO, the association of campesinos resisting one more round of unjust and violent uprooting from their homes on the farmland of El Tamarindo. (If you’re unfamiliar with this courageous community, I’ve written about them on this blog and for the journal Unbound.) They had received word that an eviction action would take place today, but at the last minute that action was stayed yet again. An unexpected respite from the immediate threat, but not a full reprieve. The eviction could take place as soon as Monday.

While they wait to be relocated to new farmland—land to which they can hold undisputed title—they don’t sleep easy at night. This year they have had their water shut off, received threatening phone calls, faced intimidation at meetings with the rich and powerful who want their case to go away. They live crowded together, neighbors previously uprooted taking refuge on their farms, with little land available and not much heart to plant crops that may soon be razed to the ground. And yet, life finds a way.

Fields which a month ago were dry have grown lush and green; a little bit of water has renewed their beauty. As we sat in the oppressive heat, we prayed for the movement of God’s Holy Spirit to flow amongst us, and the breeze picked up to refresh us over lunch. For a community whose path was unclear, a new door has opened as the constitutional court plans to review their case.

A poem for Advent by Ann Weems begins: “Angels still appear to those / ready to receive blessings / in spite of the barren / impossibility of their lives.” El Tamarindo is one of seemingly countless places where hope is hard to find right now. And yet, we await a miracle, an incarnation, for Christ to come and join us in the midst of impossibility and show us the way. This Advent season, it seems we need that improbable blessing more than ever.

I pray today for hope in the face of impossibility, for protection from harm, for light that counters darkness, for hearts of stone to regain their humanity, for wisdom in choosing words and actions, for strength and imagination to nurture peace in the midst of so much violence. And I pray with thanksgiving for Angel Gabriel, that God guide and uphold him, and bless him with many happier birthdays to come.

psalm thirteen

THE FOLLOWING TEXT from the Bible came to mind as I read about recent shootings in the United States. Jamar Clark, 24, lost his life on Sunday after cops shot him in the head “under unclear circumstances.” Even though I didn’t know Jamar, I know that we shared the same state of residence and the same number of years lived.

Increased media coverage of police brutality and the consequent taking of Black lives does not seem to be making lasting change. I don’t expect it to. It’s just discouraging that racial injustice and violence seems to be dominating more and more each day. I don’t know what to do about it. So I pray this lament as a collective cry for justice.

How Long, O Lord?

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

befriending la tierra

ON WEDNESDAY MORNING Pope Francis Screenshot 2015-09-23 08.50.14made his first official speech inEnglish. Standing before the people of the United States, the Pope proclaimed words of truth and wisdom: that the Creator never abandons us, that humanity has the ability to work together to build our common home, that we need to lift up the vulnerable and support inclusive models of development so that “brothers and sisters everywhere may know the peace… that God wills for all his children”. Pope Francis also said,

Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.

In light of that, I want to share some thoughts I jotted down on September 4 (with some revisions):

Porque de tal manera amó Dios al mundo…

I love relationships. I love forming them, nurturing them, witnessing them, talking about them. Today I learned about a neglected but essential relationship: my relationship with la tierra (the earth).

thumb_IMG_0855_1024This week Alex, Emily and I attended a conference on climate change for the churches in Latin America and the Caribbean. I’ve been nerding out even though I’ve only understood about five words (when Sarah our site coordinator isn’t available to translate). It’s been truly humbling yet refreshing to hear the discussion from a non-US perspective – a non-G7 perspective, a developing world perspective. As one can imagine, the US is not popular in this discussion. What does interest me is the ways the major concerns of participants and their understanding of the issues differ from mine.

We discussed 10 sentences from the Pope’s encyclical on climate change and ranked the ones that were most important to us. We indicated our choices with stickers on a poster with all 10 phrases. The results surprised me. While I had placed most of my stickers next to the statements addressing waste and carbon emissions, the phrases that resonated with the most people addressed inequality, suffering and the role of youth in creating change.

In the climate action conversations I’ve had in the US, the focus often centered on reducing harm and increasing benefits – tangible, measurable solutions to fix the symptoms of climate change. Decrease greenhouse gases! Reduce waste!

Here it seems that greater emphasis is given to systemic causes of climate change: inequality, Western imperialism, and exploitation of resources by the wealthy at the expense of the poor. One of the action items stated at the conference was: Overconsumption of the wealthy must end, as it continues to inflate our ecological debt. People with less access bear the burden of excess. Indeed, one conference participant said that developing countries see the problems of climate change as caused by the G8 (now called the G7: the 6 richest countries in the world + the EU).

As a person from the US, a country that accounts for 5% of the world’s population but consumes 25% of the world’s energy, I want to melt into my chair. I feel the same shame last year when I volunteered at an international development event in a highly air-conditioned convention center, overflowing with food and wine – removed from record-high temperatures, water shortage, floods, droughts and the very people we sought to help.

But it’s not all finger pointing here. This morning Reverend Doctor Neddy Astudillo called us back to a relationship with the earth. She reminded us of the love of God for the cosmos, i.e. all creation. (“Cosmos” is the original word translated as “world” in our English Bibles.) Throughout Scripture God moves through nature: saves Balaam through a donkey, cures Naaman by the waters of the Jordan, feeds Elijah in the desert by the ravens, confirms God’s presence through a dove… God uses natural phenomena to speak to us.

What I didn’t realize until today is that nature has dignity, in and of itself, thumb_IMG_0919_1024because nature was created by God and proclaims the glory of God. The earth is living, breathing, and groaning for restoration.

For God so loved the world…

Jesus did not come just to die for humanity’s sin or to even fix humanity’s brokenness. Jesus came because God loved all creation – humans and everything else God made.

Sin breaks not only our relationships with God and each other but also our relationship with nature. For millennia we have dominated nature in harmful ways. And the maltreatment of nature has often come hand-in-hand with oppression. Inequality, imperialism and exploitation are all manifestations of broken relationships with God and one another.

The good news is this: God so loved the world that God sent Jesus to restore all relationships. God’s project is the fullness of life. For this we toil, so that the project isn’t just words but truth. God is true, and God will finish God’s project.

bearing burdens: another kind of weight training

TODAY MY FRIEND came out to his parents. They were less than happy. I don’t quite know how to process this. I’m not gay. I have not felt pressured to hide my sexuality from my parents. Part of me thinks it’s not my stuff to process, not another thing I need to add to my bag of concerns (which, by the way, is getting heavier by the day). Part of me wants to leave it at “Thank you for being vulnerable with us” like it’s just another story. But I can’t.

First off, a story is hardly ever “just” a story. It is a glimpse into a person’s worldview, thinking and character, an invitation to enter into their reality and even be a part of it. Just as important, my friend wasn’t just being vulnerable with us, the people who’ve known him for less than a year. He had been vulnerable with his parents, the people who’ve known him his whole life yet did not know a big part of it until today, 23 years later. Not only that, but he had to tell them something he knew they wouldn’t approve, let alone support.

One thing that makes life both interesting and painful is the fact one’s experiences are never too far off from another’s and yet are never quite the same, leaving one to dangle between solidarity and solitude. We float back and forth between “I know exactly how you feel” to “No one understands me”, all the while thinking, “Why me!” Amidst the chaos, another voice suggests — no — commands:Bear one another’s burdens.“*

It is the call to shake the need for comprehension and embrace the one in need. It is the call to listen to the person, not just the issue or even the heart of the issue. While I can’t fully understand the significance of coming out, I can relate to the anxiety of confronting my parents. I can’t relate to the experience of hiding my sexual orientation, but I have felt confusion, guilt and freedom, all at the same time, in keeping a relationship secret from my parents. Acknowledging what does or doesn’t resonate with me helps me be a better listener and supporter of my friend. But there must be more: empathy must lead to action.

I care about my friend. And so I’m staying up late to write this — willingly, of course. But I can’t bear it alone, just as he cannot. A 50-pound suitcase doesn’t get any lighter when passed from one person to another; unless the other person is a body builder, lifting the suitcase up the stairs will still be strenuous activity. But if the two people take different ends of the suitcase and walk up the stairs together, the task will be easier and probably more bearable than if either person had done it individually. In the same way the biblical command to carry one another’s burdens is not license to dump one’s issues onto another person or to soak up everyone else’s problems. Rather it reminds us of the communal essence of the Gospel. It asks me to make room in my bag of concerns. The call to bear each other’s burdens is relief for our fragility and permission for our reality.

I recognize that my friend had a BIG conversation today. I trust him when he says he’s relieved, but  know he’ll continue to struggle as he works through his identity and hears varying responses from within the Church. I often don’t know what to say, but I learn the words to speak as I spend time with him.

We all must carry our own loads, but we don’t have to carry them alone.

* Galatian 6:2 NRSV

unlikely allies join to protest keystone

On the surface, what happened on Saturday at the nation’s capital was not extraordinary — just another rally for another cause to call the president to add another item to his to-do list. It may have been noteworthy to watch thousands of people from across the country march for climate action and then hold hands in a circle, or to see farmers and tribal leaders lead the crowd on horses, or to hear singer-songwriter Neil Young speak. Still, to a spectator, the Reject & Protect march could have been dismissed as another gathering for hippies and treehuggers or another picture for Instagram.

To overlook the significance of the march, however, would do injustice not only to the events of last week but also to the history surrounding them.

On Tuesday, April 22 (Earth Day), 24 farmers, ranchers, and leaders of indigenous communities rode to Washington, D.C. on horseback to launch the Reject & Protect campaign: a call to President Obama to reject the construction of the Keystone Pipeline (KXL) in order to protect the lands, waters, and communities located along the proposed pipeline.

The arrival of the Cowboy Indian Alliance inaugurated a week of ceremonies, film screenings, meetings, and other events promoting the anti-pipeline movement and climate action. United in their value of their land and legacy, this unlikely group of allies worked with environmentally conscious activists to convert the National Mall into a camp, setting up tipis and offering music and prayers from the Native American traditions. Other faith leaders, including Sojourners’ Rose Berger, added their prayers for justice and for the rejection of the pipeline.

“Many people see the pipeline as a political or an economic issue, but I see it as a moral issue,” said Brian Webb, member of evangelical group #PrayNoKXL. “The extraction and processing of the tar sands oil carried by the pipeline releases three times as much greenhouse gas emissions as more conventional petroleum sources. … Climate change is already having devastating impacts on millions of people around the world — and particularly on the poor. The Keystone pipeline will exacerbate these impacts by facilitating speedy delivery to the market of the world’s dirtiest, most destructive fossil fuel sources.”

Saturday’s festivities began with a water ceremony, as on the other days of the week, and the setup of a ceremonial tipi in the main tent for KXL protestors to add their thumbprint or handprint. Shortly after the rally began, Greg Grey Cloud from the Dakota Lakota Nations from Rosebud, S.D., led the crowd in prayer as water from the Ogallala Aquifer was presented. An essential water source spanning eight states, the Ogallala Aquifer runs along the proposed pipeline route and is at risk of heavy contamination from pipeline spills.

The rally included a variety of voices. Representatives from both indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada and farming and ranching families in Nebraska reiterated the purpose of the movement: to reject the pipeline, to protect the land, the water, and the climate, and to ensure the health of the earth for the sake of future generations, even “the seventh generation.”

John Elwood of #PrayNoKXL emphasized the centrality of prayer to the anti-pipeline campaign. Speakers from various tribal nations called for their treaty rights to be honored, making it clear that the protest is against the pipeline as much as it is about mending the chain of promises continually broken by the U.S. government. The diversity of perspectives reflects the breadth of the potential impact of KXL.

“Even now in the 21st century, Indian treaties are being broken as land legally belonging to the Rosebud Sioux Nation is planning to be used for the Keystone pipeline despite Sioux Nation opposition,” Webb said. “Similarly, a foreign corporation is threatening to use eminent domain to obtain land belonging to Nebraska farmers for the pipeline — and with the governor’s support!”

The procession commenced at noon, starting at the Smithsonian Castle and winding down Independence Avenue to the National Museum of the American Indian, where a tipi was presented in honor of President Obama, before passing the Capitol and the Canadian Embassy to return to the mall. Bold Nebraska and 350.org joined the Cowboy Indian Alliance in organizing Saturday’s march.

Among the thousands of protestors was a group of people holding a sign that read: Evangelicals Pray-NO-KXL, “The earth is the Lord’s…” Psalm 24:1.

No doubt there were other Christians at the march, but having a visible evangelical presence, which included Sojourners staff members, made for a pleasant surprise for protestors who assumed evangelicals and climate action were mutually exclusive.

Sojourners has been working alongside other faith-based organizations to promote climate action. Having supported the creation of #PrayNoKXL, Sojourners invited some of its members to the office on Friday to share about their experiences in protesting the pipeline and to receive prayer for their work. Elwood visited the office, along with Brian Webb and Rev. Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. Upon an invitation from Brian, the Cowboy Indian Alliance also sent representatives to join the conversation: Greg Grey Cloud, Kyle Horse Looking from the Lakota Nation from Rosebud, S.D., and Mike Blocher, a rancher from Antelope County, Neb. Sojourners followers joined the informal gathering via a conference call.

In her closing prayer Rose Berger proclaimed, “The pipeline will not stand. … The pipeline will not go through us.”

No matter how skewed one’s education in American history is, the significance of the Cowboy Indian Alliance cannot be overstated.

“This protest brought together the Cowboy Indian Alliance in one of the most compelling images of reconciliation our country has seen in many years: Native American tribes standing arm-in-arm with Western ranchers, the descendants of the very people who took their land,” Webb said.

The demonstration has ended, but the work continues. Join Reject & Protect, Sojourners and thousands of activists to stop KXL.

This piece was also published on Sojourners‘ God’s Politics blog.