This week marked six months since Superstorm Sandy left entire communities devastated, families homeless, and many with little hope. But in the midst of this natural disaster, many banded together. As is true with many of our nation's tragedies, recent and throughout our history, communities form and hope emerges amid struggle. Sandy taught us about resilience. It showed us what it truly means to reach out, serve, and love our neighbor.
One young filmmaker in New York, Farihah Zaman, caught that resilience and acts of service on video. Here, she shows us how tragedy can turn into a joint effort to acheive the common good.
Back in 2005, I attended a “church growth” seminar in Dallas, Texas. The keynote speaker was Rev. Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg United Methodist in Ohio, one of the larger and faster growing UM churches in the country. He shared an experience that sticks with me.
That church had a “Cookie Patrol” that takes cookies to first time visitors. So, every Sunday afternoon, a group of people would meet down at the church to bake fresh cookies to be delivered to potential members.
One day, a member of the church came to Rev. Slaughter and told him, “I just love to bake, and I want to help with the Cookie Patrol. I’ve got a great kitchen at home, so let me tell you what I’ll do. I’ll make several dozen cookies each Sunday and bring them to the church. I just don’t have time to spend at church on Sunday afternoons.”
Pastor Mike responded, “You don’t understand. We don’t need your cookies. We need you.”
Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.
Stories are what change the world, more than just ideas. And that’s what I am seeing and hearing on the road — stories that will change people for the common good. Nobody outside of Washington trusts Washington because there are no more human stories — just money and the calculations of power.
But even Washington can be affected by the stories outside of Washington — take immigration reform for example, which will happen despite the political paralysis. People of faith are telling their stories of conversion to what their Bibles say about “the stranger.” They are telling stories of new relationships with their “undocumented” brothers and sisters. And their stories are changing Washington.
So rather than just offer you more “ideas” about the common good, we are going to offer you some stories about how ordinary people are creating it.
Some talented young filmmakers have created stories to inspire you. This first video tells in beautiful scenes, the story of how a group in the Dominican Republic is using a recycling program to fund senior services. It’s about community and about serving our neighbors. It is a real inspiration for working within our own spheres of influence for the good of all.
Watch. Listen. And then create your own story for the common good.
We have a group at our church that does a weekly sandwich ministry together. Though we already had a group that makes sandwiches each week for a local shelter, another team realized some folks don’t go to shelters, and that they might be missing out on a real opportunity to connect with different folks in our community if they didn’t go out to where the people are.
So now, every week, they walk the streets of downtown Portland and hand out upwards of 100 sandwiches. As they’ve met folks who live outside, they’ve identified other needs some have, such as socks, new underwear, rain gear, flashlights, and batteries. Each week, they come back with a list of needs, and each week our congregation helps fill those needs.
To me, this kind of ministry is exemplary of what missional church is about. We don’t simply wait behind the walls for people to come ask for something; we go out, meet people face-to-face and get to know them. Yes, we offer them a meal, but we also share stories, learn a bit of their history, and they come to know that there actually are flesh-and-blood people behind all those steeples and stone facades.
With its earth roof, straw bale walls, and cordwood construction, Woodhaven is a beauty to behold. Linda and Scot DeGraf’s handmade, ecofriendly home in West Virginia is featured in “Built to Last,” in the May 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine. Read their story of how they not only built a sustainable home, but also built community along the way.
Freedom has always been important to Americans, but a short-sighted definition of freedom has played havoc with the common good recently. Communities, essential to our survival and well-being, are suffering.
All communities have rules. In my faith community, there are two great commandments: Love God and neighbor (even enemies). It’s a difficult balance, but when I manage it, I experience freedom from fear, a major reason that I joined the church in the first place. Those two basic rules have held up well, especially as my neighborhood has expanded to include the whole world.
I believe that most people are good, decent folks who want to see their community thrive and be healthy. The can of worms with the globalized economic system we live with, however, is twofold. Firstly, it is pathologically designed to function towards injustice, and injustice implicates the exploitation, destitution, and ultimate collapse of local communities around the world, especially in the poorer countries. Secondly, this global economic system does all that it can to make “community” invisible. The vast majority of those coffee drinkers who stop by the local supermarket or coffee shop to buy a pound of coffee have no idea where there coffee came from, who picked it and under what consequences.
Thus, when one is confronted with the inevitability of making a “global” economic choice, my advice would be to take the time to think about what one would want for his or her own community, and then to question how that far-off, distant community across the world where this or that product is being produced is going to be affected. This is not going to be easy for it requires the determination to discover what is purposely being hidden by the designs of the global economic system. But that is perhaps the price we should be paying to be able to enjoy a hot cup of coffee grown thousands of miles away.
The first Christmas after my daughter was born, I got a two-year membership to 24 Hour Fitness as a gift. Included in the membership was one personal training session.
My trainer bristled with annoyance at my “fad diet” when I told him we were going Paleo for three months. Then he showed me to the elliptical machine and told me that he lost weight by drinking sugar-free Kool-Aid all day and ordering off of the light menu at Taco Bell.
Obviously, our philosophies weren’t in line. But I was still able to get some cardio, weights, and an occasional spin class in at the gym. No hard feelings. But staying motivated and committed to working out while staying home with a toddler has been hard.
That might be because I haven’t tried CrossFit.
I think CrossFit is like secular church. It offers more than weight loss or fitness. It speaks to our innate desires for community, purpose, and transformation.
I’ve been asked several times in the last year or so, “How is it living in community?” Well, you see, that’s not a question to take lightly. Describing living in community takes more than just a quick response to a seemingly simple question. It’s wonderful. It’s difficult. It has its ups and downs. It’s life-giving and sometimes it feels like it takes the life out of you. How are you supposed to relay all that in a simple answer?
“Stepping into community is far riskier than expected. It’s far worse than you expect it to be. But in the end, it’s far better than you could ever imagine.”
With that line, along with the rest of his new book, Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community, author Christopher Heuertz offers a thorough reflection on how it is to live in community. Granted, he takes the space of 200 pages. But this book does give some ample reflection to those ups and downs, the failures and the joys — the, indeed, unexpected gifts — of community. With an honest and open tone, Unexpected Gifts reads like a story-filled guide to relationships, to living in community, living as Church, as Christ would have us do.
"I expect and am willing to be persecuted, imprisoned, and bound for advocating African rights. And I should deserve to be a slave myself if I shrunk from that duty or danger." -William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist (1805 - 1879)
With Black History Month coming up in February, many of us will remember the civil rights struggles that have brought us to where we are today. I recently read a fascinating book about that movement focused on the role of women in those efforts called Freedom’s Daughters. It highlights past generations of women activists, both black and white. They led in the struggles for abolition, desegregation, civil rights, and women’s suffrage. These movements carry with them the roots of our contemporary work for justice.
As I considered the lessons from that book I found myself resonating with many challenges, failures, and victories these women experienced, much of which was based on the race and gender dynamics of the day.
As an educated white woman who began my foray into community organizing though a summer internship in my early 20s — like many of the young women in Freedom Summer coming down from the North — I had not yet delved into the complicated nature of race relations in the United States. I started my summer feeling competent, a person who could learn and adapt to changes as I had on many previous international mission experiences. I carried with me an overly simplified belief in the romantic “beloved community.” The beloved community would come about as we worked together, prayed, and marched.
Over the past four years I have had the opportunity to spend a significant amount time in the Middle East. I no longer approach the time as a tourist, but instead seek out relationships and experiences as a listener who has much to learn about the way God is at work in contexts much different than my own. In that posture, it has been remarkable how much I have learned and begun to integrate into the way I live, love and lead back in my neighborhood. Theologian Paul Knitter describes it well when he refers to ones inherited worldview as a telescope.
"No matter how objective we may think we are or desire to be, we all see the world through a specific telescope/worldview. When we choose to look through the telescope of people who are “different” than us, we begin to get a more comprehensive picture of the world and the way God is at work within it."
Leading our first Learning Community to the Middle East apart of The Global Immersion Project I recently co-founded, I was invited to take a look through the lens of friends’ telescopes who live amid conflict in Israel and Palestine. Here are some of my key learnings:
It's a joke. Well, it was. There we were talking with Diana Butler Bass and others from SOGOMedia in an online forum about the Presidential Election and the words flowed forth: Neighborliness is the new sexy. It was ridiculous, but then I started mulling the idea over and this is what happened. Adam Ericksen and I started pondering what Seven Marks of Neighborliness might look like.
1. Be a regular somewhere: Our neighborhoods are actually rather expansive spaces. Some of them involve strip malls. Some of us commute to work and, in that sense, we live in various neighborhoods. Yes, plural. How can we root ourselves in these places? ...
The Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) has been a powerful force for Christian social action over the past decade. CCDA's leadership development, resources, and vision have been powerfully focused on helping pastors and community leaders facilitate the restoration of communities all over the country and around the world.
Born out of the traditions of the civil rights movement, CCDA is now engaging a new generation of pastors, prophets, and ministers. This next generation of CCDA will naturally look somewhat different from previous generations as they respond to the ever-changing landscape of our society. As it turns out, one major difference is a hunger among leaders for a more robust and powerful theological foundation from which to pursue ministry.
Practics has long dominated the field of Christian social action. What works? What strategies and techniques will actually bring about change in our community? These have been the central questions of past generations. However, among a new generation of church and community leaders, practical questions are not the sole concern, and in some cases not even the primary concern.