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Life Together: The Diomass Intern Program

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Crossing the City

Over the past few months a team of dedicated individuals from All Saints Parish in Brookline have begun a new ministry with the Learn at Lenox Afterschool Program in Roxbury. Volunteers from the church spend one Friday a month conducting a workshop with the kids that demonstrate a set of skills or values that supplement the lessons taught during the week and reinforced at the center Monday through Thursday. The workshops have been diverse and included a broad range of topics including a poetry recital, personal finance lessons and a nutritional demonstration on sugar and soft drinks.Friday June 10 was the last day of the after school session for the academic year and our volunteers wanted to throw an extraordinary end of the year celebration.

Part of the mission of our fledgling ministry is to build deep relationships across different parts of the city. So while our church and the after school center may be separated geographically by only four miles and a fifteen minute drive, culturally, economically and aesthetically Brookline and Roxbury might as well be located on separate continents.Roxbury is gritty, densely populated and lined with unattractive circa 1970’s housing projects. Alternatively, Brookline is tree -lined, nicely manicured, pristine and the housing stock is constituted of beautifully maintained, large Victorian homes. Many of the children from the after school program are being raised in environments where crime and violence are part of daily existence while the kids of our parish are raised in an environment that encourages an unhealthy expectation of overachievement in school, in sports and in other extracurricular activities. On most days these two communities fail to interact. The kids of Roxbury and Brookline grow up in parallel but alternate universes.

The Friday Workshops have begun to change this dynamic. Once a month Brookline goes to Roxbury or Roxbury goes to Brookline. Individuals, who under normal circumstances would never have had the opportunity to meet, become friends witheach other. We begin to dialog together and discover the different challenges that we face in our lives and ways to support each other. This dynamic of developing a personal transformative relationship across communities is the essence of our ministry with Lenox. It is a lesson in the reality of social change. The type of radical change that takes root when actually we take the time to listen to each other’s experiences and develop relationships that cross barriers of race, class and thought. And so it is my deepest desire that last Friday, a genuinely transformative experience occurred on a sunny, warm, late spring day in Brookline over a game of tag and a bowl of ice cream.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Transformation in Time

This past Friday I had the great opportunity to visit with my spiritual supervisor in Cambridge. Since our first meeting in early October 2010 I have found great comfort in the consistency and availability of my mentor, and now, friend. If you are unaware, parking in Cambridge can be a great task at times. Since I drive to see my spiritual supervisor from my home in Brookline, I have to find parking that is about a 5 minute walk to our meeting location. I have made this walk every few weeks and I am always refreshed by the views of changing seasons that this 6 city blocks provided.

In the fall I witnessed the cool and crispness as colors of orange and brown surround me in the trees and on the ground I was walking. In the winter I trudged through the 4 foot snow banks to feed the parking meter and encouraged my snow boots to show me what they were made of. In the early months of 2011 I witnessed the poking through of leaves that had been hiding under a layer of snow for months, reclaiming the sun and ground as winter thawed. In the spring I was greeted with the sound of children’s voices in the playgrounds as my toes, now exposed in sandals, felt the warm street beneath.

This blog is not about the weather however, although the description of the weather is an important aspect of this entry to give you a sense of the environment in which my entry takes place in. This blog is about a house.

Every time I walked to my spiritual supervision meetings I passed an old house being renovated. In October they had just begun the project, with wood and studs exposed. I remember seeing the workers outside, and thinking to myself that they were beginning something very big and in the midst of some hard weather conditions. Every week I went to spiritual supervision, there were always workers inside and outside, completing and finishing a new project. I didn’t think much of these memories until this past week in my supervision meeting. “So how do you feel, looking back on your experience in Boston over the past year?”, my supervision asked me. I took a minute to think and all I could think about was that house being built. So I went with it.

Not one for recalling things in perfect verbatim form I will explain how I saw this house as an image of my journey. I saw this house much like my spiritual journey while I was in Boston. At first, people were around as I looked inside and decided what had to go, what could stay, and if I had the means to finish the job. Studs, walls, floors all came out. New things were added, and people with different crafts entered into my life to add to the renovation. I am sure there were times when things needed to go but were covered over, to once again be exposed. I am sure things were fixed and would no longer need tending to. A whole new wing of the house was even added, and I saw this as an image of the things that I have built anew in Boston. So many people, doing so many things, and it was finally beginning to come together as a finished product.

My life in Boston is a lot like this house that I passed every couple of weeks. I felt proud to almost see it done last week as I walked by it that I felt an urge to tell the people adding the insulation that they had done a good job. I wanted to tell the guys working on the windows that I remembered when that old building didn’t have any windows. I wanted to tell the concrete guys that the new driveway was where a big pile of scrap metal was only a month and half ago. I am sure they knew all this but I still felt the urge. I think I feel the same urge to let the people who have come into my life during this year of renovation know the impact and change they have induced.

As I walked back to my car, after my supervision, I remembered that without having to park far away I wouldn’t have seen this beautiful transformation over the course of my time in Boston. Much like my literal move to Boston from the South, the distance from all things familiar has allowed me to witness a great transformation in my life during this time. I hope that as you come across having to walk a little further after parking far from your destination sometime in the future, you take that time to realize God might be giving you a chance to see something new, or to take a break and reflect on your journey. It might not get you to your destination any faster but I think it may give you a newfound appreciation for God's interruptions in our lives.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What does justice look like?

A sermon preached by Tamra Tucker at The Crossing on May 26, 2011.

Do. Love. Walk.
Justice is intimidating to me. And appealing and I want it. It’s intimidating coming from Oklahoma, where comfort is key, to a place that lives and breaths social justice. But how do I talk about justice? How do I approach it? How do I describe what it looks like?

I don’t know what it is, but I know what it isn’t: it isn’t kids taking care of their siblings because their parents aren’t home. It isn’t one of my kids at work losing her aunt to gang violence, being shot in a drive by. It isn’t the trafficking of young girls in our city. And it isn’t passing the mentally disabled off as crazy addicts so we have an excuse not to help them.

But what is justice? Is it turning the tables over in the temple? Is it getting up in the face of injustice and having a shouting match? How do you use the fire that burns for justice? Maybe sometimes.

This is the question that always bugs me. How do you make that jump into uncharted territory? This is why I love and hate this passage of the bible. People ask how to be a follower, how to devote their lives to God, how to be good. It is simple: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God. But how? Is it really that simple? How do you do justice? How do you love mercy? How do you walk humbly? I need opportunity; someone to say, “Come with me, I have an idea.”

The strongest example in my life is a deacon named George Day. He lived this verse. He walked into the prisons around Oklahoma and sat with those already condemned, in a place where justice is supposedly already served. And he loved them; he loved them deep with mercy, with kindness. To him, justice wasn’t for condemning people. His call was to walk with them. He met the condemned where they were, in their cells and saw the Christ in them that was in himself, and he loved them and walked with them. He found God in those prisons and loved God and walked with God.

George lit a fire in me. I blazed through my childhood trying to do justice, every bit of it I could. I skipped school to volunteer. I did every charitable thing I could get my hands into, but I could never get it quite right. I didn’t really know how to live this out. How to stay on fire all the time. How to walk humbly with God. How do I live day to day life, doing the simple things that need to get done, and still be on fire, fulfill my call?

The answer is simpler than all the extravagant expressions of emotion we could make up in our mind. Micah pulled direction from Amos, Hosea and Isaiah to give a clear and simple way of obeying God. Do. Love. Walk. This verse gets a lot of attention for the justice side of things. But that isn’t all that’s here. What about the action of kindness? What about walking humbly? How do we check our passionate paths of justice with love and humility? I think there is a reason justice cannot stand alone here.
This passage is used to base the 5th component of our Rule of Life at the Crossing - the justice and service piece. In our rule of life, we commit to justice and service as a spiritual discipline. This discipline takes practice. That fire I had has burnt out a few times and justice doesn’t come natural to me. When I find myself in the body of Christ, with its different members, I find more than opportunity for service; I find love and humble steps, the fulfillment of this passage.

We start this work by worshiping God with one another, and we continue with our voices, by sharing our stories and opportunities for service. We lift one another up, supporting each other not with empty words but with our actions, by our commitment to be present to each other. The point here is not to know on our own, but to keep coming together and doing this work in community, to pose this question to each other, to celebrate each other’s work, to challenge each other’s failings, to hold each in love when we burn out, and to work together to do justice, that God’s will be done on earth.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Interruptions of New Life

A sermon preached by Ben Whaley on May 22, 2011.

It’s a pleasure to be back with this community this morning. I have spent the last two years as a fellow in the Life Together Intern Program, the program run by Arrington Chambliss. In the internship, we fellows commit to living in community, spending ten hours a week in leadership development and spiritual formation training, and serving 30 hours a week in a social-justice based site placement. My placement is Iglesia San Pedro - St. Peter’s Church here in Salem. I work with the Hispanic ministry there, and we primarily serve youth and families of recent immigrants from the Dominican Republic. I had the privilege of participating in a Lenten series with many members of this congregation, and so I’ve been looking forward to this time to be back with you all.
Sometimes I think the disciples are pretty dense. How can they be so blind? Over and over in the gospels, we see the disciples misinterpret and just plain miss the point. For three years, Jesus has led them and loved them, and yet they say they can not see the way to follow him. For three years, he has preached to them and performed miracles, and yet they can not see the Father in him. It’s almost as if Jesus has become too real to them, too normal. His presence has become so much a part of their routine that they seem to forget he is something extraordinary. They are too comfortable with the mundane, and they get tunnel vision. It is this small-mindedness that speaks when they say, “We don’t know the way. We don’t know the Father.”
This tunnel vision can be dangerous. In the reading from Acts we encounter an angry mob who is too comfortable with its own truth. The chief priests in the Acts account are so sure that they know who God is and what God looks like that they are moved to violence - they make Stephen the first Christian martyr - for the sake of not disturbing their view of the world. The high priests are so blinded by their convictions that they can’t see the truth Stephen offers. The disciples are so blinded by their need for certainty that they can’t see the truth of who Jesus is. Their need to cling to their routines leads to pain, heartache, violence.
It would be nice to think that this kind of thing stopped happening 2000 years ago, but it is clear to me that it hasn’t. This fear of change, fear of the new, leads to anger and aggression and fear-mongering in our world today. I experienced a people living with this fear last fall in Arizona where I heard dozens of people – Anglos - speak out with political and social hostility toward Mexican immigrants for no reason other than the change they brought to their society – a different color skin, a different language. I went to join an immigrants-rights organization called Promise Arizona which was responding to the anti-immigration legislation in the state with a Latino- voter registration drive. I went because of the welcome and love I have received from my Latino community at St. Peter’s.
I went with a small team of folks from St. Peter’s and our goal was simple: register as many Latinos as possible. Period. And you know what? We were good at it. We began to compete against other local teams to see who could get the most registrations. We set a new record each day and single-handedly, I registered about 250 people to vote. So I had the routine down - I would approach someone, make my pitch, smile my charming smile, and they’d sign on the dotted line. I would start in English. If they looked confused, I’d try again in Spanish. I moved through people like a machine. And then I met Ernesto.
We were wading through the crowds at a local bus station, and I approached Ernesto as he sat alone on a bench. “Excuse me sir, are you registered to vote?” I asked. He looked at me. He had dark skin, a scraggly beard, and the oldest eyes I’d ever seen. He didn’t answer my question. “Esta usted registrado para votar?” No answer. I thought he must be drunk, or crazy, or both. I started to walk away.. And then he said. “Sit down.”
I looked around. I had a deadline, and there were a lot of people to talk to on the platform.. Ernesto stared at me. I sat. I waited. I suddenly was aware of young I felt, how white I felt, how different I felt. I couldn’t imagine what he was thinking. Finally he said, “I’m 70 years old. I’ve never voted in my life. The way things are going around here, I think I’d better start.” So we filled out the form together. As I walked away, he called me back to ask, “What’s your name?” Ben, I said. “Benjamin,” he said. “That’s a good name.”
On that park bench, Ernesto interrupted my routine. I suddenly remembered that I had come to Arizona to registerpeople to vote, not numbers. Ernesto had seen me, and without realizing it, he had opened my eyes to every person I would register after him. I began to listen to their stories. I began to remember their names.
I learned that it’s possible to get locked into our comfort zones on many different levels – I realized I was exactly the same as those who would de-humanize immigrants if I continued to hold my vision of reaching a numerical goal and failed to connect with the people I met.
It’s this kind of interruption Jesus is offering the disciples in the Gospel today. When we get tunnel vision, it’s Jesus who asks us to open our eyes. This is what Christ did for us in the resurrection. In the resurrection, he showed that the thing that seems the most real in this world, the most solid fact, death itself, is not as real as Christ himself is. In his resurrection, Christ interrupted the routine of our lives forever. In order to acknowledge that resurrection, though, we must be willing to be changed by it.
I had to be willing to be changed by Ernesto. I pray every day that the citizens of this country will allow themselves to be transformed by those who come into it. And I ask you, where is Christ inviting you into life that is more real than the patterns with which you are comfortable?
This kind of change can be scary. When Christ asks us to follow him into new life it is much more comfortable to stay put, to say with Thomas, “Lord, we do not know the way.” But, if we are willing to open our eyes, and our ears, we will hear Christ’s loving voice.. speaking the same tender words of encouragement to us that he spoke 2000 years ago: “You already know the way. I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” “I am the way,” Christ says. We just have to be willing to be changed by the journey.