Listening to Reconciliation Voices

Last year, I felt God whisper to me in one of my inward moments of self-reflection.  I was having a conversation with God about the meaning and purpose of some of my deepest hopes and dreams- that are not currently reality. God whispered,

it is not what you have to say that others need to hear, it is what others have to say that YOU need to hear.

I spent the early part of 2014 asking God,

what am I listening for?

It was only this December, when school was over, the Christmas tree had been taken down, after months of lamenting Michael Brown, and wondering what God was asking me to do in response to the brokenness I and my community were struggling through, as I was preparing to spend some time listening for a new word or theme for 2015.  This thought dawned on me, (I am slow sometimes!) my place in the work of reconciliation, begins with this very idea: listen to those around you.  I have spent my life listening only to certain voices. Those that tell me I am a child of God. Those that tell me that all people are equal in God’s eyes. Those that tell me that I should feel bad about what happens to people of color in my community, but I can’t really do anything about it. Those that tell me that reconciliation is only possible when Jesus comes again.  Those that tell me it’s not my problem.  Not all those voices have been good.

In reconciliation work, I must first take a posture of listening.

The voices to whom I listen to, matter.  I am continually reflecting on my role and responsibility in the work of reconciliation in my family and community context.  I desire to be more deeply connected to what God’s word says about reconciliation, identity and being the family of God. This is an area where I need to grow, to focus, and to pay attention. I study and dialogue and engage; taking faithful and brave steps to be involved in God’s work of reconciliation in my neighborhood, community and even world (that sounds big, because it is!).

It can be as simple as pointing other people to credible witnesses in our communities that are important voices which need to be elevated.  So this is what I do.  I share the men and women I am learning from, inspired by, and listening to.

Whose voices are you listening to, learning from and encouraged by?  What steps are you taking to resist the urge to ignore our communities needs for confession, repentance and restored relationships between cultures?

Why Reconciliation and Family Ministry?

Two things in ministry have deeply impacted my life and calling as a pastor to kids and families.  I feel a deep sense of personal conviction to Reconciliation and Family Ministry.

Art Easter 5AMy journey of reconciliation began in my first year in college.  I was 17, excited to leave home and discover what God had planned for my life.  I took courses my freshman year that turned my life upside down and shifted my whole perspective on culture, faith and ministry. I was suddenly face to face with Jesus, in the midst of personal pain and trial, feeling called to global and urban cross-cultural ministry.  Through God’s nudging, my tripping, and the prodding of people who loved me, I developed a new lens by which to view my faith in light of God’s multi-cultural kingdom.  I took steps forward and began a new season of listening and learning and responding.  I developed an awareness of privilege and power and discovered in new ways Jesus’ love of the poor and marginalized in our world.  It was a time to pay attention to the world around me and be attuned to God’s work- reconciling, redeeming and transforming people.  I noticed this in friendships, through listening to other people’s stories; in what I read, in the conversations I had, in the people and places I felt called to serve.

As I sought to live into this new perspective I found my self developing new relationships with people who were different than me; involved in homeless ministry; getting to know my city in new ways, exploring churches and discovering the rich cultural diversity of Seattle; leading a campus worship ministry; serving in inner city Philadelphia, traveling to the Yucatan to learn and serve alongside the people of Merida, Mexico.  In this season I met my husband and got to know his bi-cultural Lebanese and Dutch family.  Along the way I learned a lot about myself, my family and heritage, and my own identity as a white female who was called to multi-ethnic children’s ministry.  What I began learning about myself and others so many years ago, I am still learning.

Faith in my youth years was about personal devotion time, faithfully attending church, participating in worship and serving my church and community.  It was about praying and reading the Bible and memorizing scripture and telling others about Jesus.  All good things.  Overtime though I have seen that all these things- apart from understanding God’s work of reconciliation in my life and our call, as believers, to the ministry of reconciliation- had meant my faith was about me.  It was individual and in many ways self-gratifying.  If I do the right things, say the right things, pray the right prayers, I’ll be good with God.  But if I am truly following Jesus, then I will be not only spending quiet time with God in the early hours of the morning, and participating in the life of the Church every week, but I will be seeking out ways to love those our society rejects, to clothe the poor and feed the hungry, to give shelter to the homeless and seek the welfare of our city.  I will be speaking out against the injustices of our culture- these are things that Jesus did and I want to follow his footsteps.  This is radical kingdom faith that is not only about my personal relationship with Jesus, but my faithfulness and obedience to a life of radical kingdom living.

Reconciliation is a transforming journey of confession and forgiveness with God and between people that restores broken relationships, social structures and systems.

This is the life of devotion I have been invited in to.  And so I began asking new questions. What does it mean to trust God when there is no hope? What does faith look like in the face of cancer?  How can I walk along side brothers and sisters of color who face micro-agression, racism, and prejudice daily? What does it mean to truly listen to someone and love them as Jesus would? How do I offer a Jesus-size measure of compassion, mercy and justice in the world? How can I praise God joyfully and still lament with others when confronted with pain, loss, violence, abuse, issues social injustice, racism, and human trafficking?  What does it mean to have a teachable spirit? What bold, brave and courageous steps is God calling me to, as I seek to be faithful to God’s mission in the world- to see all of creation redeemed, restored and made new?  What am I to stand up for, who am I to stand in solidarity with?  How can I be a better listener?  Whose story am I invited into- to hold with dignity, value and worth?  These questions have formed me, and continue to be a part of my journey of transformation.

This transformational faith is simply about reconciliation with God and reconciliation with others. God invites us into a personal relationship with Him, be we are also invited into the Covenant community of God.  This is holy ground. Mercy, compassion and justice are foundational in this place.  So how do I live it, teach it, preach it?  I am reconciled, and I am called to be a reconciler in the world.  This is both terrifying, humbling and awe-some.

Family Ministry is my jam. I love working with kids.  But I do not do kids ministry in a silo.  Not only do kids need a village of people surrounding them, the village needs our kids.  We know that parents are the primary influence on a child’s faith, and that faith that sticks in a child’s life is faith developed in community.  I dream of the day that children are seen as full participants in the church.  As I have learned over the years, my job is to teach kids, but more than that I believe we are called to create space for kids to learn about and explore their faith.  They practice worship expressions and they “do/live/experience” worship, they ask questions, they provide thoughtful answers to questions.  They play, they laugh, they cry, they sing and pray.  They struggle.  They have hope.  Family ministry is about laying a firm foundation and allowing kids to experience their faith in the safety of the church community, and go out into the world to practice it and live it out.

I also am called to the multi-ethnic or multicultural church.  I see the multi-ethnic church as  joyful expression of God’s love for the world and the Church.  We more fully reflect God’s kingdom when we worship God together- all ages, all ethnicities, all abilities.  This is the beauty and gift of the family of God.  There are many barriers in the US to multiethnic ministry, but Jesus came to break down those barriers.  Jesus is our role model in this.  Jesus did not only heal the most faithful, Jesus did not only teach the teachable, Jesus did not only minister to the religious people.  Jesus loved those whom no one else wanted to love.  Jesus invited the “sinners” to a life transformed.  Jesus praised the sacrifices of those who had little.  Jesus reached out to the poor and called them faithful.  Jesus honored the faith of those who genuinely desired to believe, even when they struggled to believe.  Jesus broke down cultural, social, ethnic, gender and ability barriers.  Jesus invites us to follow Him.

If we are to follow Jesus, then reconciliation must be woven into the fabric of children, youth and family ministry.  What it means to be reconciled to God and the people must be taught, practiced and lived out in our homes and churches. Intentional conversations, awareness of our cultural identity and faith identity, how we treat other people, how we grow and learn from those who are different than us, how we listen and give dignity to people’s lives and stories, and the ways we live out the gospel; all of these are transformational and faith shaping.  I am learning how to be a practitioner of these things.

My hope and prayer is to see children and families wholly reconciled to God and other people, participating in the whole mission of the church; as a community sent by God.

Seminary LIfe- New Beginnings

bookI have begun classes at Seattle Pacific Seminary.

Everything started at the beginning of this month.

I packed my kids backpacks full of school supplies, arranged childcare and meals and headed off on a ferry to Whidbey Island.  I was excited, exhausted, sick (stupid cold!) and curious as to what I might discover at the beginning of this new chapter. Friendships. Insights.  Reflections. Heart-stirrings.  God did not disappoint.  I missed my son’s first day of kindergarten and husbands 34th birthday but in the midst of a very full week for my family God remained present.

I spent this month working, helping kids adjust to a new school schedule, reading and I did a lot of writing.  Reading, writing. Reading, writing.  More reading and more writing.

A magical transformation is taking place.

My basement office has become an early morning refuge and sanctorum (I use this latin term for Holy of Holies rather loosely).  I pray and meet God for my day in that sanctified space (if you know me, you know I have a thing about space and place to call my own!).  I have cried and lamented and been confused and frustrated and exhausted and happy and thankful and amused in this space.

I want to write more about what God is teaching me and what I am hearing from the people around me, but I don’t know when to write. How much to write. How much to process out loud and how much to keep between God and I.  As new ideas and thoughts are stirring within me, there is much that is swirling around me.  Painful stories of broken relationships, and financial hardship, racism in the U.S., divisiveness in the church, evil in the Middle East, atrocities to believers and young children. Earthquakes, starvation, lack of clean water, children running for their lives from Central America only to be detained in the US and labeled as “unwanted illegal immigrants”. Oh the pain.  As my heart is stirred with joy for new beginnings, my heart is also broken.

My mind and heart of full of many, many things, but one in particular stands out like a crack of light through a long dark tunnel.

Mercy. The word mercy.  I am a theologian because I study God’s word, but I feel like a beginner, and sometimes like a poser. But with courage I share my thoughts anyway.  Growing up in the church I always understood the word mercy as God’s forgiveness.  It was like grace, but a little different (I didn’t always know what made it different).  Sometimes described as not getting what I do deserve (i.e. punishment).  Whereas grace was getting something I didn’t deserve (forgiveness).  But mercy means so much more.

In Hebrew the word mercy is hesed.  It can be basically translated as steadfast, loving kindness.  Ah, a breath of fresh air. Steadfast. Loving. Kindness.  This word hesed has been rocking my world for two years (I first learned of it in the book, The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Curtis James) and it’s breathing life into me right now.

It shifts the way I say: Lord, in your mercy hear my prayer.

It deepens my understanding of Micah 6:8 to love mercy and act justly.

It enlightens my understanding of what it means to show mercy to the people around me.

It transforms how think about God’s mercy extended to me.

I am sad for the state of the world we live in. I am impassioned to discern how God is calling me to respond to the pain and brokenness in the world.  I acknowledge my fears and yet embrace courage as a way of being- daily.  I cling to the hope of God’s mercy promised.

Luke 1:78-79
Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
  and to guide us to the path of peace.

God that your steadfast, loving kindness would break through our hardened, fearful, doubting hearts.  To transform the way we see ourselves, our friends, our enemies, the poor, the marginalized, the hurting.  We cannot say it better than the prophet Zechariah, that you would ‘give light to those who sit in darkness and guide us to the path of peace.’  This is my prayer. Lord, in your mercy