joy of giving

Rock Bridge Christian Church, 1.26.14

In our house over the last couple of months, Jamie and I have been pondering some big purchases. You see, our ancient computer from way back in 2009 runs quite a bit slower than it used to, and it can be infuriating to say the least. And those couches we bought five years ago are a little worse for the wear now that our cat Wyatt has made them his favorite scratching post. We’ve been wrestling with how seductive it is, especially for those of us who have means, to just go get what we want. A new couch. A new computer. The list could go on.

Replace the old, acquire the new – get what we want when we want it. These are the gifts we give to ourselves – our little allegiances (to follow this morning’s sermon).

I heard a piece on the radio this past week about what is called “anticipatory package shipping.” Anticipatory package shipping is a system that will ship products before customers have actually bought them, and the online retail giant Amazon has a patent for this practice.

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They will box and ship products that they expect customers to buy based on searches, previous purchases, wish lists, and – get this – how long a user’s cursor hovers over an item online. (npr.org) Basically they are developing algorithms that assess your behavior and then ship you the package before you even know you want it. My mind is a little bit blown by all of this – and all the consumerism that props up this kind of system. Let’s get what we want when (or before) we want it.

With these personal and societal impulses as my backdrop, I read today’s gospel text. It was a bit jarring to read about how Andrew and Peter left their nets immediately when Jesus called. No questions asked, no deliberation, no price comparisons or shopping around. And then James and John did it too. They left their boat and their father, and followed Jesus. In terms of possessions, material resources, money this story has nothing to do with what they acquired, and everything to do with what they gave up and what they gave away. Their allegiance shifted from getting to giving, and I think it’s the same for us when we choose to follow Jesus.

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infiltrating

Over the last (almost) two years, my job has taken me all kinds of places I would never have chosen to go otherwise: City Council meetings, Health Department work groups, the Office of Neighborhood Services, you get the idea.

My agency works to address the causes and conditions of poverty on a local level by administering various federal and state grants in areas like early childhood education, energy assistance and housing. In that mix, my job as community organizer is to engage individuals, families and organizations in our work, matching people with opportunities so that our programs will grow and our community will increase its awareness of those who live with low incomes.

It’s not my great calling in life, but it’s a good job. I do get to live into some of my values, like advocacy on behalf of the oppressed, like accompaniment with the marginalized. I do get to meet community leaders and elected officials and with other advocates have found gentle ways to elevate issues like class and race in our public conversations.

Last night I found myself at a forum to present five strategic public health issues to our community, and in keeping with my Health Department work group contributions, I was assigned to the “Disparities” display.

It’s not an easy topic to talk about, and it’s not an easy topic to do anything about. Disparities are wrapped into cultural and institutional and political inequalities that are deeply rooted in power imbalances. The thought of addressing these complex issues leaves my hope tank running close to empty, and I said as much to one of my community friends. He’s a man who, through sheer passion and charisma, has led efforts across the state to build health literacy among Latinos. I asked, E-, what can we even do to address disparities in our community? In his thick Spanish accent he responded: you infiltrate.

You use your white power to participate in society as one who can name the inequalities and persuade others to see them too. You speak the truth that you learn from teaching Muslim women and working with African-American men. You teach others about the poverty in their midst. You do all the things that you do, he was saying. And you keep doing them.

To me, one who is accustomed to seeing disparities and thinking I haven’t done enough, it was quite a good word of hope.

one year ago

one year

This month is a birthday of sorts for the Mennonite Fellowship here in Columbia, and that has me thinking about all that has happened in the last twelve months.

One year ago…

… I was still in my twenties

… I’d never run a half marathon

… I wasn’t a candidate for ordination in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Columbia Mennonite Fellowship Group didn’t exist – not quite yet, anyway

… I wasn’t an aunt

… I’d never sewed a queen-size quilt

… We weren’t prospective adoptive parents

… I didn’t even know three of the people (J, L, D) who are now some of my best friends

And now I’m not. I have. I am. It does. I am. I have. We are. I do. 

It was a good year. Thanks be.