Seriously NOT my cup of tea

9. Get to know who your political representatives are at both the local and national level. Study their policy decisions and examine their moral compass and public leadership. Make your public convictions and commitments known to them and choose to hold them accountable.

Politics. Seriously something I choose with intent to stay away from. i believe they are ALL rotten to the very core and each and everyone of them are useless. Don’t get me wrong, I believe they started out with noble intentions, but power, greed and corruption have limited their views and their values. At least I hope that is what happened because otherwise I see no explanation why adults behave so small-mindedly and allow so many to suffer. Decisions are made on the sole basis of who can give me enough cash to get me reelected or a better job when I can no longer serve. They do not represent the people, they represent their own enlightened self interest.
All that ranting aside, I will commit to starting at the local level — city council and school board and get to know more about my representatives. I will find out more about those who represent me and see what their positions are on issued that “break my heart” such as education and environment. I will seek out others who have similar concerns and caucus our elected officials to make decisions that benefit those in need.
This is a tough one. What will you consider doing for political improvement?


Heart breaking

8. Ask yourself what in the world today most breaks your heart and offends your sense of justice. Decide to help change that, and join with others who are committed to transforming that injustice.

Here is where I tend to go off track completely. I feel so overwhelmed by things that routinely occur that are unjust and heartbreaking I become embolized. Stuck. For example, why are some children receiving a good education and others a lesser education by the same systems of public institutions. We, as a society, relegate some children to not being educated based on demographics like race or nation of origin. Some members of society actually blame them, the kids for not doing better. But the problem is so systemic and massive that I feel stymied to effect change. And I see many of these students in my classes, unable to read, unable to communicate well verbally or at all in written format. And what they want is an education to provide them with a career with at least a living wage. Surely they are due at least that. I do my best for them, but what could I do to help them have those basic skills before they are in my classroom?
In my region there is an influx of Latino families, the children are entering school and learning English, and will benefit from becoming educated. But many of their parents remain Spanish only speakers trapped in positions that provide less than a living wage. I don’t need to be part of the argument that they may or may not be documented immigrants. How can the world I live in and am a part of take better care to ensure the world is “just” to them in terms of employment, language and places of worship.
Finally, last semester I had a young woman of the Islamic faith in my class. She was very quiet and tried to make herself small and unseen. She arrived early for class one day and was on her phone. She said, “no, I am okay my teacher is here.” When she was off the phone I asked if everything was alright and she explained that she had received some vulgar and threatening notes at school. She didn’t want to report it, but her family encouraged her not to be alone anyplace at school. I apologized for their being small minded people. Not much to do but educate them, but I could always allow her in the classroom early and lock the doors. She thanked me for that absurd kindness. (I later learned that she shared this story with two young Air Force men in the class who agreed to walk her to her care after class each day)
A. I am going to commit or continue my commitment to educating those in need to ensure they can receive a living wage.
B. I will work to improve the lives of new immigrants to my particular region, in relationship to worship, educational and employment opportunities.
What can you identify and do?

Where do you work?

7. Look at the business, company or organization where you work from an ethical perspective. Ask what its vocation is, too. Challenge whatever is dishonest or exploitative and help your place of work do well by doing good.

What a hard call this is! Pretty much anywhere you work, serve a local congregation, can practice things that are not upright or exploit others. Christians can actually be very good at exploitation, so let’s put a check on that. The difficulty here is regardless of where you are employed no one likes to have attention drawn to things that are not done justly or honestly. Even “GOOD” people turn there backs on things they know to be unfair or bad practice because they don’t want to deal, and still other GOOD people avoid drawing attention to things that are unjust, exploitive or plain wrong because others may talk. So here is my strategy.
A. I will speak up in loving and caring ways about injustice and dishonesty.
B. I will not speak against others who point out activities that but will be sympathetic.
C. I will draw attention to the things my organization/employer does well in the realm of justice issues.
This is another difficult one. Will you seek such a thin place?

Wants vs. needs

6. Make choices by distinguishing between wants and needs. Choose what is enough, rather than what is possible to get. Replace appetites with values, teach your children the same and model those values for all who are in your life. (Wallis, 2014)

As a result of gutting out houses following Hurricane Katrina, I learned that less is actually more. The first home that I worked in, I spent the better part of a day gutting out a 3 ft x 4 ft x 8 ft closet that was filled with magazines, that had been soaked in brackish water for 8 weeks. A closet full of magazines. I vowed that never would anyone have to do that for me, and I was a pack rat. I sought to reduce by possessions to about 100 things, with only 10 categories of things with more than one item (books, clothing, shoes, etc). And in those areas I set very strict limits, if something new comes into the house, something of equal or greater value must go out. So if you buy a new pair of slacks, an old pair has to go out. I try not to buy books that I can get from the library or house electronically. I have gone from 8 running feet of books, to one bookshelf. For large purchases, I make a decisions about what I absolutely need and then wait at least 30 days. If I still need it at the end of that time I purchase the item, if not I let it slide.
To make it more practicable I don’t purchase materials on credit. Anything purchase on a credit card has to be paid off in 30 days, with no balance to be carried. This stops impulse purchasing dead in its tracks. I have found that I don’t always need the most current thing, when the one I have is bought and paid for.
I plan to continue this practice. Are you ready to try living on what you need?

Vocational development

5. Seek to develop a vocation and not just a career Discern your gifts as a child of God, not just your talents and listen for your calling rather than just looking for opportunities. Remember that your personal good always relates to the common good. (Wallis, 2014)

Oh, how I have struggled so with this one. I am always on the look out for opportunities, for myself and others. Not always listening for or aware of the call of God. Sometimes God grows weary of my lack of attention, I fear, and gives me sharp whack on the back of the head to regain my attention.
I have become more aware of my teaching career as a vocation both in and out of the church. I clearly see my calling to teach as a ministry in the world. Further, I am becoming more aware of my writing as an extension of that vocation and have made some pretty heady and lofty goals to continue the practice. It hasn’t been easy by any means as it takes far more time and energy than I had imagined. I do have a real sense that God is going somewhere with this and I am learning to be faithful to the practice.
But that doesn’t mean I still don’t go off chasing wild geese. Often with quiet time available I will run about looking for some other, reasonable and valid, means of filling that time. When one task comes to a conclusion, I am not comfortable with a void of time and space. I long to fill it; to find exactly the opportunity to consume time (and make money). But slowly, very, very slowly I am learning to listen for the call.
I am going to pay more attention for the call, how about you?

Take seriously the place you live

4. Take seriously the place you live. Make the context of your life and work the “parish” for which you take responsibility.

So often we look well past were we live in favor of far off exotic places. Yes, there are hungry children in Africa, and there are also hungry children in my home town. There are people in need of gainful employment in my city. I don’t have to look far. Please don’t read into this don’t go far away and help others. Hear what Jesus said, “Jerusalem (where you live), Samaria (near where you live), the ends of the earth .” We have to start at home. Here are some things to consider.
A. Every morning I go for a walk around my immediate neighborhood. Just me and Roux (the dog). We walk 1.5 miles (and to be increased to 2 miles). And as we walk I pray. I pray for the few people that I meet. I pray for the houses I walk past.
B. Support local business and people where possible, and to that I also include use resale shops when possible. Many of them support good causes. Learn about organizations that you support, who are the people and what do they stand for.
C. Discover needs, don’t just assume a course of action. Asking a nursing home if they would like fresh flowers from your garden or old magazines is much better than just dragging your old stuff on them.
For me, I am going to be more mindful and vocal about recycling. This is not widely practices in my community and should be this will become my responsibility for me and my neighborhood.
What will your “parish” responsibility become?

Acting on your beliefs

3. If you are a person of faith, focus not just on what you believe but on how you act on those beliefs. If you love God, ask God how to love your neighbor.

There is a song which I enjoy and my favorite line is “the only measure of your words and your deeds is the love you leave behind when you are gone.” I am a firm believer in acting on my beliefs, but often I think we get it confused with acting overly moral or overly judgemental. I want to act on my belief in ways that God can say “Yep! That’s what I was talking about.”
Recently spent some time with a woman who wouldn’t particularly label herself a church person. She was a bit nervous about hanging with a crowd of self identified church people among which were several clergy. But in the end she said we were quite normal and I am certain that she meant it in a complementary way. What she carried away with her was that we loved her, we were glad she came with us and ultimately God loves her.
What one thing can I do? I am going to engage in one mission activity a month reaching out to those neighbors I don’t know yet.
How are you going to live out your faith?

Fidelity in relationships, regardless

2. If you are married, be faithful to your spouse. Demonstrate your commitment with both your fidelity and your love. If you are single, measure your relationships by their integrity, not their usefulness.

Well, I am not married, so clearly the second half is more relevant to me. This is actually one of the questions we answer at our ordination “will you be faithful in marriage and celibate in singleness.” And while there is an entire political controversy swarming around that phrase and its presence in our polity docment, I believe, for myself, that it boils down to basic integrity. When anyone of us begins to use people, to whatever end; emotional, financial, even sexual gain, we are no longer seeing them as Children of God but as objects for manipulation. Now granted, as a friend of mine has said,
“that whole celibacy thing ain’t nearly as difficult as I had hoped it would be,” but it is still something that I struggle with. I don’t want to go all Jimmy Carter on you (yep, the President Jimmy Carter), but when look at a man with less than “G” or even PG thoughts, then I have turned him into an object. The same is true when I call in or demand a favor with no thoughts or returning it or what it cost the other person, I am using them.
So I am putting aside wrongful use of others for relationships built upon integrity.
God help me!
What will you do?

Look for children

1. If you are a father or a mother make your children the most important priority in your life and build your other commitments around them. If you are not a parent, look for children who could benefit from your investment in their lives. (Wallis, 2014)

This is, at least, relatively easy for me. I enjoy kids. Kids seem to enjoy me. So here is how I will hopefully bring benefit to children.
A) I will continue to teach the confirmation class of 11/12 year olds at my local congregation. This is actually one of the greatest joys in my life. I get to be with these young people as they begin to maneuver the tricky waters of growing up and reveal to them that perhaps being a Christian might be one of the best ways to be successful. I do this through modeling that practice. I do it through teaching and I do it by running along side them as I push them to do things they had not believed they could do.
B) My second greatest joy is getting to talk with the little children during the Children’s Message during worship. It is something I both love and hate at the same time. It takes place just prior to us removing children from worship, which is not something I like having done but I accept the cultural relevance of it. That being said I want to make sure that they hear the Word of God, the same that the adults will hear, in a way that makes sense to them.
These are two very explicit ways that I will work towards benefiting children. How will children benefit from your investment in their lives?

What does it mean?

The Iona Community members emphasize working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community and renewal of worship. So it is safe to say that focusing on areas of injustice that need to have a light placed on them is one of the focal areas of the community. Some of them do this in very grand ways such as demonstrating or protesting at nuclear submarine bases to try and rid the UK of this armament. It is profoundly expensive and an economic drain that could be put to use in other areas. Some work as Peace Observers at Israeli check points in Palestine. Still others do things in smaller, but equally important ways, such as create a garden cooperative in their mixed ethnic neighborhood. Turns out when Christians and Muslims get their hands dirty, “justice and peace join hands.”
I admit to feeling overwhelmed and confused in all of this. Overstimulated by the abundance of wrongs that need righted, I grind to a halt. I am fully aware that small, tiny efforts on my part do make a contribution. But they feel so small and lost. I don’t feel like giving up, but digging in. How can I be more purposeful about being a Christian that will “seek peace and pursue it?” How and in what ways will I contribute in the world as someone who does “all the good that I can, all the ways that I can, as long as ever I can?”
So here is the exercise I am going to engage in over the next few days, leading to the remainder of the year. In the June 2014 issue of “Sojouners” managing editor Jim Wallis included 10 Personal Decisions for the Common Good. These apparently appeared in his book THE UNCOMMON GOOD: HOW THE GOSPEL BRINGS HOPE TO A WORLD DIVIDED (2014). I will offer each of these and how I will commit to working on each of these.
These are thin places in these I am sure. And as I challenge myself I challenge you to commit to each of these.