Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Doorbell Agendas

There are some nuns, the Visitation Sisters (or the "Nuns in the 'Hood" as many call them) that live in north Minneapolis. They are by far one of the clearest examples of the incarnation of Jesus Christ that I have yet to experience. They have "lived Jesus" (their words) in a notorious part of north Minneapolis for 17 years. They have fed their hungry neighbors, handed out bus tokens when they had them, provided curbside death-knell prayers to dying gang members, taught English, taught Spanish, taught music, and taught God's love.

They are artisans of God's grace and His manifest mercy and justice. And like the humblest of artisans, they can't even see their own brilliance. But it is unmistakable. Being around such radiant lovers of the "least of these" always provides yet more inspiring but almost-impossible challenges to how I "live Jesus." The latest challenge to my overly-scheduled life: doorbell agendas.

A doorbell agenda is NOT a strategic plan, a formula, a ministry method. It is a way of life that they model. It is waking up in the morning and humbly kneeling before the Father and saying, ""Morning Lord. I have things on my calendar today, things I want to do, things I need to do. But I submit to Your will, and when that doorbell rings and someone is standing outside my door with a need or hurt, give me the strength to be Jesus to them."

A doorbell agenda really threatens my efficiency and productivity paradigms, my plans, MY agenda. Living Jesus really is a threat to living ME.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Lawless

"Lawless." For me the word conjures up wild west images of grizzled outlaws, gunslingers, riding furiously through canyon lands trying to evade "the good guys." Guns blaze, but to no avail. The good guys always get their man.

Then another image of a lawless man is flipping the script for me on what "lawless" might be all about. Check out this passage in Luke 22, Jesus reciting a prophecy (from the prophet Isaiah) about himself: "For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was counted among the lawless'; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.'" (v. 37, NRSV). The translators of the NRSV chose to use the word "lawless" (other translations say "transgressors" or "rebels"). Ten verses later we find a posse of the "good guys" armed with swords and clubs (see Matthew 26) hunting down our Lawless Lord under the cover of darkness, led by one of his own, Judas. Within a day or two the Lawless Turner of Temple Tables was hung to die between two other Lawless thugs.

Jesus the Law Abiding Citizen...where do we get THAT image? They killed him because He was a threat to the profits and security of the elite, status yielded by the adulterous relations between Temple and State (Rome), NOT because He was a good citizen.

Two other lawless "thugs" made the news last week: Eugene and Lorenzo were shot dead, their bodies were found in the basement of their place in north Minneapolis. The news reported (or implied) the all-too-usual incriminating stuff: "A significant amount of cocaine was found at the crime scene, and several witnesses had drugs on them. The reason for the killings has yet to be determined, but police don't believe it was random." A drug deal gone wrong? Payback?We may never know. You got to admit...the evidence of ciminal apptitudes definitely tempers any swells of compassion. "Justice" or "just desserts"? I can't speak for you, but my heart of darkness whispers these questions...
But I hear other whispers, too: "Jesus was counted among the lawless. What do you do with that?" Jesus, Eugene, and Lorenzo. The criminal element, enemies of the state. I have a hard time reconciling the Lord Jesus with the lawlessness of Eugene and Lorenzo. But in the end, Jesus died like a criminal, like a thug, between two other thugs. Jesus laying on the floor of a dingy basement with a bullet-hole in His head. NOT how I picture the Lord. Maybe seeing their friend on the Roman wood was as shocking and vulgar to Jesus' followers?

So, what would it mean for us, as Followers of the Lawless One, to be "counted among the lawless?" And would be our demise?

Friday, March 9, 2007

"Walk in my shoes for a mile or two and you'll see...." [Benjamin W., Phillips neighborhood]

A few weeks ago, out of the blue, I saw a poster up on the street for the Dakota Commemorative March. It said that many Dakota American Indians would be re-walking the 150 mile stretch where their relatives were force-marched by the US military in 1862 - many of them to their deaths. I felt this would be a great opportunity to literally "walk in their shoes" and spend prolonged time in their company to hear their stories. I didn't know if any other white people would be there, but I decided to go anyway.

Late on the evening of November 9th, a friend dropped me off in the small farming town of Mankota in southwestern Minnesota. I cautiously entered the church where the walkers were supposed to be staying. All I saw in the darkened church basement were masses of dark forms strewn all over the floor and couches, and the faint sound of snoring. I quietly laid out my sleeping bag and tried to sleep, unsure of what to expect the next morning!

At 5:00am the lights were flipped on and a booming voice shouted cheerfully for everyone to wake up. The whole floor of the basement started moving. People of every age and size started to rise and prepare to walk for another 20 miles before dinner - from young children to elderly men and women. I tried to follow the crowd and get a feel for what I was supposed to do. At some point someone yelled and everyone ran to the windows - 5 inches of fresh snow lay on the ground and it was still falling fast. "Looks like we'll have to walk in the snow - anyone need an extra pair of socks?" someone said. A makeshift medical station was set up where people's bruised and blistered feet were treated with ointment and moleskine to help the pain. (At the point where I joined them, they had already been walking almost 20 miles a day for three days.) After a quick prayer and song in Dakota and a light breakfast of dried meat, dried fruit, and hard boiled eggs, we began to walk.

The procession was always led by a medicine woman out in front carrying the traditional medicine bag. A few paces behind her were the relatives of the Dakotas that marched in 1862 carrying large decorated staffs to represent their different bands. Behind them came all the rest of the walkers including myself, followed by a long trail of support cars crawling along at walking speed. The lead car had a loudspeaker that played traditional Dakota drum and chant music. The caboose for this crazy, yet somber parade was a heated trailer with restrooms. At each mile post marker on the highway we would stop and pound in a wooden stake with two of the family names of the origional walkers on it. Then we each took turns sprinkling tobacco on it as a way of remembering and honoring their legacy.By 11:00am, my feet hurt, my calves hurt, my butt hurt, and my back hurt. Then I looked at the 50 year old man marching beside me with a smile on his face and kept going. A man called Bear kept reminding everyone, saying "many of our ancestors didn't have shoes when they marched, and they didn't even get to sleep! Remeber that when your feet start to hurt." Wise words.

A young single mother let me push her daughter's stroller the last 4 miles of the day when the side of the road became muddy and almost impossible to push the stroller through. As I labored to keep up with the rest of the group with my new burden, I was struck by the irony and the beauty of what was happening – it was as if this woman had given me the opportunity to share in her trouble, and in a way, to share in the trouble of her people. I pushed that stroller with all the might and care that I could, as if baby Jesus himself were riding in it.

We arrive at Henderson, MN (pop. 910) at about 4:00pm to end the day's march. It was the wierdest feeling to walk down main street and see the locals peering through shutters of shop windows and standing in doorways, all staring in silence as this crazy band of American Indians proudly marched through their town to the beat of drums. It felt eerily unwelcoming, as if the townspeople at that moment were stuffing down the realization that their land used to rightfully belong to these marchers. The man walking next to me whispered unmenacingly to himself as if to respond to their silence, "that's right, we're still here."

The local charter school floor was to be our home for the night, and the staff was very welcoming. I ended up having to leave that night to come back to Minneapolis for orientation at my new job, but I later found out that the marchers had been badly harrassed at the school that night by some townspeople, and some of the leaders had to be taken to the police station for protective measures. That made me very, very sad.

All in all, I feel I am a very lucky man to have joined these people in their march of rememberance. I was blessed by their willingness to let me share in their suffering, and to consider me one of their own as we marched. I have experienced in a very small way what it means to be a native in this modern world, and it breaks my heart.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Full house @ 2902 Tutoring! [Katy R., Hawthorne neighborhood]

Two weeks ago, we had quite the blow. We had kids who refused to participate and, as hard as it was, we stuck to the rules. we had 5-6 kids go home instead of participating in a writing exercise. i was very very sad. After they left, I was helping one of our kindergarteners, Jaytwana. As she sloooooowly wrote her name on the top of the page i just put my head down. She asked if i was tired and i told her no, i was just sad that so many kids had left. in her cute little 6 year old voice she told me that she was sad too but she was still here. melt my heart! Everyone told me they would come back but it was just hard.
In light of this not so fun night we decided to make a few changes. We instituted a call&response for when we need everyone's attention right away. Krisitin allowed the kids to pick their own and, after voting, we settled on "North" followed by "Side". they love it. we are still working on the silence after the call but it'll come. We also got a white board to write the night's schedule on. This way the kids know the different rewards and activities that follow the dreaded homework time and how long everything will last.

Yesterday was a whole different ball game. We had SO many kids, 11 but it felt like sooo many more. Thankfully, Stacy's roomie, Amber, got her trial-by-fire last night. She was great and jumped right in where we needed her. The posted schedule helped keep the kids on task and things seemed to go pretty well. At the very end Kristin asked one boy to leave for pushing another kid. All the kids were just floored and i think it drove home the point that there are standards for conduct at tutoring. He's a great (and i do mean great) kid and i know he will be back next week.

The way tutoring looks is changing dramatically from how it was this fall. We have more kids, a wider age spectrum, and more kids who lack the perfect manners of our first students. We continue to teak 2902 Tutoring as we need it. One of our biggest needs right now is more space. We have been doing homework at our dinning room table and our living room coffee table. With almost everyone crammed around the table it can get quite loud. We need another place to put our little homework-doers. Kristin believes she will be able to get a fold out table from her parents' house. However, we are wondering if Urban Homeworks has any connections we could use to get some free folding chairs that we can pull out as needed! I think another table will really help to keep a lid on things and allow the tutors to be more effective!

Welcome to Our Whirled

There are seemingly parallel existences in our society, worlds that pass close to each other, but don't always intersect.

The people in One World sojourn on I-35 and I-94 and other causeways, strapped into their rides as they rocket by and above the Other world, destined for somewhere important. On time, ordered, mobile, and seeking even more upward mobility. The good life is predictable, clean, scheduled, self-reliant. Cash is king. The Good Life is having. iLife. One World is middle America.

The Other World is different, it is the Other America. Chaos sabotages predictability. Hand-me-down cars, hand-me-down schools, too many stores selling hand-me-down One World clothes. People renting hand-me-down homes, owned by The Landlord (who lives somewhere in One World). Survival is king. The Good Life is making ends meet. Other world is poor America.

And then there is Our Whirled. It is not as much a place as it something that is happening to us. Our Whirled is where we One Worlders end up when the King of Kings invites us to a Least of These Party with His friends Montrey, Homeless Larry, and Candy the Single Mom Sometimes Hooker. One World is our roots, it runs deep in our blood, but it feels more like a funeral than a Party. Less of a departure than an arrival. New Other World friends introduce us to their people: Harsh Reality, Keepin' On, and Laughter. We are confused, mystified, and...changed. Other World is not entirely Home, but no longer is One World either.

Welcome to Our Whirled...