You never know what might happen when you simply show up, or what you might miss out on when you don’t. This is one of the many “lessons,” that I know I already know, at least in my head, but too often fail to practice. Of course, head knowledge and experience are two very different things. So if you’ve been reading this blog at all or checked out the last series of posts, you might know that it has seemed that we’ve been on the cusp of something for a little while. Change has been in the air. Maybe it has something to do with the seasons. Here in MN fall approaches, with winter ever not far behind. But I know it’s more than that, as the seasons are changing in our lives too. Let me try to explain how by talking about my day yesterday.
I worked, of course. I work as a case manager, a role in which I serve people experiencing disability who are certified as requiring a nursing home level of care, but who choose instead to remain in their homes with services to support them staying there. I help them get hooked up with those services they need, whether it’s Personal Care Assistance (PCA), Homemaking help, Home Delivered Meals, or Independent Living Skills Training (ILS). A lot of my work is office based, but I’m required to see the people I serve at least twice a year, and there are between 40 and 50 of them; so I spend a fair bit of time out of the office too, visiting the people I serve. They’re somewhat diverse too. I have one person I serve that is part of a family that obviously has some means. Some are white. Some are people of color, though, and many obviously are otherwise disadvantaged. Two days ago I saw a Somali woman, for example, who doesn’t speak English and came to this country many years ago, as most immigrants do, hoping for a better life for her children. Since coming here, her children have grown up and her health has declined. Now she lives in a somewhat run down house in Minneapolis with a bed bug infestation that’s probably a little too big for her now with her kids grown. Her mobility is quite limited and she’s in constant pain. Her primary caregiver is what we USAmericans would call a step-son, the son of her husband (whom is not in the picture, may not be in the country, and/or may have passed away) by another wife. He had two wives, of which the person I serve is one. This “son by another mother” now dedicates much of his life to caring for the woman who helped bring him to this country. They’re the nicest people you’d ever meet, so very gracious, kind, and grateful.
As I met with them a couple of days ago I thought about all the furor in the news recently about immigration, and was grateful that I at least had some awareness of alternative stories like this one, headlined “Helping Syrian refugees is the Christian thing to do, say these church leaders.” It was in this story that I heard what some might stereotype as a very “conservative” Texas pastor talk all about the call to love one’s neighbors, even/especially displaced Syrian ones. When asked if he had an ulterior motive to “convert” the immigrants he was leading his congregation to help resettle, he said, “We have a saying in our church: we don’t serve to convert, we serve because we’ve been converted.” That’s powerful. Thank you, NPR, for that reporting.
I’ve been hearing a lot of such reporting on MPR/NPR of late, reporting about Christ followers defying their political leaders to do what Jesus says we should instead. Take this story, for example, about a NJ congregation that’s been resettling refugees for 50 years, despite the call by the state’s current governor to ban them. Here’s another story that tells a similar tale. This reporting is invaluable, and helps to shape my hoped for Christian worldview. It’s part of why I remain a public radio nerd (among the various nerd-doms I self-identify as belonging to).
Then yesterday I saw one of the people I serve who has significant mental health needs and has battled housing insecurity for some time. When I first started working with him, he was experiencing homelessness and was bouncing from a shelter to his mom’s place to wherever else he could find a place to stay. While I can’t/wouldn’t take much credit for it, I was privileged to be part of helping him find an apartment, and when I saw him yesterday, that’s where we met. He seems to be doing okay, for now, and it was good to see. Seeing that person I serve came on the heels of seeing the immigrant family I spoke of above the day before. Then yesterday, again on MPR, I heard some of this conversation while driving. Again, it’s stories like these that keep me tuning in to public radio, despite the accusations by some would be Christ followers, including an acquaintance at work, that MPR/NPR is a “liberal” organization. I frankly could care less. Jesus was pretty radical (see above), and I remain hopeful that a life spent following him is one that transcends binary USAmerican political ideologies.
That conversation I listened to part of in the car, about the Dakota Access pipeline protests, was moving. I was particularly struck by the part where the otherwise very savvy and sensitive host, Tom Weber, spoke of the allotment of land indigenous people were “given” by the U.S. government and the successive betrayals of their land commitments to and treaties with indigenous people by the U.S. government, when, for example, gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota. In the conversation as the host made that comment about the land they were “given”- again trying to make a larger point about how they were then betrayed and treaty after treaty was broken- the indigenous folks he was talking with were taken aback by the notion that they were given the land by whites. Of course, the indigenous people were there first, which is why I constantly bristle when political leaders in the current election campaign talk about the rules they want to impose about who can come here when and under what circumstances they can be allowed into our country. It’s not ours, and what’s amazing about indigenous people is that they not only know it’s not ours (speaking of myself as a “white” USAmerican), but know it’s not “theirs” either. They get stewardship (of creation, in this case) better than most Christians I know, but I digress.
Not long after hearing that conversation I had to pull over and stop by the side of the road before returning to work. I pulled over because I was crying. I had changed things up and was at that time listening to music that put me in a spirit of worship, and I couldn’t help but break down. All those stories I’ve described above were rattling around in my mind and heart, but so too was the story of how I and my family got to where we are now, in this season of our life as we’re working to take steps to follow Jesus in new ways, in part because we came upon a community of folks in which God is clearly up to something and so with whom we are privileged to join in. I cried as I thought about Syrian refugees and the history of oppression of indigenous people and the earth itself by whites around the world and in the Dakotas. I cried as I thought about our long search for people we could be on a mission with, a mission to be the church and love our community in profound ways, and remembered that at just the right time God seems to be bringing us into just such a community.
I cried too as I thought about the Carnival de Resistance which would be kicking off publicly later that evening, and which Kirsten and I planned to attend with the boys. We knew about the Carnival by virtue of being on the mailing list of the local Mennonite Worker, a group we admire and respect and hope to emulate in whatever small way we can. Their “recommended reading for new residents” alone is an invaluable resource I hope to work my way through. Anyway, knowing the Carnival was starting I went to their website and began investigating a little more. I was pleased to find that one of the organizers of the Carnival is Jay Beck of the Psalters, who have long been affiliated with Circle of Hope, the church community we were a part of in Philly. Anyway, the “CARNIVAL DE RESISTANCE is a traveling carnival, village, and school for cultural transformation bridging the worlds of art, activism and faith.” Obviously, we were intrigued and wanted to check it out, and again this also was on my mind as I sat in my car yesterday afternoon, crying as so many different parts of my story came together as a page of my life turned and a new chapter began.
So we showed up yesterday evening, and as I alluded to above, showing up is so often the biggest part of the work to be done in living into the life one feels called to. We showed up, and soon were drawn into the performance that was happening last night. Here’s what we saw:
That’s Jay, in costume as a raven. The performance was part play, part concert, part dance party. The Carnival describes the production last night, called “Rooted Wind,” this way:
This evening of theater weaves music, dance theater, storytelling and circus arts to highlight the power of Earth andAir in our ancient and contemporary stories of resistance. This show features loud-mouthed “Raven”, mute “Dove”, and the “Voice of the Cedars”, in poetic soliloquies about the gift of creation and prophetic rants against its destruction. The evening will end in a live drum and dance party.
Here’s some of what we saw:
Notice Jay drumming, something he’s known for. It was a powerful show, calling us to remember the lament of the prophets not only that God’s people should return to his ways, but over the oppression of God’s good world, described, for example, in this passage from Isaiah:
The Lord has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers, which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression. All the lands are at rest and at peace; they break into singing. Even the junipers and the cedars of Lebanon gloat over you and say, “Now that you have been laid low, no one comes to cut us down.”
We were invited to lament over the destruction of the cedars of Lebanon, over the murder of environmental activists like Berta Cáceres- a growing trend around the world- and over the shallowness of our own Starbucks and smart phone addicted lives. Speaking of smartphones, while eating lunch yesterday I watched a video on mine, and then tweeted about it:
— robfredbuck (@robfredbuck) September 16, 2016
Here’s the video linked in my tweet:
Imagine then how that invitation to lament struck me, particularly yesterday, with the stories of refugees, indigenous activists fighting for the protection of God’s world, and sorrow over my participation in a system of unmitigated capitalist consumption that exploits and destroys both the earth and its people, all on my mind.
Here’s a little more from the show last night:
And here are some more pictures from last night:
Part of the vision of the Carnival de Resistance is to “embody” the life of resistance to the dominant culture/story of our day that following Jesus challenges us to undertake. They say that:
Our village life is so much work, but, oh, such a satisfying life. Still, we call it our Holy Game. Most of us will return to “normal lives.” Amazingly, many find that a real change has taken place. All of this that surrounds us and seems to claim to be necessary in some way, within the game, it’s lost some of its power. Maybe normal life is a game, too. Now which game is more holy? Which one closer to God’s dream?
Here are some pictures of the “village life” together:
I think this commitment to life together, to embodying the alternative story of the other world that is possible for those who do the hard work of following Jesus, carries over even/especially into their performances, including the one we saw last night. Look closely at this picture:
What you see in the image above is someone on a bike, pedaling away. The bike is being used to create electricity to power the lights and sound system for the show. The green light in the photo tells you you’re pedaling hard enough to create the right amount of power for what’s being drawn by whatever you’re powering. If it turns white, you’re pedaling too fast, red and you better speed up. I guess the Carnival crew has a couple of people who do this throughout the probably 2 hour total length show, but one of them couldn’t last night for some reason; so at one point as I was standing near the back with Kirsten and the boys, someone approached me and asked if I would relieve the only guy who had been powering the show to that point, and I said yes and literally jumped in to do my part to make the show go on. I’m glad I looked and am relatively fit enough to do so! I was on there for about 20 minutes and worked up a nice sweat before the woman you see in the picture above jumped on after me.
Like I said, you never what might happen when you show up. So as the show was winding down I checked out the “Radical Reading Library” you see below, taking a picture to make sure I could add some of the titles to my ever-growing reading list.
As I kept looking around, I was pleased as I noticed on the table nearby some of Circle of Hope’s “Audio Art” CD’s (the three in the far left column below). I was reminded that Jay, whom I mentioned above, has been connected to Circle for a while, and it was good to see this part of my life popping up unexpectedly:
And then literally as I was looking at these CD’s and thinking about Circle of Hope, Kirsten came up to me and said, “Isn’t that Joshua Grace up there, performing with the band?” I whipped out my smart phone, thinking of the kids that may have died or been forever harmed by their work to harvest the elements that went into making my phone (not to mention what was done to the earth to get those elements), and looked again at the Carnival de Resistance website. I turned to the “carnival crew” page, and saw this:
Yup, that’s Joshua, alright, one of the pastors of Circle of Hope, and someone who I have some history with. At one time we were close enough that, depending on how they tell it, I may be part of the birth story of Lily, Joshua’s 11 year old daughter in the bio above. I at least was trusted to be the one they called when it was time for them to go the hospital for Lily to be born. I drove them late one evening, with Martha (his wife) in labor in the back seat. In any case, in my recent post about Circle of Hope, and probably in many of them on this blog, I said that when we left Philly/Circle the last time…
…in the wake of Samuel’s extraordinarily premature birth…we did not leave well or lovingly. Any meaningful relationship among imperfect people involves pain, of course, and we let ourselves get hurt when we weren’t loved in just the way we wanted or hoped to be as we dealt with the trauma of Samuel’s prematurity and all the disruption it caused in our lives. Instead of working through the issues that came up and growing as a result, and giving the community a chance to grow too, we skipped town. It wasn’t our best moment.
I think I’ve said elsewhere and said again to Kirsten last night that for some time now when I tell the story of leaving Circle of Hope the last time, I take full responsibility for the decision to leave and all that led up to it. It was my fault. I was wrong. We were very vulnerable at that time in our lives and were presented with an opportunity to grow, a chance to grow up some. Instead of leaning into that and doing the work involved, we short-circuited the process, and in the process, stunted our own growth. We cut ourselves off from the community, something the community no doubt also experienced as being harmful. I felt hurt, and so I acted hurtfully, including toward Joshua. I could explain, but I’m not looking to justify myself here. That Jesus’ job, I trust. Since then I reached out over email I think some time ago to make a meager effort to apologize, but I don’t know if it was received. Obviously, it wasn’t a very personal or heartfelt attempt.
So it’s taken us over a decade since leaving in 2005 to not just lick our wounds, but to allow them to heal. Time has helped, but time alone hasn’t healed them. There was still work to be done, and we’ve been doing it, slowly, in fits and starts. I think what I’ve been writing about of late and the place we’ve come to now is evidence of that.
So we saw Joshua performing with the band, and waited until the show and dance party that it ended with were over so that we could approach him and say hello. We did so, and I introduced him to Samuel, whose birth story he’s a part of as he led Circle of Hope East to continue to pray for us during Samuel’s long NICU stay, and came to visit a time or two as well. This is a picture from Samuel’s first of 2 birth story photo albums we made a decade ago:
If you didn’t gather, Joshua’s standing behind Samuel’s isolette, and you can’t actually see Sam in this picture. Anyway, I (re-)introduced Samuel to Joshua last night, and of course introduced Nathan to Joshua too. As we approached, he seemed ready for us. He must have noticed us in the crowd just as we had noticed him. As we got near him, he said hi to us by name, we hugged, and started talking. The conversation was brief, but cordial. I think he was surprised to see us. We were certainly surprised that he was there. I asked if he would have any time in the next 10 days or so to get together. We might get breakfast one morning, though he’s understandably very busy. I tried not to put any pressure on him, and was careful to say that if it works out for us to get together and talk more, great. If not, that’s okay too. So I was sure to say that in the event it doesn’t work out and we don’t connect again, while we were face to face last night, I wanted him to know I love him, and that I’m sorry for letting him down.
I was ready to say that, and to see him. It took 10 years, but I’m glad to have done so. He invited us back to the show this evening, which starts now in just a few hours. We’re going to try to make it. As we were driving home last night, I was reminded of this sermon I recently listened to from Mill City, part of their/(our?) series on “the Gospel and Race.” In it, Stephanie talks about Peter as part of a larger conversation about eating together with those who are different from you as a small step on the way toward racial reconciliation. She spoke specifically of Peter’s vision from Acts 10 of the “clean” and “unclean” animals descending on a sheet, and God’s invitation to Peter to upend everything he knew about what was right and proper up to that point, and to go ahead and partake of the “unclean” animals. Incidentally, while Peter is told to “kill and eat,” I don’t think this is God saying we should eat animals, generally, but again I digress. No, the point was clear: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Peter had this vision three times, and then was invited to Cornelius’ house, a Gentile (or “unclean” person in the eyes of the Jews at the time). Cornelius had a vision too, in which he was told to send for Peter. This reminds me of my recent writing about how God is at work everywhere at all times, “already up to” bringing about his dream for the world. We just have to pay attention and join him.
Anyway, Peter has his vision three times, and things seem to happen to Peter three times a lot. Jesus said Peter would deny him three times, and he did. Later, after the disciples and Peter were told of Jesus’ resurrection, three times Jesus confronts Peter, asking him, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter said he did, and each time Jesus told him then to feed his (Jesus’) sheep. I like Peter a lot. He’s impulsive, but acts out of the depths of his heart. He takes great leaps of faith, but then falters. Peter has great insight into who Jesus is, such that Jesus calls him a “Rock” and says he’ll build his church on him, but then immediately- in the same chapter– Jesus also calls him “Satan” when Peter just doesn’t seem to get it and gets in the way of what Jesus is up to. As much as I identify with David, I also see a lot of myself in Peter, and this was all on my mind as Kirsten and I drove home last night. Peter failed spectacularly as a Christ-follower. So have I; so have we, perhaps no more so than when we ran away from Philly the second time. And we’ve quite literally had to live with the consequences of that choice lo these ten long years, which is not to say that it’s all been bad by any means. We’ve learned a lot, Lord willing. We have Nathan. We’ve been privileged to bear witness as we’ve stood vigil over some deaths. Many other things have taken place over the past decade, some of which are documented are on this blog.
And now, here we are. Over the past little bit I’ve wondered if I’ll die soon. I’ve wondered this because I’ve been driven of late to, “as far as it depends on (me), live at peace with everyone.” So I’ve been doing the work of peacemaking. I’ve sought out folks I need to make peace with in ways large and small. Sometimes they’ve sought me out, but when presented with that opportunity, I’ve taken it. I’ve wondered if I’ve been driven to do this work because somehow I know I’m not long for this earth. Lord willing, that’s not the case. Then again, whether I live to 82 or 42, I’m not really long for this (“between the times”) earth anyway. Conversely, maybe my development is right on cue:
I did recently turn 40, after all; so perhaps I’m feeling generative, which “refers to ‘making your mark’ on the world through caring for others as well as creating and accomplishing things that make the world a better place.” We’ve been stagnant, after all, for far too long.
Either way, I told Kirsten that the timing of everything that seems to be happening just now was nothing short of providential. I find it hard to think it coincidental that just as we wrestle through all that has happened and all we’ve learned in our journey thus far and are drawn into a community that we feel called to be the church with- a community that really seems to have a mission that they’re working on together in direct response to what they hear God telling them as they do the hard work of paying attention to what he’s up to- just as we are finally ready to learn what can be learned from our spectacular failure to follow Jesus as we might or should have a decade ago, just then Circle of Hope rolls into town in the form of Joshua and the Carnival de Resistance.
In all this I hear Jesus asking me, “Do you love me?” He’s had to repeat it enough times for me to pay attention, but I’m answering, “yes, Lord,” and I want to do the work of feeding his sheep, of loving my neighbor in ways large and small, of being the church and living into a different story than the one being told by the dominant culture I live in. Jesus is wanted in Minneapolis, and I’m happy to join the radicals and dissidents that make up his “known associates.”