Sunday, May 31, 2020

Trek Day Twenty-Eight

upside-down praying
"The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little." - from II Corinthians 8:8-15

God, please help the poor get rich and the rich get poor so they know what it feels like. And then God, let everyone switch back to medium and let everyone have the same amount of food and money.  Amen   -- Ben, age 7

Oh, for the purity of a child's heart. This closing reflection is going to be brief, because it is enough. I am not blind. Today is Pentecost, when the truth-telling Spirit descends and sends preachers into the streets to mix it up with a diverse and wildly mixed up world. I know I have too much. And I know too many have too little. So what's next?

Questions for Today and All the Tomorrows

Can I experience enough as a gift for the rest of my life?
What have I learned about myself in these 28 days of reflection?
What will I do now with what I read and remembered

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Trek Day Twenty-seven

a vision for the church
"I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophecy …" -- from Joel 2:23-29

I am writing this on the same day I am writing my sermon for Pentecost Sunday. The above passage from Joel is assigned by the lectionary every Pentecost. This is the day we celebrate how God poured out the Holy Spirit, creating the Church. And the first thing the Church was asked to do was PREACH.

I am particularly challenged by today's Trek card. Nancy Brubaker writes:

Let us proclaim a vision for people of faith, inspired by the teachings of Jesus...

The vision she then paints is one of Christians the world over ALL living out the claims of the Year of Jubilee in scripture. The redistribution of wealth and land so that all have enough. The voluntary reduction of comfortable incomes so that those who have suffered in poverty are equalized with those who have suffered in affluenza.

Tax collectors come to find out why so many people no longer owe military taxes. Freed from the weight of their former possessions their souls are expanding and their spirits soaring! Compassion, peacemaking and joy are epidemic among them. The Holy Spirit is breaking through even such institutions as racism, class distinctions and patriarchy. Unchurched people are flocking to their fellowships, eager to share in the life of Christ. The creative power of God, the compassion and joy of the Holy Spirit, and the unconditional love of Jesus are pouring out upon people everywhere.

I remember how this vision of the Church captured me heart and soul when I first answered the call to Christian ministry -- when I first said yes to God who called me to be a preacher. I still claim this vision as the truth of the Gospel. Yet, I have found it hard to live it out. The pull of consumer culture is strong, and I feel like Paul, "the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak."

Questions for Today
How am I nurturing the movement of God's Spirit within me?
How do I gain my understanding of what God wants for the world?
What specific things do I think would immediately become noticeably different if all Christians everywhere willingly chose to live out the practices of the Year of Jubilee?

Friday, May 29, 2020

Trek Day Twenty-six

stuck at the high end of the scale
"You are not under law but under grace." - from Romans 6:5-14

Today Susan Mark Landis expresses my own thoughts:

"I want to work toward a more sustainable lifestyle. It will be painful, and I'll experience some guilt along the way. But if I want to make changes that will last the rest of my life, I need to see hope and possibility, not yet another heavy and unbearable burden."

Susan's words reminded me of the favorite Shaker hymn, "'Tis a Gift to Be Simple." How often I make simplicity a chore to accomplish! I remember visiting the Shaker village which is not so far from the seminary I attended in Kentucky. The clean, simple buildings and furniture felt light and airy. The close ties to the natural world and the avoidance of all pretensions to fashion, wealth and influence …  made me want to stay, to live there. And yet, this intentional community died out long ago. (Their gender-divided dorm living and vows of celibacy probably contributed greatly to that outcome.)

How do I bring the spirit of Shaker simplicity into my real life which is complicated by "necessary" technology (good grief, how many more chargers and cables can we shoehorn into this house?), by my obsession with craft supplies, my sentimental attachment to long forgotten toys which belonged to my children … and on and on and on. Even something as simple as our weekly "Covid-run" to the grocery store tempts me to buy things we do not need. There is a tingle of excitement in picking out a "just because" purchase. I want to experience the lightness and freedom of knowing I have what is essential already, and I can enjoy abundant life without stuff.. At the same time, I want to experience the lightness and freedom that comes with not being racked by guilt after every purchase.

David Schrock-Shenk wrote:

We know we can't shame ourselves out of this way of living … we also know too many poorer brothers and sisters around the world to be able to say, "It's too hard. Why bother?"

I believe the Gospel holds the promise of liberation from our wealth. We need to work together to claim that promise. World of Enough is about finding other people who help us shape a model of enough in our own context. Then we live with enough for 30 days. We discover that it is both possible and fun.

One of my personal assignments (assigned by moi) is to create a fun exercise for the thirty days after completing these 28 days of reflection. The exercise will be my vow to God and commitment to myself to bring more joy with less stuff by making specific changes in my behavior for the month of June. June's thirty days will be my living into these reflections. I hope, along the way, to find others who are as eager as I am to live more with less.

Questions for Today
What are five "free" things I truly enjoy doing?
What are five valuable things I own that I don't need anymore and can rehome?
How could I transfer the wealth of those items above to a person living without enough?

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Trek Day Twenty-Five

enough solidarity
"We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish … all ate and were filled." - from Matthew 14:13-21

In today's reflection, Krista-Anne Rigalo recalls her time serving in the capital city Kinshasa, of Democratic Republic of Congo. While she was aware her financial circumstances were far greater than that of those around her, she struggled with not having enough to give in the way she desired. Her volunteer salary of $50 a month left her utterly overwhelmed. She certainly could give a few dollars or a bag of rice, but she found herself repeating aloud and within her own mind, "It's never enough!" She began to wonder why God would bring her to a place where she would witness overwhelming suffering without having the resources needed to respond.

She says, she eventually came to understand how her neighbors there were surviving:
They called it African Solidarity. When you have a little bit, you share. When you're in need, you ask friends and family for help. Everyone gives as they are able, because no one is sure when they will need to ask. ...Now it seems egotistical to think I could or should take on the burdens of the world. I know God brought me here with limited means to participate and suffer with others, as one of many in God's family. I give as I can, and help those in need think how they can share in their turn. If we act together in solidarty with others, there can be enough.

Questions for Today

Do I miss the chance to do what I can because I can't do it all?
Am I reluctant to contribute toward a need my gift cannot completely meet?
What could I do in order to be able to give more to meet the needs of those who do not have enough?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Day Twenty-four

tears of the poor
"Just as you did it to one of the least of these... you did it to me." - from Matthew 25:31-40

From today's Trek card:

The poverty all around us in Vietnam at times convicts us of our relative wealth. It can also become comonplace. Mrs. Ly, a farmer from the rural North, has showed me how insulated from poor people's needs and feelings I can become. On New Year's day, Mrs. Ly and Mrs. Ngoc, a fellow farmer, brought gifts of rice, mung beans and fruit to our office in Hanoi. As we chatted, a beggar stopped at the gate. We remained seated, almost not registering her presence. But Mrs. Ly and Mrs. Ngoc immediately got to their feet, reaching into their pockets for money to give. They, who have so little even compared to the Vietnamese people who cook and clean for us, let along us rich foreigners, were the first and only ones to respond, to give without a second thought. Mrs. Ly had personally experienced some of the hardships this person with the outstretched hands was facing. her response was one of understanding and compassion. As church workers, we seek to be a presence where life is difficult. However, we need people to be present with us as we try to overcome our insulating wealth and privilege to live out Jesus' teachings. We need people like Mrs. Ly to help us connect with poor people whom Jesus calls us to love. No matter how big or small our store of riches, we can give joyfully, freely and in overflowing measure.
-- Betsy Headrick McCrae

Questions for Today

Was there ever a time when I really didn't have enough money?
How did or does this make me eel about people who are wealthier than me?
Do I have a personal relationship with anyone who is struggling to afford the bare necessities of life?
What does my relationship with them add to my understanding of life?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Trek Day Twenty-Three

american meals
"He asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'" - from Luke 10:25-37

From today's Trek card, by Dave Schrock-Shenk:

My American Airlines flight was packed. Passengers from a canceled United Airlines flight had switched to American at the last minute. The pilot addressed us on the intercom: "We're glad we had enough seats for our friends from United. Unfortunately, we don't have enough meals. When the flight attendants come by, tell them if you're 'American,' in which case you'll get dinner, or 'United,' in which case you'll get  a soda." At first I was relieved. I was an "American passenger." I would get supper. Then I thought about my seatmates. Would I share my food with them if they were "United"?
I was relieved when my seatmates told the attendant they were also "American." But, then I started wondering if the people in the seats right behind me got food, and the people behind them. Should I share my food with them? If I started sharing, where would I stop? I didn't turn around to check. As long as I didn't see them, I was able to eat.

I face the temptation "not to look" at the hungry or homeless people in the world. But I know looking away makes me a bit more calloused, and a bit less human. Gaining an awareness of those with too little -- better yet sharing a meal with them -- makes me more human.

Questions for Today
What do I need to help me respond more faithfully to those in need?
When, if ever, do I come face to face with poor people?
How does that happen?
What values and beliefs are reflected by where I choose to live?

Monday, May 25, 2020

Trek Day Twenty-Two

squeezing the balloon?
"Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need." -- from Proverbs 30: 7-9

From today's Trek card:

Viola, a study tour participant from Texas, shared her story with the group that morning. She had worked at a Dockers pants factory in San Antonio until Levi-Straus moved the operation to Central America to get cheaper labor. Since then, Viola had been working with the other laid-off workers to get the benefits Levi-Strauss owed them. Later we left to visit a maquila a factory where Hondurans assemble products for export to the Northern Hemisphere. As we walked into the maquila, tour members were surprised to see a huge Dockers sign at the entrance. During our tour, the plant manager spoke of the benefits the maquila industry brought the hundreds of young men and women bent over their sewing machines, sewing as fast as they could to make their daily quota. During the workers' lunch break, Viola sat in front of a machine identical to the one she had worked on in Texas, remembering the years when she had been happy earning money to support her family. Now, a Central American woman was sitting at her sewing machine, happy to be earning money to support her family. That evening, the group was confused as they processed the day. Viola was struggling to support her family after her layoff. Yet hundreds of Hondurans, while earning wages far below what Viola had earned, were making far more than they had ever earned anywhere else.
-- Daryl Yoder-Bontrager

This week we turn from Enough for Me to Enough for All. We are asked this question: Are we so interconnected with the rest of the world as to be like a balloon that puffs out on one end when it is squeezed on the other?

The financial crisis in the US today is paralleled around the world, as almost every country experiences high unemployment and falling GDP as a result of the global pandemic. Like Viola and the rest of the work team, we may be struggling to process what it all means. Will jobs lost here reappear in other countries? Will some companies completely close and widespread unemployment become the norm?

We are glad that consumption is down and pollution is temporarily slowed. But we are worried that so many families around the world are unsure how they will put food on the table. We are feeling strengthened by the close at hand examples of civic engagement, increased volunteerism, and the outpouring of generosity toward the many Covid-related appeals; yet disheartened by the sometimes selfish and foolhardy behavior of others.

We keep saying, "We're all in this together." As we move forward, we pray for wisdome to see that it will never be enough to settle for "enough for me" without also seeking "enough for all".

Questions for Today

What would need to happen in order to have enough work for both Viola and the woman in Honduras?
Do I know anyone who is out of work today?
Where can I find spiritual resources to navigate the dilemma of all these questions about enough?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Trek Day Twenty-One

take this, it's the best I have
"Mary took a pound of costly perfume ...anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair." - from John 12:1-8

Kathy Ogle tells about her experiences working with a refugee program in Fort Worth, Texas. One day one of the refugees said to her, "We are grateful for the beautiful things people have given us. But people always say, 'Take this. We don't use it anymore.' It feels like they are giving us their throw-away things. That makes us feel bad. In my country we would say, 'Take this. It's the best that I have.'"

She explained that in our culture people often feel awkward about receiving things from others, so we sometimes try to make it seem like the gift isn't really valuable, like the recipient is doing us a favor in taking it. The more she thought about it, the more it raised questions about how we give what we give. She decided to try giving away her "excess" from an honest experience of 'Take this. It's the best that I have." The next time there was a clothing drive, she gave away one of her best blouses. It was hard. She really liked it! Then she reflected on her time spent in other cultures. A home where the household's only chicken was killed and served to her for a meal. The times when the only or best chair was where she was expected to sit as they all sat on the floor or stood.

It is a challenge to grow as a giver, as we follow the Giver of all life. Remembering how Jesus praised Mary for the costly, freely given gift of love, we are humbled to realize how often we cling tightly to what we could release in love for others.

Questions for Today

When have I most joyfully given to someone in need?
What allowed me to give so joyfully?
Does the idea of reducing my use of things feel freeing or restrictive?
Are there others who are good examples to me of the generous, fulfilled life?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Trek Day Twenty

growing corn
"prosper the work of our hands!" -nfrom Psalm 90:13-17

Dave Schrock-Shenk tells of  a global service-learning tour to a Mexican farm. A North American member of the tour group asked many questions, then calculated the labor costs paid by the Mexican farmer to the local women who were weeding the corn. Then he asked how much he paid to rent the field and maintain the plow. Knowing the local cost of corn, he realized the farmer was paying as much to grow his own corn as he would to just buy the finished product at the market from a larger grower. The tour member asked, "Why do you bother growing it?" The farmer gazed at his beautiful fields and his neighbors working together, then looked back at the visitor, confused. Schenk says,

Although one man spoke Spanish and the other English, it was not language that separated them, but their different views of life. The North American used numbers to evaluate corn as a finished product. The Mexican farmer valued the experience of growing corn for the way it maintained his relationships with people in his village, preserved the way of life handed down to him and allowed him the physical sensation and beauty of working in his cornfield.

Questions for Today

Who grows the food I eat?
How far does my food travel to get to my plate?
Are there ways I can strengthen by relationship with local growers 
who are giving their all to build a more sustainable and just food system in my area?