Saturday, June 18, 2011

Four hours of service and sweat in the Lower Ninth Ward

On Thursday afternoon, I spent four hours doing some basic clean-up, beautification and restoration work in the Lower Ninth Ward with the FTE group. (If you are confused about what FTE is or what I am doing in NOLA this week, read my previous post here.)

You are probably asking yourself, what difference could I possibly make doing four measly hours of community service in the city of NOLA. Don't worry, I asked the question myself! I am still not sure if I have an answer to that question, but I am going to try anyway.

We worked with a group called the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. These guys are doing some great work in NOLA, addressing problems of poverty, racism and oppression at a grassroots and systemic level. They work with residents on their houses and do neighborhood clean-ups, but they are also working at a systemic level trying to break the cycle of poverty by getting the city involved, creating sustainable housing projects, and doing lots of other great things. You can read more about this organization by clicking here.

We met up with them in the sanctuary of a tiny Baptist church in the Lower Ninth Ward. They explained to our group of fifty volunteers that we would be helping to clean up the streets a bit, work that the city just doesn't have the resources or manpower to do. We were issued saws, hedge-trimmers, grass clippers, work gloves and lots of sturdy garbage bags. The team of 50 FTE volunteers was being led by some employees of the the organization as well as some residents of the Lower Ninth who just have a heart and passion for seeing their neighborhood transformed and rebuilt. Both groups had some pretty powerful stories to share.

We hit the streets and started cleaning, picking up trash, trimming trees and hedges, and cutting overgrown grass in the medians and around the sidewalks. We walked down a divided boulevard that had two lanes of traffic and a 30 foot wide median down the middle with trees and shrubs that needed some help. Keep in mind the temperature was 98 degrees and the humidity was over 80 percent, so the heat index was about 110 degrees!

As I was working, hacking some dead limbs off of a tree, a woman drove up next to me and started to talk to me. She told me that her name is Angela and she lives in the neighborhood and said that a block down there is a huge bush in the median that blocks the view of the oncoming traffic. Angela said she had called the city four times and asked them to trim it. She asked me if I could go down there and trim it for her so that she can see the traffic in the mornings as she is turning out on the street to drive to work. I wandered down there and took out a large portion of the bush to open up the view for traffic. Angela was so grateful for the help, she drove by an hour later and thanked me.

Here you encounter a form of systemic oppression. The City of New Orleans is continuing to suffer following Katrina and the flooding. Their tax base is way down and city services just aren't what they used to be. However if you drive through some of the nicer sections of the city, the streets are kept up very well, the trees are trimmed, and there are no bushes blocking the view of traffic. As the residents told us, “The city just doesn't come down here.” It is amazing to see very real examples of this happening.

Another group a few blocks down was asked to clear out a vacant lot. They worked hard for a few hours hacking away weeds that were over six feet tall. It was a lot where a house had been that was literally ripped off of its foundation during Katrina. After a few hours they discovered a sidewalk beneath them. There was something deeply theological about working hard and uncovering a “safe passage” for the residents that was hidden beneath the weeds and overgrowth.

The experience was not without its frustration. Many of our volunteers were walking down the street picking up trash in the medians, on the sidewalk and in the gutters, only to have a resident walk by and throw down more trash. It definitely caused the group to pause and ponder if the work that we were doing had any real impact. If the local residents don't seem to care enough about keeping their own neighborhood clean, what good are we doing by walking through and helping to clean up?

I look at some of the residents who are so despondent because of the conditions, so trapped in the cycle of poverty that they have lost nearly all of their hope. Does my presence there make a difference for those residents? Do they get any hope out of walking out of their houses and seeing a cleaner street with trimmed trees? Does this kind of work have any sort of a lasting impact? I don't know that I have answers to those questions. I do know that Angela will be able to get to work more safely in the morning because I trimmed back that bush. You have to start somewhere.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hanging out in New Orleans with a bunch of aspiring pastors. . .

I arrived in New Orleans (NOLA) on Wednesday afternoon for the Fund for Theological Education (FTE) Ministry Fellowship conference. I haven't been to NOLA since I was 12 years old, very “pre-Katrina,” and that was a visit with my family.

As we left the airport and boarded the bus to go from the airport to Dillard University where the conference is being hosted, I was assaulted with the heat and humidity of the Southern summer. Riding through the traffic on the freeway, I looked out the window wondering if I would catch glimpses of the damage and recovery from Hurricane Katrina. We exited the freeway and were stopped at a red light and I saw a person on the side of the road “panhandling.” He had written some illegible words on a sign he was holding that I couldn't read. But I caught a glimpse of the back of the sign which used to hang at an apartment complex and read “The American Dream, for rent now!” I was struck by the completely contradictory message, this guy was definitely not experiencing the American Dream standing on that corner in the oppressive heat and humidity.

We are staying at Dillard University in the Gentilly District, which was flooded out following Katrina. The area is not totally recovered and you can still see vestiges of the damage and destruction that happened six years ago.

I wasn't too sure what to expect with the conference or with my time in New Orleans. The FTE is designed to call young leaders to renew the church. I am one of 100 fellowship recipients who is here for a week to pause, reflect, learn some new skills and put together an action plan regarding what my role is in renewing the church.

Our first full day here we started with a meeting with three faith-based community leaders in NOLA who are working, each in their own way, to empower the residents and rebuild the city. We got to hear about each of their own experiences, each of their call stories that brought them to NOLA post-Katrina, and the work that they are doing with their respective organizations. After their talk, we all loaded into buses to tour the city.

I was initially concerned about the city tour, it felt a little bit like poverty and disaster tourism. Here we were, sitting comfortably in our padded seats on an air-conditioned bus, driving around a city that is still recovering from the hurricane and flooding that hit the city 70 months ago. In many of the neighborhood we visited houses are still abandoned and there are many slab foundations where the houses just floated away. There is still a great deal of poverty effecting the city, and the unemployment rate is still very high, so there are a lot of residents who are sitting outside on their porches or in the empty lots, watching the tour buses pass by. Some wave and smile, some ignore, and some are appropriately frustrated by these tour buses.

So I was a bit uncomfortable with what we were doing. But then we stopped at a Baptist church where four pastors from across the city were waiting for us. They shared with us each of their experiences, what state of recovery their churches were in, and what they continue to do to serve their city and the people of their city. Then we headed over to a Methodist church and heard their story, which was inspiring and amazing. You see, this church was two churches before Katrina, a historically black church a historically white church. Following the storm, both churches had been flooded and lost members and both were struggling and no longer viable. They were forced to come together and join forces, and from it has emerged one of the highest functioning, authentic, multi-cultural churches I have encountered, very powerful stuff. It is a living and vibrant church that is serving God is a profound way.

After that we drove to another neighborhood and saw a predominantly Korean Catholic church that has been instrumental in the rebuilding process. We heard about how quickly they were able to get organized following the storm, providing space and logistical support for FEMA and other non-profits that were assisting in disaster relief. Finally we ended our tour at a church in the Lower 9th Ward that is in a converted Walgreens drugstore. Apparently after the store flooded following the storm, Walgreens decided it was not viable to rebuild their store and serve the residents. So the store sat empty but the parking lot became a hub of activity for the Episcopalian church, serving residents with a medical van, food pantry, distribution of cleaning supplies, and other very basic services. Finally the church inquired about the property and was able to clean it up and convert it into a church.

Powerful story after powerful story was washing over me and the other fellows, immersing us, flooding us with stories of hope emerging from the disaster. THIS is the work of the church in the world. THIS is being the hands and feet of Jesus. THIS is ministry. And this must be why we are here, developing our leadership skills and contemplating what our roles are in renewing the church.

We spent the afternoon working in the Lower 9th Ward, but I will save that for the next blog post. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Prayer for strength in providing comfort and healing

Just found a great prayer in a book of prayers at the hospital library. This is perfect for anyone working to provide comfort and healing and especially poignant for my job this summer as a hospital chaplain:

May I reach that purest heaven,
Be to other souls the cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardour, feed pure love,
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in diffusion ever more intense!
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world.

-George Eliot, English Novelist, 1880

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What is CPE? Where are Greg, Jessica and Esther this summer?

I just completed my first week of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). What that means is that I am spending the summer serving as a hospital chaplain.

Jessica, Esther and I packed up our bags and moved to Olympia, WA for the summer where I am doing my CPE at St. Peter Hospital, which is the hospital where Jessica was born 30-something years ago. Life has a strange way of coming full circle.

We could have stayed in Austin, TX for the summer where I could have done my CPE at a local hospital, or taken Greek at the seminary, but when the opportunity presented itself to get out of the Texas heat and humidity for the summer, we couldn't get here fast enough. We are staying with Jessica's mom and Jessica and Esther are spending lots of quality time with her mom and dad.

CPE is a bizarre experience. After one year of seminary education, and 33 years of life experience, I am being thrust into some of the most painful, grief-filled, life-altering moments of the lives of patients and their families.

I am one of four students who are doing this chaplaincy internship this summer. One of the students is a first-year seminary student like me from an Episcopalian seminary, one student is a lay pastor in the Lutheran church, and the fourth student is an Air Force chaplain. There are two women and two men in our group and we range in age from mid 20s to mid 50s with each decade represented.

Our first week has consisted mostly of orientation. It is kind of like drinking from a fire hose, I am absorbing some of the information (getting my thirst quenched), but there is also a lot flying past me and I am getting drenched. The orientation to the hospital environment has been interesting. I have not spent a lot of time in hospitals in the past, so I am getting used to the sterile, clinical environment with the tile floors and bright lighting. St. Peters, like most hospitals, has been added on to over the years which makes it like a giant labyrinth. By Friday I pretty much had my bearings and could navigate around.

As Chaplain interns we have a strange, dual role. We are unpaid volunteers, but at the same time we are treated like staff. This hospital has been running the internship program for over 10 years, so the hospital staff is accustomed to the CPE students and generally treats them like the staff chaplains.

The hospital has a core of four full-time chaplains on staff, which is unusual and shows a strong commitment from the hospital administration for spiritual care of its patients, their families and the employees. Between the four staff chaplains, they have more than 100 years of combined experience as hospital chaplains, and they embrace the CPE students and take them under their wings. I feel so blessed to be working a hospital with such a seasoned chaplain core that is excited to share their wisdom and experience with us.

We have toured each of the units of the hospital with the staff chaplains and have tried to get a sense of what kinds of calls the chaplains get and what we might be able to expect. Starting next week, they turn us loose in the hospital and we start to field calls from the units. Monday night, I will be on call so if there are any requests for a chaplain from a patient, a family, or the nurses or staff of the hospital, I will be the one taking the call and responding. Am I ready for that? Can you ever be ready to meet a family who has lost or is losing a child, a mother, father, brother, sister or sit with a patient who is dying or be present when a trauma comes in to the emergency room? I think the answer to that question is no.

I am anxious, nervous, but also feeling a strong desire to do this. It is such a unique privilege to be with families and patients at these times, and I feel honored to share those moments, work to provide comfort, and acknowledge the presence of God in those situations.

Last night (Thursday), I attended a support group of parents who had lost children at birth. I sat around a table with couples who had experienced a loss that I could not even fathom. One couple had lost a child just a week and a half earlier, one had lost a child six months ago, and two couples were grieving the loss of children ten years ago. The grief in the room was palpable, tears were flowing, and people were actively mourning. This group is led by one of the grieving parents who serves as a facilitator. I probably learned more about grieving in this 2 hour session than I could have reading thousands of pages in a book or spending months in a classroom setting. The parents were so generous and kind by letting my observe and learn. They offered me advice as a chaplain, what had been said to them that was helpful, what had been said to them that was not helpful, and what had been said to them that was downright hurtful. They told me how much they appreciated my presence there and my desire to work as a pastor and chaplain, but I was the one who felt truly honored to be there and for them to let me participate and learn.

I have been riding my bike to and from the hospital, it is about 7 miles away from where I am staying. My bike ride home was a great opportunity for me to reflect and start to process my own reactions and feelings after spending time with these parents. I am told that much of the CPE experience involves a lot of introspection, digging deep and figuring out why I am responding the way that I am, what experiences in my own life I am drawing from to offer comfort, and doing a lot of self and soul searching. After last night, I am starting to understand why that is important.

Providing comfort to people at critical moments in their lives is something I am really looking forward to learning about. The strength of the parents who I met last night comes from sources that I cannot begin to comprehend. I pray that I will be able to do things to help people in their grieving process, whether that is providing comfort, an outlet for anger, or an acknowledgment of hope.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Praying for peace and unity in the Presbyterian church. . .

For those who haven't heard by now, the Presbyterian Church PC(USA), has passed an ammendment to our constitution called 10-A. It opens the doors for Presbyteries (at their discretion) to ordain homosexual pastors as well as pastors who are single and in a relationship but not married. At the highest level, the change in language is: ‘Submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ’ which replaced ‘fidelity and chastity’. If you want to learn more about this, there are some links below:
Article from the PC(USA) Website:
Article from the New York Times:
Article from NPR:

This has created some difficult and sometimes divisive conversations within the PC(USA). As most of you know, I am attending a Presbyterian seminary, so these conversations are happening here too, in our classrooms, in our chapel, in our cafeterian and common areas, and on-line.

A few weeks before this passed, I co-wrote an article in our student newspaper with one of my classmates calling for unity, civility, and recognition of our shared humanity. Below is the article. I welcome your feedback:

Civility, dialogue and listening: Reflections on the first year experience

by: Greg Allen-Pickett and Barrett Abernethy

We were reflecting on our first year at APTS and one word came to mind: blessed. We are blessed to be at an institution that upholds civility and dialogue and teaches us how to be active listeners. We have experienced this both inside and outside the classroom.

We are also blessed to be part of a unique and diverse junior class that contributes to a unique and diverse dialogue both in and out of the classroom. Just last week in Systematic Theology 2, Dave Jensen implored us to break bread with someone we don't like. He said in principle and in practice it is important to break bread with those who irritate us. Through breaking bread, sharing a meal, we are able to see the underlying humanity of even our strongest ideological foe. We are able to recognize that we are connected through that humanity and through our faith and despite our differences, we can learn and grow together. We may never come to agreement on a particular issue, but we can hear each other out, engage in civil dialogue, and learn from one another.

We feel blessed to be learning at a seminary that started the Queer Alliance just a few short months ago and are excited to see the traction that the group has gained through argyle day, the shower of stoles, the Kairos last week, and the service we celebrated on Wednesday. As Amendment 10a is working its way through the Presbyteries, and our denomination along with many other denominations and churches are debating and struggling with these issues, we feel blessed to be at a place where we can share a civil dialogue about it and actively listen to all voices.

We feel blessed to be at an institution with students that don't agree with Amendment 10a or gay marriage, that our collective shoulders are broad enough to support people on both sides of this issue. It is through difference of opinion and belief and through open and honest dialogue that we can learn, grow and flourish. Even if our differences don't always end in agreement, the dialogue itself, and the people engaged in the dialogue have intrinsic value.

We feel blessed because we are learning how God works through the multi-faceted expressions of faith by people who have opinions or viewpoints that are different from our own. We are learning that someone reading the same Bible as us can come to a different conclusion, and while we may not agree with that conclusion, we are still brothers and sisters in Christ and ultimately we are doing our best to live out what that means individually and collectively. Though we may fundamentally disagree at times, a monologue of thought only leads to fideism, and we at APTS proudly stand and shout Fides Quaerens Intelectum!

Austin Seminary prides itself in preparing its students for parish ministry. What better reflection of parish ministry is there than an environment that has diverse viewpoints, and what better skills to learn while we are here than learning how to navigate those viewpoints with the civility, dialogue and active listening that we are learning right here and right now.

We issue a plea to the APTS community to acknowledge these blessings and to ground their agreements and disagreements in love and recognition of our shared humanity and faith.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dispatch from Seminary

Photo of the families of the seminary visiting the Austin Zoo

Below is an update about our lives in Seminary. . . Enjoy!

Things continue to go great for the Allen-Pickett family here in Austin!

My classes and professors this semester are phenomenal on the whole. Systematic Theology 2 has been great as we have wrestled with theologians Schleiermacher, and Barth as well as Liberation Theology and Process Theology. My Intro to Worship professor, Jen Lord, has so much energy and excitement for worship that it is contagious. In New Testament, after spending a few weeks on the gospels and studying the Historical Jesus, we are making our way through the Pauline Letters. Our New Testament professor asks provocative questions and then sits back and smiles as we wrestle with them. Hebrew has been a little bit of a struggle, but I think I am starting to turn the corner. I have exam next week that I am hard at work studying for.

Outside of my classes, we are very active in the life of the seminary. I am participating in an immigration/prison ministry group where I go and visit detained immigrants who are awaitng their hearings for asylum or deportation. Jessica and I are playing on the Austin Seminary kickball team and we made the playoffs! Jessica has revived the Spouses group on campus and they are meeting regularly and planning to build a community garden. She is also a member of the Campus Care Committee. Esther is growing up so fast too! She is 16 months old and loves being on campus. She comes to lunch in the cafeteria and wanders around socializing with everyone. (I can't imagine where she got that from.) There are six other toddlers on campus under the age of 3, so she has some great playmates.

Outside of the seminary I am helping out at a small bi-lingual Presbyterian church called El Buen Pastor. I help lead worship there 1-2 times per month as the liturgist and prayer leader and I am preaching there quarterly when the Pastor takes his days off. I get to keep up with my Spanish skills as all of my prayers, scripture readings and sermons are done in English and Spanish. It is a small church with Sunday attendance around 50-60, but there are always at least 10-15 kids in each service and Esther fits right in as she wanders up and down the aisles greeting people with a hearty "hola."

We are really enjoying the city of Austin as well! We went to the Rodeo last month and had a great time. It is fun to wander down on 6th street and hear all of the live music. And if any of you come to visit us during the warmer months, we can't wait to take you to Barton Springs, a natural "cool springs" that is a great place to take a swim. Jessica and Esther also have a playgroup that they participate in twice a week outside of campus. It has been great for Esther to socialize with other babies and it is great for Jessica to build community with other like-minded moms. Once a quarter they have a family play-date where they invite all the dads too, so we are building some great community there.

We are really loving our lives here in Austin, but we continue to miss our family and friends in Denver. We will be back in Denver May 23-31 and hope to visit a lot of you then. Thank you again for your support of our family and all of your thoughts and prayers. We are loving our journey and the opportunity to prepare ourselves to serve God's church!

Much Love,

Greg, Jessica and Esther

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Great quote about letting your light shine as a Christian, and the Newsboys song too!

"We do not convince others by telling them loudly how wrong they are and how right we are. We convince them by showing them a light so lovely they will want with all their hearts to know the source of it."
– Madeleine L'Engle

One of my favorite Newsboys songs of all time is "Shine"

Below you can watch the video and read the lyrics, but it speaks to this great quote. Shine on my friends, show them a light so lovely that they will want with all of their hearts to know the source of it!!!!!

dull as dirt
you can´t assert the kind of light
that might persuade
a strict dictator to retire
fire the army
teach the poor origami
the truth is in
the proof is when
you hear your heart start asking,
"What´s my motivation?"

and try as you may, there isn´t a way
to explain the kind of change
that would make an Eskimo renounce fur
that would make a vegetarian barbecue hamster
unless you can trace this about-face
to a certain sign...

make ´em wonder what you´ve got
make ´em wish that they were not
on the outside looking bored
let it shine before all men
let´em see good works, and then
let ´em glorify the Lord

out of the shaker and onto the plate
it isn´t Karma
it sure ain´t fate
that would make a Deadhead sell his van
that would make a schizophrenic turn in his crayons
Oprah freaks
and science seeks a rationale
that shall excuse
this strange behavior

when you let it shine
you will inspire
the kind of entire turnaround
that would make a bouncer take ballet
(even bouncers who aren´t happy)
but out of the glare
with nowhere to turn
you ain´t gonna learn it on "What´s My Line?"

make ´em wonder what you´ve got
make ´em wish that they were not
on the outside looking bored
let it shine before all men
let´em see good works, and then
let ´em glorify the Lord

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Great Prayer to bless your home and say with your family

Photo of a door in Antigua, Guatemala taen by Angela Duggan on the Wellshire Youth Mission Trip Summer 2010

O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship; narrow enough to shut out all envy pride and strife, Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children nor straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter's power. God make the door of this house the gateway to thine eternal kingdom.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Sermon I preached about being God's own fool!

The New Testament Scriptures from the Lectionary for the sermon this week:
Matthew 5:38-48

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile."

So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

What is Paul telling us when he writes his letter to the Corinthians? He writes, Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.

Why does Paul say this? Why is our worldly wisdom foolishness to God and why does God's wisdom look foolish to the world? I think those questions are answered in the passage we read from Matthew and that Alex talked about.

Close your eyes and try to imagine yourself back during the time of Jesus. Imagine walking around the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps you were a fisherman, perhaps you were a tax collector, maybe you stayed at home and took care of the house and the children.

One day you start to hear a buzz. At first it is just your neighbor saying, “Did you hear about that guy who is healing people, performing miracles? I think he is a magician.” As the weeks go on you hear more and more people talking about that guy. He spends his time wandering around, healing the sick, raising people from the dead, and saying some of the strangest things. People have referred to him as “Emmanuel” or the “Messiah.” Average people, just like yourselves, think that he might be the savior, the one who fulfills the prophecies in the Old Testament. Other people think he is just a crazy man. Some think he is an outlaw or a con man. But there are a lot of people talking about him.

He is saying some of the craziest and most foolish things! He is turning the whole social order on its head. Everything that we have come to accept as normal when it comes to religion, purity, cleanliness and following the law, how we treat people, especially those who are different from us, it is all being called into question by this foolish man.

I call him foolish because he is really upsetting things around here. Our religious leaders, the priests, scribes and pharisees, are following him around, and writing down what he is saying just to be able to use it against him when they take him to religious court or throw him to the Roman authorities. And he is saying some pretty crazy things!

Just this past week he gave a sermon, they called it the “Sermon on the mount.” Thousands gathered from all around. He stood on a hill on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum. Everyone listened intently to what he was saying, some were believers and followers, some were curious, and like I said earlier, some of them were really angry about what he was saying and what it meant, they were there too.

I don't have time today to go over the whole sermon with you, but the last part was pretty profound. This man called Jesus would take a law or a saying from the Old Testament, which is the law that all of the religious people follow and the law that helps us keep order in our towns and cities. And he would repeat that law, and then completely flip it around! For example, he said, “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' That is right from the book of Leviticus, our book of laws in our holy scriptures. That law was written and is followed to provide a sense of order and justice. And then this Jesus fellow said, “But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Whoa! This is some pretty revolutionary stuff. Rather than equal justice for wrongdoing, if someone in power over me does something wrong to me, I am supposed to look them in the eye, force them to acknowledge my humanity, and offer them my other cheek. If someone wants to take my coat, I am supposed to offer them my shirt as well? And if a Roman soldier forces me to carry his pack for 1 mile, I am supposed to carry it for 2?!?!? This throws all the power out of balance and doesn't seem to make any sense!

Then he went on to say, Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Well, if I do that I will go broke. Why should I do that? I have worked hard for my money, and now this guy is just telling me to give it away? This seems like utter foolishness. Apparently to follow this guy, we have to just throw caution to the wind. We have to give up ourselves, give up everything that we know and understand, give up all of our laws and social order to follow him. That is scary, only a fool would do that.

Then it starts to get really foolish! Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy, once again quoting from the Old Testament. Then he revises it by saying, But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

This is just crazy talk! I don't know why he would be asking me to love my enemies and pray for people who are mean to me. Really, what does he expect here. This is just asking too much. He points out that God provides to all no matter how good or bad they are, but I am not God. Is he really calling me to try and act more like God? Ahhh.

You see, being a Christian means really rejecting the order of this world and embracing an order that advances the kingdom of God. It is utter foolishness to those who stand outside and watch our behavior, it looks crazy. But the more we begin to embrace this life, the more we realize that the ways of THIS world, the ways that break people down and don't build up the kingdom, are actually foolish.

The very way that Jesus came and the message that he was preaching was perceived as total foolishness at the time, and it can even seem foolish today. Let's think about this. If a king was coming today, would that king come as a poor wandering carpenter's son or as a mighty military ruler? It is utter foolishness to say that a king would be humble, kings have to be proud by their very nature. But Jesus showed us a new way, a new kind of leadership. We call that servant leadership.

Servant leadership sounds foolish. Don't those words contradict each other? How can you lead and serve at the same time, doesn't a leader need people to follow him, servants? But Jesus showed us it was not only possible, but it is the most effective form of leadership our world has ever known. Jesus took an authentic and keen interest in the lives of the people who were following him. He worked to make sure their needs were met, even before his own. In a cut-throat world of competition, this seems counter-intuitive, even foolish! But it worked and it even works today.

I went to a small college for my undergraduate education, Pacific Lutheran University. We had a football team that won the national championship during my senior year. The whole team was built around the idea of servant leadership. The coaches and the captains were the leaders and they were very well respected, but as part of their leadership, they cared about the people who were following them. And it wasn't a surface level care, they cared very deeply. They even cared about their opponents and after every play they would stop and help up the people they had just knocked down. Many of the people watching this thought it was just crazy, it was foolish to waste that extra effort to help out the opposing team, it was foolish to pray for them when they were hurt, it was foolish for the coaches, captains and seniors on the team to carry the bags of the first year guys on the team. Reporters from newspapers, TV stations, even Sports Illustrated, came to watch this team and how it functioned under this model of “servant leadership.” They call came away scratching their heads. This didn't make sense to them, it was foolish. But that foolishness of servant leadership led to a national championship. The coach of the team, Frosty Westering, is the 9th winningest football coach in the United States, and he won four national titles and has been inducted into the college football hall of fame with his model of “servant leadership.” Coach Westering understood the message of Paul and understood the teachings of Jesus. The world's wisdom tells us to be aggressive, cut-throat, and vicious. And they would say a model of servant-leadership is foolishness. But Coach Westering knew that the real foolishness is in aggressive leadership. God's wisdom, taught to us through the example of Jesus Christ, is to be a servant leader. It may seem foolish to the rest of the world, but it is truly wise.

So we learn what true leadership is, a carpenter's son humbly going around and taking care of people. And Jesus didn't stop there. Many leaders are ruthless tyrants, killing people to advance and to hold on to their power. Jesus flipped the whole thing on its head and humbled himself to the point of death, a humiliating death on a cross. This was true servant leadership, but it was the exact opposite of what the world thinks of as good leadership. Jesus pointed out that worldly leadership is foolish and his form of leadership was really wise, but the world would try to tell us differently.

There is a song written about this called “God's own fool.” I am not going to sing it for you today, that would be foolish and none of you want to hear that. But I would like to read you the lyrics as a poem, a prayer, something for us all to meditate on:

Seems I've imagined Him all of my life, As the wisest of all of mankind
But if God's Holy wisdom is foolish to man, He must have seemed out of His mind
Even His family said He was mad, And the priest said a demon's to blame
But, God in the form of this angry young man, Could not have seemed perfectly sane

We in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
We in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong
So we follow God's own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable, come be a fool as well

So come lose your life for a carpenter's son, For a madman who died for a dream
And You'll have the faith His first followers had, And you'll feel the weight of the beam
So surrender the hunger to say you must know, Find the courage to say I believe
For the power of paradox opens your eyes, And blinds those who say they can see

So I put this challenge to each of you. The next time you have to make a decision, whether it is a big one or a small one, and you are trying to figure out how to make the best decision possible, think about using God's wisdom to make that decision, not the wisdom of the world. Become God's own fool just like Jesus and make your decision based upon the example that was set before us. Amen.

Servant Leadership - The PLU Football team and Frosty Westering

I mentioned the PLU football team and Frosty Westering in a sermon I preached last week. I wanted to share these video clips about Frosty and the team that demonstrate what true Servant Leadership looks like. The first video is a 3 minute teaser for an upcoming movie. The second video is is about 5 minutes long and gets more in-depth with Frosty's legacy and his philosophy of servant leadership with some interviews of other coaches. Enjoy!

More Than Champions - Teaser from One_Space Films on Vimeo.

Frosty - Legacy from One_Space Films on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

10 Years of Wedded Bliss!!!!!

Jessica and I are celebrating our 10 year anniversary on February 24! A few years ago I came up with this acrostic, the ABCs of a happy marriage. I was inspired to update it for our 10 year anniversary. Below you can read my advice as a married man of 10 years. . . enjoy!

Some wisdom/advice after 10 amazing years of marriage:

-APPRECIATE your partner; appreciate everything that s/he does for you and for the relationship from the daily mundane of unloading the dishwasher or picking up the dirty clothes to the big stuff like supporting you when you get laid off or your family is falling apart. ALWAYS express that appreciation.

-BE there to support your partner. Sometimes that means just listening at the end of the day. Jessica doesn't always want me to solve her problems, sometimes she just wants to get them off her chest.

-CUDDLE. Physical contact has amazing powers of healing and connection.

-DELIGHT in each other. Really take joy in your partner and look forward to the time you get to spend together.

-EAT meals together. You really have to be intentional about this. Sit at the table and turn off the TV, the cell phones, the facebook. Look into each other's eyes, hold each other's hands and connect over the breaking of bread together. There is something sacramental about sharing a meal together.

-FIGHT FAIR. Sounds strange, but be comfortable with having disagreements and arguing about it. That is healthy. But don't bring up past events and don't keep something bottled up inside until you blow up. Bring it up when it makes you mad, fight about it, but fight fair.

-GO on dates. Again, be intentional about this, but make the time and space to reconnect. It doesn't have to cost a lot, but it has to be an intentional time for the two of you to do nothing but focus on the two of you.

-HOLD HANDS. Back to that amazing power of physical contact.

-INVEST in the relationship. A good relationship is truly an investment of time and energy, but it is so worth it. Small, intentional investments in the relationship can pay long-term dividends.

-JOVIALITY Staying cheerful to each other in spite of what life may throw at you

-KINETIC. We are always in motion, but working at moving together. Synchronize your actions.

-LINE-ITEM VETO. Ok, this may take a little explanation, blame the political scientist in me. When your spouse is critiquing or criticizing part of an idea you have, don't immediately get defensive and take it as a criticism of you or of your whole idea. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt and allow them a "line-item veto" while not undermining or feeling criticized about your idea as a whole or you as a person.

-MIND YOUR Ps AND Qs. Just because you are comfortable with your spouse, that doesn't give you the right to stop being polite, saying please and thank you, and being respectful

-NOSTALGIC. Don't forget the good times. When the going gets tough, it becomes easy to focus on the negative, but be nostalgic for all the positive parts of your relationship and work to recreate those

-OPEN-MINDED to the possibilities God may have for you and your partner.

-PRAY together, and pray specifically for your relationship, even when it is going well, don't forget to thank God for that.

-QUEEN, treat her like one, not the band, the royalty

-ROAM together. Traveling together strengthens a relationship

-SIMPLICITY. The most important relationship in the world is the two of you. It is that simple.

-TAKE TIME for each other and your relationship. This is a recurring theme, but be intentional about building, supporting and protecting your relationship by making and taking time for it.

-UNDERSTANDING is so key. Really work to understand your partner and what s/he needs from you to be the best s/he can be. Then provide that.

-VENTURE to new places and try new things together. Keep it fresh by sharing new experiences together and build your life around what you learn about yourself and each other from those experiences

-WAIT for each other. Sometimes you and your partner will not arrive at the same place together, so be patient and wait for each other. (both metaphorically and physically) Also, WAIT ON each other, serve your partner with no expectation of anything except for the joy you should get from serving your partner.

-XOXOXOXO Lots of hugs and kisses, need I say more?

-YEARN for each other. Yearn for the success of your partner, the happiness of your partner and the love of your partner. Yearn together.

-ZANINESS. Described as foolishness or passion, be comfortable being a passionate fool for your partner.

In the "better half" equation, there is no doubt that Jessica is my "better half." She moderates me in a good way and loves me more than I could ever hope for. Thanks for 10 great years, and here is to 100 more!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Being a fool for God

I have the privilege of preaching this week at El Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church here in Austin along with my seminary classmate Alex Cornell. El Buen Pastor is a bilingual church and so there is typically a 15 minute sermon in Spanish and a 15 minute sermon in English. During Advent, Alex and I preached together, I did the Spanish and Alex did the English. This time we are switching roles.

The lectionary texts for this week are rich and full of potential sermon topics. I am going to be preaching on 1 Corinthians 3:18-23:
3:18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.
3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness,"
3:20 and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile."
3:21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours,
3:22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all belong to you,
3:23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
I will post my sermon text next week, but as I prepared for this sermon, I remembered one of my favorite Michael Card songs, "God's Own Fool." Below are the lyrics and I would encourage you to meditate on them like a prayer. You can listen to the song with the embedded video below too. Enjoy!

Gods Own Fool lyrics

Seems I've imagined Him all of my life, As the wisest of all of mankind
But if God's Holy wisdom is foolish to man, He must have seemed out of His mind
Even His family said He was mad, And the priest said a demon's to blame
But, God in the form of this angry young man, Could not have seemed perfectly sane

We in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
We in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong
So we follow God's own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable, come be a fool as well

So come lose your life for a carpenter's son, For a madman who died for a dream
And You'll have the faith His first followers had, And you'll feel the weight of the beam
So surrender the hunger to say you must know, Find the courage to say I believe
For the power of paradox opens your eyes, And blinds those who say they can see

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Coincidence, Luck or God's Divine Providence

 The work team on the short-term HWI/ADU Mission Trip to Guatemala

In August of 2010, I led a short-term mission trip for Healing Waters International to Guatemala. Leading these trips was one of the most favorite parts of my job when I worked for Healing Waters.

During one of the days on the trip I was having a great conversation with one of the participants. She talked about something that happened on the trip, or something that brought her to Guatemala that was a great coincidence. Immediately the words, "God doesn't do coincidence" slipped out of my mouth. I don't know why I said it and it wasn't a concious thought, I just kind of blurted it out.
Chatting with the work team about "coincidence vs. providence"

During the rest of the trip and in the months since then, I have reflected on this phrase a lot. "God doesn't do coincidence." This really speaks to the idea of God's providence, which is a fancy word for guardianship, power, control and care that is exercised by God. The Princeton Dictionary online defines it as, "a manifestation (demonstration) of God's foresightful care for his creatures"

By acknowledging an event as God's Providence instead of as a coincidence or luck, we are able to shift the focus from us to Him. We are acknowledging a God who cares for us deeply and personally enough to show us that care in our every day lives.

At a high level I am reminded of this through my "career path." To an outsider, it looks a lot less like a path and a lot more like a zig-zagging, switchback trail that is all over the place. But putting it into the God's providence perspective, it becomes a straight road, almost a super-highway. I spent 3 years working in private industry and developed some valuable business skill-sets. I spent 4 years working as an academic advisor and professor at at University which taught me project management, counseling and life-coaching as well as teaching and public speaking. I spent 3 years with Healing Waters, doing development projects in Latin America where I used my business skill sets and my project management skill sets. In my job at Healing Waters I also grew in my faith to prepare to come to seminary where I am using all of my skills and experiences in preparing to become a pastor. I was reminded of this throughout my application process and decision to come to seminary as well. Over and over again there were signs and affirmations pointing me and my family to come here.God's divine providence has been at work in my life.

When I was home in Denver last month, I was reminded again. This is going to sound like a silly example of God's providence, but hear me out. We were visiting with our tenants in our house that we are renting out. While we were there visiting our house, I heard the heater in the house mis-firing. I knew the sound well from the time we had lived in the house, and I knew how to fix it. The timing of the problem, and the fact that we were physically there in Denver, IN THE HOUSE, when the problem occured goes way beyond coincidence. I was able to fix the problem, the tenants in our house were able to stay warm during a very cold week, and we saved having to call a heater repair company and the $150 service call. My neighbors remarked about how fortuitous it was that we were there at that moment. But I really believe it was not luck or coincidence, it was God's providence. It is evidence of a God who demonstrates foresightful care for his creatures.

To close out this blog post, I tried to do a search for "Providence Prayers" on google. Most everything that came up was Catholic prayers. I will save a discussion of denominational differences for another day, but I do think we can learn something from our Catholic brothers and sisters when it comes to recognizing and acknowledging God's Providence in our lives. Below is a prayer I adapted from an older text written by Saint Jane Frances De Chantal. You can see the original text HERE or read my adaptation below. Pray this prayer and learn to SEE and SEEK God's power and presence in your life:

I pray to the powerful and unending goodness of you, oh God. I abandon myself forever to your arms. Whether your direction is easy or hard, lead me where you will. I will rely on your guidance, oh God. My soul is at peace only when I acknowledge that I am wrapped in your warm and protecting embrace.

I commit myself, with your help, oh God, to follow your desire and will for me and my life, seeking to follow you more truly and authentically, working to tune into your will and letting that drive my decisions and my life. More of you and less of me oh God.

I commit to giving you my all, oh God, my everything. I ask that you help direct my desires and my heart to long for you. . . your will, your wishes for my life. I offer you my desires and my heart, oh God, and ask that you bless them.

I choose to live my life with you, relying on your goodness and your mercy and I place my entire trust and confidence in you, oh God, acknowledging my own weakness and shortcomings.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

The end of the hiatus. . .

My last blog post was on July 26, 2010. By my calculation, that was exactly 199 days ago. I'm back!

So much has happened in the last 199 days and I look forward to sharing it with you. I am recommiting to my blog as a form of journaling, sharing, discernment and witness. I was convicted to do this because of one of my classes last semester, but I am getting ahead of myself.

My last blog post was about visiting Central Presbyterian Church when they had their service celebrating their Mission Trip with Healing Waters to Guatemala. 20 days after that blog post, Jessica, Esther and I packed up our house in Denver and moved to Austin, Texas. I am no longer working for Healing Waters International and am now a full-time student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary studying to become a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church PC(USA). What an incredible ride it has been!

I need to start by acknowledging and thanking Jessica and Esther for being such amazing partners in this journey and allowing me to follow my calling of becoming a pastor. This has involved a lot of sacrifice for both of them and will continue to involve a lot of sacrifice from both of them, and Jessica has been incredibly supportive. I am so blessed to have such an amazing wife, coming up on 10 years! I love you Jessica, thank you for being you and thank you for loving me.
 Photo taken in June 2001 during our first year of marriage when we were living in South America
Photo taken in December of 2010 around Christmas 

I started my studies in September. My first four classes were:
-Intro. to Old Testament
-Systematic Theology 1
-History of Christianity from the early church to the Reformation
-Colloquy on Ministry and Vocation

I have a lot to share about each of these classes and will do so over the next few months. But it was my Colloquy on Ministry and Vocation class that has actually prompted me to get back into blogging. During that class we read the book The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making. I highly recommend this book to anyone and will probably be handing out copies for the rest of my life. This book helps you to guide your decision making processes through a variety of very practical exercises.

One of those exercises that occured over and over again was the process of journaling. I realize that by writing down my own journey, I can help see it more clearly and learn to see God working in it. By writing it as a blog in a public forum, I know that my community can help me with my discernment process to. So I have recommitted to the blog.

I plan on writing a lot more later, but for the time being, I encourage you to check out this book. Whether is is big life-changing decsions you are making, or you are just sort a few things out, this book will provide you a great guide and some very practical tools to help with your discernment process.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Great church vision and great prayer of confession

Photo of Central Presbyterian Church in Denver from:

I had the privilege of worshiping at Central Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning.

This was the church that took a Transformation Trip with Healing Waters in June. They were celebrating their trip at the service on Sunday morning. I wish I could have videotaped the whole service. Hearing people reflect on their experiences on transformation trips always reminds me of why I do the work that I do. In addition to the people who are served by our safe water projects, the people who are exposed to the work we are doing through these trips is a great opportunity for me to recharge my batteries and see the world through the eyes of others.

There were a few things in the service that were moving. Two people who went on the trip gave mini-sermons that both brought me to tears. I will try to get a copy of those sermons and post them to the blog.

A couple other parts of the service that were moving. . . the first was the Vision of Central Presbyterian Church right on the front of the bulletin. It reads:
Central is a pillar of a spiritually, physically and intellectually healthy community that manifests God's love and justice.

Wow! What a great way to describe a great church.

The other really moving aspect of the service for me was the Prayer of Confession written by one of the people who went on the Transformation Trip. She asked to remain anonymous when I asked her if I could repost it. So here it is:

God of our journeying, you send us out to travel in your name.
The spirit of our God is upon me; therefore, anointing me to bring Good News to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release to prisoners, to announce a year of our God's favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
Forgive us when we read what the Gospels say but fail to acot on the principles they describe. Help us to interpret our own faith out of the suffering, struggle and hope of the poor. Forgive us when the activity of the Church doesn't come from empathy with the poor. Forgive us for the exploitation of some peoples by others, and the exploitation of people by mechanisms of economic systems we have created. Forgive us when we do not see the growing gap between rich and poor as a scandal and a contradiction to Christian existence. Help us to discover that this poverty is not a passing phase. Inbreaking God, stir us to reflect your enternal relationship of love, in the way we treat our neighbors, those we know and love, those we find difficult, and those on the other side of the world. Help us to attend to the needs of all these people, and never walk by on the other side of the road. Amen.

This prayer of confession was so powerful. Thank you!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New York Times Editorial by Gorbachev: Why access to water is a basic human right

The editorial below was published in the NY Times on July 16. I have edited it down to the most relevant sections. To read the whole thing, CLICK HERE

July 16, 2010
The Right to Water


The right of every human being to safe drinking water and basic sanitation should be recognized and realized.

The United Nations estimates that nearly 900 million people live without clean water and 2.6 billion without proper sanitation. Water, the basic ingredient of life, is among the world’s most prolific killers. At least 4,000 children die every day from water-related diseases. In fact, more lives have been lost after World War II due to contaminated water than from all forms of violence and war.

This humanitarian catastrophe has been allowed to fester for generations. We must stop it.

Acknowledging that access to safe water and sanitation is a human right is crucial to the ongoing struggle to save these lives; it is an idea that has come of age.

This month, for the first time, the U.N. General Assembly is preparing to vote on a historic resolution declaring the human right to “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation.” It is a pivotal opportunity.

So far, 190 states have acknowledged — directly or indirectly — the human right to safe water and sanitation. In 2007, leaders from the Asia-Pacific region recognized safe drinking water and basic sanitation as human rights and fundamental aspects of security. In March, the European Union affirmed that all states must adhere to their human rights commitments in regard to safe drinking water.

Not all nations are on board, however. The United States and Canada are among the very few that have not formally embraced the right to safe water. Their continued reluctance to officially recognize the right to water should be questioned, not least by their own citizens. President Barack Obama’s national security strategy calls for furthering human rights and sustainable development around the world; that goal should be translated into support for access to water as a human right.
Failures to provide water and sanitation are failures of governance. Recognizing that water is a human right is not merely a conceptual point; it is about getting the job done and actually making clean water widely available. We must clarify the obligation of governments to finance and carry out projects that bring these services to those who need them most.

A “water apartheid” has descended across the world — dividing rich from poor, included from excluded. Efforts to redress this disparity are failing.

Expanding access to water and sanitation will open many other development bottlenecks. Water and sanitation are vital to everything from education to health to population control. As population growth and climate change increase the pressure for adequate water and food, water will increasingly become a security issue. As global temperatures rise, “water refugees” will increase. Water touches everything, and strong collaboration among all sectors of society — governments, activists, farmers and the business and science communities — is needed to increase its availability.

Making access to water and sanitation a daily reality is good business, and good for the world economy. According to the U.N. Environment Program, a $20 million investment in low-cost water technologies could help 100 million farming families escape extreme poverty. Dedicating $15 billion a year to the water and sanitation millennium goals could bring $38 billion a year in global economic benefits. That’s a pretty good rate of return in today’s financial climate. It is within our grasp for the first time.

Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 until its dissolution in 1991. He is a founding member of Green Cross International and is on its board.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Some reflections on "When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without hurting the poor"

Here at Healing Waters we do a book study, bible study or prayer time on Friday mornings. It is a chance for the staff to touch base and focus and reflect on our work from a spiritual perspective.

We have just started the book When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor. . . and yourself.

This is a great book and should be required reading for anyone that is doing any sort of missions work, local or global. Most of the examples in the book focus more on global missions, but the content is relevant in either case.

I wanted to share a few quotes and reflections with you as we study this book.

"We write this book with a great deal of excitement about the renewed interest in helping low-income people that is so apparent among North American Christians. While materialism, self-centeredness, and complacency continue to plague all of us, nobody can deny the upswing in social concern among North American evangelicals in the past two decades. There is perhaps no better illustration of this trend than the exploding shor-term mission movement, much of which has focused on ministering to the poor at home and abroad.

But our excitement about these developments is seriously tempered by two convictions. First, North American Christians are simply not doing enough. We are the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth. Period. Yet, most of us live as though there is nothing terribly wrong in the world. We attend our kids' soccer games, pursue our careers, and take beach vacations while 40 percent of the world's inhabitants struggle just to eat every day. And in our own backyards, the homeless, those residing in ghettos, and a wave of immigrants live in a world outside the economic and social mainstream of North America. We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth. But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn and strive to do something about it. There is simply not enough yearning and striving going on.
WOW! This is difficult to read and even more difficult to digest. I think my first reaction is to get defensive. I do a lot of social justice and poverty alleviation work, where do they get off talking to me like that? I pursue my career and take beach vacations, should I feel guilty? While the authors state that "we do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth," it is really hard not to after reading this. But I think the key lines in this passage are right after that (which is why I italicized them in the original passage.)

We DO NEED to get up EVERY MORNING with a DEEP SENSE that something is TERRIBLY WRONG with the WORLD and YEARN AND STRIVE to do SOMETHING about it. There is simply NOT ENOUGH YEARNING AND STRIVING going on!

Ok, let's take some time to reflect and pray on that. And let's ramp up our striving and yearning. . .

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why I work for Healing Waters

A friend of mine is getting her Masters degree in Non-Profit Management. As part of one of her courses, she had to interview someone that works for an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization, like Healing Waters.) She asked to interview me! I felt privileged to be asked.

As I was filling out the questions, I had a chance to reflect a little bit on the work I do with Healing Waters. Below are the questions and answers I gave, a little peek into my mind and soul. Enjoy!

1. Can you please first tell me a little about yourself and the organization you’re with?
a. What is your current position?
Field Operations Manager for Healing Waters International

b. Have you held other positions?
Not with this organization.

c. How long have you been involved with this organization?
Since November 2007, 2 years and 8 months.

2. How did you first get into the service field/work/position that you are in?

a. Earlier in your life, did you have a stand-out experience or event that particularly inspired you to serve? (Inspiration from a family member, friend, teacher, other individual, book?)
 My family would take a road trip to Northern Mexico every other year from the time I was 5 years old. This early exposure to poverty and the stark contrast between life in the US and life in Mexico had a profound impact on me
 Both of my parents have always been very community-service focused. My mom was a public school teacher my whole life and my dad worked for a law firm that focused on public sector clients (municipalities, school districts, universities.)
 The motto of the university I attended (Pacific Lutheran University) is “Educating for lives of service.” This meant there was a strong social justice focus or service focus in nearly every course I took and the professors really supported the idea of public service.

b. Did you have other influences, i.e. spirituality, political convictions, etc.?
My faith is one of the primary factors that motivates me to do the work that I do. I draw a lot of inspiration from Matthew 25:31-40 where Christ calls us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, comfort to the sick, clothe the naked, and give rest to the stranger. I also believe that faith without action behind it is meaningless. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary.”

3. What motivates you to continue to serve now?
a. What do you gain from what you are doing
The individuals, families and children I see when I visit our water systems who are getting access to safe drinking water motivates me to serve. Knowing that their lives will improve because of the work that Healing Waters is doing motivates me. I gain a sense of peace knowing that I am helping make the world a better place, even if it is just one water project, one family, one individual at a time. I feel called to do the work that I do, to invest my time, energy and talents to make life better for people who have not had the privileges that I have had in my life.

4. Can you describe the challenges you face in working for a NGO?
On a personal level, our society defines success as the accumulation of wealth: more cars, bigger houses, etc. Despite making a conscious effort to not live that way or be sucked into that definition of success, sometimes it can be hard. I have been offered jobs that pay double what I am making, but have turned them down. At the end of the day knowing that I am making a difference is better than getting a huge paycheck, but it can be a struggle, especially with a family to help support.

Also on a personal level, but more related to the work I do, I get energized by being in the field and seeing the people benefitted by our projects, so when I sit at my desk in Denver for months at a time without a field visit, I can lose sight of the greater goal.

On an organizational level, there is the chaos of working in a foreign country. The cultural differences, the major inefficiencies, the corruption and the distance and inability to be in the day-to-day operations are all challenges. I have spent a great deal of time in Latin America in the past ten years and am still amazed by how difficult it can be to get things done.

5. Can you describe the challenges of resource development?
In my position, I am insulated from the direct fundraising challenges. I do occasionally lead trips to the field with donors or prospective donors. The challenge on those trips is balancing a “good experience” for the donor with the realities we face on the ground.

There is also a challenge of how open and honest you want to be with a donor. Donors want to support an organization that is successful, so you want to present your success stories to donors. At the same time you want to be honest and transparent with donors and if you are struggling with something as an organization, you want to bring the donors into that struggle to help support you. It is a tough balance to strike.

6. How do you define “success” today - when do you feel like you are successful?
On a personal level, success is knowing that 130,000 people are being served with safe drinking water every day and that I had a very small role in that.

On an organizational level, success is staying true to our mission which means empowering local partners to transform their poor communities with a sustainable long-term safe water solution. When our systems are self-sustaining and people are being served, that feels like a success. When we add more projects and expand into new communities, that feels like a success.

7. What would you say to others to encourage them to serve?
Exposing people to the vast contrast in wealth and poverty will hopefully encourage them to serve. If I could get every CEO of a multi-national corporation to go live in the country where they manufacture on a local salary for a week, I think businesses and the decisions that are made by those businesses would be a lot more ethical and humanitarian.

a. What types of people do you think are attracted to serve in this type of organization and/or in civil society?
People who have seen a greater need and felt a call to respond to it. Usually it is people who have had some experience traveling internationally. They have been shocked by the poverty, the lack of access to basic resources, etc. And that has inspired them to want to do something about it. I think you need to have something in you that sees the humanity of all people and wants to work to make the world a better place in some way.

b. When recruiting and hiring new staff or volunteers, what types of people—with what types of skills and knowledge—does this organization look for?
I have not done a lot of recruiting or hiring. Our CEO talks about “head and heart.” He hires people that have the heart and the drive to do the work and knows that he can train their heads.

8. What other advice do you have for others who may be interested in exploring working in a NGO?

a. Where can one learn the knowledge/skills and gain the experience that is necessary for working in your type of organization?
Go spend some time in a developing country. Not just a week or two traveling, and not just to touristy areas, but really immerse yourself in the culture, the society, the politics, and the place. Be a Peace Corps volunteer, or find another program that suits your needs and interests. There are tons of long-term volunteer opportunities in countries like the Dominican Republic. Language skills are also useful in this kind of work. A month or two of intensive full-immersion language classes in a country where you are interested in serving would be invaluable to not only pick up the language, but also immerse yourself in the culture.

b. What are the best “points of entry” into the field of service
Finding a long-term volunteer opportunity abroad is a great way to start. Then when you return to the US you will have real field experience that you can apply to an organization like Healing Waters International.

9. Do you have any advice for young people in particular?
Travel! And not just to Europe or Australia. Travel to developing countries and spend enough time there to not just know the name of the local beer, but know the hangouts and activities of the local people.

When I was 23 and living in South America, I traveled with a retired stock broker. His sage advice to me was “There is always going to be time to earn money, but you will not always have the privilege and luxury of your health and time to travel. So do it now. Know that you can return back to the US at age 25 and still get started in a career. But you will never be able to replace the experiences you learn while traveling from 22-25.”

10. Could you speak to your particular interest in the cultural diversity and/or the international arena?
I have a strong passion for Latin America and development work in Latin America. Inevitably I end up looking at the root causes of poverty and what different people are doing to address them. This leads to an exploration of immigration and the large populations of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. So I have developed a “sub-passion” for issues related to immigrant populations in the US and the cultural diversity that comes from that immigration.

My love for Latin America has also helped me develop a profound respect and appreciation for other cultures. In my own life, career and family, I try to take the best parts of each culture I have been exposed to and incorporate that into my sphere of influence.

Friday, July 9, 2010

E coli poisoning case, sad story here in the U.S., devastating daily reality for people in developing countries

This is the E Coli bacteria, up close and personal

I just read this article on

It tells the story of a woman here in the United States that got E Coli from eating contaminated cookie dough. It is a sad story and her tragedy is very real. A quote from the article:
Each year about 76,000 people get Linda Rivera's strain of bacteria -- E. coli O157-- according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (IN THE UNITED STATES). About 2,500 are hospitalized and 50 to 100 people die from it each year. E. coli O157 lives in the colon and feces of animals and humans. In certain situations, it can taint food, particularly raw meat and vegetables. Although salmonella kills more people than E. coli, because more people get it, the effects of E. coli, according to health experts, are much more severe. Ingest a strong strain of it, doctors say, and it can shut down your entire body.
This story gets at the heart of why we do the work that we do at Healing Waters. E Coli come from contaminated human and animal feces and can be found in water and food supplies. It kills up to 5% of all children who get it. While there are no statistics for the worldwide death rate due to E Coli (the stat above is for the United States), it is a common form of contamination in the water sources we treat in Guatemala, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

While it is sad to see this happen in the US, it is fairly uncommon. In the countries where Healing Waters works, E Coli, Salmonella, Fecal Coliforms, Cholera and other waterborne diseases are a daily reality for the people living there.

It is a relatively simple fix to treat drinking water supplies and save families the illness and death from these diseases. For more information you can visit our website at:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

World Cup Quarterfinalists. . . a lot of SOUTH AMERICANS!

While the quarter finals didn't go too well for my brothers and sisters of South America, I was impressed by the representation there. 4 teams from South America in the quarter finals! For such an impoverished continent, they do know how to play some futbol (soccer).

I was especially impressed with Paraguay, one of the three poorest nations in South America (along with Ecuador and Bolivia.) They had an amazing showing at the World Cup and even held Spain off in the Quarterfinals until the 82nd minute! Adelante Paraguay!!!!

Esther's two favorite teams were eliminated in the round of 16. She was disappointed and pretty much lost interest in the world cup after that. :)