Sunday, May 29, 2011

My first full length sermon

This is the script of the sermon I preached today at Faith Presbyterian Church in Sierra Vista, AZ. The reading was from Philipians 2:1-11, 14

Thank y’all for inviting me and my housemates to be with you this Sunday to share our journey as Young Adult Volunteers with you. You heard Ali talk briefly about who becomes YAVs, and what it means to be a YAV. I’d like to share with you now a bit about my experience as a YAV in Tucson, AZ.

I sought out the YAV program for its call to service. The motto is “A year of service for a lifetime of change”. I went into my year with the idea of, “I will change the world. I will bring people together. I will cross borders, both figuratively and literally. Ultimately, I will win the award for ‘best yav ever.”
“do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.”
Humility- I’m working on it. It’s the journey, not the destination-right?

When I first spoke with Brandon, the site coordinator for Tucson YAV program, my focus was on sorting out the different opportunities I’d have to serve for a year, while he kept trying to reiterate that, also important, was the experience of living in intentional Christian Community.

Like I said, I chose the YAV program because I was going to save the world. I wasn’t really concerned or thinking about the other parts of the program. I’d lived with roommates before, I didn’t see the importance of “community living.”

What I’ve realized is that community isn’t something that’s just one-third of what it means to be a YAV, it’s interwoven into everything.

Community speaks to the interconnectedness of us all. While I can’t work to make a change for someone else, I can strive to be as an example, a support, a hand, shoulder. So, what has this meant in regards to the three “bullet points” of being YAV that you heard Ali talk about earlier- a year of service, vocational discernment, and intentional Christian community. Well, that’s what I’m here to talk about.

Boy I was lost at YAV orientation when they kept reiterating that it was a mission of prescence- That’s its more about being, not doing. Wait- so I’m not to be concerned with what I’ll be do- ing, where I’ll be go-ing and who I’ll be help-ing?
No no no, that’s the reason I signed up- “a year of service for a lifetime of change, remember?”
They kept repeating, time and time again the importance of relationships, and being with one another. And you know what- I didn’t really know how to “do” that. And I’m grateful for the experience I had at YAV orientation that began to shed light on how to “be not do”.

Loren had lost her mother two weeks earlier. I kept wondering how I could be there for her. I asked what I could “do” for her. One mistake was believing that I needed to do anything in the first place.
And, while sitting with Loren one afternoon, I was reminded of the night before Christ’s death, while he was praying then realized all of his disciples had fallen asleep. In His moment of need, they weren’t available to bear witness. We were called to be a presence to one another, companions; when Loren experienced a breaking moment, a moment of struggle, she needs someone to sit with her, pray with her, be with her.
I often find myself wondering, “what’s next, what should I do” but out of this relationship with Loren, and watching her struggle in her own way and wonder what I can do, I was reminded to first, bear witness. The relationship should be primary, and in real relationship- then the actions, and what we do to be with one another, will be organic. With real relationships comes honest interpersonal interaction.

Because we can’t calculate the change we will have on another, we can’t predict when the most jarring, humbling and emotionally deep experiences will occur. But, if we go into each day striving to “in humility consider others better than [ourselves],” it can open the doors to a lot of opportunities to connect with others, learn from others, be with others. I’d like to read you a poem one of my roommates, Luke, wrote a few Easters ago. I think it speaks to the idea that, when we let go of our qualifications, classes, boundaries, that is when we are most able to be with others- When passing moments of togetherness can be made:

I spent a little time talking with a good man by the road today
He's 43 looks 65 but he's got a lot to say
He says to me "son listen up right quick we don't have much time
The good Lord gives and he takes away but things have turned out fine
I ran away at the age of 18 learned the ropes from a wine-o others took to be mean
I pick up cans and eat from the trash I've had gangs in LA kick my ass
But Luke I tell you theres nothing that I need the Lord provides and takes care of me
But do one thing if you would my brother
Just pray for me
Pray for me.
Pray for me."
I spent a little time talking with a good man by the road today.
I sat there in my slacks and tie and I listened to what he had to say.
He tells me of the time he was making big cash but the roof caved in
I took my eyes off the Lord he tells me and he turns to me with a grin
"I tell you son you gotta have big faith the Lord will smile and show his face
I trust people Luke and it can turn out bad but Luke I'll tell you bout the times I've had
I've had a court date for 20 years but I've never shown up and I stopped drinking beers
I choose this lifestyle is that so wrong? Me and "real life" just never got along..."
I said "Damn..Wayne. I agree."
He raises an eyebrow and he turns to me.
Before he said anything a car drove past...they waved for Wayne and he hopped up to greet them.
They gave him a flannel to help keep warm...and he gave it to me. Instantaneously.
Without question. Or recognition. Wayne gave it to me.
I sat there, speechless for a couple long moments.
I said thank you Wayne for thinking of me.
He smiles, says “I got my coveralls bro but you don't got nothing!”
As I got up to leave I asked him one more time "Wayne how can I help I feel I've wasted your time!"
And he thanks me then for stopping by
and I gave him my number as we said goodbye
God will take care of me he said he's always given me a place to lay my head
So go on home and don't you worry but Luke please
Pray for me.
Pray for me.
Pray for me.
I spent some time with a wise friend on the road today.”
That flannel, given instantly to Luke, means so much more than just a shirt. In symbolizes their connection, their togetherness, the warmth of their conversation together. If we cut away our preconceived notions about homeless, service, service provider, us, them and instead treat others with love and without judgement, we allow those raw moments of real life and real connection to happen. We open ourselves up to learn from one another.

Another aspect of the YAV program is allowing time and space for vocational discernment. As a part of this process, we try to make sense of the world around us, looking to moments where we most feel engaged and alive, and trying to figure out what a life path may look like that incorporates those. I originally thought it would involve lots of sitting alone, journaling answers to “how do you feel when...what do you wanna be when you grow up?” Its actually been quite dynamic. Like most things, it’s a lifetime process. Ali describes the difficulties involved pretty well:

“Life is challenging, and I probably shouldn’t ever think I’ve figured it out. Luke and I were just joking — basically all our struggles to discern what we should do next year and how to live in community this year boil down to, “But Mooooom, life is haaaard!” Here’s to the hard things, and the ways they shape us.”

Figuring out the way they shape us, and how that mixes with the way we each want to be shaped, help along the process of “vocational discernment.”

And now, to talk about the part of the experience that I tried initially very much to resist, and has turned out to be a great learning experience- The “intentional Christian community” part of being a yav. Rob, a former volunteer from Hollywood, says this about Intentional Christian Community- “Christian community sounds ideal- surrounded by people of common faith and purpose, it should be perfect, right? But, no one tells you Christian Community’s dirty secret- its hard…and it leaves us raw. It leaves us emotionally vulnerable…we are all broken, and we are all in need of love and redemtion…but, these hardest moments are fruitful! When we can view one another as broken creatures…our patience flourishes, love grows.” It’s in accepting and understanding that brokenness that help build strong foundations, deep connections, and further community.
Within our first week together in Tucson, we established a house covenant- we had great goals for how we were going to be with each other in the coming year. Three months later, we realized we needed to take another look at the covenant, and perhaps make a new one. To better understand where we are each coming from as individuals, we each took one night to share about our own journeys- trying to answer “what has made you who you are” By sharing those experiences with one another, we would better understand each other, and be able to create a covenant that reflects and appreciates each of us.
I’d like to conclude with an excerpt from the journaling I did just prior to telling “my story.”
My experience so far here in Tucson and in Mexico has been as an ear and a shoulder. An ear for stories, and a shoulder for those to lean on. Today it is my turn to share- to tell my story, to try and make sense of it all.

In my time here, I have been continually touched by the different faces of desperation. I am beginning to know that look all to well- the one of simultaneous confusion, hurt, loss, and fear. I see it at here in Tucson, at the Operation Streamline proceedings, on the faces of those 70 people pleading ‘guilty’ in unison. I see it in Mexico at Grupos Beta, a federally funded program in Mexico for repatriated migrants, on the faces of those who have just been deported- some after a few days in the US, and some after having spent almost a lifetime here. I see it on the faces of the women we speak to at a women’s shelter in Nogales, while listening to their stories of being lost in the desert, abandoned, violated.

Perhaps these moments move me because I hope that our moment together, our brief embrace, our passing conversation, can serve as a hand extended, helping to pull her upward. A sign of hope. A moment of togetherness
What has made me who I am are the hands that have pulled me up, when I thought I had lost all hope. The hands of the community around me. Emotionally spent, desperate, angry, lost and confused- at seventeen I had no words to express myself, no inkling of how to relate to another, but Chris was there a smile, a hug, and loads of patience. I was broken and falling fast- he was there with arms outstretched to catch me. He had just the right words to say, just the right mix of shoulder for me to cry on and humor to help me laugh again. Those mornings where getting out of bed was a grand feat by itself, were made easier knowing that I could call him for an encouraging word or a small affirmation to get me on my way.
More friends outstretched their hands. I was eventually pulled up. It’s not the desperation of that moment that resonates with me now- it’s the strength of the arms pulling me up, patient with me as I figured out a way to be Stevie again.
Five years later, when Chris passed away, I circled through the stages of grief. I crept into myself- stopped answering the phone, laid in bed hours longer, shut myself off from my friends that were trying so desperately to be there for me. Sometimes I was angry- with myself, with him, with everyone around me. Sometimes I wondered if I would smile again.
But, you know what- I did. Just like when Chris helped me learn how to smile again five years earlier, friends and family continue to outstretch their hands to me, and help to lift me up.
I am who I am because of the community that supports and surrounds me, that loves me, that teaches me what it means to be with one another, that challenges me, that accepts and sits with the broken me.

We’re all broken. We’re all sinners. And you know the coolest part about it all- we’re all in this, together. And, yes, “it’s haaaaaaaard.” We’re called to live together, and “do it all without complaining.” We’ll complain, we’ll mess up we’ll cry, we’ll celebrate, and we’ll learn from each other, together.
I understand now that I won’t save the world. It’s not about what I can do. It’s about how we can learn from other people and become a better examples of how to love your neighbor in a broken world.
In community together, supporting each other, loving one another, we can learn to be a more loving, patient, useful persons of Christ Jesus. And yes, there will be moments where we’ll want to say, “but mom, it’s harrrrd.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

Downward glances

We forget we struggled
our speech has become perfected
our walk easy
We forget we were once learning
slurring words together
falling down

We forget we struggled
the pictures capture smiles
happy endings are recorded
We forget we were once fighting ourselves
broken homes

We forget we struggled
we have degrees, qualifications
the proper supplies to begin
we forget we were once lost
failed tests
endless confusion

We forget we struggled
the walk wasn't easy
there were bumps along the way
Happiness was an idea
we thought we could get to someday
Learning was a process
with confusion and more questions

We forget we struggled
we can't remember slurring
we don't recall falling

It's a pretty picture we've created
for ourselves, our lives, our nation
that we hold high in our memory
We are the winners
the losers, forgotten

Lost like memories of confusion, doubt, failure
hopelessless forgotten

We put on our mask, replacing the hard times with confidence, smiles, purpose

After all,
we don't slur
we don't fall
we haven't been broken
we've never failed
we don't slur
we don't fall

We don't fail. We don't mess up. We don't fight. We don't get hopeless. We don't fall.

And we don't want those who do.

We don't understand.
We've hidden any tools we may have had to remember. Put them under the pedestal where we put ourselves and our livelihood

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Disgust, confusion, absence, and a whirlwind of other emotions

On Tuesday night there was a protest. All of my roommates went, and I did not. I'm still trying to figure out how to understand the stories, how to be there for them, and how to continue on as a player in a system I feel like continually shows its flaws rather than its strengths.

Here's Ali's first hand account of the protest (there are three parts to this- I highly recommend you read all three)

And here's an article including some photos and some video

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


On May 29, 2011 I'm preaching to a church in Sierra Vista, AZ. I'd love to share some of your stories.

What does community mean to you?
How do you feel a part of your community?
Or any other "community" stories you may have to share with me. Please email, or fb me if you want to share! I'll keep your tales anonymous, I promise.

Friday, April 29, 2011

If you're reading this

Thank a teacher.

And while you're at it, pray for school systems everywhere. Budgets everywhere seem to be decreasing. This prayer request came to me a few days ago from a friend who's a teacher in Austin, Texas. Please pray for the education of students in Texas and the hardworking teachers that already have or will lose their job because of the budget crisis. It's not just jobs that are being lost, but the bright futures of our children in the state of Texas that will be forever changed.

Who was one of your favorite teachers? Why? Here are some lessons I remember from some of my teachers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's less messy that way

Coming into this year as a YAV I really envisioned being moved and changed as a person because of the service, volunteering, and "helping others" of this experience. That's not really the case. For me, this year has been about the people I've gotten to know along the way. Tucson is full of really neat people doing some really neat work, and if it weren't for this year as a YAV, I probably would never have known about them, much less gotten to meet and gotten to know some of them!

I'm currently reading Prisoner of Conscience, a memoir by Ken Kennon. This book sits on our library at BorderLinks, but for whatever reason, I hadn't picked it up until I won it earlier this month! At BorderLinks' annual event earlier this month, Ken, who happens to be co-president of our board, handed me ten raffle tickets and said, "it would be inappropriate if I were to win anything, so here you go!" Among other things being raffled, there was a Mata Ortiz pot, to a home-cooked gourmet dinner, to some original artwork. I decided to stick to the two things I wanted most to win out of the 20 items, trying to better the odds I'd actually walk away with something. I ended up winning both the things I put in to win! One of them was Ken's book, and a lunch with him. We're having lunch in a little less than two hours at Maya Quetzal. I'm really excited!

I also highly recommend you pick up a copy of this book and start reading. Ken is an ordained pastor in the Disciples of Christ church, but he and his wife regularly attend Southside. In the last 8 months I've gotten to know him and his wife, Mary Ellen, both through both BorderLinks and Southside Presbyterian Church. I don't want to give away the whole book, but it's about Ken's time in Federal Prison. I bet you didn't guess that one from the title! On a more serious note, it's really moving. The book is his journal from his days incarcerated, and scattered throughout are poems he wrote. One poem, paperwork, really jumped out at me.
"May 19
I received a poem yesterday afternoon inspired by noticing a case worker through her office window poring over her paperwork. That appears to be all that we inmates are in this system.
No little boys here
with bloody skinned knees or stubbed toes
No little boys here
healing hugs or wiping our nose
It's less messy that way

No wounded souls here
seeking forgiveness, grieving blows
No wounded souls here
reaching out, risking other noes
It's less messy that way

We are paper men
computer punched analyzed woes
We are paper men
just numbers in digital rows
It's less messy that way

We are paper men
more blips on society's screens
We are paper men
bytes of the statistical means
It's less messy that way" - Ken Kennon, Prisoners of Conscience, 141.

(apologies English teachers and MLA fanatics everywhere- that was not cited properly).

How many things do we do in our daily lives that seem like the easy way out because "it's less messy that way."

Thank you Ken, for really making me think- about myself, relationships, work, community, love, and what we do because "it's less messy that way." My gramma says that, when you're baking, the messier the kitchen the more delicious the treat. Maybe avoiding the mess isn't really the right path.

I'm really excited about finishing the book, sitting with the words, and sharing a meal with Ken at Maya Quetzal later today.

Ken signed the book, "Life is messy. Embrace it!"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Grey to Good Day

I started the day looking at the weather. Grey, cloudy, duststorms, and about 20 degrees colder than it has been. "ugh," I thought to myself.

But, its a good day!

It's days like today that I enjoy.

Work was work. There was plenty to do, but not too much to do that I couldn't focus. Around 4:00pm you could smell the rain outside! Rainy days in the desert are wonderful. It made for a wonderful, breezy ride home from work.
All day I'd been planning on running after work. And then, as I'm sure many of you have experienced, the 3pm tired waves set in- and a nap after a cold beer sounded lots better than changing clothes, lacing up the shoes, and hitting the pavement. I decided I'd suit up anyways, and try and talk myself into it along the way. After much stalling, I finally, hesitantly, put on my shoes, and headed toward the front door to head out. Although, I was pretty convinced I was just going to walk to the store rather than actually go for a run. Ali was sitting on the front porch, enjoying the good weather with a book. I told her I was probably going to the store and asked if I could bring something back for her, then she decided to put on some running clothes and go with me. We ended up going for a nice run together after all- what a great way to enjoy the clouds and breeze!
Its the random, organic, unplanned moments of today that really make me enjoy it- in this case, a run with a friend enjoying both the good weather and each others' company.
We came back from our run, put on some fresh beets, and started cooking up a scrumptious dinner together. Now I'm eagerly waiting for the quiche to finish baking. It smells absolutely delicious.

And hey, Ali just yelled "dinner's ready" from the kitchen! Just in time! What a great turnout for what I thought would be an altogether grey day- both the sun and the mood.