Down We Go – Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus – Chapter 2

Ever since I first started reading Down We Go by Kathy Escobar I’ve been promising you a discussion of some of the main points of the book. So here we go…

Chapter 2 – Dreams Are Much Prettier When They Are Just Dreams

In this, the second chapter, Kathy begins to flesh out what the Wild Ways of Jesus actually look like.

1. What scares you abut raw, messy, incarnational relationships? – I pride myself on “having it all together,” and I’m usually frustrated when things go awry. I’m uncomfortable around people with emotional problems, and who may have mental or physical disabilities. I know it shouldn’t be, but it’s hard for me to connect with folks who have that kind of problem. I’m deliberately trying to get outside my own comfort zone and connect with people who don’t have it all together.

2.  How addicted to inspiration are you? What draws you to it? – as a little background, here’s what Kathy has to say about inspiration addition.

Many of us thought that going to “church” was about being inspired. Yes, it’s important to be inspired by G-d. But it is also possible to go only for the feeling of inspiration. My friend Karl calls it “inspiration addiction.” It is the powerful pull toward being entertained and inspired while sitting in our seats. I was definitely an inspiration addict. I remember leaving many a church service energized and filled up, thinking how amazing it was to listen to a powerful song, watch a moving film clip or hear a stirring sermon that made me laugh or cry. The problem is that very few of those inspirational moments translated into change in my real life. It became about getting a fix once a week.

It’s really easy to fall into that trap – to begin to see worship as an end in itself, because it inspires us, or touches us. But it seems to me that we need to be changed by our worship. That it needs to not just inspire us, but also to motivate us to follow Jesus into the nitty gritty of life.

3.  What is your Jesus School right now? What are you learning right now about yourself, G-d, and others at this season in your journey? – I’m learning that my “inspiration addiction” isn’t enough. I’m learning that in order to faithfully follow Jesus I need to do something. I commend to you this sermon from Margaret Aymer Oget. She has a way of reminding me that following Jesus is about action, not feeling good. I’m also learning that the words we use may be as important as the ideas we have, particularly after doing my series during Advent from Words Matter.

4. As you look around, what are you seeing now that you used to not see? – I’m seeing people who I thought were self-centered and basically worthless doing incredible work with folks less fortunate than themselves. I’m seeing new forms of worship and of spiritual discipline that I may have know existed, but didn’t recognize earlier. I’m hearing sexist, ageist, and racial language that I didn’t realize was there. And I’m attempting to point it out and counteract it as and where I can.

5.  Have you ever felt like you were in G-d’s Ghetto? How? – Fortunately, I don’t ever think I’ve felt like I was in G-d’s Ghetto. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that I was loved by G-d, even if other people didn’t know that. I complain and stew about wanting to do things and not being able to because of circumstances, or because of other people, or for whatever reason, but I’ve never felt like it was because G-d abandoned me.

Down We Go – Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus – Chapter 1

Ever since I first started reading Down We Go by Kathy Escobar I’ve been promising you a discussion of some of the main points of the book. So here we go…

Chapter 1 – It Stinks Down Here but I Really Love the Smell

Kathy begins by telling us this book is based on the Beatitudes, and on 12 Step programs.  She says

I love the Beatitudes and I hate the Beatitudes. They are powerful words from a radical man who messed with my life…. Success, war, vengeance, power and strength are the guiding principles of our day. Humility, gentleness, desperation, spiritual poverty, advocating for justice and being persecuted for standing on the side of the oppressed are sure to make us inconvenienced, challenged and humble.

Questions for Reflection:

1.  What does “downward mobility” mean to you?

It means that I have to quit looking for the loveable people around me, and start looking for the unloveable. There are plenty of folks who will love the loveable, but the unloveable need someone to support and help them.

2. Where are you seeing pain right now? Is it in your own life? the lives of others?

Most of the pain I see right now is in the lives of people who are struggling to find employment. These are folks who have been upwardly mobile all their lives, and maybe, through no fault of their own, find themselves struggling to make it in the world. They may be middle-aged and have lost their job and have run out of unemployment insurance. I see pain in their families when I learn that almost 30% of the children in South Dallas go to bed hungry every evening. I see it when I learn that many of the clients of North Dallas Shared Ministries, used to volunteer there and help others, and now they have to go there to get enough food to feed themselves and their children. I see it in the new graduates from seminaries who search desperately for a church to serve and can’t afford to serve in the churches who desperately need a minister because they have student loans to pay off and families to feed and the churches can’t afford to pay them even the Presbytery minimum.

3. Read the Beatitudes several times. What verses pop out? Consider re-writing them in your own language as a way to connect with some of their power.

Presbyterian Women are studying the Beatitudes this year, and I love “The Aymer Translation” from Margaret Aymer Oget, the author of the study and a friend.

Greatly honored are the destitute in spirit, for of them is the kingdom of heaven

Greatly honored are the humbled, for they will inherit the earth

Greatly honored are those who are famished and parched for justice, for they will be satisfied

Greatly honored are the merciful, for they will receive mercy

Greatly honored are the pure in heart, for they will see G-d

Greatly honored are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of G-d

Greatly honored are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for of them is the kingdom of heaven

Greatly honored are you when people revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven, for so also they persecuted the prophets who were before you

The ones that really “pop out” at me are the ones about the destitute and the hungry (see #2 above), and the ones about justice. We first started the study when the Occupy Movement was coming to national prominence. That movement, at its core and at its purest, is exactly about the destitute and hungry pleading for justice.

4. Reflect on the 12 Steps. How are they similar to the Beatitudes?

The 12 Steps encourage us to take an honest inventory of ourselves. They remind me that I am unable to cope by myself, that I must have the help of other people and the help of G-d. My particular addiction is to food, and I am in the midst of a struggle to keep it from ruling my life – either the eating or the not eating. The problem with being addicted to food is that you can’t say “I’ll never eat again” like you can say “I’ll never drink alcohol again” or “I’ll never smoke another cigarette again.” You always have to keep on eating – the trick is not to OVER-eat. I quit smoking cold turkey, after a 25-year, 2.5 pack a day habit. I tried for months to “cut back”, but the only way I was able to kick the habit was the stop completely. Unfortunately you can’t do that with food. So I struggle daily with my diet.

5. When you hear the call of Jesus to come and follow him, what does that mean to you?

It means I need to leave my comfort zone of interacting with people like me, and to get to know those who are struggling even more than I am. It means being willing to give up some of my personal enjoyment, so I can help folks who can’t help themselves. I have volunteered to be a financial mentor for people who are experiencing the most difficult times of having either lost their homes, or being on the verge of losing their homes. But because I have had periods in my life when my disposable income was severely curtailed, I believe I can help them dig out of the hole they find themselves in.

Expecting the Word – Advent One – Thursday

My Advent series this year will follow the Words Matter Advent study from the National Council of Churches. Download the whole booklet if you’d like, and follow along with the writings for each day. I’d love to discuss them with you. Also, here is a link to the Advent readings from the Inclusive Bible. I prefer the more inclusive language here, than the NRSV texts used in the study booklet (be sure to read the note on page 6).

1 Corinthians 1:3-9.

The study today talks about the author’s work with the homeless in Philadelphia. It seems that I am being called from all sides to consider this problem. Last Sunday, CBS’s 60 Minutes had this segment.

Presbyterian Women is also studying the Beatitudes this year. Of course, this study is riddled with images of the poor, the destitute, the homeless, the starving whom Jesus said were more greatly honored than those of us with warm clothing, more than enough food, and comfortable housing. Someone in the Presbyterian Women Interest Group on Facebook suggested that we read Down We Go by Kathy Escobar. Kathy is one of the founders of The Refuge in Denver, CO. They work with the least, the last, and the lost of that area – not as ministers TO but friends WITH the outcasts of society.

Another friend of mine is Hugh Hollowell, who works on the streets of Raleigh, NC, with the homeless. His organization (really just himself) is called Love Wins Ministries. He takes coffee and donuts to the park; he goes with his flock to court; he helps them find social services organizations that may or may not be available. His work is tugging at me.

For many years, the siblings in our family have given each other donations, instead of “stuff” for Christmas. I have often given to Habitat for Humanity as one way to make a small difference. I’ve also donated to and worked for The Bridge (formerly The Stewpot) in downtown Dallas, feeding the homeless and providing some social services to help them move off of the street and into decent housing. They do great work.

It seems to me that the church has GOT to become more active in caring for the homeless and the hungry. The problem is too big for small efforts like these and we need systemic change. I’m not sure that the reforms being sought by the Occupy Movement are the answer, but it seems like they may be one avenue. Check out this congregational discussion guide.

Back to the Blog

I know I’ve been severely remiss the past couple of weeks in posting here. Part of it is the natural emptiness brought on by the major brain dump that I did in the Legacy Project. Part of it is pure sloth, without the prod of the prompts from the Legacy Project to get my mind working. Part of it is that I’ve been busy with church stuff (more mental busy-ness than physical busy-ness). And part of it is that I’ve rediscovered my joy in sorting out the genealogy of the family.

So today, let me tell you about the church/religion things that are noodling around in my brain. You may already understand that I am really interested in the “Emerging Church” movement. (Your first clue was my interest and involvement in #UNCO11. Be sure to check out the category Unco11 here on the blog if you don’t remember me writing about it.) I don’t remember whether I said much about it on the blog, but one of the things that came out of that was a desire to bring some of our expertise in social media to already existing avenues in the church. In furtherance of that aim, a small group of us created Presbyterian Women Interest Group on Facebook. Here’s a short synopsis of that creation, and where we are today.

In May 2011, an ecumenical group of about 75 clergy and laity interested in exploring how the church is evolving and expanding met at Stony Point Conference Center in New York for an “UnConference.” At the end of two days of worship, fellowship, and exploration various members met in small groups to discuss how we could be of service to the greater church. Katie Mulligan, Abbie Watters, Janet Boren and Margaret Aymer Oget participated with several others in one group which was focused on using social media to expand and enrich current programs in the church. In addition to the group in the room, several others, including Sonnie Swenston-Forbes, Laura Viau, and Karen Sapio were with us
virtually (on Twitter). Rather than reinventing the wheel, we thought we could convene a virtual Presbyterian Women’s Circle. In our off-the-cuff, one-hour planning session we hoped we could get 15 or so women who would be interested in doing the Horizon’s Bible Study, and gradually expand from there. We said, “If there’s more interest than that, we should consider splitting into two groups when we reach 18 or 20 members.”

We agreed that we would each use our Social Media contacts to publicize the group. We left the UnConference on Wednesday afternoon, and
Katie went home and set up a private group on Facebook and added the six of us as members. By the time most of us got home on Friday, we had 150 members, and the rest, as they say, is history. By Monday, we realized we had a tiger by the tail, and a steering committee was formed.  That committee met on Skype, and various administrative jobs were parceled out. By the end of May there were over 250 members, and today we have 400 members, nation-wide.

We have Bible study groups meeting regularly in four different media:  Skype, Facebook, blog, and Second Life. We also have the Mission discussion groups meeting on Facebook. The national office of Presbyterian Women has been gracious enough to lend us advisors who are members of our Facebook groups and who help keep us true to the mission and purpose of Presbyterian Women.

I am functioning as registrar, keeping track of new members as they ask to join the Facebook group, and making sure they feel welcomed. I also try to “friend” each of them, and send them a personal message inviting them to choose a Bible study circle, and/or a mission emphasis group to join. That, as you can imagine, gives me something to do every day. I’m also one of the Bible study leaders for the group that’s studying the Beatitudes on the blog.

In the middle of September, Big Al and I drove over to Ft. Worth to the 1st Presbyterian Church there to hear Margaret Aymer Oget preach.

Margaret is the author of the Presbyterian Women Bible study on the Beatitudes this year. It was great to get to see her again (I had seen her at the Texas PW Bible leader training at Mo-Ranch). You can hear her sermon here.

Last weekend, we hosted part of an emerging church conference at Preston Hollow. The featured speakers were Nadia Bolz-Weber

and Brian McLaren.

Nadia is a Lutheran (ELCA) minister who pastors the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO. That church serves the homeless, drug addicts, and LGBT folk of Denver. Brian McLaren is a nationally recognized speaker on the emerging church. Their messages were basically that we – the mainline, tall steeple churches – need to get out of our own heads and into the world. We need to be authentic, and loving to the least, the last, and the lost, and “it’s not about the numbers.”

So you can see, I’ve been busy trying to reconcile my staid, unchanging Presbyterian soul with what I know HAS to be a new direction for the church. I’m still not sure where I come down on all this, but I am sure we need to begin to get on board for the ride. I’ll be posting more about all of this as the time goes on.