Scarcity in a land of abundance

There once was a powerful, loving, generous King, yet his children lived lives of scarcity. How did this come to be?

Scarcity in a land of abundance

Entering the year of 2017, I had the impression that the theme God wanted me to experience this year was abundance. This sounds very nice and all, and I was quick to embrace this promise. I have big hopes for this year – for partnership and provision as I pursue the dream of starting a new servant partners site in Saskatoon. I love the idea that God would meet my needs abundantly in this endeavour! I really don’t have much evidence to indicate that God won’t. I am privileged and wealthy by most standards – I have never experienced real lack and I have lots going for me as far as education, health and support networks. Yet in the face of recent discouragement, I’ve realized that my habits and beliefs more readily follow a well-worn mindset of scarcity rather than this new route of abundance.

Time and time again I’m faced with stories in the scriptures of our God of abundance that challenge my scarcity mindset. Can you think of any? I was struck by 1 King 19. This is the story people often use to suggest that God speaks to everyone in different ways and it’s not always in dramatic miracles, often he is nudging us along with his “still small voice”. Yet when I read this story recently I was really impressed with the promises that still small voice of God had to share with a weary, distressed Elijah.

Elijah is literally fleeing for his life. Tired, lonely and afraid in the wilderness, he just gives up and begs for death to come. Instead, God shows up and provides sustenance for his journey. An angel brings him food and drink, not once, but twice!  That miracle bread must have been laced with superfoods like kale and chia seeds because he now has enough energy to walk for 40 days to the mountain of God. He has an unfiltered conversation with God there that reveals his discouragement – “I’ve been working for you zealously Lord, but all of my friends are dead and the bad guys are trying to kill me too. What’s the point?!” This is where that famous mountaintop experience happens where Elijah experiences the powerful works of God and his gentle presence. Then he has the same conversation verbatim and the Lord answers him with ABUNDANCE.

The good Lord lets Elijah in on his behind the scene work – he tells Elijah: “I’ve appointed a new King, he’s ready for you to anoint. I have a replacement for you who’s ripe for the role of prophet, so go on and retire already. And your friends are not all dead, there are 7000 believers who are holding out with you. That’s enough for a rocking retirement party.” I’m impressed with God’s care for Elijah that in all of his legitimately felt lack, God orchestrated abundant provision.

I have so much in common with Elijah…except for the death threats, dessert walks and cave-dwelling bits… actually, only one small but critical point. When discouraged, I easily assume a spirit of scarcity. As I plan for building a team for Saskatoon, I wonder who my partners in this work will be. God gave Elijah 7000, and I still have a hard time believing he’ll give me 5. I wonder how I’ll pay the rent when my hours are spent building relationships in the neighbourhood rather than at a conventional workplace. God gave Elijah miraculous food in the wilderness and has provided for me through others’ generosity for almost 3 years. Still, I refuse a much needed raise for fear there won’t be enough in the pot for next month. When I settle into this scarcity mentality, I tend to want to control and manipulate my resources to provide for myself. This reveals my disbelief that God is a generous King who provides richly for his children. Brother Andrew accounts a similar mindset in this way: ”wasn’t I claiming to depend on God, but living as if my needs would be met by my own scrimping?”

I’m not the only one who lives a contradictory life of scarcity in a land of abundance. As I look around our nation, I relate to Elijah’s weariness. People of Canada, we are not finding our hope in God. We are living fearful and protective lives that claim there is not enough to go around. We build personal, impenetrable kingdoms of security and saving for the future that are soundproofed from the cries of the vulnerable, the oppressed, the foreigner, the stranger. We are fearful there is not enough to go around. Not enough jobs, not enough homes, not enough time.  “We settle into an attitude of poverty – a dark, brooding, pinched, pattern that hardly goes with the open heart of Christ that we are preaching” (Brother Andrew). And I wonder, where will I find partners in this land to live in prophetic opposition to our idol of money, savings, security by living an open, generous, dependent life? Most days, I scarcely believe that I’m cut out for this!

Please appreciate that while I write this, I am savouring a FREE piece of “Vancouver’s best cheesecake”. God loves me so much and provides richly for me!

These walls have ears

My dining room wanted to share some thoughts and impressions with you about what it’s like to host 8 women and their friends:

thump. thump.  thump. pause. Knock. Knock. I swing open and reveal a guest at the door. Scrape another folding chair across my floor, go on, and pull it up here. It’s a real pity that there are a finite number of leaves to add to this table. The crowding, the scootching, the scramble to find another plate, another cup, another chair. My walls exhale to make way for your guests , but I don’t mind–

especially the children.

I love to have them crawling, rolling, dancing and building forts on my floors. The children and I, we proclaim our delight loudly, ensuring the downstairs neighbours can get in on our fun too. In our exuberance, we keep only one thing hushed, but I’m sworn in. Only they can tell you the source of the countless marbles you discover in the strangest places when you clean the house on Sunday afternoons.

For these children’s sake, I wish I were carpeted in a thick, woolly, cushion, to catch these kids when they fall off their chairs. Is anyone keeping track of how many kids fall off their chairs in this house? Those white folding chairs from Ikea are the worst for it.

But for the sake of your dance parties, my floors will remain a solid, inviting, hardwood.

So, dear occupants, you keep me busy, you keep me alert, you keep me young, my friends, my family, you make me flexible. You are not easy on me. I bear your scuffs and bruises – children’s fingerprints on all surfaces, scuff marks on floorboards from constant scene changes, stains from nail polish and coffee spills, punctures and tears on the wall from the revolving art and decor I display. These scars bear witness to the rich life I host here, and for this dear occupants, I am grateful.

These walls have ears, and let me tell you, when I see you inviting a neighbour over for the first time and I  sense trust being built, I long to extend a space of comfort to you all.

When your team is talking about ethnic identities, when you’re having these real talks where you exchange pain for forgiveness and hurt for grace, I long to extend a space of understanding to you.

When you study scripture and sing and cry out for more of God’s wonder in this neighbourhood, I long to tremble and shake with the filling of the Holy Spirit that is tangible in this place.

These walls have ears and let me tell you, when the youth come in all their hyper energy and teenage angst, I long to extend a space of acceptance to each one.

When your friends and neighbours gather to lament and this space is filled with your palpable sorrow, I long to extend a space of comfort to you all.

When your peers gather to read a play or watch a movie or play a game together, I long to extend a spirit of light-hearted fun and a space of belonging to each who enters.

At the end of a long week, when you’ve loved and hosted to a point of satisfied fatigue, but your resolve is weary and your reserves are low, I long to extend a space of rest.

These walls have ears,

and they notice

the heaviness with which people enter this space,

they notice

a listening ear and a meaningful embrace

and they notice

the lightness with which people go forth from this place.

 

what an honour to say it is my walls that contained these stories, it is my floor that support these transformations. What an honour it is be host to a sacred space.

 

all my love and hospitality,

The Not-So-Yellow House

May this be the year

may 2017 be a year that we abolish the barriers of class, race and ideology that keep us segregated from our neighbours and keep too many vulnerable people excluded and marginalized. may a global movement of radical love and courageous inclusion begin in our communities, with those unmet friends nearest to us.

may this moment from history shape 2017: ‘“Watch Night” is a gathering to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation becoming law. When the clock struck midnight on January 1st, 1863, all slaves in the Confederate States were proclaimed free. Since that date 146 years ago, African-Americans have celebrated the good news of freedom in local churches on New Year’s Eve. Like the slaves who first gathered while the Civil War raged on, we proclaim freedom for all captives in Jesus’ name, knowing that it is not a reality for millions.” (a snippet from the book of Common Prayer)

In the coming year, May we see more glimpses of this prophecy fulfilled in the coming year? Isaiah 25:

4 But you are a tower of refuge to the poor, O Lord,
a tower of refuge to the needy in distress.
You are a refuge from the storm
and a shelter from the heat.
For the oppressive acts of ruthless people
are like a storm beating against a wall,
5 or like the relentless heat of the desert.
But you silence the roar of foreign nations.
As the shade of a cloud cools relentless heat,
so the boastful songs of ruthless people are stilled.
6 In Jerusalem,[a] the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will spread a wonderful feast
FOR ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD
It will be a delicious banquet
with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.
7 There he will remove the cloud of gloom,
the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.
8 He will swallow up death forever!
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.
He will remove forever all insults and mockery
against his land and people.
The Lord has spoken!
9 In that day the people will proclaim,
“This is our God!
We trusted in him, and he saved us!
This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.
Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”

here is a glimpse of my weekly “banquet table” in Vancouver. Our intern, snapped this photo and captioned it “Taking a step back (literally), I thought, ‘man, our church is beautiful.'”
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HERE’S TO A HOPEFUL 2017!

Welfare Food Challenge 2016

In the 2 years I’ve lived in Vancouver, I’ve built meaningful relationships with people who survive on welfare rates (of only $610/month). One such friend recently shared this theory with me: “middle class people live in their insulated homes and do everything possible to promote personal security and stability, they self-protect and actively avoid pain. But those of us in poverty, we experience a lot of hardship. And it’s that hardship that inspires us to action”. I’m doing the Welfare Food Challenge again this year to get a small glimpse of the hardship my friends experience.

With rent ever increasing but welfare rates frozen at $610/month, that leaves only $18/week left for food! This modest budget doesn’t even include any money for transportation costs! The challenge is to eat only what I can buy with 18$ for a week, no freebies, no charity. So far for me that’s:

Oatmeal
Lentils
Yogurt (50% off at NoFrills cha-ching!)
coffee from the dollar store 😦

Before you write me off as solidarity saint, allow me to insert the disclaimer that this is nothing like what my friends experience. Week after week, month after month, they ration and scheme and wait in food line ups or go hungry. And for me, in a week’s time, I’ll be lounging here gorging myself on chips and dip again! The generous stories and experiences of my friends inspire me to action – to call our government to raise the rates after almost 10 years of no increase!

I’m sharing my journey with you not to prove how much I love lentils, but in hopes that you’ll be inspired to action along with me! There’s an agenda behind this “experience”. My goals this week are to spread the word about inadequate welfare rates, sign the petition, and take time this week to listen to someone’s story. Are ya with me?

for the petition and other actions yo can take:
Take Action

stay tuned for Odes to Oatmeal and Lentil Literature!

P is for Picnics in the Park

I’ve slowly been reconnecting in the neighbourhood after spending 2 months trotting around the world, visiting Servant Partners sites and receiving important training for the work we do. Honestly, the homecoming has been hard with my low capacity from jet-lag, and transition into a new job description that I’m still trying to figure out. Shortly after returning, I decided to attend a neighbourhood picnic, so I could reconnect with all my favourite people in one shot.  Through this picnic, the inspiring leadership of a neighbour and many meaningfully interactions, I was reminded of what it looks to bravely pursue our hopes for this neighbourhood. I was reminded why I am so proud to call this neighbourhood home

Earlier this summer, Nicole received a small grant to host weekly picnics in the park. She had a vision to see neighbours build a sense of community, defying the class and culture barriers that tend to segregate our neighbourhood. We had just started these picnics before I left for the Philippines, so I entrusted the leadership into Nicole’s hands, praying that the preparation and pep talks in June were enough to sustain her hopes and vision through the chaos of summer.

Fast forward 2 months to my return, I was blown away when I attended my first picnic. Nicole welcomed the crowd at the picnic, and in her opening acknowledgements she shared that these gatherings were the highlight of her summer.  And I can see why…

Multiple interactions that evening were evidence to the growing sense of community among this diverse assortment of neighbours. There was an excited bustle as we picked our way along the buffet, our neighbours had contributed generously this week!

I connected with a new friend from Malaysia, she was excited to learn I had been in her country only a week before. I hugged Cuya (big brother) Joseph, my Filipino friend, I told him about his “twin” I had met in the Philippines. I felt like I understood him so much better now after being saturated in his home culture for weeks.

I reconnected with a neighbour who had recently been home to SE Asia to mourn her mother’s passing alongside her siblings. It was her first time visiting home since she fled as a refugee a few years ago.  While we chatted, we watched our friend Mike, entertain her young daughter. Mike boasts a scraggly white ponytail, a welcoming smile, and a lingering scent of cigarette smoke. We often tease Mike that he’d be friends with anyone, except for politicians. To which he’ll correct me with a sly grin, “and sometimes, I’ll even befriend one of them!” As we observe the trust this toddler extends to Mike, the mother remarks that “she must remember him from last year’s picnics”. And hand in hand, this unlikely duo marches off mischievously towards the spray park.

Meanwhile, lounging on a picnic blanket, with dinner plates still poised on their laps, one of my roommates offers to pray for a neighbour. She has shared her concern for her son who is in treatment in Saskatchewan, and she asks for prayer for her back pain. I make sure to introduce myself to this neighbour’s father who has joined this group for the first time with his 3 youngest daughters. They promise to come again.

I make sure to give Pam a hug when she arrives. She is a long-suffering neighbourhood leader who gets a tonne of work done with such gentle calmness, you’d think she’s on vacation. I admire her resilience, but lately I’ve noticed she seems especially exhausted. I tell her I’d been praying for her, that she’d find the courage and creativity to say NO to new invitations that seemed tiring. She chuckles and shares how that prayer was answered mere moments ago. She had been in a conference call that was going overtime, when others offered to continue the conversation a little longer, she declined saying “NO, I have somewhere to be tonight”, and she politely and determinedly marched off towards our picnic!

These are the friends new and old who are dear to me, the ones who are helping me get my feet back on the ground as I re-enter Vancouver. This is the kind of community I long for others to experience, a place of gracious acceptance. You might even consider it a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

 

*names have been changed to heighten the sense of mystery and intrigue

Prayers of the People

I offered to carry her coffee out the door for her, but by the time we got out into the pouring rain I realized she couldn’t juggle the coffee, umbrella, and her walker.  I decided to stick around for the walk to the bus stop. She was excited to tell me about her new psychiatrist she was about to visit.

“He’s soooo cool”, she said in a comically sultry voice.

She was very intent not to be late, so as we j-walked across Hastings street, we prayed together that the bus would come quickly.

“Please God, let the bus come now so Chrissy can get to her appointment on time”

“Oh gracious and compassionate God” she chimed in “you’re sooooo loving”… then she leaned over to me and whispered conspiratorially “I’m just buttering him up”… “please, oh  please bring the bus on time. You’re a good God, thank you for bringing the rain, we love the rain, were not complaining! Even if we are getting a little wet. We’re not complaining. Even if we’re cold, we’re not complaining! ”

“not complaining” I added for affirmation. And we chuckled together. As if we could sweet talk the Almighty.

It was around that time that we saw the bus whiz on past us up ahead.

“oh darn”, said Chrissy, defeated. But since we were in the spirit of petitioning anyway, we huddled under the umbrella a little longer and prayed for all sorts of things while we waited. She led us in prayer for all the people in the hospitals and all the sea creatures in the ocean… that they wouldn’t be hurt by the terrible oil spills. She prayed for me too, looking up sheepishly when she couldn’t remember my name.

When the bus finally did come, and she hoisted her walker on board and waved farewell, we both felt relieved to get out of the damp chill. Yet for all the hunched over shivering we had endured, I felt lighter and brighter as I walked back to the apartment building we had come from.  I even sang a little tune outloud as I strolled back, a habit I’ve picked up recently because it really doesn’t seem to bother anyone here.

I have a hard time coping with rainy days here. But I’ve been managing okay. Thanks to the prayers of the people.

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Desperate for your Incarnation

I wrote this while I was in India, probably a little burnt out and a little disillusioned and desperate for something different. I think it’s an apt call out for the advent season. Lord, I am desperate or your Incarnation

 

Desperate for Incarnation

God I don’t want to define who you are.

Just show up!

In your almighty truth and relevance,

Come! Reveal!

I’m sick of trying to be you – I just want to be with you.

 

Do your incarnation in me.

 

I’m not convinced that being with you always answers to a beckon of “come away with me”.

No. I believe you are alive and well in these slums and that your power can be real here.

So why are you withholding?

Why are you not healing and resting your presence and power in this place?

 

Are we so unforgivably inhospitable?

Have we learned to overlook your miracles and disregard your power?

Are we pacified with mercy, compassion and love?

 

Have we cloned these attributes so astutely?

Have we become the answers to our own prayers?
Have we become North American saviors administering mercy, compassion and love until we fizzle out.

until we hear the timely chant of “come away with me”?
We sigh with RElief at the prospect of REtreat.

We are REassured that we can always flee when the job description of “Savior Clone” becomes too grueling.

Flee to comfort where we REst and become inspired by novels we REad of other saviors .

And we REturn to give it another go. And maybe write an autobiography.

 

And so your mercy, compassion and love are REplicated around the world.

 

Are you satisfied Jesus? Truly?

Do you look down on us, smiling?

 

Or are you looking down at this crowded, efficient, self-replicating system and ITCHING for a chance to jump in it with us, to halt the Commotion and to Command authority? Like that one day when you Calmed the raging storm?

 

Are you looking down and finding no space to enter?

Are you finding no need, really?

 

Sometimes, in these circles where we talk about sustainable ministry, I wonder if we’ve only managed to sustain our ability to be in control.

 

Are you satisfied Jesus? Truly?

I’m not.

 

I DON’T WANT TO BE YOU

And let’s face it, I’m miserable at it.

I want to be WITH you.

Here.

We are desperate for your incarnation.