Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: los diques (page 1 of 2)

Water From the Rock

Read Exodus 17:1-7.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comThe last few days Megan and I have been doing a 7 fast. Megan is using Jen Hatmaker’s book 7:  An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess in a Bible study this semester at her church. Each week there is a different fast from the excess in our lives. The idea is that we would limit ourselves with seven different foods. Some choose to fast from 7 foods. Whatever you do, the point is to be consistent. My friend Sarah is doing it too, and she blogged about her first day here.

Megan and I decided to eat a Costa Rican diet of chicken, rice, beans, fruits and veggies for a week. In this way, we would connect with the people of Costa Rica, especially those in the shantytown of Los Diques I met over 8 years ago on my first mission trip there.

I will say that I was looking forward to it. I love Costa Rican food. It is so delicious! The first day was Thursday. I had traditional rice and beans for breakfast. The time between breakfast and lunch seemed to last an eternity. I was starving by the time I ate lunch, which were simple tacos, nothing fancy. For dinner, we made traditional arroz con pollo – chicken and rice. For those of you who remember Pura Vida Cafe in Mechanicsville, I used their recipe. I snacked only once, post dinner after two church meetings. And that was a banana.

I didn’t think it would be so hard! But sometime Friday, as my stomach longed for something other than  rice and beans, I thought of the children living in Los Diques. Some of them would be lucky to have the rice and beans I was already tired of eating.  I have watched church leaders in that shantytown fix plates of food and take it to a “house” (a term I use loosely) where the children living in the home had a mother addicted to so many pills, that she was not aware that her children had not eaten that day. The reality was that those church leaders looking out for those children, did not enough food themselves.

In our text today from Exodus, the people of God are on this journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. There are still pretty new to the journey. They have not yet received the Ten Commandments. A dispute breaks out between the people and Moses, their leader, over the lack of water. Water in the ancient world was very much a matter of life and death.  The lack of water was enough to cause some to wonder if they had made the wrong decision. Were they better off in Egypt, where they had water? In Egypt, they had water. In Egypt they had shelter from the hot, burning sun. In Egypt, it sucked being slaves, but they had certain comforts they are lacking now.

It is easy, and frankly has often been done, to make the text about the Israelites misbehaving again and complaining and not trusting God. The Israelites had just left Egypt, and were traveling through the desert and wilderness. Water was not just a comfort, but a necessity. Nyasha Junior writes, “When people are still concerned with basic needs, they require not a rebuke for lack of faithfulness, but compassion.” Perhaps there are such people in our communities who are faithful, yet lack the basic needs. During my first mission trip to Costa Rica, that was what I found. Faithful people who lacked the basic needs of water, food, and electricity.

As we contemplate this Lent the brokenness of our relationships with God and others, let us not forget those who are thirsty or hungry.

Young Leaders in the Church(*)

“Be the change you wanna see!” the Newsboys rocked out at a Christian Rock Festival one summer.  The church youth groups were spread out through the stadium seating around the green lawn, and yelled and cheered with excitement.  This is how they felt.  This band understood how they think about the church.  Their energy was around being the change, not talking about the change.

Of course, Newsboys wasn’t the first to say we should “be the change.”  Gandhi is most often quoted saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  And we’ve done with that what we do with most quotes we think are truly awesome: we plaster it everywhere imaginable.  Bumper stickers: check.  T-shirts: check.  Mugs: check.  Magnets: check.

But are we really being the change?

One of the greatest complaints that young people have about the church is that the church does not walk its talk.  The church, through the eyes of many young people, is not faithfully being the change.  The reality is that the church is situated on prime real estate for not just being the change, but for nurturing young people to be leaders of change in the world.

Nurturing young people to be leaders of change involves empowering them to be themselves. Whether is it adolescents or college students, they are on a journey of self-discovery developmentally.  They are doing the same spiritually, and the church needs to be a safe place for them to be who they are, when they are, because they are.  This means that we in the church need to receive each young person with open hearts and open minds.  We need to accept them for who they are.  We need to look pass the flip-flops in church, holey jeans, and random pop culture t-shirts, and hear their voices.

By hearing their voices, I mean listening deeply to what young people have to say, because they have a lot to say about a lot of things they see around them.  Dori Baker and Joyce Ann Mercer remind us in their book Lives to Offer that “young people today are concerned about the deep wounds of the world” (page 25).  Young people have insights and opinions that are worth listening to and worth taking the risk of putting these opinions into action.  It means being flexible with our own ideas, giving up some of the decision-making that we in the church tend to hold on to, and giving it over to the young people.

There is a saying that the young people are the church of tomorrow.  Friends, young people are the church of right now.  Leadership development of young people is not for the church to exist in the future.  Rather, developing young leaders is a partnership for the church today; a partnership that nurtures change in the world. The church learns just as much from young people as young people learn from the church.  This kind of partnership opens the door for intentional intergenerational opportunities, where mentoring happens.

About fifteen years ago, while working in children’s ministry, the third to fifth graders were pen pals with older adults in the congregation.  One of the third grade boys and one of the older men formed a close mentoring relationship that resulted in them working together in leading others in the children’s ministry to plant a community garden.  The harvest from that small garden was used to make a difference to the hungry families in the community.  This act of mission succeeded all because a third grader saw a need.

A high school student returned from a mission trip to Central America with a heavy heart as she remembered the children she had met who had so little to eat.  As she transitioned back into normal high school life of school, dance practices, exams, and lunch tables, she could not shake the image of children sitting alone in dusty shacks waiting for a few pieces of rice and bread at the end of the day.  She pulled a number of people from the mission trip together and she spear-headed a project called Feed Diques.  Now over fifty children get at least one hot, nurtritious meal a week because this high schooler saw a need.

Why is this kind of partnership so important to the church?  Because the way in which young people vision the church is a new and hopeful vision compared to the way we have always done church.

(*) Originally published in the Virginia United Methodist Advocate, June 2013 issue.

Pursue Justice. Pursue Love.: A Sermon

A sermon preached Sunday, October 14, 2012 at Peakland United Methodist Church. Some illustrations were provided in a Children’s Sabbath resource provided by United Methodist Family Services.

Scripture readings: Job 23:1-9; 16-17 and Mark 10:17-27

It was a Sunday morning, but something seemed different. As Erin drove to church, she noticed that the roads were more crowded than they normally were. And then she saw it. Instead of an abandoned parking lot at the Toys-R-Us like it was every other Sunday morning, the parking lot was full!

It looked like hundreds of children and their parents wrapped around the building and lined up in anticipation of something – a new Elmo toy, perhaps. Erin couldn’t help but think, “WOW.” All of these families lined up outside of a toy store just to get the newest toy.

As I reflected on Erin’s experience, I found myself thinking of all the children in our community who will never have that experience. Children who struggle to get by each day and who don’t know what the next day will bring. These children are not lined up outside of a Toys-R-Us waiting to take advantage of a sale or release of a new toy on a Sunday morning.

Take Renee for example. Renee is a client at United Methodist Family Services and she doesn’t consider herself anyone’s child. She is a ward of the state. Renee’s biological mother was 17 when Renee was born and living in poverty. Her troubled life involved convictions for theft, cocaine possession, and carrying a concealed weapon. After her mother was arrested for forgery, 7-year-old Renee was scooped up by a social worker and placed in the foster care system. Renee is not waiting outside Toys-R-Us to buy the latest and greatest toy on sale.

Renee is waiting for a forever family who will love and care for her.

Erin’s experience at Toys-R-Us and Renee’s story leaves me wondering, what is it that we the church are seeking for children? Are we seeking and pursuing justice and love for all children? Or are we focusing so much on teaching what we think Christians should believe while neglecting to show how Christians should live by actively pursuing justice?

Job doesn’t quite ask it this way in our Old Testament reading this morning, but he gets there. Job is the Biblical example of what it means to suffer. God and Satan set a bet on the table to see if Job would curse God or not if Job was no longer under God’s protection. God removes his protection from Job and Job loses everything. He loses the family farm, his children die, his wife leaves him because she can’t handle it anymore. His friends try to help, but all they offer are ways in which Job caused this suffering on himself. The verses we read this morning are often looked at by scholars as Job’s complaint to God. Complaint often has a negative tone to it. But challenge your thinking on that. Job is complaining because there is no sense of justice. Job feels that it is not right that he should suffer in the ways in which he has suffered.

Shane Claiborne, a well-known Christian author and speaker, who defines himself as an “ordinary radical,” describes his own experience as a youth growing up in the United Methodist Church this way:

I began to wonder if anybody still believed Jesus meant the things he said. Jesus was crazy enough to suggest that if you want to become the greatest, you should become the least. Jesus declared God’s blessing on the poor rather than the rich and insisted it wasn’t enough to love just your friends. I thought that if we really lived like Jesus taught, it would turn the world upside down and that it was a shame Christians had become so normal. I learned in Confirmation class about the fiery beginnings of the Methodist Church, but where had the fire gone? I learned about John Wesley who said that if they didn’t kick him out of town after he spoke, he wondered if he had really preached the Gospel. Then I watched as the congregation built a $120,000 stained glass window. Wesley would not have been happy. I stared at that window. I longed for Jesus to break out of it, to free himself, to come to rise from the dead . . .again.

Claiborne’s words remind me of the story of two old men talking to each other and one of them says he has a question for God. He wants to know why God allows such injustices, poverty, suffering, and hunger to exist in the world. His friend says, “Well, why don’t you ask God?” The fellow shakes his head and says he is scared too. When his friend asks him why, he answers, “I’m scared God will ask me the same question.”

It is quite possible that the rich man in Mark’s gospel today could have felt the same way that this old man did. The rich man comes to Jesus inquiring what he must DO to inherit eternal life. For Mark, eternal life is a synonym for the Kingdom of God. He uses the two terms interchangeably. In Jesus’ time it was widely believed that the rich were more likely to inherit the Kingdom of God. Their wealth was something that they had worked hard to accumulate over time or they had inherited. The rich man was most likely used to doing something in order to inherit great wealth (aka the Kingdom of God).

Jesus’ response is enough to jar us as it exposes the shakiness that is the bridge between the have’s and the have-not’s. Jesus flips the understanding of what it means to belong to the Kingdom of God.

Remember last week when we read from the Gospel of Mark, the disciples were trying to keep the children away from Jesus? Jesus said, “Let them come to me, because the Kingdom of God belongs to ones such as these.” Remember how Edwin told us a few times that in Jesus’ day, children were expected to not be seen and not be heard. They had no social status what so ever. They were the least of these. And Jesus says that the Kingdom of God belongs to them. Jesus has flipped the understanding of how to enter the Kingdom. He does the same this week, with the rich man.

Jesus calls the rich man to give up all of his possessions and follow Him. The man, as Lamar Williamson, points out, was mostly awe-struck, astonished at what Jesus was asking of him. And the man walked away.

This is the part of the story where we usually yell out like we were watching our favorite TV show, “Dude, what are you doing?? You’re walking away from Jesus??” In Mark’s gospel this is the only time someone is called to follow Jesus and does not immediately do so. But, as Megan, who is also preaching on this text today, pointed out to me, we don’t know what the man does when he leaves. Maybe he was disappointed. Maybe he was angry and bitter. We really don’t know, Mark does not tell us, that’s another story for another book for another day. The question it raises for us is, where are we walking? Where are we going when Jesus calls us?

Today is Children’s Sabbath which is sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund who works tirelessly to ensure every child is healthy, is educated, and has an equal start. They challenge faith communities, like this one, to transform our communities and our nation as they defend and care for the youngest, weakest, poorest, and most vulnerable. The least of these.

So, while we are here in this beautiful place of worship and not in line at the Toys-R-Us, we must tackle some tough questions. Are we engaging in our Christian education in spiritual disciplines that lead to the practice of risk-taking mission and deep authentic community to seek justice for all children? Are we engaging people in our ministries in leadership to equip them to be the change they wish to see in the world? As we consider the millions of children in our own country who live in poverty, who are homeless, abused, neglected, without health insurance, or who are hungry, we must think about how we can be the body, the hands, and the feet of Christ for these children to work for – to pursue – justice on their behalf.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel knew something about pursuing justice. He said once, after marching with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, “It felt as if my feet were praying.” Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King were walking with purpose and intent. To pursue is to hold purpose, there is nothing accidental or incidental about what we are doing. Rabbi Heschel would write, “The term ‘pursue’ carries strong connotations of effort, eagerness. This implies more than merely respecting or following justice”; in other words, justice is something we actively pursue. We don’t just sit back and say oh, that’s a great idea. The talk the talk and we walk the walk.

When a child is in absolute jeopardy, mortal danger, we put out an Amber Alert – we tell the whole community that we are in pursuit of the child and the one who is endangering that child, it is a time of utmost urgency and everyone has to get involved, everyone is expected to be aware, to look out for the child, to do what they can to help rescue the child in danger.

Brothers and sisters, this is our Amber Alert. We as a community of faith, as ones who follow the Christ, need to be on the lookout for children in danger, we need to be in pursuit for safety, to see that justice is done. In an Amber Alert, we get all kinds of information about the child, including their face, name, and story plastered everywhere!

There are countless faces of children lining up, not at Toys-R-Us, but at soup kitchens and other churches and agencies to get one hot meal or one box of food or for the lucky chance of getting to see a doctor at the free clinic. They are lining up all over Africa, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Dominic Republic, Washington D. C., and Lynchburg, Virginia.

We most likely will not get to see the faces of the 16.4 million children in this country who live in poverty, or the millions without needed health care, or the countless faces of children who go to bed hungry. We most likely won’t see the faces of the 5, 367 children and youth who are in foster care in Virginia and the 1, 372 who are waiting to be adopted by a forever family.

But some of us will. 25% of the population in Lynchburg is made up of children living below the poverty level. It is easy to look out and not see, but chances are with 25% of the population being children below the poverty level, we’ve met them. We’ve see them somewhere. How are we going to respond? Are we going to walk away?

Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment was, and he answered two-fold: “Love God. Love each other.” We are called to love our neighbors are ourselves. We are called to love our enemies. We are called to love all people. And because we love, we pursue justice. When we pursue justice we are showing others our love.

We can rest assured that the faces we don’t see, God does. God knows each of their names, each of their faces, and each of their stories, just as God knows each of ours. And God has called us to go in pursuit of justice and love on their behalf – the nameless/faceless children of our community and our world. I challenge you this week to consider how God is calling you to be in ministry with children and youth whether that is here at Peakland or in our community of Lynchburg, or beyond. How is God calling you and how fast are you willing to go?

Amen.

Share the Bread

A sermon preached on John 6:35, 41-51 on Sunday, August 12, 2012 at Peakland United Methodist Church.

Dust was flying through the air as the children ran back and forth kicking a soccer ball.  Spanish and English floated above heads as college students from the United States were playing futbol with Costa Rican children while on a mission trip to the shantytown Los Diques.  As the ball flew past Paul, one of the American college students, the Costa Rican children laughed that they had gotten the ball past him.  But Paul’s attention had left the soccer game.

In the distance, Paul noticed something.  Or, rather, someone.  Sitting next to an electrical pole that didn’t work, in tall green grass that hadn’t been cut, was a toddler.  Paul walked over to the electrical pole as the soccer game continued.  He picked up the small boy who was wearing only a diaper, and carried him into the church.

Paul writes

This was the first time I met Jabel.  He was two at the time.  He lived in a small two-room house that sat across the dirt road from a church and next to the shantytown’s trash pile.  At random times during the week someone would come by and set the trash on fire to burn down the pile.  The smell of burnt trash would drift into Jabel’s house

His single mother worked in coffee fields all day.  She would walk about 20 minutes from the shantytown into the nearest city to ride the bus thirty minutes to the coffee fields.  During the day, she left her three boys, Jabel and his two older brothers, at home by themselves.

Even though Jabel’s mother loves him deeply, she struggles to put bread on the table.

The average person in the world will eat one small meal today, and this was true for Jabel and others like him in the shantytown of Los Diques.  Hunger is a reality that hurts.

In Biblical times, hunger was a reality that was not overlooked.  And it is this context of hunger – a universal experience –  that Jesus spoke what became controversial words: “I am the bread that comes from heaven.”

In verse 41, John tells us that the Jews started complaining because Jesus said, “I am the bread that came from heaven.”  This statement aroused anger and anxiety in the people.   This is in contrast to the response Jesus got in last week’s reading from John 6, where the people wanted more of Jesus. They sought him out.  But not this week!  Here they complain!

They didn’t seek understanding or clarification.  Instead they murmur and complain.  “How can this be?” they ask.  These words from Jesus cause them to remember how their ancestors wandered around in the wilderness (murmuring and complaining, none the less), and how Moses provided them with manna from heaven.  “The giving of the manna,” Biblical scholar William Barclay writes, “was held to be the supreme work in the life of Moses and the Messiah was bound to surpass it.”  And so, here is this Jesus who claims to be the Messiah, with no manna from heaven.  Instead, he calls himself that bread from heaven.

With this one statement, Jesus calls into question everything the people had believed and held as truth.  Not only was Jesus changing their way of understanding “bread from heaven,” but he was changing their understanding of being in relationship with God.  To be in relationship with God meant believing in Jesus as the Christ.

And their way of coping with this, was to complain.  And why not?  It’s so easy.

A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?” The monk replied, “Food bad.” After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts. He said, “Bed hard.” Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.” “It doesn’t surprise me a bit. You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”

But seriously, when it comes to growing in our faith and in our relationship with God, complaining gets in the way.  You know why the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years?  Because they were complaining so much.  Look at Jesus’ answer in verse 43: “Do not complain among yourselves.”  The Message puts it this way, “Don’t bicker among yourselves.”

Jesus calls it as he sees it.  Complaining gets in the way of spiritual growth.  Jesus offers to us the Bread of Life, the nourishment that will keep us individually and as a community of faith, from wandering in the wilderness.

Irenaeus, an early church theologian, was asked what new thing has Christ brought that others do not give us, he replied, “He brought himself.”  The bread from heaven that Jesus brings is himself for the spiritual self of humanity.  “He is,” Irenaeus says, “as necessary to us as our food.”

We may not be hungering for bread like Jabel, but we hunger in a spiritual way. And Jesus says that he is the bread that came from heaven, those who eat of this bread will live forever, and be hungry no more.  A hunger that can be fed through Jesus Christ.

For it is through a relationship IN Christ that we, as the workmanship of God, are able to share the Bread of Life with those who are hungering.  We, as the Apostle Paul tells us through his letter to the Ephesians are to live the life which we are called.  Those of us who claim Christ as Savior are called to be Christians, which can be simply translated as “little Christs.”

In the 1992 Walt Disney film, Aladdin, the title character goes through some extreme measures to get a loaf of bread, including running away from the Sultan’s guards.  As an adolescent living on the streets, Aladdin knows that this loaf of bread could possibly be the only food he’ll have that day.

As he’s about to bite into the bread Aladdin notices two small children digging through trash, searching for something to eat.  In that moment, Aladdin becomes a “little Christ,” generously giving his bread to the children.  As Frances Taylor Gench, of Union Seminary in Richmond says, “No image could convey more clearly Jesus’ power to nourish and sustain human life and to address our ultimate hunger – the hunger in every human heart for relationship with God.”

We are called to do the same – to share the Bread the Life with those who are hungering.  When Paul says in Ephesians 5:1 that we should be “imitators of God,” this is what he means.  We – in every way, on every day – are to imitate the God we say we love.  Whether that be in Central America, right here in Lynchburg, or even within the walls here at Peakland; packing lunches or giving money to support a feeding program; we are called to imitate the Christ.

So, I ask you how – where – are you being called to imitate Christ by sharing the Bread of Life?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Down

The Challenge:  Down. We spend a lot of time looking ahead, looking from left to right before we cross the street, looking into the sky for Superman, but not a lot of time looking down. What do you see?

This is a photo I took while in Los Diques, Costa Rica in January 2010.

This bridge is no longer in the Diques.  When it was, it ran from one shantytown area to another, over a river.  This was the main way into the city for many who lived on the other side.  It also held a water pipe, adding to the balance challenge of crossing the bridge.

When I have had the chance to witness people walking across, I observed that none of them looked down.  I got courageous enough to step out just a bit on it to see what it was like.  The bridge was uneven, swinging with every move.  There was no security, no guarantee that I would be safe getting across.  One wrong step and we are covered in the muddy water.  I couldn’t help but look down as I took my few steps.  How do they do this? I wondered. How do they not look down?  How do they not worry about falling through?

Isn’t that a lot like life?

 

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