Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: Lynchburg (page 1 of 2)

I’ve Got Joy

It has been almost seven months since I have been to L’Arche in Lynchburg for Spiritual Life Night. I went tonight and it was like a homecoming of sorts. I was invited to stay and sing (not realizing that was why I was there). I was asked about baby J and Megan. There were bright smiles and huge hugs.

Then, without instruction or directions, chairs became to circle up and we all took our places. The red song books were handed out, and one by one we sang each person’s favorite hymn. It was gloriously out of tune. And it was awesome! Through “I’ve Got the Joy” and “Amazing Grace,” we made a joyful noise.

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A Vision of the Kingdom

washing_3262c-2Read Jeremiah 31:31-34.

The other night our youth group served a meal at Park View Community Mission. In Lynchburg 24% of the population lives in poverty.  Every Wednesday evening, Park View hosts volunteer groups like our youth group who serve a free meal to anyone who shows up during the serving times.

There were whites and African-Americans. There were young and old. There were homeless and working poor. There were those with disabilities and there were those without.

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Hillcats at Night

A few weeks ago we were at a Hillcats baseball game in Lynchburg. There  is still something unique and special when the sun goes down and the bright lights come on.

Hillcats

Beyond the Hashtag

from catchwordbranding.com

from catchwordbranding.com

You have probably seen, or even tweeted, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. It has been used in response to the kidnappings of Nigerian school girls at the hands of the terrorist group Boko Haram. Celebrities, politicians, the First Lady, and everyday people like you and me have tweeted the hashtag. In all, over a million tweets have beckoned for the return of these Nigerian girls.  And that’s a good thing. The more voices that rise up, the more awareness there is about an issue, like how selling girls into slavery is not okay.

And the use of the social media has reached the attention of those that can indeed do something about this. The U. S. government has since gotten involved to aid the Nigerian government in locating the over 200 kidnapped girls. It took the hashtag, first tweeted by Nigerian mothers, to get the worldwide attention it has today. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all over the world, including the United States, every day. The hashtag got our attention.

Blogger Merrilyn Akpapuna, a 20-something Nigerian, recently wrote this about #BringBackOurGirls:

We may not be able to physically save these girls but what we can do is talk. Our voice is our power and if everyone is talking about this, we increase the likelihood that something will be done about it.

Our voices are important. Our voices, like that of the Baptist in Mark’s gospel, are crying out in the wilderness for repentance. Our voices, like that of the whale-swallowed Jonah, are calling for a change in evil ways. Our voices have power.

But it occurred to me that maybe the hashtag is too easy. Not just #BringBackOur Girls, but any social activist kind of hashtag. Maybe we hide our voices behind the hashtag instead of truly raising our voices against an injustice like sex trafficking. There is a level of comfort when we tweet a hashtag from our smart phones while not disrupting the normalcy of our lives.

The work of justice is disrupting.

In the process of pondering these thoughts and writing this post over the last few weeks, Caitlin Dewey wrote an article titled “Is tweeting a hashtag better than doing nothing? Or about the same?” in the Friday, May 9 edition of The Washington Post. In the article Dewey raises some of the same questions I had been pondering. She also outlines how hashtags have become a form of “slacker” activism.

Is hashtag activism just being lazy? Well, it’s debatable, as Dewey highlights. As a Christian, I accept that I am called out of my comfort zones to pursue justice with peace and compassion. But, I also recognize that for some tweeting a hashtag with social justice implications (#JusticeforTrayvon for example) may be coming out of a huge comfort zone. But for the rookie or the veteran tweeter, it seems to be easier to tweet a commonly tweeted hashtag to show support for something and call it activism, justice work, or a good deed. Whatever we call it, it becomes comfortable and easy.

The other week I was in Washington, D. C. stepping out of my own comfort zone by advocating for bills or changes in bills that were before the Senate and House. I never imagined that I would end up on Capital Hill doing something like this. But when an issue or an injustice becomes deeply personal to you and people you care for, it moves you beyond the hashtag.

Injustice moves us beyond our comfort zones.

One of the things I was advocating for on Capital Hill was the Adoption Tax Credit Refundability Act of 2013 (S 1056/HR 2144). While the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 became a permanent fixture to the tax code, the refundable portion of the credit which was made permanent for two years (2010 and 2011) is no longer in effect. This new act will restore that refundable portion creating financial flexibility to families who are interesting in building their families through adoption. 

Here’s more information from a press release after the bill was introduced in May 2013:

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, one-third of all adopted children live in families with annual household income at or below 200 percent of the poverty level.  Despite the common misperception that only wealthy families adopt, nearly 46 percent of families adopting from foster care are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.  Many of these families’ tax burdens are so low that they cannot benefit from the adoption tax credit at all unless it is refundable.

While I could have stayed in Lynchburg in the comfort of my home and hashtagged my heart out, there is something to be said about stepping out of your comfort zone. And going to Capital Hill was way out of my comfort zone. We were meeting with staff of Senators and Representatives from Virginia. We maneuvered through the labyrinth of the basement hallways of the Capital. We ate lunch in the Senate offices cafeteria. We awkwardly waited outside of the offices of politicians.

All of this stuff we did on a casual, normal Wednesday, that I never dreamed I would ever do, made a difference in me. It gave me some experience in how politicians become aware of bills that could indeed make a difference. It challenged the myth that our voices matter (they do, by the way). I grew in understanding about advocacy, but also from hearing the stories of others. And none of it would have happened it had not stepped out of my comfort zone.

Stepping out of our comfort zones is a good thing.

But, it is also something that requires a little bit of responsibility on our part. We do not just simply raise our voices. If we are going to go beyond the hashtag and step out of our comfort zones to raise awareness, we need to be aware ourselves. Merrilyn Akpapuna, the young Nigerian woman I mentioned earlier offers some great advice:

So, do more research about this incident and talk about it on social media using the hashtag #bringbackourgirls. If you are a global citizen [something I continually strive to be] who is altruistic enough to care about not just the citizens of your country but the human race, you will agree that these are Our girls. So let’s start talking and say hey better me!

So, let’s get passionate, let’s tweet some hashtags, and let’s raise awareness of injustices around us. Let us also do our research, be aware of what we want others to be aware of, and let’s be courageous enough to step out of comfort zones beyond the hashtag.

Life in the City of Churches

As most of you know, I live in the City of Churches now: Lynchburg, Virginia.

The circumstances of my arrival here were all too surreal.  When I arrived to meet with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, we went through the standard questions and stories.  Afterwards, I got a tour of the church- a massive piece of real estate on a hill, that stretches far back on the property.  And when you stand looking towards the back of the property you can see mountains in the distance- is this real?  Is this happening?

After the tour we slipped into the sanctuary to stand in the back as there was a service going on that evening.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, when i saw it.  A gigantic wooden Jerusalem cross hung from the ceiling right over the altar area.  My heart was filled with joy and I knew I was in the right place.  In college, I was in a very special program called “church careers.”  Now, the program has changed it’s name to the Christian Leadership Center.  One of the main reasons I attended Centenary College of Louisiana was to be a part of this program.  The symbol of this program is the Jerusalem Cross, which at the time, was a little known symbol of faith to me.  At the retreat at the beginning of the year, a senior gives a freshman their cross and hangs it around their neck as a gift and commissioning of service.  After four years as a part of this Christian community, I grew deeper in spirituality and faith.  So when I saw that cross hanging in the sanctuary of Heritage United Methodist Church, I was filled with joy and the knowledge that this was the place I needed to serve.

It was only a couple of weeks later that I was officially appointed to the church by our Bishop.

The city of churches is an interesting place- people drive “nice,” something I have gotten used to not experiencing in the last few years.  People wave, smile, and say hello.  People open doors for one another.  It’s a much more courteous place than some cities.

When you go places, you always see someone you know or who is in direct relationship with one of your parishioners.  You walk into a coffee shop and you sit down with church members for lunch.  You walk into the gym and get a few waves from the people in your congregation.

And it makes you wonder, are there any non-Christians in the city of churches?  Is there anyone who needs me, this church, this Word?  Where is the opportunity in a place with churches on every corner and a Methodist Church every mile or two?  The good thing about these questions is that it causes you to work and think harder about who a Christian really is and how we are sent out to live in the world.  It’s much more than being “nice” and smiling at people.  It goes beyond opening doors and exchanging pleasantries.

In Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian, she explores the idea that we have taught our children the faith of “moralistic therapeutic deism.”  A faith where being nice and generally good gets you into heaven.  A faith where God makes me feel good and gives me self-esteem.  She argues that our children have learned this, because it’s the type of faith we possess.  What do you think?  Are we passing down a faith where we simply do a few good things and that’s enough?  Are we creating a world where the City of Churches is a competition of members?

Passing on our faith to children and to one another requires more than waving at everyone, as lovely as it feels to be waved at.

This was originally written August 15, 2011.

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