Saturday, December 17, 2005

Open House

I’ve spent a great deal of my life wandering around, visiting fascinating places and meeting amazing people. In my travels I’ve gathered up a treasure trove of beautiful experiences, but have never paused long enough anywhere to allow roots to find their way into the earth I’ve stood on.

I have been in Seattle now for exactly two years, during which time I married Pat, we bought a house, and we adopted two cats. Wow! I think I’ve sprung a root or two!!

Although I’ve always loved the idea of “community”, until now it has only been a theory I’ve longed to explore. After being in a small town in Zimbabwe last summer and witnessing the interconnectedness of neighbors, family, and friends, I came home inspired to find ways to reach out in my neighborhood. In the small African village there is a natural dependence on one another that supports strong community bonds. Here we prize our independence to the point of isolation. We have so much and are so busy, we don’t have the time or the apparent need for one another. My Zimbabwean friends find it hard to believe that many Americans don’t even know the names of their neighbors across the street.

Pat and I have made it a point to introduce ourselves to the neighbors on our street and have gotten to know one or two of them fairly well. But, I thought it was time we made more of an effort to develop bonds in our little “village”. So last week I handed out invitations around our block: A Holiday Open House—An opportunity to get to know your neighbors. I baked up a bunch of goodies and mulled some spiced cider, cleaned up the house and lit the candles. Then we sat on our couch and waited...

Suddenly I realized that no one was going to come. What was I thinking? Who would want to go to a complete strangers home during the middle of the busiest season of the year? My heart began to sink as the minutes passed. Just because I was gung-ho about “building community” in our neighborhood, why should I assume anyone else was interested?

But then there was a knock. An older couple that lives two houses down tentatively made their way into our living room. As I poured some cider for them, another knock. Then another. Soon our small home was overflowing with neighbors, drinking cider, eating goodies, meeting, and greeting.

There were rumors of an Olympic rower that lived somewhere in our neighborhood. There were hushed stories of the alleged murder that occurred in the house on the corner over a decade ago. There was debate about bio-diesel cars, and whether or not a tow truck was the best way to pull down the laurel bushes that grow incessantly on our streets. Favorite artists were discussed. Golf tournaments were planned. My Africa photo album made the rounds, while two little boys almost pulled our Christmas tree down.

We soon discovered that we were in the midst of a beautifully diverse community…there is the retired carpenter, the zoologist, the Pearl Harbor survivor, the gardener, the new mom, the grandmother. There are Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, Buddhists, Catholics, Atheists, Democrats, Republicans, and Green-Party Hippies. You name it, our little neighborhood has got it! It’s fabulous!!!

Earlier, before everyone had arrived I had nailed a “hamsa” symbol by our door. It is an ancient figure of a hand with an “eye” in the middle of it, once used to ward off the “evil eye”. As I hung it in our entry, I prayed that it would symbolize a hand of blessing on all who entered and exited our home. And as each of our neighbors made their way out, thanking us for giving them the opportunity to gather together and get acquainted, I felt that hand of blessing on each of them, and especially on Pat and I. What a gift it had been for us to see our home full of new faces eager to “build community” with one another. I could practically feel my newly sprouted roots working their way into the earth I stood on.

For the first time in a long time, I have found home.

I pray our home will become known as The Open House to our friends and neighbors. A welcoming place of refuge, peace, comfort, laughter, healing…A place that those who enter and depart from feel blessed.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What's in a name?

I recently received the following comment:

“I am sure you are not aware of this, but calling yourself a "gypsy girl" is very offensive because "gypsy" is the derogatory term for Roma people, of whom there are 14 million citizens in Europe alone. They are not "wanderers" in most countries at this point; they are however desperately in need of the kind of human rights activism you seem to espose.”

Here is my response:

Dear Anonymous,

I appreciate your input.

In fact I have been involved with humanitarian aid in Roma villages in eastern Europe and care very much for this forgotten people group. But my understanding of the term "gypsy" encompasses a multitude of once nomadic cultures from many countries throughout history, not just the Roma.

According to the "Gypsy Lore Society", an academic group focusing on studying the broad history of gypsy culture:

"In their native languages, each of the groups refers to itself by a specific name, but most translate that name as "Gypsy" when speaking English."

It is certainly not considered a racial slur.

In my work I have witnessed first-hand the terrible racism directed towards the Roma people, but did not find that the description "gypsy" was of particular offense. It was instead made known through general attitudes, economic policies, and acts of violence.

In contemporary usage the word "gypsy" is often metaphoric; A poetic reference to a way of life used to describe certain types of music, dance, clothing, and decor. In this sense it has a very positive connotation: artsy, free, bohemian, non-conformist, non-materialistic.

This is the way I have chosen to reference the word. Anyone who knows me even a little, realizes that it would never be my intention to offend any people group. But, if after further research I discover that it is indeed harming the world in some way to use this name on my blog, I will gladly choose another name.

Anybody else have thoughts on this?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Crisis of Compassion

"Of all countries on the continent, South Africa is the one where you will most likely hear the words, hope and transformation. Larger-than-life heroes such as Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela still inspire the nation with the power of grace and reconciliation. AIDS presents a wholly different crisis from the one posed by an entrenched apartheid government. That was a crisis of theology and of justice. This is a crisis of compassion, requiring not a change in laws and government, but of hearts. We can look at the children with stolen futures, at an entire continent whose future hangs in the balance, and ask questions of God. Or we can look at the same problems and realize that these are God's questions to us. Who cares about AIDS in Africa?"

-Philip Yancey, “Finding God in Unexpected Places”

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bush Meets St. Peter

This post is a must read!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day. It has been celebrated since December 10th, 1948, when the United Nations first adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib and the current reports of secret CIA prisons, the theme is significant:

Torture and Global Efforts to Combat It

Here are some excerpts from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s message today:

Fifty-seven years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibited all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, torture remains unacceptably common. Recent times have witnessed an especially disturbing trend of countries claiming exceptions to the prohibition on torture based on their own national security perceptions.

Let us be clear: torture can never be an instrument to fight terror, for torture is an instrument of terror.

Humanity faces grave challenges today. The threat of terror is real and immediate. Yet fear of terrorists can never justify adopting their methods. Nor can we be complacent about the broader prevalence of cruel and inhuman punishment, which in so many of our societies disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people: the imprisoned, the politically powerless and the economically deprived. Instead, we must respond to this evil wherever we find it by reaffirming humanity’s most basic values.

Today, on Human Rights Day, let us recommit ourselves to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and let us rededicate ourselves to wiping the scourge of torture from the face of the earth.

For an interesting debate on the issue of torture visit NPR.

To take action, please visit Amnesty International.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

More Thoughts on Giving vs. Sharing

"Real Change" is a Seattle weekly paper sold by the homeless, focusing on social justice issues. Here is an editorial excerpt by executive director Timothy Harris from the last issue. He's specifically refering to Thanksgiving, but the issue is true of the holidays in general... and of the rest of the year for that matter.

What are we to make of Thanksgiving? For homeless folks there is a vast circuit of turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie to be navigated. The mailings and the billboards begin in September. "Your contribution will ensure that no one goes hungry on Thanksgiving Day."

As if that were the problem.

Last week...the House passed a budget proposal that slashed funding for poor people's programs. Medicaid. Food stamps. Support for childcare. Even child support enforcement has been targeted. The legislation was quickly passed, in time to recess for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since 2001, the number of poor in the United States has grown by 4 million. The number of people without health insurance has grown to over 45 million. Meanwhile, over 50 percent of all 2004 income went to the top fifth of households, with the biggest gains going to the top five percent and one percent.

This is the sort of radical inequality that undermines democracy itself.

Thanksgiving has a lot going for it. But the idea of being thankful needs to genuinely extend to concern for others. Social progress is nothing if not a continual enlargement fo the definition of who matters.

This was the radical message of Jesus Christ that those who have formed a political movement in his name seem to have missed. When we place the least among us first, we realize the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

These are extraordinarily mean times. The shortsighted and ruthless greed that drives national priorities seems to have no limits. It's easy to feel as if there is little to be done, to retreat into private concerns and individual priorities.

We must instead take up the challenge of our times. An authentic Thanksgiving celebration must embrace the issues of what can be done for others. How can we enlarge our definition of community?

Thanksgiving has a become a national celebration of charity. What we need is a holiday to celebrate the idea of justice.

For another profound perspective on the difference between charity and solidarity, check out Christy's post.

Also, Mike's post.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Tagged for Sevens

From Bobbie

Seven Things to Do Before I Die:

1. speak Spanish fluently
2. have a starring role in an amazing film
3. journey through the mountains of Tibet
4. give birth to a child, or adopt one… or both?
5. learn an Irish jig
6. become more of who I really am
7. change the world

Seven Things I Cannot Do:

1. stop making lists
2. make a good pie crust
3. keep a bowling ball out of the gutter
4. a triple pirouette
5. stop eating chocolate
6. keep a dry eye when someone else cries
7. be in the same room with a spider

Seven Things that Attract Me to My Husband [romantic interest, best friend, whomever]:

1. his ocean-colored eyes
2. his laughter
3. the silver in his hair
4. his generous spirit
5. the way he plays his bass
6. how he holds and pets our kitties
7. that he brings me a glass of water every night, and that he gets up and turns the heater on for me in the morning so that it will be warm for me when I crawl out of bed (oops, I guess that makes 8!)

Seven Things I Say Most Often:

1. I can’t believe it’s raining again (still getting used to this pacific northwest weather)
2. what should we have for dessert?
3. …sigh
4. I hate this piece of $%#! computer!
5. ooooh, my little munchkinheads (while gritting my teeth)
6. how’s your body feeling today? (to my pilates clients)
7. I’m so intolerant of intolerant people….hmmm

Seven Books (or series) I Love:

1. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art – L’Engle
2. The Secret Life of Bees – Kidd
3. Seeking Peace – Arnold
4. Between the Dreaming and the Coming True – Benson
5. Embodied Prayer – Snowber
6. Selected Poems by e. e. cummings
7. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - Brown

Seven Movies I Would Watch Over and Over Again:

1. The Sound of Music
2. Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides
3. Ghandi
4. Breakfast Club
5. Hero
6. Casablanca
7. Jackass: The Movie (shhh…don’t tell)

seven bloggers to tag: christy, lisa, idelette, anj, rachelle, sarah, kristin

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Giving vs. Sharing

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between giving and sharing lately. Especially this time of year when there’s suddenly a lot of talk about giving to the poor…but is there any sharing happening?

Giving has the potential to construct an artificial hierarchy, with the giver superior to the receiver. This kind of power relationship is too often fraught with condescension and pride, easing the giver’s conscience, and demoralizing the receiver. As David Ruis commented at a recent Off the Map conference, giving can be a form of sanitized benevolence, self-focused and exploitive, devoid of any true compassion.

So then what does it mean to share… it requires humility to walk with one another, to give and receive with mutual respect, to appreciate our deep need for one another.

It is the difference between charity and solidarity. Charity is cheap sympathy…Solidarity calls for true sacrifice and commitment.

For me this means I can no longer just hand out food to the homeless without even knowing their names. (In fact a real act of solidarity would be to stay with them on the streets for a day, a week, or more, to experience what life is really like for them…not sure I’m ready for that yet. But I want to get there.) I cannot just send money to Africa, without knowing and loving real people dying of AIDS and malaria and hunger. I cannot mentor a refugee family without embracing my own experiences of oppression and loss. I cannot care for a child of incarcerated parents without making my own heart vulnerable to the inevitable wounding of an angry, hurting soul.

I am compelled to engage in the lives of the people I wish to serve…to enter into their experience and really dwell there; To listen to their stories; To struggle with them in their cause; To sit down and eat at the same table with them; To receive the gifts they have to offer; To learn a little more about life from them.

In sharing, I realize that I am more whole when these—the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed—are at my side and that I desperately need them in my life.

As I learn to share, I am discovering that as a Nairobi saying goes…

I am who we are.