Friday, September 1, 2017

A Sweet Spot

I am listening now with all of my senses, as if the whole universe might exist just to teach me more about love.
I listen to strangers,
I listen to random invitations,
I listen to criticisms,
I listen to my body,
I listen to my creativity and to the artists who inspire me,
I listen to elders,
I listen to my dreams and the books I am reading,
I notice that the more I pay attention, the more
I see order, clear messages, patterns, and invitations in the small or seemingly random things that happen in my life.
In all these ways, I meditate on love.

adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy (2017)

Here in Ypsi, signs persist that the season is turning.  The temp dips down to the low-50s at night and the sun sets seconds after the clock strikes eight (it was setting at 9:30pm just a month ago!).  The red robins and Canadian geese are steering south.

High school football has begun.  We attended the season opener with our friend Jyarland.  Her son Malcolm is a senior captain for U of D Jesuit.

And, sure enough, the women of We The People of Detroit are still hauling thousands of gallons of water to victims of water shut-off.

Since the day we packed up our Toyota Corolla and exited Detroit last September, we’ve spent significant time in a few contexts: Saskatoon, Canada; Portland, Oregon; Southern California (Ojai, Los Angeles and Orange County); and Michigan. We have spent the night in thirty different places. This has taken a toll on us. These past ten weeks, we really feel like we’ve hit a sweet spot, getting to do work we are passionate about, but also finding time to read, write, rest, go slower and breathe.  We have spent significant time centering ourselves and reconnecting with old partners in Detroit. 

Flowing from the gift of this time, along with much prayer, dialogue and discernment, we have decided to stay here in Ypsilanti for the remainder of 2017.  

We feel called to be soul tenders, or what the late Henri Nouwen called wounded healers. One of our mentors Rick Kidd refers to it as being change agents. We continue in a life-long process of learning to be free, joining others on the journey, and inviting more friends looking to do the same. It is a ministry of mutuality. We experience more newness of life as we share out of our own pain, struggle, hope and joy. 

Until next month, we send peace and blessings from the Huron River.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Seeing Race

Our friend Claire Hitchins (far left) played a few songs
for us from her new album "These Bodies."
Pick it up on iTunes!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead (1901-1978)

Ypsilanti, Michigan (pronounced ip-si-lan-tee).

Last Wednesday, at a community conversation hosted by the women of We the People of Detroit and Wayne State Law School, leaders shared data, evidence and research—despite many of their requests for information being denied by the city. In the last three years, 101, 752 households in Detroit have had their water shut-off by the city simply because they could not afford the rising rates. At the end of the night, about ten Flint residents came up to the podium to bear witness to how things have proceeded 1,188 days into their water poisoning nightmares. Practically nothing has changed.

In addition to deaths from legionaries disease, almost two hundred Flint residents have died from bacterial pneumonia and multitudes are suffering skin, blood and lung infections from taking showers. The presence of these "water warriors" was a reminder to us that the only reason that the Flint poisoning scandal was finally reported in the news 18 months ago is because these dozens of citizens (led by black women) organized themselves and, after hundreds of denials from elected and non-elected government officials, they recruited a team from Virginia Tech to test the water. These are real (s)heroes.

In Detroit, We The People of Detroit has organized their own research collective to provide data on rising water rates and shut-offs in poor black neighborhoods.  These women have discovered that, at the same time the city's water department was shutting off water to homes of poor black people, it was selling water wholesale to suburban municipalities. We The People is also working on a study showing the correlation between water shut-offs and ER visits to Henry Ford Hospital. Other friends in the movement are working to end illegal tax foreclosures. There is a state law that protects low-income residents from being foreclosed upon if they cannot afford to pay their tax bills. The problem is that these residents do not know their rights. And the city isn't helping. Thousands have been foreclosed upon.

 In addition, hundreds of millions of federal dollars earmarked for "mortgage relief" is being used for "blight removal" instead. This decision was made by a "blight taskforce committee" headed up by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, currently the subject of two federal investigations. Gilbert and a few other wealthy leaders visited the Obama White House a few years back and got the go ahead on this bait and switch.

And then there was this:

Last Friday, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit rebellion, Quicken Loans installed this poster in downtown Detroit. Quicken promptly took it down after justified rage exploded social media. Then, at 11pm last Sunday night, Gilbert posted his “apology.” He didn’t address race at all. He sound-bited “diversity” and “inclusion” over and over again. He said that their campaign was just “dumb.” Putting up this piece of propaganda, a poster of frolicking white folks in a city with an 83% black population, is far more than just dumb. It's 21st century racism.

Detroit is a city that has closed and defunded schools. Predatory. In the process of manufacturing a bankruptcy, elites raised rates on water and then shut it off to anyone who gets behind on their bills. Then, they cut pensions of long-time city workers. Predatory. Meanwhile, banks targeted black residents for sub-prime mortgages. Predatory. Then, after the federal government made available hundreds of millions of dollars to help these folks stay in their homes, the city of Detroit transferred that “mortgage aid” money towards “blight removal”—millions of dollars taken out of the hands of poor black people and given to contractors and developers. Predatory. Meanwhile, these elites gave hundreds of millions of tax dollars towards the construction of sports stadiums. Gilbert fully participated in all of this. It is a "comeback" manufactured for a few.

White people out here talk consistently about Gilbert’s “love for Detroit.” His love for the city, though, is exclusive. His “Detroit” is 7.2 square miles of downtown and the Cass Corridor. It is all the buildings he bought and refurbished (displacing long time residents in the process). It is the mostly white, upwardly mobile professionals moving into the city. The real Detroit is 139 square miles. It is 83% black. Gilbert is not only doing nothing to help real Detroiters. He’s making life even more unbearable while building a legacy for himself. Dan Gilbert is shaping Detroit into his own image. That’s not love. It is even worse than “color blindness.” It is predatory. It is white supremacy.

Our friend Jyarland Daniels (right) started up Harriet Speaks, an organization that partners with schools, businesses, faith communities and governments to help them communicate and develop strategies that increase equity and inclusion. She suggested that maybe folks ought to drive up into all-white suburban Birmingham and put up a big poster full of black people that says "See Birmingham Like We Do." Then: host a "community conversation" to talk about how people respond to that kind of messaging. Great point.

In The New Jim Crow (2010) Michelle Alexander wrote, “Seeing race is not the problem. Refusing to care for the people we see is the problem.” When we white folks proudly say that we “don’t see color” we are simply admitting that we don’t see the oppressive forces weighing down non-white people in American society. Those of us taking our cues from redemptive Love are called to bear witness to this predatory devastation and dehumanization. It was not just happening “back then.” It’s happening Right Now too.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Red Robins and a Retirement, Blue Herons and a Baptism

Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.
Mary Oliver

Ypsilanti, Michigan

This summer, we are sitting by the Huron River, letting the red robins and blue herons lead. The beavers entertain us as they doddle on the opposite shore. Meanwhile, we are soaking ourselves in the delight and prodding of various good work we have been given to do, as we sink deeper into the work of rest, recovery, and discernment forward.

Here is a little sample of some of those things:
-Writing and reading (the fiction and poetry kind being more heavily leaned on during this season of quieting, transition and discernment),
-Editing for and continued work on the book project (Tom)
-Traveling to Bend, Oregon for brother Greg's graduation ceremony over Father's Day Weekend (Lindsay) (below: Mason Thomas, the youngest of the Lamont Clan, keepin' cool at Uncle Greg's ceremony; Lindsay canoeing with Greg and Nanc through the glassy waters of Greg's "church")
-Organizing and Writing work for the year-long BCM Feminary cohort, which just came to a close (Lindsay)
-Engaging marriage and relationship work
-Getting trained in the Ethnoautobiography curriculum that mentors Lily Mendoza and Jim Perkinson recommended

We are eating at home a lot more--far too much pizza has been consumed during the past ten months years. We are currently inhabiting a very small studio apartment in downtown Ypsi. It is too light and too loud at night and there's no parking during the day. We continue to look for something more sustainable. We covet prayers.

Detroit beckons us three days per week to spend time with beloved friends and community. We celebrated the baptism of Cedar Wylie-Fahey in the Detroit River (Tom has the honor of being Cedar's godfather!).

We also helped organize the retirement celebration and final Sunday service for Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann, our mentor during our two years in Detroit (below: Tom facilitates a roasting of Bill at the Friday night bonfire; the beloved community commissions Bill with a laying on of hands).

We've also spent time with good friends like Leah McCullough, an ordained United Church of Christ pastor who is tending gardens all over the city.

Every Wednesday night, we help facilitate a lectio divina bible study, a 1500-year-old practice of listening to the ancient text "with the ears of our heart" as old St. Benedict described it back in the 6th century.  One night afterwards, Tom officiated the "legal" wedding of Bill and Denise, who tied the knot in a "religious" ceremony more than three years ago in Chicago.
True story.

We helped out our friends from We The People of Detroit with a one thousand gallon water shift to the St. Peter's water station.  Shut-offs continue as more and more lifelong Detroiters get pushed out of their homes.

One Friday afternoon, we harvested ripe cherries in abundance from the Wylie-Fahey backyard!

Sending so much LOVE from hot, humid Michigan!!!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Migratory Patterns

Anytime and anywhere, the person who exerts himself or herself with dignity, without worrying about results and without giving in to disappointment, is a true practitioner, a true person of the Way.  I believe that just this is the form of true human well-being.
Soko Marinaga  

Lawrence, Kansas

Over the past four months, we enjoyed our little “sit-spot,” right in front of our apartment in Ojai, the perfect position to watch two dozen mourning doves hunker down in a centuries-old Oak tree across the street.  Our favorite afternoon adventure was our Shelf Road run, a three-mile jaunt from our door to a bench overlooking the entire Ojai Valley (above photo: Lindsay with our friend Grace Aheron, a member of Charis Community Cville in Charlottesville, Virginia).  It was a challenging climb up a steep fire road, but the endorphin-infused walk down together always stimulated the conversation. 

On the way home from our final, wheezing pollen alerted jog, a large lizard shimmied across the street right in front of us.  When we looked up, we saw a red-tailed hawk fifty yards away coming right for us, trying to turn the poor little guy into happy hour.  The lizard barely escaped under a conveniently parked Jeep.  The hawk perched up on that rig, waiting for him to journey back home.

At the end of April, we facilitated a “MarriageStrongTM, Movement Strong” retreat weekend for three couples.  Lindsay organizes and teaches the eight two-hour sessions.  Tom leads off each session with a short meditation and prepares the six meals.  We love doing these together, mostly because we are reminded of the pain-and-peace cycle patterns so pertinent to our own relationship.  We always start by sharing our own quirks and copings to give couples a model of how it all works.  This vulnerability is a reminder of where we want to be in our own coupleship! And as always, it was deep honor and new learning to get to journey with each of these beautiful couples.

We got the opportunity to head over to the Melrose district in L.A. and meet Rob Bell in his back cottage (photo left).  He interviewed Ched for his popular Robcast.  It was a fascinating conversation about faith in the Trump era (click HERE to listen).    

Last weekend, Josh and Grecia Lopez-Reyes (photo right) and Sue Hur (photo below, with daughter Lynn and son Yul) hosted us in Pasadena.  Josh organized a reading of the first chapter of Tom’s book manuscript (tentative title: An Evangelexit Strategy).  It was a wonderful time of mutual sharing and honest feedback from friends who grew up in Evangelical Christianity, but like us, have journeyed with Jesus into new pastures.

While the red-tailed hawks and mourning doves stay in SoCal all year long, we’ve taken on the lifestyle of migratory birds.  From Orange County to Detroit, back and forth for two years, then on the road for fifty days, back to Orange County, up to Portland, down to Ojai and now, we are pivoting back to Detroit for the summer. 

We are currently en route to Philadelphia for a long weekend (June 1-4) to facilitate a marriage retreat for a couple who participated in a “MarriageStrong” weekend with us back in early 2014.  They are moving to Kurdistan for three years with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). 

Post-Philly, we’ll be staying in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a little blue-collar university town thirty miles west of Detroit.  We’ll be working on some writing projects and getting trained in ethnoautobiography curriculum (to learn more about ourselves and to be able to utilize it in some of our pastoring and healing work with others).  We are planning on spending three days a week in Detroit.  On Wednesday nights, we'll be participating in the lectio divina group (listening to the Presence of the divine in the context of our own lives) that we helped start up in the neighborhood where we were living back in Fall 2014 - yes! It is still going!  We also plan on working with the women of We The People of Detroit in their strategic efforts to aid victims of water shutoff and change city policy to guarantee clean and affordable water for every resident.  An epidemic of shutoffs continues to oppress tens of thousands of long-time residents. The work continues!

We covet your thoughts and prayers as we continue to discern both the What and the Where of this Fall.  Although we are meeting so many new friends and we tend to get absorbed in the work right in front of our faces, we are deeply grateful for the deep, diverse and scattered network of spiritual sojourners we have gotten the chance to know all over the continent.  Your support and friendship is vital.  Some birds migrate, some post up in the same watershed for life.   In the work of healing, recovery and liberation, each of us is called to something, not the same thing.  It’s the precious process of how the puzzle of peace and justice pieces together to reveal the final picture.

We are so grateful to be part of weaving that picture together with you all...

 (photo below: a late Spring drive through the Rockies gifts us with the last snow of the season).     

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Language of the Unheard

I want to live so densely. lush. and slow in the next few years, that a year becomes ten years, and my past becomes only a page in the book of my life.
Nayyirah Waheed

Ojai, CA

This month delivered two important commemorations: the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "Time to Break the Silence" speech denouncing the war in Vietnam (April 4) and the 25th anniversary of the "L.A. Riots" (April 29).  We joined our sending organization Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries in the participation of two formal gatherings the first week in April with pastors and community organizers in L.A.  We attended an event at an old black Baptist church in Watts called "Acting in the Spirit of Dr. King: Now Is Our Time to Break Silence." Portions of the speech were read and a panel of leaders talked about the relevancy of King's words today.  We sang James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the so-called "Black National Anthem," a song Tom first heard before the last college basketball game he ever played (at L.A. Southwest Community College, just a few miles from where we sang in Watts).  The service was a beautiful culmination to the daily Lenten devotional Tom had been organizing for the RadicalDiscipleship.Net blog that he and Lydia Wylie-Kellermann have been curating the last three years.

On Friday and Saturday of that week, we helped staff "Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the L.A. Uprising," co-organized by BCM and a group called ReconciliAsian, led by Sue and Hyun Hur, a Korean-American couple who pastor a church in Upland. This was, in many ways, a soul-deepening event, with plenty of time given for a range of story-telling from diverse leaders (black, Latina, Asian and white), bearing witness to what they were doing and seeing during those violent days in the aftermath of the acquittal of three police officers in the Rodney King beating trial.

Most of the analysis that I (Tom) remember from back in 1992 (as a high school senior, in that strange time just weeks after winning a CIF basketball championship and weeks before graduating) had racial overtones of "thuggish" black men "looting" stores and "burning down their own neighborhoods" while "hyper-vigilant" Korean business owners protected their stores on rooftops with rifles. The event a few weeks ago in Koreatown was powerful because it got to the roots of this social unrest.  Dr. King described a riot as "the language of the unheard." It is worth quoting a bit more from a speech he gave in Detroit ("The Other America") just three weeks before his assassination:

But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention.

The truth of the matter is that black and brown Americans have continued to endure injustice and oppression at the hands of police brutality, mass incarceration, housing, transportation and economic policies that have crippled any hope of having the same opportunities that we had growing up in what King called "the sunlight of opportunity" in Orange County.  The real history (that still affects the present) is that in 1930, city leaders boasted that L.A. was "the whitest, most Protestant city in America."  Black folks were not allowed to live north of Adams Blvd.  Latinos were banned from living west of the L.A. River.

As professor Young Lee Hertig said on the first night of this event, "the real perpetrator is always invisible."  Police caught on film brutalizing and/or fatalizing young black men walk. Banks charge skyrocketing interest rates for mortgages to black and brown families. Schools, largely funded by property taxes, are under-resourced. Jobs are few and prisons are aplenty. Voting rights and political representation are constrained.  The media suffers a vacuum, giving very little time to the perspectives of poor and oppressed people.   The roots of the riot (and all other "violent" acts) are not personal or cultural. They are political and economic.

Ten days ago, we drove down to L.A. to join an interfaith gathering, marching through the streets to protest ramped-up deportations.  We congregated in the street in front of Metro Detention Center, where ICE vans are parked in an underground garage.  We could hear dozens of undocumented folks knocking on the windows of their cells in the tower high above us.  Thirty-five religious leaders and community organizers got arrested in a sacred act of civil disobedience.  Photo below: our friend Grecia Reyes-Lopez (in red shirt), an organizer for Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, just minutes before arrest.

We are in Ojai for four more weeks and then we'll be returning to Detroit for the summer to re-connect and work with old friends in the city.  This weekend, we are hosting a MarriageStrong group for three couples in the area:  eight sessions in less than forty-eight hours!  It's intense, vulnerable, authentic and always life-giving for us.  Photo below: our Easter Sunday service in the backyard of Sarah, Adella and Erynn's, friends from the Abundant Table Farm Project.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Movement for a Moment

The only way to get change is not through the courts or — heaven forbid — the politicians, but through a change of human consciousness and through a change of heart. Only through the arts — music, poetry, dance, painting, writing — can we really reach each other.
Leslie Marmon Silko

Chumash Land. Ventura River Watershed. Ojai, CA.

One of the key emphases of this short residency with our sending organization (Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries) is the opportunity it affords us to study and experiment at one of the epicenters of the "watershed discipleship" movement. Ched Myers, the co-director of BCM, says that this isn't just "tree-hugger discipleship," but an apocalypse, the unveiling of a dire situation that demands a response ("response-ability") from people of faith and conscience.  It doesn't matter how much the U.S. President denies it, we are in the midst of a crisis of climate chaos and catastrophe.

Ched proposes that the start of global healing is rooted in a radical (Latin for "root") commitment to our watershed, a "region governed by Nature, not legislature." Thus Watershed Discipleship: an intentional double-entendre referring to this watershed moment (a crisis of global proportions) and a dignified and disciplined movement centered on the oldest way of understanding place: the watershed. This Moment requires a Movement.

As it turns out, when we reject political borders created by Empire, we can better examine the spiritually and physically sustainable ways of the indigenous who have always relied on their local Source of water for their survival & well-being. No water, no life. Yet our creeks are being drained and/or polluted while corporate media outlets obsess over celebrity meltdowns, stock market shakedowns and Presidential tax return takedowns.

Elaine Enns, also a co-director of BCM, brilliantly uses her experience and research in victim-offender analysis to engage with the exploitation of the Earth and her native children. The healing and reconciliation of this primal offense begins with the humble acknowledgement that we are all indicted, especially the Church which has blessed the extraction of precious resources, the exploitation of "the least of these," and the forced conversion of indigenous peoples. The rape and pillage of the Land and her people (for profit) is a multi-faceted offense that is coming back to haunt humanity, echoing the cry of the 12th century German mystic Hildegard of Bingen:

All of creation God gives to humankind to use. If this privilege is misused, God’s justice permits creation to punish humanity.

Or, from the late Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka:

If we throw Mother Nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork.

Watershed discipleship is a network of alternative Christian communities committed to Something bigger than big buildings and butts in the seats. These communities pledge allegiance to the fierce energy of indigenous people which always comes from a struggle for something: a place (for the latest example of this five-hundred-year tradition, just google "Standing Rock")! Watershed discipleship communities primarily ask questions in the positive:

What am I struggling for?
What am I saying "Yes" to?
What would I be willing to die for?

This prompts us all to ask very basic questions about our watershed:

-What time is sunset today?
-When you flush, where do the solids go? What happens to the waste water?
-Can we name five native edible plants in our watershed?
-Where does our garbage go?
-Who uses the paper/plastic we recycle from our neighborhood?
-Can we name five birds that live in our watershed?
-After the rain runs off our roof, where does it go?

These questions lead to answers that lead to more questions that lead to a deeper knowledge and love for place.

Watershed discipleship communities reject apathy, indifference, resignation and cynicism. It is a commitment to looking out for what is the very best for everyone and every living thing: from the homeless to the halibut, from gardens to grandmas.

We've come upon a watershed moment. The curse of civilization plagues us. As Dr. King lamented exactly fifty years ago next week (April 4, 1967), we continue to live in a situation where "machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people." We need a conversion of the imagination! It starts with our watershed.

Photos below (from top to bottom): Lindsay works the Ojai farmers market on a Sunday morning with Sarah Nolan, the director of the Abundant Table Farm Project; a Sunday afternoon Farm Church gathering, a stone's throw from the Ventura River; a "stations of the cross" Sunday service in solidarity with all our immigrant neighbors at the Abundant Table Farm in Camarillo; Lindsay shoveling wood chips during one of our Friday afternoon garden sessions in the backyard of Ched and Elaine's home (affectionately called "Casa Anna Schultz," it is a demonstration plot for foods and plants native to this watershed).