Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Intimacy, Community, Justice

There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.

As we pivot to embrace the Fall splendor, we find ourselves brimming with gratitude for our vocation and the community making it all possible.  For the past three years, we have been gifted with generous financial support for full-time pastoral and prophetic ministry.  More than ever, we feel prodded by Something beyond ourselves to carry on and deepen this work in a world stripped of intimacy, community and justice. One of our ongoing challenges is often feeling isolated and alienated, especially as we navigate the future.  Slowly but surely, we are learning how to ask for what we need.  Photo: As the days darken, the Ginko Tree (left) lights up on the banks of the Huron.

Since the beginning of this journey, we have been “fiscally sponsored” by Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, a non-profit Christian organization that we have been deeply shaped and supported by.  For a small commission fee, BCM has taken care of the administrative side of our work (processing contributions, payroll, taxes and expense reports) and has provided much-needed emotional support, mentorship and accountability.  In turn, we have staffed BCM institutes in Southern California and Saskatoon, as well as providing ad hoc pastoral and logistical support along the way.  It has been a wonderful partnership.  

During our Spring residency in Ojai, we had some important conversations with BCM about what our work with them might look like in the years to come.  They are definitely excited about the prospects of continued partnership.  However, they have had concerns about their own limited capacity to continue to fiscally sponsor our work.  Like most grassroots organizations, BCM is cash-strapped and overwhelmed with demands from all over North America.  Over the past few months, we have been researching and weighing the possibility of starting up our own nonprofit.  This is both exciting and scary!  

The challenges of this kind of venture include (A) the prospects of 15-20% of our time and energy focused on administrative duties, (B) the steep learning curve that comes with navigating the many hoops to jump through with the 501c3 process and (C) concerns about the financial sustainability of raising support over the long haul.  

This month, our base of supporters provided us with some really important feedback about the what, why and how of our work moving forward.  We asked what aspects of our work they were most excited about.  The top three:

1.  Facilitating retreats and groups for couples and individuals to be equipped with tools for healthier relationships.
2.   Helping oppressed and vulnerable people in Detroit (water delivery to victims of shut-off and home foreclosure, serving homeless guests at the soup kitchen, organizing and advocacy for change in city, state and national policy).
3.   Investing in one-on-one pastoring, counseling and mentoring work (in person, over Skype, on the phone).

This process has been helpful for us as both confirmation and challenge to focus on these elements going forward. We see it as both a nurture and a nudge, encouragement and accountability.  

In addition, we are thrilled that many of our supporters have communicated the desire to continue to financially contribute either monthly or annually, and have encouraged and supported us going forward with this process of starting a new non-profit organization.  Our next steps: filing articles of incorporation with the state of Michigan, writing by-laws and recruiting a Board of Directors.  We are deeply grateful for wisdom imparted by friends and continue to covet any advice from others who have experience starting or maintaining a non-profit organization.  

This update is our second-to-last on this 4910CecilSt blog.  In our December report, we will share some important news about the name and a few details of the non-profit we are starting.  We will continue sending out updates on a different website for those interested in keeping up with the Journey.  If you want to be on the monthly mailing list and/or want more information on how you can participate in this ministry, focusing on the nurture of intimacy, community and justice, send Lindsay an email at lindsay.airey@gmail.com.  Simply reply: "yes" if you would like to be included.

Our friends Joan and Luke get married at a campground in Wixom, Michigan.
Outdoor wedding: 45 degrees.  Notice Tom shivering on the left.  

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Hunting Party

Hunting party
Sometimes has a greater chance
Of flushing love and God
Out into the open
Than a warrior


We teamed up with some beloved friends this month, in our constant search for love and God.

Sarah Nolan and Adella Barrett, in the midst of a cross country road trip, joined us for a couple days in Ypsi at the beginning of the month.  We had great connections with them during our time in the Ojai Valley this Spring.  They were part of the couples retreat we facilitated in April.  Both of them are committed to a form of ministry that blends pastoral nurture, theological depth and growing food!!  (Below, from left: Lindsay, Adella and Sarah pose at controversial Hantz Woodlands on Detroit's Eastside)

Our friend Bryan Victor helped us transfer a couple hundred gallons of water to a food pantry in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood.  These folks are consistently reporting high rates of water shutoffs and yellow and brown colored water coming out of their taps.  Bryan is a professor of social work at the University of Michigan and participates (with his partner Tom) in our weekly lectio divina Bible study on Wednesday nights in Southwest Detroit.

Speaking of the Larkins Street lectio divina group, Lindsay consistency joins Erinn Wylie-Fahey and her two sons (Cedar, 1, and Isaac, 4) for a pre-lectio jog through our old neighborhood.

Our friend Jacob Taylor drove four hours north from Cincy in his clearly messaged Hyundai to join us in a weekend of coffee, conversational catch-up, co-conspiring, and dream analysis.  We originally met Jay Tay when he was interning with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries in February 2015.

Some people are hunting for love and God in the strangest of places.  Crowds flocked from the Detroit suburbs for six consecutive nights to take in Kid Rock's segregationist brand of music and politics.  We joined a group of about two hundred protestors before the opening night of $800 million Little Caesar's Arena, much of it financed with public money (while tens of thousands of black Detroiters suffer water shutoffs and home foreclosures). Images like these below remind us of the challenging words of Martin Luther King (and Jesus) who preached:

Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate...We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.

These are confusing and agitating times. We are feeling the wake-up call all the time. We need each other: for nurture, support, discernment and just to keep one another's courage up! Grateful to be part of an ever-expanding hunting party that prods us out of our alone-ness and into the love and God being flushed out all around.

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 RadicalDiscipleship.net 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).