Posted in Uncategorized

3 Months, 2 Jobs, 1 Anita: It’s all about balance

Hi y’all (see, I’m learning the lingo! jk, I’ve said y’all for a long time 🙂 )

My friend John has written and spoken about the different stages of crisis when trying out new things: there’s the “3 day crisis,” the “3 week crisis,” and the “3 month crisis.” I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been experiencing the last one for almost the entire duration of the 3rd month here in Nashville. We are hitting our 3 month mark of being in the house tomorrow, 10/29, but my mini-crises have been occurring fairly regularly throughout the past several weeks.

Man, October is a hard month. I’ve always loved October because it’s so beautiful with the changing leaves, that expectant chill that permeates the air as the weeks go on, and the ever-growing appreciation for the waning sunny days. Michigan’s October is gorgeous as the leaves hit their peak, Ohio’s follows suit, but Tennessee has been a bit lagging…but I keep telling myself that those gingko trees WILL turn bright yellow and that I will get a chance to jump in some leaves sooner or later. Thank you, Lord, for the seasons.

I’m working two jobs here. This post is definitely not meant to complain about having too much work (far from it), but it is me exploring what it means to live in solidarity with lower-working-class folks, at least more than I did during college. I love both of my jobs, and I would score myself quite high on the “job satisfaction” index. At one site, I get to work with kids, to be outside learning about gardening, and creating environmental education opportunities. Love it. At the other site, I get to explore the relationship of environmental justice and spirituality and think critically about how religious liturgy can inspire and motivate people to be active proponents of justice in their communities, religious and nonreligious. Love it.

But it’s hard to achieve a good work-house-life balance. Am I spending too much time working at one job over the other? Do I have any time for me?

But, through recent conversations with my housemates, I need to think more about boundaries. Boundaries are not just to keep me from doing things that I don’t want to do, but also to help me be able to do what I do want to be doing. Boundaries help me achieve balance regarding time; physical, mental, and emotional space; and relationships. I’m a work in progress.

I am used to being busy. I get a rush out of being busy, actually. Feeling useful and seeing myself accomplish tasks (is there really anything better than crossing something off a to-do list? doubt it) are favorites of mine. But when I cross the line into being too busy, I lose sight of things that matter more than my job (yes, those things exist; they’re called “personal space” and “self-care”). And as one of my dear housemates said to me: “Isn’t this year supposed to be about caring for yourself and your learning? Aren’t you defeating the purpose if you are stressed all the time and are never feeling grounded?” Yes, Jaime. Too true.

3 months in.

  1. I’m homesick like nobody’s business. I haven’t seen my family’s faces in over 3 months, since they were gone before I left for Tennessee in July.
  2. Money is tight. But guess what, Anita? You signed up for this. What level of spending each month is appropriate for the amount of my paychecks? How do I save money? What do I define as “having enough”? I can only say that I have the utmost respect for the millions of people all over the world who work far more than 40 hours a week, who never have time to spend in their home (if they have one) or with their families, who will never have enough in a savings account to feel secure buying that one extra little thing they’ve been wanting, and whose life situations require that they live paycheck to paycheck and save coupons and pinch pennies wherever they can. Many parents of students I teach are in some of these situations, and I feel for them deeply. I view my commitment to live as much within my paychecks as possible as an act of solidarity with folks whose income falls far under the poverty line. Yes, I have my car, auto insurance, health insurance, and a warm place to sleep. But I have committed to a different lifestyle than I am used to, and I am doing my best to live into the challenge of economic solidarity.
  3. Living community is hard. Like, really hard. I’m struggling to a) know myself, b) be comfortable enough with myself to share the ‘real me’ with my housemates, c) get to know my housemates enough where I can live as respectfully as possible with them, d) get enough group time in, e) get enough Anita time in, and f) get enough God time in.
  4. Oh, and conflict (haha yeah, who deals with conflict well? Answer: NOT. ME.) I’m really trying to know my conflict style and my housemates conflict style well enough to be proactive and work things out. But it’s hard. My self-perceptions always get in my way. I worry my housemates don’t like me (ok, I know that’s irrational…{:P). I want people to be happy, many times at the sacrifice of my own personal wants and needs. I try to see it all as a growing edge that I’m working on.
  5. Future plans are stressful. Read: grad school, $$$, applications, $$$, relationships, geography, $$$…it feels like too much for me sometimes.

Good things happen all the time. God is good, really good, and many times I want to shout about it. I have so many blessings in my life, in the form of family and friends and opportunities, and I am ever grateful for the privilege to experience these things. But as all of these things swirl around in my brain, it’s hard to get quiet enough to hear God speaking to me. Sometimes it’s more of a whisper than a whirlwind.

If you are a praying person, send some prayers for me to be able to quiet myself enough to hear what my heart wants and what God is leading me towards. If you are not a praying person, just give a hug to the universe and I’ll let you know when I get it. 🙂

Posted in Sermons

How would your life change if a mountain was your neighbor?

This is a sermon I preached on Friday, October 25, 2014 at the Nashville Regional Festival of Young Preachers.

Luke 10:25-37 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

In late January 2012, I found myself in a little tiny car driving up Black Mountain. Black Mountain is in southeastern Kentucky on the border with Virginia, and is known for its black bears, cougars, and coal. It is also the highest peak in Kentucky. As I drove up that mountain, the January fog got thicker and thicker, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to see anything but clouds at the peak. Up and up and up I drove, around breakneck bends with no guardrail on the side. Up and up and up I drove, until I rounded the last bend and pulled over into a gravel parking area.

What I saw when I stepped out of the car made me weep.

What I could see over the border into Virginia was Mountain Top Removal. Mountaintop removal is the process of using dynamite to blast off the top ridge of a mountain to expose coal seams; in many places it is used instead of deep underground mining. The phrase “laid waste” took on a new meaning. Where there were supposed to be endless parallel ridges of Appalachian glory, there lay only the long ropy scars from the naked coal seams. Where there had been vast forests, there lay pits excavated by dynamite blasts. Where there had been a skyline that humans had born witness to over thousands of years, there lay only the flat triumph of human power and greed over the breadth and beauty of God’s creation.

This sight moved me deeply. Black Mountain was also in line for Mountain Top Removal.

Right there on that mountain, I decided that I could not live in the way that I had been before—namely, in chosen ignorance about the destruction of extractive industries. Standing there in the cold on top of that mountain, I vowed that my children and grandchildren would see mountains. Right there on that mountain, the paradigm in which I saw my life shifted, and I was faced with a choice—to pass by or to act.

Do I have an obligation to help this mountain?

It was a cool and lonely evening as the Samaritan man walked down from Jerusalem to Jericho. The road he walked was known for being dangerous, full of breakneck bends and merciless robbers. The sun had already set and the man was tired from his travels, a merchant heading home to Schechem, a city in Samaria. Down and down and down through the valley he walked, leading his donkey. Down and down and down through the valley he walked, until he turned his head and looked to the side of the road.

What he saw in the roadside ditch made him pause.

Just visible in the ditch beside the road was a human figure who had evidently been brutally beaten, lying naked, exposed to the elements. The person’s face was bruised and bloodied, barely recognizable. No clothing or identification or possessions accompanied the man, who had been robbed of all he must have carried with him, valuable or invaluable, on this dangerous road. Only long ropy scars marked this man’s back.

This sight moved the traveler deeply. He also knew the despair of being robbed of his dignity, of living in a world of oppression, and of being seen as unworthy of anyone’s assistance because of the walls people set up between each other.

Right there on that road, the traveler had to make a decision. What if this person was a Jew? What if they didn’t want to be helped, seeing only danger hovering above them in the form of an oppressive Samaritan? What if other Samaritans found out he had shown mercy to a member of a hated ethnic group? What kind of world did he want to leave for his grandchildren?

The traveler didn’t even know that he was not the first person to pass by the man in need, that others had seen and not taken action. But that night on that road, he didn’t ask the wounded man’s name or country or station before he tended the man’s injuries. Instead, he decided to offer an extravagant grace, a radical hospitality, in caring for someone in need by virtue of them being a fellow Creation of God.

Who is my neighbor?

In the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer at the beginning of this passage, Jesus does something really cool. The lawyer, like many of us today, is looking for instant gratification; he simply wants to know how to gain eternal life by doing something simple, by crossing something off his to-do list (AJL). He is wondering, “Whom must I treat as a friend? Whom do I have an obligation to help? How far do the limits of my responsibility extend? Where can I draw my borders?”

Jesus, however, turns these questions around, asking, “Who in the story acted as a friend?” He includes action in his rephrasing, changing the conversation to one about verbs—gaining eternal life is not about believing one thing, but it must be combined with actions. In this back-and-forth, “Jesus changes the definition of neighbor from one who is the object of kindness (in need and receiving the compassion and mercy) to one who bestows it.” There is mutuality in the word “neighbor”: it is a two-way street of loving “your neighbor as yourself.”

Many of us are good at this. We volunteer in soup kitchens, deliver water to people whose water is contaminated, donate clothes to the needy, visit folks in prison, and (sometimes) we even welcome the stranger. Jesus does not only expect us to bless others with our privilege as a community service project, but he paints a picture of a society in which there is mutual benefit from assisting and accepting assistance from each other. Scholar Amy-Jill Levine recalls Martin Luther King, Jr.’s interpretation of this parable: “[King] said something like: ‘I don’t know why [the priest and the Levite] walked by the man in the ditch, but here’s what my imagination tells me. Perhaps these men were afraid. The priest and the Levite say to themselves, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me? There are bandits on the road.” And the Samaritan says, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” So the Samaritan asked the right question.’ King goes on to say: If I don’t stop to help the sanitation workers in Memphis, what will happen to them?’ And we know what happened to King.”

So: no more can we view ourselves simply as the givers and distributors of aid. No more can we simply view ourselves as waiting for someone to haul us out of the ditch and fix the world for us. And certainly, no more can we wear our tunnel vision through our lives, missing the stranded travelers and people in need along our path. Gaining eternal life is living into a beloved community over time—being a “neighbor” is an ongoing process of being fully engaged and committed to community. The parable of the Good Samaritan is not a simple story about just one person showing compassion to one other person in need. It is about different ways of being in a community, and how we should treat each other as neighbors.

What if a mountain was our neighbor?

Knowing what we know about human-enabled climate change, we cannot continue to pass by on the other side of the road. No matter how much differing views say humans contribute to environmental issues, if we are part of the problem, then we can also (and should also) be part of the solution. We cannot continue to think that recycling our plastic-ware and planting a tree every Arbor Day are going to fix everything. We cannot watch the Appalachian economy suffer while coal companies shut down, without having another solution ready. We cannot watch people going hungry when there is enough healthy food in the world and not do anything. There must be a verb enacted so that we can truly be neighbors to our fellow created beings. How far does our responsibility extend? Whom and what must we love in order to be true neighbors?

Philosopher William James writes, “We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” Though humans find many reasons to separate ourselves from each other and from nature, we must realize that we are all part of the same Creation, the same dream of God. Environmental justice is not just about saving a tree for a tree’s sake, but it is about the health and wholeness of all the beings that share this planet. It stretches across race, class, gender, sexuality, geographical location and even time. Many indigenous cultures emphasize understanding all actions we do as affecting the world even to the 7th generation from now. All things—you, me, a tree, water, animals—we were all formed intimately by God’s own hands, raised out of the dust and given the breath of life. And God loves us extravagantly. It is our job to reflect that love back—around our neighborhoods, in our communities, and throughout the whole world.

Right here and right now, I challenge you to live into a beloved community of creation. Support school gardens. Help reduce your church’s waste. Listen to children’s stories. Get to know your neighbors. Share a meal with friends. Witness the season’s change. Reflect the extravagant grace and hospitality that God showed the world—even to the 7th generation.

The radical hospitality that the Good Samaritan showed the Jew lying in the ditch–that Jesus showed the Earth by coming to us incarnate in human flesh—that radical hospitality is the cornerstone of a community that upholds justice and love of neighbor—that radical hospitality is the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God, the community of all Creation.

Theologian Sallie McFague writes, “Once the scales have fallen from one’s eyes, once one has seen and believed that reality is put together in such a fashion that one is profoundly united to and interdependent with all other beings, everything is changed. One has a sense of belonging to the earth, having a place in it along with all other creatures, and loving it more than one ever thought possible.”

Imagine you are traveling up a mountain. The air is cool. You see your surroundings clearly—every rock, tree, animal, and person gets your attention. You see the homeless person and the river contaminated with coal dust. You see the endangered woodpecker and the children living in food deserts. You see the mountains lying naked, scarred from demolition–their dignity ripped away by extractive industries’ violation. What do you see? What do you do? What kind of world do you want to leave your grandchildren?