Putting down roots

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20 moves = so many boxes

Since 1999 I have packed up my boxes and moved approximately 20 times.  Some were fairly routine moves: from home to college x 4 years.  Other moves felt more substantial: driving across the country to Texas after college to discover a new state and city on my own, out of the nest.  

This October marks the first time I have lived in one place for more than 3 years since high school.

It was a hard transition, this last move to the Northeast.  Will and I arrived here from South Texas, where I moved after seminary to live closer to Will, where we worshiped with a bilingual Mennonite congregation that taught me so much about love, where we got married on a balmy January day, where I assisted as doula at the birth of a beautiful girl who turns 4 this week, where we gardened with friends who ate and played and laughed together.  It may have been only 2.5 years but those roots went deep.

I arrived to White Plains excited to begin work as the Cross-Cultural Network Coordinator for Hudson River Presbytery and wishing we could recreate our South Texas community overnight.  But, of course, we couldn’t.  The soil is different it here, it grows new and different relationships and at its own pace.  This year, as I walk around town and talk to people from White Plains Presbyterian and the surrounding community or visit with friends from throughout the Presbytery, I am excited to notice the roots are going deeper.  I’ve known people over seasons in their life (and mine) at this point.  I’ve seen small ideas grow and take shape. I know the late-blooming sycamore tree in our front yard and when it put on leaves late in May long after the other trees, I thought, “Right on time.”

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Old and beautiful roots.

If you’ve been following this semi-(in)active blog for some time, you’ll notice it looks different and has a new title, “Cross-Cultural Catalyst”, which is the new title for my position moving forward in Hudson River Presbytery.  The Catalyst position is about growing deep roots.  

As Catalyst, I’ll spend half of my week in grounded ministry at White Plains Presbyterian Church, a diverse growing congregation, as we strengthen relationships with each other and the broader community through English as Second Language classes, the Groundswell Community Garden space, the Lineage Farm Community Supported Agriculture program, and the deepening friendships between the three congregations sharing space in the Presbyterian church building.

The other half of my week will be spent gleaning  and sharing the stories/models/mishaps/revelations from my time in White Plains to inspire community-growing work throughout the Presbytery.  Alongside the Cross-Cultural Network, I’ll encourage and learn from models and practices for cross-cultural community building that exist or emerge in this region.  Together with the Presbytery leadership, I’ll continue the work of growing to be a Presbytery that lives into its commitment to unity and diversity.

I’m putting down roots and noticing just how good it feels not to be packing boxes…for the third year in a row!!!

roots

More accurate representation of the roots I’m talking about…newer, more tenuous but still growing some good food.

O God of all the nations

allnationsThis is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is; Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine. But other hearts in other lands are beating, With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.”  – a portion of This Is My Song, a 1934 hymn written by Lloyd Stone (1912-1993) using the Finlandia Hymn melody composed by Jean Sibelius

We’ve sung “This Is My Song” a few times in recent months at White Plains Presbyterian Church.  It’s one of my favorites and is found in the Blue Presbyterian Hymnal as well as the new Glory to God Presbyterian Hymnal.  I thought of it again as I read the guest-post from Rev. Lindsay Borden that follows and describes the Day of Nations celebrated last month up in Hughsonville.  I was thinking it would be appropriate to write a new verse to recognize all people who deeply hold more than one nation in their hearts, whose hopes and dreams bridge oceans and many, many miles of land. The United States is in itself a country of so many nations, look and see:

“On Saturday, September 14, Iglesia Cristiana el Sembrador, in residence at the Hughsonville Presbyterian Church, celebrated its first Day of Nations since moving into their new church home. It was a day for the El Sembrador (which means “The Sower” in Spanish) community to celebrate the diversity of its own congregation – for its members were born in an array of countries, including Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, USA, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Puerto Rico. All those nations were represented by decorated booths offering food from each country, with everyone dressed in colorful costumes of their nation – everything from ornately embroidered dresses to fútbol (soccer in the USA) jerseys.

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A highlight of the afternoon was the Parade of Nations, with costumed participants parading through the newly paved (thanks to el Sembrador!) parking lot with their country’s flags, as we all clapped and waved and heard each country’s national anthem. The final marchers, carrying the Christian flag, represented the City of God of which we are all citizens.

Prizes were given for the best food and costumes and decoration – and Committee on Representation rep Carla Lesh and I were honored to serve as judges (sampling food from over ten nations was a delicious but somewhat intimidating task!). There was singing and dancing, and a joyful atmosphere that had cars slowing on Route 9D. The children of the church were everywhere – and they more than anything else represent the new life God had brought to the Hughsonville Church and to its community. We are so very thankful to and for these new partners in ministry.

One of the most meaningful parts of the program was a poem written and read by Isabela Leon, a member of the Iglesia Cristiana youth group, which she graciously allowed me to share. It’s called “Nations.”

Nations. In many ways we are different.                                                                             Ask the world to tell us our differences,                                                                                     It will in a heartbeat;                                                                                                                 Location, language, geography, economy, and so on.                                                       But ask it about our similarities,                                                                                             And it stays silent                                                                                                                             Not a word to be said,                                                                                                                 Just a confused look as it ponders the question.                                                                   As in silence without a reply                                                                                                         We lean over borders and reach across oceans                                                                 To hold hands with each other                                                                                                   To become one with our greatest relation:                                                                       Our Lord; Jesus Christ,                                                                                                                   With whom we are all one in.

Isabela calls it a poem. I call it a prayer. May it be so!”

~ Rev. Lindsay Borden, on behalf of the Hughsonville Presbyterian Church

Lingering Joy

I’m posting this sermon (see below)  that I preached at the May 21, 2013 Hudson River Presbytery meeting.  Almost  a week has passed since I preached the sermon and at least 4 days have passed since I promised a few people I would post it here.  I was reminded of my promise this morning after worship at White Plains Presbyterian Church by the words of a member of the church who is a faithful volunteer in our new English as a Second Language classes, a joint ministry with Hitchcock Presbyterian on Thursday nights that includes a shared meal, childcare, language instruction, and a brief bilingual worship service.  The White Plains member said that the Thursday night classes are the highlight of her week, that she can’t stop talking about them to friends and family, and that she leaves class glowing.  The majority of the students who come to class are members of a Spanish-language congregation that meets at White Plains Presbyterian Church on Friday nights and Sunday evenings.  The classes are a meeting place for members of the two churches to make connections and grow in relationship.  I, too, leave class on Thursday nights feeling full of deep joy. I had that joy in mind when I wrote this sermon…

A sermon preached at Hudson River Presbytery on May 21, 2013

Acts 1:12-2:21

“The disciples are told by the risen Lord to go to their room and wait for the Spirit.  But they are anxious and leaderless after the trauma of losing Jesus and Judas.   So they don’t wait.  They turn to choosing Judas’ replacement, hoping to make some order out of chaos.  They come up with two candidates, they cast lots (not the most Spirit-filled discernment process), one, Matthias, is chosen, the other, Justus, is excluded.

AND THEN the Spirit shows up.  No sooner had the disciples re-formed their comfortable tight-knit group of twelve, than the Spirit blows through the room, tongues of flame rest upon their heads, and they begin to speak in languages they did not know they could speak, to people they never thought would understand them or the message that Jesus gave to them to share.

A small act of human exclusion in the power structures of Jesus’ followers, is followed up by an epic act of divine inclusion for all God’s people.  It’s like the Spirit was waiting for them to get antsy, for them to stop waiting as they were instructed, to start going down the narrow route, so that the Spirit could show up and in stark contrast blow the doors wide open.

We are in a time of waiting in the Presbyterian Church. We’re waiting to see where the Spirit leads next..and, like the disciples we can busy ourselves in our anxiety with trying to recreate  what always has been or we can we can commit to some creative, ear to the door, waiting. Recently, at a gathering to discuss new visions for the Synod of the Northeast, a woman named Terri, urged, even begged, those of us gathered to take time to sit in the “waiting” room and listen to where the winds of the Spirit are blowing.

In these past months, as we compiled the list of churches in our Presbytery who share their space with other communities of faith (a list we will pray for and lift up during the business meeting), it was impossible not to think of Pentecost in the sheer number of languages represented in the faith communities who share space in the churches of this Presbytery – Tagalog, Hebrew, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Hindi, Korean – and that’s not even taking into account the diversity of languages present within our Presbyterian congregations.  As we gathered together resources to support churches who share space with other faith communities, stories emerged.  Yes, stories of the challenges of sharing space but even more prevalent were stories of deepening relationship between Presbyterian congregations and “that church who rents our space”.  Stories in which worship was shared, names were learned, and “that church” became our brothers and sisters.  These are stories from the waiting room: who is to say where exactly they will lead, but are we willing to wait and see? Are we willing to linger with each other across denominational, language, and cultural differences, to listen for and learn to speak the common message the Spirit may have for us?  If the Spirit grants us the fruit of kindness to extend to one another, perhaps the greatest kindness we can return to the Spirit is to pay attention to who the Spirit has placed in our midst.”

Rev. Betty Griffin of First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Vernon, NY and Pastor Marcio of New Life Brazilian Church continued the sermon by sharing about their experience sharing space and sharing mission.  They concluded their remarks with an embrace.

The fast we choose: Clergy, Faith Leaders, Activists Gathering on Ash Wednesday to Repent the Sin of Imprisoning Immigrants for Profit

Art by Ernesto Yerena via MigrationNow.com

Art by Ernesto Yerena via MigrationNow.com

I had the honor of leading our 12 noon Ash Wednesday service today at White Plains Presbyterian Church.  The first scripture reading was Isaiah 58:1-12, a reading pointing us to the type of fasting that God asks of us:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly…”

I invite you to read a story of light breaking forth in NJ, of clergy, faith leaders and activists marking the beginning of Lent with an action to loose the bonds of injustice:

2/13 in #NJ: Clergy, Faith Leaders & Activists Gathering on Ash Wednesday to Repent the Sin of Imprisoning Immigrants for Profit.

Lent is an invitation not only to examine our individual sins, but to look long and hard at our corporate sins, the systems of oppression that create inequity and alienation.  It is a season of confession, forgiveness, and renewal. Blessings and Courage on your Lenten journey!

AHORA is the time for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

If you didn’t hear it already, here is President Obama’s speech on a plan for Comprehensive Immigration reform delivered on 1/29/13 in Las Vegas:

The past few days my inbox has been flooded with responses to the plan laid out by the President.  Many are hopeful.  Many are skeptical.  Most are some mix of the two.  It is a beginning and by no means a perfect solution. But praise God for beginnings!  So now is the time to do your own research, add your voice to the call for just immigration reform, and invite your friends and congregation to join in.  Some suggestions on how to get your mind, body, and soul involved:

Get into the complexity.  The current immigration system is broken.  That’s a fact accepted by everyone across political lines.  It’s a mess but it’s one that we, as Christians and as members of the human family, need to dive into.  The Office of Immigration Issues of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. has some great resources to introduce you and your faith community to immigration facts, the PC(USA) stance on reform, and how to make your voice heard.  Also, take some time doing some myth-busting: 10 Myths about Immigration.  Much of what is heard in mainstream media about undocumented immigrants is simply not true.  Be informed!

Send a postcard to your Senators. Here is a sample postcard, which can still be printed out and used to send to your Senators: postcard here.  It says “Happy New Year!” but I’d say that in February it’s not too late to wish Senators a good start to their year….they have many months ahead of them!  Put these postcards (or ones of your own design) in the pews, invite church members to put them in the offering plate as their offering to the the movement toward justice for all people in this country!

Pray. Lift up comprehensive immigration reform in your personal and corporate prayers.  Our friends at Interfaith Worker Justice have an on-line prayer petition you can sign to let our President and members of congress know that people of faith are praying for their courage to act with wisdom and grace: prayer petition here.

Dance. There is so much joy in the movement for justice for immigrants.  That is one of the reason why the movement has journeyed this far.  Take a moment to listen to this updated version of La Bamba called La Bamba Rebelde, move your body in sync with the millions of young and old who have been working toward this moment in history, and sing with the God of All People who brought down the dividing walls between us,  “Yo no creo en fronteras. Las cruzaré, las cruzaré. I don’t believe in borders. I will cross them. I will cross them.”