Church Collaborative Feeding – What comes next!

carrots and sprouts

This is the third and final evaluative post on the collaborative feeding project our local churches worked on together. None of the pictures are of the actual food we served. This week we served smoky peanut butter chicken tacos, corn on the cob, cherries, and grapes. For my previous two posts scroll down!

I chose the picture of the slow cooker with veggies, because this process is slow and takes time, but we also know something delicious will be at the end. People were already talking about what we could do next, whether it is a through the year program with a once a month meal for the community, cooking classes, or even simply expanding this for next summer. All of these sound amazing. This is what I hoped for when I took this on, imagination.

We worked together, talked, spent time getting to know each other, and now we can dream together. New ideas bubble to the surface. We will meet next week for a fuller evaluation, but that people want to do more is a success for me!

In ministry, I feel like success is felt when the Holy Spirit is present not just throughout, but in the reflection, pushing and pulling us to move further into this ministry. What that looks like, I do not know. The future is for the group to decide under the Spirit’s guidance.

 

Church Collaborative Feeding – Collaborative Work

IMG_20170513_173528

This is my second evaluative piece on the Church Collaborative Feeding, scroll down a few for my first.

This week we made stir fry with multiple vegetables. A portion of my adult VBS group helped along with people from three of the four churches in our collaborative. We de-boned chicken breast, cut up veggies, made huge pots of rice, and sauteed everything. It was a good time. People worked together, and yet everyone kept turning to me to see if this is enough of that, or if the chicken was done enough, or what to do with the scraps. It all worked out, but it was a little overwhelming. I don’t mind being in charge of things, but I don’t fancy myself the best of all cooks or kitchen organizers. However, it did work out, and I was able to taste and see what was done and what was not.

My frustration with these sorts of efforts is not the people who think they know what to do or what to is the best way. Granted, we didn’t have any of those, plus I am easily persuaded. My frustration is balancing of what people offer as donations and honoring those donations while being realistic. But we balanced, we worked, and we collaborated.

Collaborate is a good word. Cooperative sounds less good for this sort of event. It seems to point toward the creation of something together. The creation of a meal and the experience (see last post on this topic). The thing about leading a collaborative is that you have to let the creative nature of each individual and group work out. When prepping a meal, it isn’t too difficult, especially when I get to plan the menu. However, on a larger scale, simply determining our projects can become a nightmare if one person or church dominates the planning. To alleviate this, we are meeting in different churches for our meetings and allowing different people to lead different projects. Our church, and my wife, are sort of the catalysts to make this work. However, her goal is that it becomes its own entity as a true collaborative effort.

This may become most challenging when we begin to work on things like pedagogy, social action, and other events, but there needs to be a place to allow for creative disagreement without harming others. Perhaps, if the beatitudes teach us something from the last post, meekness or a willingness to embrace and mesh in to others ideas is important.

However, there is also the need to let separate realities and possibilities exist. A collaborative requires a means of allowing for individual futures to be lived in to by different groups, even within the individual churches (as they often do). The struggle is allowing these different trajectories to exist and even conflict without stifling one or all of them.

 

 

 

You CAN teach liberation theology in rural communities!

IMG_20170723_153500We had our church’s annual VBS this week. The theme was Passport to Peru. I volunteered to help lead the adult class. We had a total of 15 participants in the class. I took the theme along with the suggested curriculum of food consumption and production and decided we needed to explore Gustavo Gutiérrez’s work in liberation theology. I also cooked delicious Peruvian food. For some reason, I took no pictures, So have included a picture of the book I used for the majority of my teaching. The God of Life, has a chapter in which the author explores the Beatitudes in Matthew Chapter 5 as an understanding of what it means to be a disciple.

This approach to Liberation theology went well. We looked at what it means to be a disciple in terms of the poor, oppression, poverty, and how the world might look if we changed our ways. What continues to strike me as interesting is how we approached the notion of mourning, in the sense of being willing to both cry with and hope with the mourners. Another person was struck by the notion of purity of heart as not being hypocritical, doing and preaching match up. Finally, I was also pushed by the notion of meekness.

The meek, according to the author, are those who can accept both God and others into themselves, to be vulnerable, to connect, to begin to receive the other. The inheriting of the earth seems both Abrahamic and to point toward the issue of loss of land due to oppression, high taxes, and income inequality. It also makes sense for rural communities in the sense of reclaiming their rural reality from the oppressive consumer capitalistic world which seeks both control and disposability.

People asked: What hasn’t this caught on in the US? It was a good time. We went from this into food production and consumption, and the value and importance of environmental justice, worker and human rights justice, and issues of land and connection. We discussed both production and consumption and brainstormed ways to take action in terms of getting grocery stores to donate food as well as a #FoodIsFree type program.

The third day, we pushed past food for the sake of consumption and nourishment and looked at the transformative power of food for connection to the land, for comfort, for sacrament, for fellowship, and more. We discussed, in a liberation and somewhat postmodern sense, what the Kingdom of God here on earth can and will look like, and then how can food help lead to this.

We discussed moving past handouts and looking to powerful means of using food to connect people to each other, the natural world, and God. We discussed it in terms of serving others beyond the nourishment (particularly funerals), and we looked at ways that it can give people hope. It was lovely.

Thursday we prepared and served a meal for a Kinship Caregivers Group (people raising children who are not their own – aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.). This was an act of community and an act of love. These people were not necessarily needy or poor, materially, but enjoyed the meal and the surprise of bringing home a recipe ready to prepare. ( I plan on evaluating week 2 of that later this week, as well as doing week 3!)

This was a tiny taste of liberation theology, but it worked! People learned, moved, and grew. I hope this is a stepping stone to more work for justice.

Pedagogically, the use of a common story (Beatitudes) and a commonality (food) helped. The place to work out ideas was very helpful. The nurture of these ideas will be crucial. This was not a world rocking, earth shattering, paradigm shifting lesson. However, it is the start of something.

 

Oak Hill Hikers – Unfinished Trail

featherblaze

Oak Hill Hikers had its first hike this past Saturday. We hiked at the unfinished Fonta Flora Trail. We had five people. A sixth grader, a twenty-something, and two people over sixty. We hiked 6.5 miles. The temperature began around 72° F and ended at around 88° F. It was a good time, with a break for some to jump in the lake. When we reached the overlook on the lake, we took time to have a devotion and reflect. Each month, I hope to provide a rough outline of my devotion for the event. This months devotion was focused on the notion of “unfinished trails.”


Unfinished Trails
I think it’s rather neat that for our first hike as a group we begin with an unfinished trail. This trail won’t be finished for years. Parts of the trail we walked on today are not blazed. We aren’t sitting on benches because they haven’t been installed yet, but you can see when they will sit.

The whole of scripture seems to be about unfinishedness. Books end with stories unfinished. New commissions and commands are given in the last verses. Even when all seems lost, visions of the future are offered. At the end of each gospel, Jesus gives some sort of assignment or promise. In Matthew, he instructs the disciples go and Baptize the whole world. In the end of Mark, the angel tells the women to go and tell the disciples about Jesus’s return (while they don’t go and tell, we know the story continues). Jesus promises to send “the helper” at the End of Luke. He instructs Peter to feed his sheep as John is wrapping up.

One of my favorite stories of unfinished comes at the resurrection in the gospel of John:

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Jesus says to not “hold on to me.” He’s not finished. He doesn’t want Mary to hold on to what was, expecting everything to stay the same, for history to stop. Instead, Jesus is letting her know that there is more to come.

Just like on these trails, there is more to come. This trail isn’t finished. As Christians, and as Methodists, we believe our trails are unfinished. We continue to journey further into God’s love from birth. Throughout our life, into salvation, and beyond we continue to journey. Wesley even believed that we continue to journey deeper into our faith into our next life.

As we think about the unfinished nature of our lives, take time to think and reflect on what is next on the trail of your life. Share as you are able.

Close in prayer. I used “A Hiking Prayer” from here.

Feel free to use this as you like. Remember to follow the Creative Commons Copyright guidelines listed below.

Church Collaborative Feeding – Offering an Experience

Quiche

Yesterday our church collaborative (currently one each of AME, Episcopal, PC(USA), and UMC congregations) served its first meal. We prepped and provided ham a cheese quiche (the one pictured above has kale – which we did not serve) along with roast broccoli and cut up watermelon and cantaloupe. It was a well received meal. There were some hiccups with the weather, but we made  it work. We also provided a meal box with the ingredients for the quiche, a steamer bag of broccoli, and a box of cherries. In each box we also put a recipe card for the quiche, a collection of conversation starters, and a dinner prayer.

I feel like this steps beyond the simple meal or food box program. We are hoping to provide a repeatable experience. This allows for not only feeding but the ability to at least reproduce the meal. My hope is that it gives them the tools to create a meal and time with their family. I know it isn’t much, but I think its a move in the right direction. Part of my “remembering” process is providing the space and tools for allowing people to imagine and create new experiences. When people take time to imagine and create, they often thrive more. This can be as simple as cooking creatively, knitting, crocheting, and simple art. I know a recipe card and some eggs are not earth shattering, but I hope it provides some glimpses of hope.

My thought process is that this might serve as the beginning of a craft discipleship pedagogy, such as the one Tex Sample suggests. The craft traditions involves a theology which is practical and creative. Through creation, people and communities develop new ways of being and interacting with the world.

More to come.

 

A Parabled Rethinking of Rural Housing

pots

An excellent piece from The Center for Rural Affairs on the need for a new approach to rural housing made me think of an abstract I submitted on rural housing and homelessness to a conference (but was rejected). My focus was on rethinking rural housing in terms of the parables of Jesus and the potential for new ways of understanding communal life in general. This post looks to hash this out a little bit.

I particularly engage the “Parable of the Friend at Night”:

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. -Luke 11:5-8

William R. Herzog II’s interpretation is particularly moving. He points to the needs of rural peasants in the first century to resist and create their own social code to move beyond the external rules of society being afflicted on them in a dehumanizing way. In many ways rural communities face a dehumanizing system of valuation from global capitalism and society. Current society teaches the “one best way” of acquiring a middle class (sub)urban life with all its attachments. This includes home ownership, a manicured lawn, the nice schools, the membership in the right clubs, and a salary which keeps adding zeroes.

Rural populations, both then and now, face the dehumanizing forces telling them they are failures for not wanting or attaining the lifestyle of consumption or honor (interchangeable really). Instead, according to Herzog, Jesus is pointing to a subverting of expectations and an action of justice in the providing of bread for a person in need. This sort of justice is outside the bounds of consumption and honor. A community member in need, late a night, risking security and food, offering bread for a visitor. There is no return paid. (One note: Herzog and many others believe the following versus which spiritualize this into a parable about prayer where added later, and that this is a much more physical needs based parable.)

Michael Corbett writes of rural virtues or values, one of which is “making do as one sees fit on known land and sea.” A value of rural people is “making do” as you can. However, deeper into this text one might read a sense of justice and transformation. If “making do” is not simply a getting by but a creative rethinking of a situation, then it provides glimpses into the same Kingdom of God Jesus continue to talk about. Rural communities have the values latent in their work to begin rethinking housing in their communities. It will not look like $200K+ homes on estates, but it will look like shared housing, new forms of living, creative reclaiming of buildings, and rethinking of homelessness and housing in general. If we work hard, and we see a neighbor in need, we look past ourselves and creatively engage the needs of this neighbor. Churches in rural communities often have a great deal of empty space which could be used for housing temporary or communal. The idea of the boarding house might also be useful.

There are many possibilities, but the key is, the answer must come from within rural communities. A rural reality must be embedded in a creative community not in external expectations. Housing solutions must come from within the rethinking of spaces  in the community and providing for the needs of the people in a way which continues to reveal the Kingdom of God. The article I link at the beginning begins to do this and offers good ideas and starters, but each community, with knowledge of its place, its sense of stewardship, and its understanding of “making-do” can look at a means of creating new housing opportunities. This is not simply solving a problem, it is resisting and restoring justice.

Looking for Book Suggestions for #UMC history and doctrine

Methodist

I am teaching United Methodist History and United Methodist Doctrine in the fall, and find my current syllabus lacking in some of the topics I list below. If you have suggestions for books or articles (print or online) which would help with these topics, please let me know:
-The History and Doctrine regarding Deacons, Deaconnesses/Home Missioners, and Diakonia in the UMC and its predecessors
-The history of the formation of Central Conferences as well as autonomous affiliate conferences, particularly in the 21st Century
-The history of the denomination’s relations with people of color and indigenous people both in the US and abroad.
-LGBTQ/Queer history and theology of a Wesleyan/Methodist bent.
-Something which covers Methodist history after 1938, and particularly the last half of the 20th and into the 21st century.
-A history of the general boards and agencies of the UMC

-A  history of the UMC’s ecumenical history (Sunday School Movement, World and National Council of Churches, World Methodist Council, etc.)

Thank you in advance!

Getting Lost and Exploring in Rural Places

Driving Up The MountainWhen I got my driver’s license, I would always take the “long way” wherever I had to go. If I had to get bread, drop something at the post office, or head to my job as church custodian. My best friend and I would drive around for hours, spending little to no money but having a great time. Even now, I often take a different way to and from a place to explore Burke County.

The value of getting lost or exploring the rural community is the chance to see your community in a new way. I often simply find new places and new experiences. Even when I know that I am looking for a particular thing, I often turn different and go down different roads before or after finding the thing for which I was looking.

In terms of pedagogy and rural life, it allows for seeing things differently, but this seems the easy answer. Of course finding new things and coming at things from a new perspective is great. However, I think beyond this, it unsettles us and causes us to pay attention. In getting lost on purpose or exploring new places, it gives us a chance to simply wander in the unknown. Sure, our GPS or Smart Phones can get us home, but perhaps that isn’t the point.

A Christian rural pedagogy which involves wandering and exploring is one which points to us seeking out what it means to be in our rural place. To look at it differently means to look for the unfamiliar. It means to see the things that don’t fit and don’t want to fit. It means to learn from those places. From there, discernment can come. However, it appears really important begin looking at the place and space you call home a little differently.

This practice can be put in place by simply driving around. You can do it yourself. You can instruct others to do it. You can take a group, give them notepads, and flip coins for left and right turns to see where you end up. Then you might discuss your findings at the location at which you arrive. Discuss what you saw that was familiar. Discuss what you saw that was different, even simply different from what you’ve always seen. Discuss how you see Kingdom of God being revealed. This can be both in general and for you personally. There is much information to garner from simply driving around and observing with fresh eyes.

Fourth of July Celebrations

Peach Pound CakeGrowing up, we always had a fun fourth of July celebrations. When my grandparents were alive my aunt and uncle would come down and we would have burgers or steak or other red meat (we were rural and raised beef). We ate a lot of food. I had garlic bread for the first time on the fourth of July. I dipped the garlic bread in steak sauce. Every time this happens I remember the fourth of July.

As my grandparents passed on, we began inviting friends over with slip and slides and cook outs. It was a lot of fun and we played for hours. There was always a lot of watermelon to be had has well. Other sweets, like the peach pound cake from last year were often abundant. We celebrated well.

However, the event the fourth of July is known for are fireworks.  My dad would go to South Carolina and buy all sorts of fireworks. There were wheels of firecrackers, fountains, sparklers, bottle rockets, smoke bombs, Saturn Missiles, party poppers, mortar rockets, and Roman Candles. As we got older we went with him and picked out some of the fireworks. Eventually, we pooled our money and bought them. Over the past few years, we’ve since stopped, but I always take the time to enjoy the fourth of July.

The smell of black powder and sulfur, the lights, the sounds, and the memories all flood back to me. I’ve even had a red wine that tasted like fireworks. The fourth of July was a time of celebration. Clearly, the point of the holiday is celebrate American Independence, but the fireworks were never tied to American Independence for me.

Fireworks are a form of celebration which disconnect themselves from the holiday. They open a zone of joy in which loud sounds, bring colors, and fire allow for a sense of wonder. We disconnect the explosive and flammable purposes of black powder from the danger and destructive tendencies and open up the darkness to a light and sound show which changes how we see.

Shooting off fireworks in your back yard isn’t distinctly rural. However, in rural communities it has a sense of magic to it. This fourth of July we saw fireworks on the mountains around us, through the trees and over houses. People can’t but share this sense of celebration. The notion of shareable celebration which suspends the purpose of explosives and dangerous materials in order to bring a bit of happiness opens up potential for rural life.

The firework show seems to fit well in rural and Christian life. Pentecost makes sense as a celebration of fire. The birth of the church, the spreading of the Spirit, and changed value of fire lend themselves to this form of reverie. Fireworks spread, they can be seen for miles, and they suspend the rules for materials.

From here, we can further our understanding of celebration. Celebration as a Christian and rural practice must suspend the rules of material and productive matters, offer up new meanings and values, and be shareable if not spreadable. For a rural community to celebrate, it must take those things present in the world and suspend their sense of value in order to offer new meaning within the world which is shareable. This may literally start with fireworks, but it can be the rethinking of old buildings, green spaces, historic events, and products.

Church rummage sales are for making money, usually, but could it not become a space of rethinking products and creating the space for making new meaning? What about the church heritage day? The empty mills which litter our rural towns? What about broken fans and making yard art just for joy?

The possibilities seem endless, and it only takes a spark to light up the night.

Water I didn’t expect to find

drips-craggy-gardens.jpg

This past Sunday, the Sunday school teacher, a retired UMC elder, decided to expand the lesson. The lesson focused on the call of Moses and the burning bush. However, the teacher began with the beginning of the book of Exodus. He read the first three chapter up until the call of Moses. His lesson was a good one, but what really struck me was the transformational presence of water in Moses’ life. Sure, God used fire to lead and call Moses many times: burning bush, pillar of fire, on top of Mt. Sinai, etc. However, in the reading, I noticed the presence of a well. I’m sure I’ve heard this before, but it struck me this time. It tied together a large portion of Moses’ story and the story of salvation for me.

Within the first chapters of the book of Exodus, whenever Moses encounters water a new future opens for him. He is placed in a basket by the river: Pharaoh’s daughter finds him and raises him (with his mother’s help). He flees to Midian and sits down by a well: the daughters of the Priest of Midian approach and he helps them. He leads the Israelites to the edge of the Red Sea and God parts the water for the Israelites to escape the land of Egypt. New futures open up through water. Other well stories which quickly come to mind include Hagar and the woman at the well, both who find new life through an encounter with God in relation to a well.

In terms of rural life, water is crucial. Water for crops, water for drinking, water for cleaning, and the general presence of water in the natural world are all integral to life. When I am hiking, one of my favorite things is to stumble upon a water source which is out of the ordinary. Sure, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, and streams abound in Western North Carolina, but the happening upon a small spring, a tiny waterfall, or even just moisture running down the side of a mountain is a happy moment for me. In the summer, pop up thunderstorms regularly occur and disrupt the day’s plans.

In thinking about new futures opening up in our presence, the idea of the well and the water as the way to new life is interesting. Obviously we talk about baptism a great deal, and water, and new life, and redemption. I don’t want to do that. Instead I want to talk about the experiences of people who find a new future through water they didn’t expect to find.

Two new futures I want to life up came from very different places. First, a new future opened up for me in terms of career with the closing of furniture plants in Thomasville, NC and my inability to help the people deal with this in a real way. I am now working a dissertation with it’s entire focus on opening new futures in rural deindustrializing communities. My second came from my hiking. Hiking, being a hobby of mine, opened up the possibility of a new ministry at my church which includes environmental missions, spiritual formation, physical activity, and fellowship. Hiking was fun for me and even created the opportunity for me to exist in a Sabbath space, and now it has opened up new relationships and possibilities for our church.