Monday, March 31, 2008


One of the primary purposes of this blog is to have a space for more thoughtful, ponderous writings inspired by my time in London. I've done a few of those, but in the hopes of keeping things real (and also with the realisation that I have to write now if I'm going to keep my promise of one post per month), I've decided to shift tack today and confess my sins.

Well, not all my sins, because you really don't have that much time to read this nor do I have that much time to write this. In fact, I'm really only going to confess my sins in one particular area of my life: networking.

I love to network.

In the positive sense, I am an extrovert and thus love getting to know new people, particularly with similar interests to my own. I also love to meet people and connect people together (sometimes including myself, but sometimes not) in order to improve effectiveness in our areas of work and ministry. But it is when I network that I particularly notice my power-hungry human nature. I love to meet and get to know people of power. In the positive sense, it is essential to stay connected "at all levels" to increase effectiveness of one's work and ministry. Yet if getting to know people of power is egocentric and more about increasing one's boasting capabilities, it is not effective or healthy. I confess to the latter.

I was at a meeting today of many fantastic people. I loved getting to know them and learning a bit about their work and ministry. But I also loved the fact that I met someone who I knew had written several books and several people who had denominational clout. I liked meeting them because I knew they were powerful and important. My ego took a huge jump as I was in the meeting as a colleague and not a complete outsider. I also realised I was trying to prove my legitimacy for being among these persons, even though I was an invited guest (I was, in truth, filling in for my boss, but I was nonetheless invited and expected). I had a lot of fun feeling like I was sitting in on a meeting of the "big boys" (although there were four of us females), as we discussed opportunities and possibilities which would impact the church throughout the nation across denominations.

It's likely that loving networking for selfish, egocentric reasons is not my "worst" sin (if we were to rate sins). But I also need to appreciate how quickly my desires become less about God's kingdom and more about myself and my personal "success", "acclaim," or relative position of power. "The last shall become first, and the first shall become last", and right now I'm hankering for first ... which means I need to relearn what this is all about.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ordinary Mission

I am engaged in “ordinary mission.” This is not the kind of missionary experience where I live with the economically poor and politically oppressed, nor an experience where there are daily momentous miracles, conversions, or near-death experiences. This is mission work taking place largely in a 40-hour, 9-6 work week, based 75% of the time in an office (with a gorgeous garden view) in one of the wealthiest boroughs of London, one of the most expensive cities in the world. However, I have realised that although my work is my named mission, and the reason why I am here, there is potential for mission which goes beyond my work with Bridge Builders.

I recently went on a retreat day where I spent part of the day reflecting on and naming some development goals for my remaining year and a half in London. I discovered that I wanted to see my involvements as addressing local, national, and global concerns. I did not want to see Bridge Builders as my only partnership and contribution to God’s work in the world; I wanted to engage in strategic mission in all facets of my life, including beyond my daily work.

On the local level, I am currently involved with a tennis club, chamber choir, and occasional Bible Study. Although these have been important aspects of my mission here, I have a further desire to engage in mission beyond the rich and educated few. I do not know many of my neighbours, and very few who cannot afford to attend the local tennis club. In order to meet some more neighbours, I have decided to go along to a local soup kitchen, at least once/month. I also hope to see if I can be of practical help to new initiatives that the borough has developed seeking to be a more environmentally sustainable borough.

On the national level, I see my primary involvement through Bridge Builders. “Transforming Church Conflict in Great Britain” is our mission. We train church leaders and lay Christians in how to deal with conflict in their daily lives and in their churches. With God’s help, this learning transforms individual lives around the country, and helps create healthier churches which can then more fully witness to the love of God.

On the global level, I continue to try to live in harmony with the earth, continuing to take small steps which decrease my harm to the earth, in ways I can control. As a citizen of the United States, a true global superpower, I also hope to stay abreast of legislation and measures coming out of the White House (and the Capitol Building in Richmond) which I may or may not support, and giving my voice to the elected leaders in support of laws and policies which promote the health and wellbeing of all people on the earth, without preference.

These are dreams, but dreams which I hope will be attainable goals. Most of us are engaged in “ordinary mission.” Join me in asking where the boundaries for mission begin and end – and dreaming how we may better shape our lives to be vessels for God’s work in the world.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Kamana'o 'i 'o, o ko ka kou akua, faithful, faithful is our God.
Kamana'o 'i 'o, o ko ka kou akua, faithful, faithful is our God.

A monthly highlight for me is attending an Iona Wee Sing gathering at a church next to the Tower of London. It's usually a small, friendly group of 15-30 people who turn up to sing songs from Iona (Wild Goose), the world, and its friends. (Meaning Bernadette Farrell, Marty Haugen, Shirley Erena Murray, Taize, etc.) [And it's led by great music leaders including Alison Adam and Emily Walker.] Tonight we sang a favourite song of mine, Kamana'o'i'o. A song from Hawaii, I love it because of the gorgeous F natural that the altos sing on the first "i". The tune and harmonies throughout lead the song to be a singable celebration of beauty, due to the inherent beauty of the music.

I pondered the text of the song - faithful is our God. God has certainly been faithful to me - leading me through tough and dark times, granting me fabulous friends who enter at just the right moments, creating innumerable opportunities for joy ... and for growth and learning. But I ask as I say these things, what does it mean for God to be faithful? I try to be loyal to my friends, and I consider that being faithful to them. Honouring promises I make is being faithful. Trying to live with integrity, walking and doing what I speak - is an attempt to be faithful. But faithfulness isn't just about loyalty. Being faithful must also mean being full of faith, no? And having faith means not having certainty. Faith isn't the opposite of doubt, but the result of claiming a higher "power" or preference than doubt. So how is God faithful? Is God uncertain? Maybe God is uncertain how we humans might choose to respond to God's love. If God is faithful, that would mean regardless of the doubt God must have for God's creation actually obeying and surrendering all every day and every moment, God chooses a higher preference. Perhaps God chooses to preference being loyal, and everpresent, even when we fall short of our duty to God and are unfaithful. If so, that is magnificent - and so undeserved! Who are we, but humble recipients?

May I have the grace to receive, and the wisdom and courage to respond.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Living Locally

Many people have cottoned on to the idea of eating locally, and acting locally ("think globally, act locally"); now many people are beginning to consider living locally. The idea may sound strange at first. How else does one live?

"Peak oil" has been a term that's been around at least since the 1970s with the first worldwide oil crisis. People began considering the possibility that oil demand would outstrip supply. Several people have written books on the subject, some posturing that peak oil has already happened. Discovering new sources of oil is no longer occurring at often enough and of enough substance to sustain our current oil use. The world is awakening to the idea of global warming, and many people are concerned about reducing their "carbon footprint", recycling, reusing, and cycling more. Celebrities are no longer the only ones planting trees when taking airplane flights around the world. Towns and cities are beginning to refuse to use plastic carrier bags, and many families now compost and produce vegetables on small garden plots. Some people have begun to combat potential "peak oil" in a wholistic fashion, by turning their local community into an oil-independent area.

"Transition towns" have been springing up throughout the UK. They gather community support, and begin to take steps to ensure every aspect of life, from food to shelter to transport to clothing are all sourced as close to home as possible, with the benefits recycling back into the community life. Some towns have even developed their own trading currency, not based upon gold, silver, or other wealth, but a currency based on goods and services - allowing all to trade and serve the community for the greater good. Many of these are pioneering projects and we are still a few years away from seeing the cost-analysis drafts suggesting success or failure, but the early signs are quite positive.

I had discovered the transition town movement in the UK just a few months before Haringey, my London borough, had a community gathering meeting to try and become a post-oil sustainable community. The ideas are catching fast and the energy is exciting as individuals and families come together to make positive movements towards a sustainable society, promoting health and wellbeing for all. In the U.S., has been promoting "going local".

For the first time in nearly a year, I turned on the television to watch a re-run of a Daily Show episode. While watching, we of course had to endure the commercials. Usually I mute the commercials, but for some reason, the volume was on this time. An AT&T commercial came on, and showed a young adult male explaining how the new gadget from AT&T made it easier for him to connect with his friends in Philadelphia, Delaware, Prague, and Chicago. Although most of those cities are in the states, I immediately registered connection with his world-wide network of communities and friends. I realised in an instant that my dreams of world-traveller were no longer possible in this world. I realised that we cannot continue living in this fast-paced, the-world-is-mine mentality pretending we don't know better. We have spread ourselves thin. We "commute" from Germany to Britain, from New York to Hong Kong, from Florida to Virginia (maybe). We shop where our money is strongest and holiday where the water is warmest. Our world has shrunk as we interact daily with people whose ancestors come from all parts of the globe. In the few seconds of the AT&T commercial, I realised that my world had also shrunk, and that my connections were more and more global. I also realised in that instant that I was going to have to
choose to live locally. To live close to friends and family, and settle where I could make roots in my community and live sustainably. The world cannot support 6 billion people travelling the globe on fuel-guzzling airplanes. The world cannot even support the 60 million rich folks who can now afford it. As I am one of those 60 million rich people who has access to money, resources, and opportunities, I have a choice to make - a choice which is not made in a vacuum. We must all choose against this selfish lifestyle, and decide instead to be conscious of our brothers and sisters around the globe suffering from our selfish habits and unable to participate in the "fun". I dreamt, and still dream, of travelling to exotic places like Bhutan, and learning about the culture and living there. I fear, however, that I know too much now. When I travel, I must appreciate it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, not as a once-a-week necessity.

The world is begging us to take notice. As I believe in a Creator whose dream is for wholeness and love throughout all of creation, I must take heed to be a fair steward of this land, which does not belong to me, but belongs to the Creator, and by extension of the Creator's love, to all of humankind.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I was supposed to be the helper

I met two folks without homes on Tuesday. The first was a woman – early 40s maybe – sitting along the side of Hungerford Bridge. Pretty much the exact spot I had thought I was meeting my friend for the concert that night. (Turns out I said Waterloo Bridge, thinking Hungerford Bridge … drat.) I stood by for a bit looking out for my friend – then seconds became minutes and I still hadn’t acknowledged the woman. She called out with a wavering voice, “Change please.” As I waited, I saw a woman convince her husband to wait as she went to talk to the woman sitting on the bridge. They talked for a long time. Eventually the woman left, and I’m not sure if she ended up giving the woman on the bridge any change. As I waited, someone else stopped and chatted to the woman. Eventually I did the same. I forget how I started the conversation, but I essentially just checked in on her. She said she was needing money for a bed and breakfast that night. (Bed and breakfast?! What about something a bit cheaper?!) I asked if there was one close by, she explained there was one in Victoria. I eventually left the conversation without giving her anything.

Eventually finding my friend five minutes before the concert started, I went in to hear the beautiful soulful sounds of Vusi Mahlasela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. My soul was stirred. I had no idea what most of their words meant, except for the brief nod they gave in way to a translation before a few of them, but the music still moved me. Something about South African music reaches right to the gut of me. There’s a mix of sentimentality from my time there, a bit of “coming home”, but also a large sense of resonation that occurs from this music which seems to resonate with all of humanity and bring us all together once again.

After the concert, I explained to my friend that since I saw this woman still sitting on the bridge I wanted to go and escort her to the bed & breakfast and pay whatever she still needed for the night. My friend was fine to go along. I asked the woman how much she needed yet and she said 9 quid. I asked if I could walk her there and she said “I’m really sorry, miss. You all look really nice and all, but last time someone walked me I ended up getting my front teeth kicked out. I’m really sorry, but I don’t walk with no one anymore.” I could understand her reasoning, and was really sorry that someone punched her teeth out! (And sure enough her front teeth were missing) I hadn’t wanted to give a handout; I wanted to help her along. So I searched in my purse for a 5er to “be safe” but all I found was a 10er, so I gave her that. She thanked me and said she’d get up and leave soon, once I left.

My friend and I went for a chat and as we were parting ways afterward, I decided to check up on my friend to see if she was indeed gone. She was, and a new person was sitting on the bridge. I walked up to him and asked him if all was alright. He said yeah, the police kicked him out of the place he usually sits and said they’d lock him up if they found him again. Was begging illegal? I didn’t even know. He said that it was. I clicked my tongue. I asked if he had a place to sleep for the night, and he said yeah – there’s an overhang over there (pointing back across the bridge). I said alright, introduced myself and shook his hand, and went home.

I had been reminded through earlier encounters that just saying hello and not ignoring a person can be something, even if you don’t give them money. I hope to walk around my neighbourhood at night, especially if I can find a friend to walk with, and see if there’s anyone sleeping under the stars each night. You find a lot of beggars in central London, but don’t often find them a bit further from the tourists. It’s a lot harder to offer help, develop a friendship, or share a bed with someone in central London that you hardly run into then it would be to learn from someone close by in my own neighbourhood.

But I learned something extra from these encounters. I had always assumed that I needed to speak to these folks so they wouldn’t feel ignored for another day. But what I found out by standing next to this woman on the bridge for ten minutes or so waiting for my friend, was that others DO stop and talk. Several persons also offer change. Sure the majority of folks still walk by, pretending not to see. But what I saw is that God is already at work with these persons. I am not the initiator (duh!). I was reminded, just by standing next to a person asking for money, was that this world still includes many good-hearted people. I also realised that I had just stumbled onto an active piece of God’s love in action. I hadn’t expected to experience God’s love – I had expected to show God’s love. I was to be the giver, not the receiver. I figured once I would develop a friendship with those in extreme poverty, I would certainly be a recipient, but I hadn’t expected it to start right from the beginning of meeting a stranger.

I also then realised that I was assuming what these people needed. I expected they needed friendship, or a roof to sleep under. But really, I was only making assumptions. When I asked the second man if he was alright, if he needed anything, he said that he was alright, and had a place to sleep. I don’t know what these folks need. So now my new resolution is not to just smile, just pass, or just give the money. My resolution is to sit, join them in the waiting (if they’re ok with that), and ask what they need. Or even what they want. Although I would be disapproving if the first woman spent the 10er on alcohol (and unfortunately I smelled alcohol on her breath the second time I spoke with her), I have that option each day – to spend my money in ways I wish. Who am I to say how others spend their money? It’s my responsibility to share love, to spend time and energy – which cost more to me than a quid or two popped in a cup – it’s not my job to be a crusading “helper of the poor” by assuming their needs when I’ve not asked them, nor lived their life or been their friend.

On Wednesday walking back from choir, I saw a fellow putting up porn in a phone booth. I went in, took it off, and ripped it in shreds and put it in the rubbish bin. If there’s a next time, I’ll call out to the man and either shout how dare he shame his own mother (and all women) by his actions … or if he’s close enough, tell it to him in a conversation. I feel as soon as I am fully open to the movement of the Spirit, God places opportunities in my path. One step at a time.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

August Adventures

A slight shift from more reflective pieces to offer an update on my adventurous August, for curious minds.

Adventure 1: Lithuania (29 July - 10 Aug)

My August adventures began with a forty-hour coach (bus) ride to Lithuania for Mennonite Mission Network's Colloquium, held every other year. I took the coach for primarily environmental reasons (convenience and cost ruled out train) and I was not displeased with the additional opportunity for adventure. We traveled through England, a tip of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and arrived in Vilnius via Kaunas, Lithuania. Traveling by coach was much more relaxing than many others feared, and I spent likely half the time sleeping. I was intrigued to travel through so many different countries on the ground, seeing how buildings and languages changed as we drove by. I was particularly struck by the northern towns in Poland and the clear lack of economic prosperity, which reminded me of my time in Appalachia.

Upon arriving in Vilnius, I sought after a proper meal, having forgotten the need for euros or litas along the way to purchase food, walked around the old town, and rested in a hostel before meeting some others traveling to Klaipeda the next morning. Another coach ride awaited me and twenty other MMN-colloque attendees in the morning, stopping for a traditional Lithuanian meal on the way.

I will not bore readers with details of each day, but suffice it to say I had a nice time - mostly through meeting new friends and spending time with old friends, having at least two days of "real holiday" relaxing on the beach and in cafes. I experienced a bit of Lithuanian culture as well, for which I was grateful, and intrigued to see how the country has dealt with numerous external authorities ruling the land and its continual adjustments from agriculture to industrial - and now growing post-industrial society.

Adventure 2: Coast-to-Coast Walk (11 - 22 Aug)

A short 30 hours after my return coach ride from Lithuania, I left London with my neighbour Anicka Fast to walk A. Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay, although due to time constraints, I could only walk as far as Richmond, approximately two-thirds of the 190 mile trek. Since I knew I was unable to make the whole distance, I shortened a lot of the long days (20-25 miles) into two days, averaging about 13 miles a day for almost 10 days of walking.

The walking was absolutely beautiful; unfortunately when walking coast-to-coast, you cannot spend hours (let alone days!) in every beautiful place you walk through, so you learn how to appreciate the beauty as you continue walking. Anicka and I walked through the Lake District together - full of beautiful fells, lakes, becks, and small villages. She returned to London towards the east side of the Lake District where I continued on alone, but having met several friends along the way which I met up with as I walked.

After the Lake District, I traveled through some more gradually sloping lands through Orton (note: Chocolate Factory in the village!) and into the Yorkshire Dales, where I met a more rolling landscape with moors of heather, and many more stiles - especially squeeze stiles on the last day - and stone walls and stone barns. And throughout all my walking - sheep and boggy ground!

There are many stories to tell from these ten days, including days of challenging walking, days of miserable weather, days receiving amazing hospitality, "traumas" and many more beautiful pictures ... too many for this quick August update, however. You can find more coast to coast pictures on my picasa online album:

Adventure 3: Greenbelt (24 - 27 Aug)

Not much to report here; this time I had 40 hours in between my adventures. I arrived back from Richmond and the walk in time to pack and prepare for Greenbelt the following day. Greenbelt is a Christian Arts festival which attracts nearly 20,000 people every year to Cheltenham racecourse where music groups, speakers, arts and literature, comedy, worship, and lots of stalls and food and small shops offer four days of festival for people, most of whom camp on site. Things were a lot more relaxed this year as we had a "Root and Branch Zone" instead of just a Mennonite stall. I wasn't challenged or inspired by many of the speakers, but did appreciate hearing Ched Myers, James Alison (again), and Pete Rollins speak. The highlight of the weekend, though, hands-down, was meeting John Tavener, including hearing him interviewed and hearing a performance of some of his works. John Tavener is an intriguing gentleman - particularly his gentle demeanor and Orthodox faith. I was honoured to have the privilege of meeting one of the greatest living composers.

Adventure 4: Lambeth Palace (29 Aug)

Quite a minor adventure in comparison to the rest of
my month, in the last few days of home-based holiday this month, I was able to do a good bit of relaxing and hanging out with friends. One of the things I did was to meet my mentor for coffee this morning. She is currently working at Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, temporarily filling in on a post she previously served while the person currently in the role is on sabbatical (a Director-type position overseeing international work, ecumenism, and theological work, from what I gathered). I walked up to the palace, knocked on the large wooden knocker, and was let in by the porter. He welcomed me in, checked to see who I was meeting, and directed me through the courtyard to the appropriate door. As I was about halfway across the courtyard (see first photo to the right), the door was opened, but no one appeared in the doorway ... the door was being opened for me (door to the right of the main door, seen barely in second photo). I was met by Flora's assistant who introduced himself, and showed me to her office. He also then promptly brought us tea and coffee. The unusual bit of today's visit was the lovely chance for a tour inside the palace. Lambeth Palace is not a public building, as it is a residence in addition to its other capacities, so only staff (permanent staff live at the palace or nearby in church-owned flats) and the very rare group can see the inside (aside from dignataries and world leaders who are hosted, of course). I was able to see the two chapels used, one or two halls used for larger meetings or dinners, a few "drawing room" type places, where international guests (Presidents, royalty, world relgious leaders, etc) would be hosted, etc. Flora (my mentor) said the place operates very much like a court - and it felt very much like it as we passed through the halls with nearly life-size paintings of the past archbishops, walking along corridors with busts and a glass case showing recent gifts ("gizzicks") given from the most recent trip to China. Flora also explained that the Archbishop ranks higher than the PM, so when Tony Blair and Rowan Williams would meet, Tony Blair would be hosted at Lambeth Palace - the Archbishop would not go to 10 Downing Street. The palace is a rebuilt 19th century building, also having incurred damage from the war - thus having more newly rebuilt sections as well. The entryway which I entered was Tudor, however. Flora explained that the post of Archbishop had been around for 1000 years ... predating the monarchy. Thus, when there was first an Archbishop of Canterbury, there were Kings presiding over different areas of what is now GB.

These adventures certainly leave me awestruck ... at the beauty of God, the beauty of people, and of course the strange sensation of who am I? and where am I? that I meet people like John Tavener and walk in the doors of places like Lambeth Palace. I guess it's all a part of my time here, and I'm left grateful (if not a bit confused!), to say the least.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I've Discovered William Blake

William Blake (1757-1827)

excerpts from The Four Zoas

I was struck speechless as I heard this read by Simon Callow at Westminster Abbey, 10 July 2007, as part of a celebration of the 250th anniversary of Blake's birth involving composers, Westminster choir, tenor and oboe soloists. (I attended with a few Exmoor folks as a new piece of Blake's words set by James Lavino was being premiered. James Lavino is one of Exmoor's highlighted composers.) I may have encountered Blake before in my studies, but the fresh relevance and sting of his words were potent for me today.

"What is the price of Experience? do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither'd field where the farmer plows for bread in vain.

It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer's sun
And in the vintage and to sing on the waggon loaded with corn.
It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted,
To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer,
To listen to the hungry raven's cry in wintry season
When the red blood is fill'd with wine and with the marrow of lambs.

It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements,
To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughter house moan;
To see a god on every wind and a blessing on every blast;
To hear sounds of love in the thunder storm that destroys our enemies' house;
To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, and the sickness that cuts off his children,
While our olive and vine sing and laugh round our door, and our children bring fruits and flowers.

Then the groan and the dolor are quite forgotten, and the slave grinding at the mill,
And the captive in chains, and the poor in the prison, and the soldier in the field
When the shatter'd bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead.

It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity:
Thus could I sing and thus rejoice: but it is not so with me."

Compel the poor to live upon a crust of bread, by soft mild arts.
Smile when they frown, frown when they smile; and when a man looks pale
With labour and abstinence, say he looks healthy and happy;
And when his children sicken, let them die; there are enough
Born, even too many, and our earth will be overrun
Without these arts. If you would make the poor live with temper,
With pomp give every crust of bread you give; with gracious cunning
Magnify small gifts; reduce the man to want a gift, and then give with pomp.
Say he smiles if you hear him sigh. If pale, say he is ruddy.
Preach temperance: say he is overgorg'd and drowns his wit
In strong drink, though you know that bread and water are all
He can afford. Flatter his wife, pity his children, till we can
Reduce all to our will, as spaniels are taught with art."

The sun has left his blackness and has found a fresher morning,
And the mild moon rejoices in the clear and cloudless night,
And Man walks forth from midst of the fires: the evil is all consum'd.
His eyes behold the Angelic spheres arising night and day;
The stars consum'd like a lamp blown out, and in their stead, behold
The expanding eyes of Man behold the depths of wondrous worlds!
One Earth, one sea beneath; nor erring globes wander, but stars
Of fire rise up nightly from the ocean; and one sun
Each morning, like a new born man, issues with songs and joy
Calling the Plowman to his labour and the Shepherd to his rest.
He walks upon the Eternal Mountains, raising his heavenly voice,
Conversing with the animal forms of wisdom night and day,
That, risen from the sea of fire, renew'd walk o'er the Earth;
For Tharmas brought his flocks upon the hills, and in the vales
Around the Eternal Man's bright tent, the little children play
Among the woolly flocks. The hammer of Urthona sounds
In the deep caves beneath; his limbs renew'd, his Lions roar
Around the Furnaces and in evening sport upon the plains.
They raise their faces from the earth, conversing with the Man:

"How is it we have walk'd through fires and yet are not consum'd?
How is it that all things are chang'd, even as in ancient times?"