Thursday, July 29, 2010


This week's theme was entitled "Action." Check out the photos of these wonderfully creative kids HERE.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

It Rained Grace

This past Thursday was the 5th Village Art Project meeting of the summer. In keeping with our C.R.E.A.T.E Community theme, we volunteers were prepared to talk to the kids about the "A" in our acronymn which stands for Action. After some good small group discussions about the Blood:Water Mission - the organization we chose to take action for, we were then going to collectively decide on a way to raise funds for this charity. After that we were going to learn "postermaking as an art form" and creatively communicate messages and important information regarding taking action on behalf of Blood:Water Mission. The big idea behind doing a night focused on action was/is to help these kids know that they can do good things for others, that they have something good to give.

So, the evening began with a drum circle (thanks to CMU and Mike List), where kids sat in a large circle with all sorts of different drums and percussion instruments and tried to make different beats, building off one another, so as to make beautiful music. Before we got too far into it though, the rain began to make its own music! Kids and adults scrambled to get under the two tents we have set up outside of Trailer #92. Change of plans...we gave each kid a piece of cardstock-like paper and each table a set of pastel chalks. Rob gave instructions for the kids to draw and color anything they wanted. I've never seen so much beautiful color on such a gray and dreary day! Rhyannen (7) drew an "X" on her paper from corner to corner and colored in each triangle section a different color. She called it "celebration" and said it made her feel happy - I couldn't help but smile. Many of the kids drew pictures of the rain - all different! Devin (15) drew the rain too, but his was from a different perspective. On his paper he meticulously drew one beautiful, large raindrop falling into a puddle causing a ripple effect. When Joann (9) was finished she came up to me with one of the most beautiful pieces of art I've seen her do so far. She had colored her entire paper with yellows and oranges and mixed the colors together by gently rubbing her hand over them. On top of that she drew simple, straight, vibrant lines of color: blues, reds, purples darting in all different directions. She called it "Explosion" and that's exactly what it made me think of when I saw it. There were many more that I did not get to see that night only to my loss. The art that these kids create is truly a reflection of the beauty they possess inside. I see how given time, love, energy, and the means to express themselves through art, they are beginning to value themselves and each other. One of their favorite things to do is to give positive feedback on each other's artwork! After pastels, we did some acting exercises that we have done in the past. The kids got to vote on whether to do the acting under the tents or in the rain. Guess which one they chose! I had to be getting home by the time acting began, but it was a beautiful sight to see the life in that community as kids celebrated and enjoyed having fun with each other in the rain!

From the volunteers' perspectives, I get the feeling that the rain was grace to us that night. Many of us, myself included, were feeling tired and distracted by the time we got there to set-up. Our prayers reflected the long days and weeks we were coming from. I know I personally didn't feel like I had the energy to engage in a semi-serious discussion about action with a group of adolescents. Usually in situations like these, people pray for the rain to stay away. I'm glad no one whispered that to God that evening. The rain was just what we as a team needed and I trust it's what those kids needed as well. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!


P.S. Next weekend (July 31st - August 1st) we will be taking a camping trip with kids and their families to Lake Michigan & The Sleeping Bear Dunes. It should be a lot of fun - please be praying for that!

(View Photos from the evening HERE.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reflections on Community & Empathy

This year the Village Art Project meets at Lot 92 right in the middle of the Mt. Pleasant Mobile Home Village. This year I feel much more a part of the community. Being in the center of the neighborhood has contributed greatly to that. I feel like we have made our home amongst a wonderful and welcoming group of people. I feel like a neighbor and a friend and I feel like those around are my neighbors and my friends - our neighbors and our friends.

I was walking to my car this past Monday as the Village Art meeting for the night was winding down. I was on my way home to relieve the saint who was tending to my two small children while my husband and I were gone for the evening. I peered down the road as I was walking and saw someone I have talked to several times before. It appeared as though they moved into a new trailer so I asked if indeed they had, thus beginning a nearly 30 minute conversation. We were talking for only a few minutes before I realized what was going on in their life. They were transparent with me, not trying for a moment to hide their struggles like so many of us do day to day with those we consider closest to us. You see this neighbor has recently become unemployed and is dealing with grief over the loss of a co-worker and friend who passed away just this past week. To top that off they are expecting family who are travelling many miles to visit them and the hot water heater in their new home just bit the dust. I listened carefully as my friend tried to hold back the tears. Sadly, listening does not come easy to me. I am one who wants to jump in and help. Perhaps even to the point of subconsciously desiring to exploit such an opportunity for my own glory. But the Holy Spirit helped me this night. He helped me listen, calmly, carefully. I was focused on their words, tone, and expression. I felt their hurt and my eyes began to water. Even now as I sit here and type the tears are welling up. For a moment something in my heart felt what their heart was feeling. Because this person was open with me, I felt comfortable to share my recent sufferings with them - not being self-conscious about whether or not theirs were more important or more severe than mine (yet careful as to not make the conversation about me) - as if theirs being "more severe" made mine invalid. I was able to empathize and briefly open up about a few of my struggles as of late: my car dying, our refrigerator "biting the dust", and my grandmother passing away all within a couple of weeks. I was free to be a friend rather than thinking I needed to be a rescuer. Suffering is not easy to accept. In our world we are constantly trying to prevent and fix suffering because it is uncomfortable, thus my inclincation towards being a "rescuer". But Jesus entered into suffering before He removed it. Yes, He did remove suffering (and I believe there is a place for that for me as God allows and enables me) but I must remember that He is the Rescuer and I am not. I can however, enter in to a friend's suffering and offer them the hope of the One who one day will remove all suffering. I am grateful that I was free to be a neighbor that night and with genuine concern ask if there was anything I could do to help. It turns out there is something I can do to help. With that I am experiencing the blessing of being a giver rather than a receiver in this moment, even though at the same time I am receiving so much more by being privileged enough to give. I believe with all my heart that if I was in need this person would also ask me if there was anything they could do to help. I only hope I would be humble enough to say yes and accept their gift, so that they in turn would be blessed to be the giver and me thankful to be the receiver. God is at work in my heart. God is giving me more than I could ever have imagined as I get to know some of the beautiful people at the Mt. Pleasant Mobile Home Village. Barriers in my heart are coming down, walls are falling. My presuppositions, assumptions and stereotypes are slowly being replaced with mutual respect, friendship and love as I get to know our neighbors.

In closing, I am learning that a relationship without empathy is not friendship, and where you do not have friendship you do not have community. Where mutuality and respect do not coexist, you do not find community. I fear that in our society, what we call communities is nothing more than individuals who live within close proximity to one another only to exchange brief hellos and head nods as one arrives home and another departs. I feel like there is more I would like to communicate, but hopefully each one will take something of their own from these reflections (and all of our reflections posted) and hopefully be inspired and transformed by the Spirit so as to be more like Jesus. May God help us to take community seriously and live it out in every aspect of our lives, not just with our neighbors at the Mt. Pleasant Mobile Home Village. Thanks for reading.


Empathy, emotions and the taking of brokenness

For the Village Art Project yesterday we talked about empathy; one definition is, "The capacity to know emotionally what another is experiencing from within the frame of reference of that other person, or the capacity to sample the feelings of another or to put one's self in another's shoes." We talked about how empathy is like walking in someone else’s shoes and trying to understand how someone else feels in different situations.

To practice understanding our emotions, for one of the projects the kids were given a list of emotions - happy, painful, hopeful, peaceful, rejected, forgotten, beautiful, overwhelmed, joyful, ignored, loved, angry, respected, helpless and understood - and they were also given a disposable camera. They were then asked to walk around the Village and take a picture of anything they think represents a particular emotion for them. It's amazing to listen to the kids talk about the pictures they took and why they took them.  The unarticulated reality of their inner experience becomes exposed.  The depth of who they are is accessed, and God's kingdom is somehow breaking-in through them.  Unbelievable.

I decided today that I too need to practice emotions. I decided that I too don't always have the ability, at least to the extent I would like, to help other people "feel felt" and connected to me when they're with me. Generally, that comes from not knowing my emotions well enough. The following is my rendition of the project the kids did yesterday (give grace, please, I'm not much of a photographer). I used the same emotion words the kids used and took my own pictures in the Village.















Jesus is our example of empathy because He did empathy to the fullest extent possible. He became human to experience everything we experience. Then, after He became empathy incarnate, he practiced empathy like only He could by taking upon Himself all of the pain and sadness and suffering there ever has been and ever will be.  He then asks us to do empathy too and understand how much He loves people; how much He loves us.  He asks us to try and love people the same way He does.  Empathy, at least at some level, is about understanding where people come from and trying to feel what they feel, in order to love like Jesus loved. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Empathy, as demonstrated by God

From Hebrews:
2:10 For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 2:11 For indeed he who makes holy and those being made holy all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” 2:13 Again he says, “I will be confident in him,” and again, “Here I am, with the children God has given me.” 2:14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 2:15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. 2:16 For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. 2:17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 2:18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
I'm pretty sure that this is the ultimate show of empathy. For God, being the infinite Creator of everything, including all of us, to make himself like us, and not just like us but indeed the lowest of us, so that he might fully share in our experience, so that he might completely rescue us and have mercy on us, is nothing short of... something. "Amazing" doesn't do it justice. His love for us demonstrated by his willingness to suffer for us is completely unlike us. And yet, he places his Spirit inside of us, and that Spirit gives us similar desires as him on our better days.

In this he has given us an example of how to do empathy. By incarnating ourselves into the life of another (as much as possible), we demonstrate a godlike willingness to share that person's experience. This is very hard to do. I expend great amounts of energy optimizing my own experience. To step out of my life and into the life of another, a life that has not been arranged for the way I like things, indeed a life that may involve a lot more suffering than my own, is almost impossible. If it were not for Jesus, I would probably not do it, especially not for a long time.

With Jesus, however, it is possible, and many faithful Christians before me have done it. I can draw strength from the examples of people like Mother Theresa, Jean Vanier, the staff of Word Made Flesh, and, most notably, my own friends. Though I believe it is possible to do incarnational empathy because of Jesus alone, I'm guessing that it's only possible to do it long-term and well if I do it together with a supportive community of fellow children of God.

Check out our pictures here from this week's VAP.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Respecter of Persons

This week, we looked at the R of our acronym C.R.E.A.T.E, standing for respect. The kids made cards for someone they "held in high regard," using a process called Suminagashi. Placing dots of ink on the surface of water, they then placed the fronts of their cards on the water's surface, allowing the ink to soak in. The best part of this Thursday was the reaction of the kids when Rob, after his tutorial, held up the front of his card. Swirls of green and black laid permanently on the paper, resembling the Doppler radar screen of a hurricane. With this project, there was no right or wrong. Even mistakes (dipping the brush too deep into the water, mixing too many colors of ink) resulted in beautiful swirls of color. I wanted to make a card for my dad, who had always taught my brother and I what it meant to respect others.

My dad is not an educated man. In fact, he barely graduated from high school. His senior year, he had skipped so much that he didn't have enough credits to graduate. So he transferred to a school in Pensacola, FL, where his sister and brother-in-law lived. According to Florida State requirements for graduation, he had just enough. They mailed him his diploma from a high school he never even set foot in.

He was always full of advice, though, straight from the "Dan Kaiser School of Hard Knocks," as he called it. If you "register" in time, you might just be able to sit in on one of his "Backyard Seminars." He'll invite you to relax in a lawn chair on the back porch and will tell wild stories from his past over a cold beer. These are some of my favorite nights at home.

I can remember riding in his brown S-10 truck, my little brother and I, on our way to the beach one summer afternoon while mom was working. I was 9. "If you two never remember anything else I say, remember this: Treat others how you want to be treated." Later that afternoon, we had stopped at a little grocery store to get drinks and snacks for the ride home. As we parked in the alley next to the store, a woman slipped and fell as she walked across it. My dad rushed out of the truck and over to her, knees bent to the ground and a hand stretched out toward hers. He did his best to live out his advice in front of his kids.

In a culture where education and "makin' it" are the goals of American life, my dad is lacking. But not in the Kingdom of God. As Peter tells us in Acts 10, God does not play favorites.

Peter at first cannot understand why Cornelius, a leader within the Roman Army, and not a Jew, would want to meet with him. But it is God who instructs both men to meet, and they do. Cornelius receives the Holy Spirit while with Peter, and is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right," Peter says. (Acts 10:34-35)

When word spreads to Judea, Peter is criticized by fellow Jews for eating and drinking in the house of a gentile. But Peter recounts to them what the Lord had said to him in a vision: "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." (Acts 11:9) When Jesus died on the cross, a sinless man taking the punishment for all the sins of mankind, those considered "unclean" where now acceptable to God. Educated, uneducated, black, white, male, female, diseased or healthy, it didn't matter. God's chosen people were no longer his "only" people. And that is something to celebrate!

I pray that all of us would remember what an amazing God we serve, that because of Jesus' sacrifice, we are accepted in a kingdom where elitism has been abolished. All hail King Jesus!

Love in our Gracious King,

See photos here from our 3rd week, themed "Respect".

Also, some photos from our trip to the Grand Rapids Art Museum on Saturday.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Celebration (and recognizing the reign of God in unexpected places)

My heart is full! What a blessing to be in the Village last night. Beautiful weather, beautiful people, beautiful projects (links to pics at the end of this post). And the kingdom of God growing all around us.

We've been learning this week about celebration and its centrality to the life of the people of God. Contrary to what most folks on the street might think, Christians ought to be quite the party animals! We're a faith rooted in celebrations of the past (think the Exodus, reframed and reimagined in the Eucharist/Lord's Supper, or the Pentecost/Festival of Weeks/Shavout reinvigorated by the coming of the Spirit) and a people whose daily lives together ought to be marked uniquely by that same spirit of celebration. That's what's going on when Luke describes the early church meeting together daily, sharing meals from house to house, eating their food with exuberant rejoicing (the NKJV's "gladness" does no justice to the Greek word behind it) and singleness of heart, selling their possessions and giving their excess generously. Why? Well, in part I think it's because they recognized that the most important work was already done. In the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Kingdom of God had been distinctly and very certainly inaugurated. Things were different than they were before, and God had invited them to begin living and inviting others to experience the "joy of their Lord".

But we're not good at celebrating. And we've got all kinds of reasons for that...even "spiritual", Christian-sounding reasons. We're so often suspect of folks who seem to be having too much fun, who are too positive, who are too open with their comments of thankfulness and joy. What the heck is that? Insecurity, fear, doubt, misunderstanding, depression...what is it for you? What is it for me?

So we decided that we'd lay those things aside this week and have a party! Last night we cheered for people...just for who they are. We celebrated simple things like scissors (think how hard life might be without these ingenious simple machines!). We played "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" on birthday noisemakers (should have recorded it!). And we told each other how glad we were to be together. Oh yeah...and we had cupcakes, because what's a celebration without cupcakes?

Sound simple? Trite, maybe? Childish? It's not. It's the reign of God, taking root in a place some folks would never expect it.

Actually, the kingdom's been present there for a long time, in secret places and in not so secret's mostly just that our eyes are being opened to its invigorating, freeing presence. The Kingdom of God is slowly but surely overtaking the Kingdom of Rob, the Kingdom of Kevin, the Kingdom of Vanessa...and in a lot of ways, we couldn't be happier for the overthrow!

Love to each of you (whoever you might be:-) in the humble King!

"People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Luke 18:15-17

Find pictures here.