Visions of racial reconciliation on Dr. King’s Day…

On this important day to remember Martin Luther King Jr, I am reminded of my many black and brown brothers and sisters who speak important words into my life: from the famous (Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Fannie Lou Hamer) to the “common” (companions on the journey here in Cincinnati like Yaacov Delaney, Gary Boyle, Eric Crew, and Brian Woody, and persons spread far and wide like Tyler Burns and others).  In a very real sense, MLK Day is about them, too, as it is a day to consider the multifaceted beauty of God’s human creation and choose to privilege the voices and experience of those historically marginalized.

I am also deeply grateful for our church community, where as persons of racial privilege, we have chosen to lean into the responsibility of racial reconciliation, initiating uncomfortable conversations and asking good questions about our level of participation in God’s reconciling love for everyone.  This is largely due to the leadership of our Pastor Joshua Stoxen, who in response to the sense of despair he heard and felt in the voices of black pastors he is in relationship with, led us to dedicate over a month and a half of our community’s worshiping life to exploring how we can be “in the struggle” in our city and in wider society.  As an elder of our community, I was invited to speak several times during this period, each of these two talks representing a window into my own journey and aspirations towards racial reconciliation.

The first talk is entitled “Combatting Racial Misunderstanding and Antipathy,” featuring the powerful words of Bryan Stevenson in the middle of the reflection time (from his powerful TED Talk “We Need to Talk About an Injustice.”  Here is the link:

The second talk is focused on community development, gentrification, social stratification, and God’s dream of “beloved community.” That talk is below:

May God bring his blessing to these aspirations, and enable us all to continue “in the struggle” towards God’s Beloved Community.


An excerpt from this morning’s sermon at Cincinnat COB

“Humble Yourselves, Discipline Yourselves, Be Steadfast”
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

…we have no reason to fear what even the most powerful empire in the world can do to us or the most well-placed bullet because we get to bear witness to a powerful love.  It is this awareness, this belief that has led followers of Jesus into the darkest, most violent places on Earth to proclaim and live the transformative message of Jesus and the way of life he redeems us to.  Or, it has led followers of Jesus into parts of our society that aren’t necessarily desirable, has led us to desire healing and hope in places of brokenness.

Believing this message should, I emphasize should lead Christians to look at their society around them, searching for places and relationships of brokenness that we can then move towards, engage with; instead of separating ourselves from, insulating ourselves from brokenness.  Unfortunately, the pattern of response to brokenness in Cincinnati, like many cities, is people abandoning, leaving behind, running away from darkness because we don’t like to feel uncomfortable, insecure, stretched, or frustrated.  People move into an ever-increasing ring of suburbs to find a place of security, leaving behind communities falling apart.  We then build beltways and interstates that keep us from having to see and engage those communities on a daily basis, and they slide into our subconscious; only coming up when we are forced to detour through them.

Precious few churches choose to obey the courageous call of Jesus to seek out places of brokenness and put down roots there.  This community of Cincinnati Church of the Brethren and our community Vineyard Central have attempted to be faithful to the call of God in this way.  But it has been rough going, for us and for you.

For one thing, we’ve found that we don’t have the tools to be able to handle pain and brokenness very well, because we’ve been shaped by a gospel of pain avoidance.  Several weeks ago, I heard a story from a man named Scott Dewey that connects with this truth.  Scott is a follower of Jesus, and Scott caught a vision to move to the slums of Bangkok, Thailand with his wife.  There are any number of preventable diseases there in the slums that primarily result from unclean drinking water.  Scott wanted to solve those problems, and bring hope to the slums.  So they said, “Here I am Lord, send me” and they went.  Three years later Scott rolled over in bed one morning and said to his wife, “Melanie, I can’t do this any more.  There’s too much pain here.”  After three years, they hadn’t solved the unclean water problem and Scott had been crushed by the pain and darkness of life in the ghetto.  Scott, however, chose to reflect on his thinking instead of just abandoning the place, and he came to one crucial awareness.

They had entered that neighborhood to do ministry for people there.  They had come with a gospel they believed provided hope.  And Scott realized as he thought about the pain and darkness crushing him that the people who had lived in that ghetto all their lives had a greater capacity to deal the with the pain and still find little cracks of hope than he did.  Scott found out that the gospel and the community he came from was one that was not familiar with pain, did not seek out pain, struggle, and brokenness and therefore he didn’t have the resources to deal with the pain there in Bangkok.  What Scott learned was that the people he had come to minister to were in fact ministering to him in how to live with pain and suffering.  What Scott learned through them was a fresh understanding of the gospel that does not bring hope through avoiding pain but through embracing it and finding God in the midst of it…

Link to full text here.

An excerpt from the sermon to be shared at Cincinnati COB…

Since Jesus prayed centrally, “God, may your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and Cincinnati Church of the Brethren’s place on earth that you have chosen is Walnut Hills, Cincinnati, with Wendell Berry ringing in our ears, beyond all the sexy ideas about mission and growth; maybe the most important, most essential quality of your work as a congregation is actively and thoughtfully learning the stories of the people here in Walnut Hills, gaining the trust of the people of Walnut Hills, and seeking to follow the Lord as Shepherd for this place. It’s letting our mission be determined by our place, and committing to a place for an extended period of time, intentionally being present in a way that deeply listens, invests, and prays for God’s will to be done in our place.

Our Vineyard Central church family in Norwood is struggling through this very issue too. We have a sexy phrase that we’ve created and put up on our website: “Practicing resurrection in West Norwood and encouraging it everywhere.” Now, if we want to move beyond the sexy phrase and listen to the wisdom of Berry, practicing resurrection IN WEST NORWOOD means establishing west Norwood as the focus of our ministry. We have said West Norwood will be our place. In order for this to have a practical reality, we must spend a significant amount of time in West Norwood. This does not necessarily mean we have to live there, but it does mean we need to deeply invest there.

A number of us, because we want a more natural flow to this commitment, have moved into the neighborhood; in theory, because living IN WEST NORWOOD means we will more easily practice resurrection there. But we find a significant barrier comes up whether we move in or not: we don’t know the people here, we may not share the same desires as the people here, we don’t know the story of the community, the story of the people, we lack the connection needed. We don’t know the place where we are.

Full text of the sermon here.

Compost evolution…

Below I’ve attached a series of time lapse pictures displaying the progress of a large compost pile.  This post I called compost “evolution” because it’s a demonstration plot of the things I’ve been learning as I’ve worked on the pile.  Along the way, for example, you’ll notice the pile look less like a hill and more like a box; a reflection of learning from Grow Biointensive that in order to retain heat and maximize the process, the square is better than the “wasted” space of a hill that spreads out the heat.  Instructional videos one and two linked.  Several pictures show random PVC pipe and heating ductwork in the pile.  As I turn the pile (once weekly), I stick the pipes in on the bottom of the pile, then build the pile around the pipes, and finally pull the pipes out when I’m done stacking.  This makes vents in the pile, which gives greater aeration to the pile and enables the transfer of heat more readily across the pile, which keeps everything “cooking” more evenly.

This pile is an important element in my life of applied learning; theory leading to action, and action leading to theory on a loop of growth.  Thinking and action lead to real wisdom and knowledge that offers real solutions to important questions of life.

This pile is, in a number of ways (billions of them, micro-organisms that is) a legacy project.  It is an investment in the future of Norwood that I will never reap the full benefits of; and that is good for my soul.

The pictures show about two months of more intensive management of the pile to move it from passive composting to hot composting (temperature consistently at or around 165 degrees, primarily because I’ve got some animal poo in there with some pathogens to kill off).  I also include some up close pictures for the viewer to see how leaves, grass, horse-dog-cat poo, snica, and water get together and make awesomeness.