Category Archives: Community

Living by freedom’s last words


This morning, I read through the Declaration of Independence – something I haven’t done for a while.  It still makes my heart pound to read those words.  There is elegance and power woven into every sentence.

But this time, the last sentence is what really captured my attention:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

I find that much of my life and priorities have been very self-focused.   Even in my faith journey, my pursuits mostly have been about me, myself and I.  Already you can count 11 singular first person pronouns in this writing!

But new stirrings within are helping refocus that tendency away from me to we.  So, from this point in the essay, the goal will be to redirect towards second person pronouns, too!

God is giving opportunities for this one flawed and often selfish human being to see the world more fully as a gift to us.  It’s his original intent that we look at life and faith through a communal vs. individual lens.  In Galatians 5:13-14, we are reminded:

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  ‭NLT‬‬

And July 4 seems a very fitting day to read that our forefathers pledged to be in it together throughout their lives, with all their fortunes, and in a committed mindset to honor and value each other.

Obviously, these words did not fully work out their inherent truth in every aspect of our young country, or slavery and women’s equality for example, would not have become issues for which we had to fight to change course.  But,  theses words of equality and mutuality keep working on us as a nation, and that is why this declaration is such a vibrant document.  It causes us to critique our lives now through the words written then, and own the prejudices and blind spots that still keep us from being a nation of “we”.

And although there are certainly vital issues of mutuality that require the strength of legislation, my first person hope is that we would learn to live in the second person more often and that this reality would be ever before us:  my freedom doesn’t mean much unless it is shared with you, freely.

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Fragile Strangers


This is my story about growing up with foster children that I wrote for YouthWorker Journal several years ago.

In observance & response to National Foster Care Awareness Month, and because momentum is growing for people to do something real and tangible to help children in the foster care system, I thought it was timely to share this story again.

Fragile Strangers: Our Part in the Restoration Story

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Writing to the Governor about Refugees

This morning I heard on the news that more European countries are closing their national doors to Syrian and Iraqi refugees trying to travel from Greece to new homelands to the north.  I won’t even begin to assume the weight of what these European countries are facing with hundreds of thousands needing help and support.  But I do feel confident that the response to say “no refugees” and “none can be vetted effectively enough” might as well be a retelling of the Good Samaritan story where a helpless, injured man clinging to life is lying by the side of the road and several people with the clear ability to do something on his behalf choose to pass by and rationalize that he’s not their problem.  But the man is there, dying, until someone decides to help in spite of differences and possible enmity.  He is desperate until the Samaritan accepts the fact that stopping to help will cost time and finances, not even knowing what will happen in the end.  He will continue to languish and die until a stranger decides something must be done to get this man to safety.

Last week, I decided to write our Governor since Oklahoma is one of the states that is NOT allowing refugees from these two countries to be resettled here.  My big argument is that we certainly should be able to help some refugees and that helping no one is immoral and lacks courage.  Among the 4 million refugees without a homeland, there has to be some who we can confidently help regardless of safety concerns.  There are multitudes of victims from the Syrian conflict and ISIS who have been abused, maimed, intimidated, or their families destroyed.  I’d like to know why we can’t at the very least help orphans and widows, families who have been stranded in refugee camps for years, or Iraqis who put their lives on the line to help the U.S. military.  Certainly, we could find some among these groups who we know we must help because it is the right thing to do.

Here are the bullet points I sent to the Governor:

It’s a crisis of historical proportions and history will judge our response.  The number of adults and children who have had to flee violence and persecution in their homelands has never been higher in history. According to World Relief, there were approximately 20 million refugees without home or homeland in our world as of last year, and 4 million of those were Syrians who were forced to leave their country. At a Human Rights First Media Briefing Call on January 19, Syrian and Iraqi Ambassador Ryan Crocker said he “cannot think of populations that have suffered more and longer than the people” of Syria and Iraq.

Over 99% of refugees in the world in 2014 were not resettled. This will be the history lesson future generations will study and decide if we were willing to take a compassionate risk or chose to allow fear to paralyze our leadership, and if our inaction actually helped the cause of ISIS in spreading an ethos of fear.

Rescue of the stranger is at the heart of God’s story and the American story.  Christians believe that God rescued us when we were still strangers to him. This is the compassion we have been extended by God and the story we are called to live into if we say we love God. This is what our faith requires:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…Matthew 25:35

Safe refuge is at heart of the American story too, extending a strong hand of hope to the tired, poor and “huddled masses who are yearning to breathe free.” These refugees yearn for a rescue from the horrors of a five year civil war and they need a bridge between their loss and their future. We have been that help before. Why not be the ones who help again?

Our path will either be courageous or fearful.  Allowing some well-vetted Syrian and Iraqi refugees to resettle in Oklahoma through the strenuous U.S. screening process is the courageous response to a serious threat in our world.

  • The U.S. government handpicks the refugees who resettle here, and our resettlement screening process is the most rigorous in the world.
  • Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted people to come to the United States, undergoing interagency screenings by the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, Department of Defense, National Counter Terrorism Center and multiple intelligence agencies, including biometric checks, forensic document testing, medical tests and in-person interviews.
  • According to an op-ed on November 24, 2015 by Matt Olsen, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, our greatest security concern should be the more than 4,500 foreign fighters from Europe and other countries who have traveled to Syria to join the jihad. These individuals have tainted ideologies and the travel documents to move around freely in the world.

I am weary of the discussions based on fear.  According to Kelly James Clark in a blog article on huffpost.com, death or injury from an intimate partner, a domestic extremist, or even a dog is a far greater risk in our country than the fraction of risk presented by the 784,000 refugees who have settled in the U.S. since 9/11.

Resettlement is working in other places.  Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Murray Sagsveen serves on the board of Lutheran Social Services in North Dakota, and they are receiving refugees from Syria and Iraq. In the same Human Rights First media briefing call mentioned earlier, he shared that this board heard incredible reports of success among Syrian and Iraqi refugees. These families are reported by employers as “model citizens,” many of who have doctoral degrees and long for a homeland in which to work hard and contribute, as well as provide a safe place for their children to learn and grow.

Our response to the needs of helpless people in our community and world should be compassionate and strategic.  We don’t need to be naive or unaware of risks, but neither can our only response to this crisis be to close our hospitable doors. These are game changer moments and it’s in our Oklahoma DNA to offer the generous hand of compassion. We are part of America’s pioneer heritage – a people who moved west and took risks. This is a powerful opportunity to pioneer a different response to a tremendous need in the world . So, we urge you to support the U.S. refugee resettlement program and allow our state be a welcoming place for refugees who are fleeing the very violence and conflict we condemn.

Let the conversation start for World Refugee Day on June 20.  Please allow the conversation to start and please talk to governors and first response leaders in states where accepting Syrian and Iraqi refugees is working. World Refugee Day is June 20. It would be incredible to take some decisive action by that day. This is an historical calling in which we will witness change in the world because we allowed the vulnerable to come and surrounded them with our faith, hope, and community.

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We are all refugees – Northstar Day 8

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Who Is My Neighbor?

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Something wonderful has occurred in the 10 years since my family moved into the area of town known as South Tulsa. Our community has become a more diverse residential gathering of ethnicity, economy, and faith. There are many contributing factors to this development. First, a variety of residential space is represented with apartments, condos, small homes, medium houses, really big homes and a few sprawling estates; all sharing space in our four square miles of the zip code. Second, folks from a lot of different ethnic and racial backgrounds are coming to the area for the same reasons we came: to get their kids a great education. Lastly, Tulsa’s little part of the world has had a surge in Hispanic and Burmese immigrant populations during this last decade. There is an abundance of students in our area for whom English is a second language and who play the role of interpreter for their parents.

People don’t typically think of Oklahoma as a melting pot, but I remember the first time I witnessed a fairly even percentage of Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Asian children in my daughter’s elementary class. I was so excited to think she would be growing up in her friendships, faith and identity looking through a wide demographic lens. I knew that environment would help define her understanding of the question asked of Jesus in Luke 10, “Who is my neighbor?”.

Jesus’ response comes not too long after he sends out the twelve to share his message in towns and communities. He tells the story of the only traveler to stop and be a neighbor to a Jewish man who has been robbed, beaten and left to die. And that’s the one person who is most different from the Jewish man–the Samaritan. Their differences have separated them in culture and community, but now their journeys intersect and the Samaritan man does not hesitate to delve in and share with this stranger.

Many of us naturally gravitate towards characteristics in people that are familiar to us–probably because in our overbooked, overwhelmed pace of life, it’s easier to enter into relationships that require less time and energy. But in my family and ministry, God keeps intersecting the journey with souls who are so different from us. Most live within 3 miles of our driveway. This new normal has allowed us to deliver groceries to folks who are very hungry, without access or transportation to a food pantry. Friendships have grown out of the willingness to start a conversation and take time to understand people’s stories. We have less assumptions about poverty and more conviction about our own stewardship. And, we’ve realized how much more God has to show us when these neighbors show up to worship with us.

It’s just a beginning, and Jesus’ words to emulate the actions of the Samaritan, “Go and do the same”, continue to resonate and interrupt our plans. My prayer is that we do not hesitate.

“…and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.”   Isaiah 58:10

 

If you’d like to help love our south Tulsa neighbors with a few bags of groceries, join us the last Sunday of each month! Visit South Tulsa Compassion for details.

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January 25, 2015 · 7:00 am

So grateful to have experienced “The Power of Community” firsthand

My church has had the unique opportunity to partner with the Community School movement in Tulsa.   “The Power of Community” in Tulsa People Magazine’s August 2011 issue tells the impactful story of community schools in Tulsa and highlights our adopted school, Mark Twain Elementary in one section.

I am so proud to share in this great work with Reading Buddies, Lunch Buddies, Science Enrichment leaders and so many more.  I’m also honored to work with educational heroes at Mark Twain like Dr. Diane Hensley and Sheri Carpenter.  A few of the pictures in the article are from our 2nd DreamBuilders Rhythm and Arts Camp.  If you can open the video link below, it is of the Glee Choir singing “What Faith Can Do” by Kutless at our camp finale in June.

My encouragement to anyone who wants to make a difference in the life of kids who desperately need to hold onto their big dreams, and who also need practical help in achieving those dreams is:  Read this great article and PARTNER WITH A COMMUNITY SCHOOL!

http://www.facebook.com/video/?id=627950350#!/video/video.php?v=10150300405520351

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