Last post as a YAV

Hey y’all!  It’s time.  My time as a YAV is complete and I want to leave y’all with some of my favorite pics and things I’ve learned and grown into.  This list is not complete and is NOT my last blog, I still plan to post once in a while during my time at Louisville.

20160327_123202

So there’s a Maya Angelou quote that I JUST found out I’ve been misquoting all year.  The quote is, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”  I thought the quote was, “When someone shows you who they are, forgive them.”  The first one is the correct one and it probably means a lot to many different people and I’m happy for that!  But in my own reality, the second one has meant more to me.  I really struggle with judging people and between living in community and working at 12 Baskets, I’ve seen the ugly side of a lot of people and I’m sure they’ve seen that in me from time to time.  But since I misheard this quote, it’s been easier for me to look past the ugliness and not let that hold me back from trying to love them as the beloved child of god that they truly are, not judge them as a person based on one bad decision or one bad day.

There’s a friend and a guest from 12 Baskets that has been struggling with addiction all year.  His drinking got so bad that he was passing out in the Cafe and by the grace of God and a lot of me and Shannon’s time and energy, we managed to help him into a detox program and later a sobriety center and things were looking up.  But my friend lives in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in towns in terms of drugs and shootings and when he got out, he had nowhere else to go but back to this neighborhood and he’s drinking again.  Walking alongside him in this journey has gone from devastating to hopeful to frustrating to heartbreaking and now I’m feeling helpless because there’s nothing I can do.  I can love him and encourage him to get sober, but I can’t judge him or be mad at him for the circumstances of this situation.  I can’t be mad at him for his alcoholism, it’s a disease and he lives in an environment where it is all but impossible to stay sober.  I compare it to someone who has cancer and can’t afford to pay for treatments.  I can love and I can support them to the best of my abilities.  I can’t judge or be mad at them for the society that has put these systemic injustices in place.  But, I can try to fight to put an end to these systems.

Screenshot_2016-03-06-01-17-55-1

“What if changing our perception of God has the potential to change everything?”

Richard Rohr

Here’s a quote I got right!  This has just been my life.  I could go into a lot of detail here but that would be a whole other blog post.  To sum it up, I’ve gone from not being able to see myself or people like me ANYWHERE in organized religion to realizing that my relationship with the Divine is exactly that, MY relationship.  I believe that as long as that relationship isn’t hurting myself or anyone else, that relationship is no one else’s business.

That being said here’s what I believe.  I believe the Church should be a community where ALL are truly welcome in all of their brokenness.  The Church should be a place where radical hospitality and self care are embraced and practiced.  I believe God transcends race and gender,  I am convinced that Jesus was a non-white rebel who was sick and tired of systemic injustices and fought to put an end to these injustices by radical acts. I believe the Holy Spirit is a communion of faith and of sinners and saints, past, present and future connecting and loving ALL–no exceptions.  By being able to redefine my faith in these new ways, I’ve been able to view myself and the world in more life giving, affirming and often challenging ways.  And it’s not always pretty and easy.  But if everything were pretty and easy, how boring would that be?  I don’t know about you but I don’t want my faith journey to be a boring one.

20160331_132018

Patience

That’s another one I could write a whole blog about.  I’m still a fairly impatient person but more patient than the person who showed up to YAV Orientation almost two years ago.  I’ve learned to be patient with God like when I really want something to happen or for someone to do something.  I’ve learned to be patient with other people like when it comes to cleaning the kitchen or with people who have mental illnesses at work. I’ve seen so much of that this year and I’ve learned just to accept the individual for who they are, try to give them some grace and if they’re causing a ruckus or threatening to hurt others, I invite them to leave for the day and to try to come back another day, hopefully in a better state of mind than they are in at the moment.  I think what I’ve learned about patience has manifested itself in who I am as a person.  I’ve been told by many that I have a calm, open presence and I manage to maintain this presence when there’s 80 people in 12 Baskets (don’t tell the Fire Marshall) and it’s 80 degrees in there and I can also maintain that when I’m having a 1 on 1 conversation with a friend.  It’s something I pride myself in and I hope to improve during my time in Louisville.

Screenshot_2016-04-06-20-50-33-1

My favorite metaphor for my life!!  I’ve come to see myself as a bookshelf.  The wood and screws stay the same but the paint, the decoration and the things on the shelves have changed and will continue to change over time.

Sunrise at the Mall

As people of faith, we are people of stories.

I preached this to EVERY group that came through The Pilgrimage and it still means so much to me.  As Christians, we are dedicated to the Bible which at the beginning, middle and end of the day is a book of stories.  We choose to live our lives inspired by these stories, stories that we challenge ourselves to understand, stories that we try to see ourselves in.  But it can’t stop there.  We need to seek out and really listen to stories of people that are different than us.  People who come from different places and backgrounds, believe different things, have experienced life differently than us.  The familiar is comfortable and there’s a time and place to be comfortable.  But I believe that God doesn’t call us to always be comfortable.  If we float around in our same circles, with the same people doing the same thing, we don’t learn, we become complacent and we lose our ability to empathize and care about other people–speaking from experience.

20160728_115121

We can and should learn from the uncomfortable

I have been pushed and challenged SO much in the past two years, physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, mentally and I have reached my capacity in all of these areas during my time as a YAV.  But I have also GROWN so much in all of these areas and I have to believe that there is a correlation there.  Yes it’s been hard, yes I have been in some VERY uncomfortable positions, there’s even been times where I’ve considered just leaving and going home.  But I have to admit that I’ve learned something from each of the times that I’ve been uncomfortable over the past two years.  And I am tired-physically, emotionally, socially spiritually, mentally.  But I have grown and learned and been challenged from the uncomfortable and I am grateful for that.

Screenshot_2015-09-05-11-37-28-1

Brokenness is real and brokenness is everywhere

It’s a hard thing to admit to ourselves but once we are able to it’s so freeing.  We are all broken in different ways.  None of us are perfectly whole beings that haven’t experienced loss or haven’t had something taken from us or haven’t been demonized  by society or our peers or our families in one way or another.  We also don’t know what it’s like to walk around with other people’s brokenness.  This is another thing that helps me in my life goal to judge people less.  If someone does something that annoys or angers me, I gotta remind myself that I don’t know what they are (or aren’t) carrying around with them.  

There are so many outlet in our world trying to tell us that if you do a certain thing, it will make us whole-eating organic, doing yoga, pray a lot, read the bible, read self help books, etc. I believe that not only do we need to get better at accepting and embracing our own brokenness but we also need to get better at sharing our own and embracing the brokenness of others.  Vulnerability is SO important when it comes to meaningful relationships in and outside of communities.  If we show our brokenness (in safe and affirming settings) we are able to give others a chance to grab onto our jagged edges.  If we try to exist in a way trying to show off how perfectly whole and flat we are, we aren’t giving others anything to grab onto.

20170327_101820

We are all beloved children of God. Period.

Pretty straight forward I think.  No matter what we do, who we are, what gender, sexuality, race, nationality, who we vote for, where we live, what we believe in, God’s gonna love us.  It’s not negotiable.  God meets us where we are at and we both figure it out from there.  This is what I try to do for others because I believe that’s what God does/did/is doing for me.

20151217_183948

How can your faith mean anything unless you’re doing something with it?

“I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” Frederick Douglass

“When I marched in Selma,” Rabbi Heschel wrote, “my feet were praying.”

“Faith in action is Love-and Love in action is Service.” Mother Teresa

I believe faith and action go hand in hand.  Unless you are living out your faith in your actions and interactions with others, I don’t know how that’s faith.  I’m not saying that you always need to wear a cross on your sleeve and talk to everyone in your life about your faith.  I’m saying seek justice, love with kindness, walk humbly with your God, volunteer, show grace to all, if you’re not apart of the problem you’re apart of the solution, live in the Jesus narrative.  He didn’t get killed cuz he was a nice guy and doing good things for people.  I’m not advocating to go out and do things that will get us killed by the powers that be. But try to live counter cultural and walk alongside “the least of these”.  Jesus doesn’t call us to always be safe and comfortable.

76199

Thank you all for reading and for supporting me in my time as a YAV.  It really feels like an end of an era in my life and Im excited and nervous for the journeys ahead.  I’m so grateful for everything that I have done, learned and experienced and happy to have connected with everyone I’ve met along the way!

Grace, Peace and Love to ALL, no exceptions,

Andy

IMG_20170721_081636_066

Advertisements

Blog Vomit

So I know last month I said I was gonna talk more about Richard Rohr, but life takes you down different paths.  With almost two years of being a YAV under my belt and one month remaining, I’m planning on writing a blog later this month about what I’ve learned from my time as a YAV.  But this month, I wanted to be real in a different light.  I wanted to talk about the things I’ve struggled with over the past 21 months.  I feel like I only put a lot of good, happy things on my blog cuz that’s the overwhelming reality of my YAV year.  It has been a challenging, transformational experience that I’m SO grateful that I’ve been able to experience.  But it hasn’t always been happy and easy.  Here’s some of the things that have been hard for me during my time as a YAV

 

Simple living

  • Going out!  In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal and I still get to do it every once and awhile but it’s far and few between.  Also, it’s just a nice self care for me that I’ve had to put in moderation. As we say at 12 Baskets, sometimes we are called to serve and sometimes we are called to be served and being served is just nice to have after two years of service
  • Personal expenses: specifically this year and having a car.  It’s a privilege and a curse y’all.  I have had a car this year just because the nature of my work. In order to be apart of an organization that rescues food, sometimes you gotta be the rescuer.  And I do occasionally get reimbursed for gas but there’s still things like oil changes, tire rotations and getting a new battery that are just hard to try and work into a simple living stipend.  At the same time, I’ve been able to see my car as a ministry.  Not only in the realm of rescuing food but also occasionally giving rides to friends from 12 Baskets, to meetings or work or the UPS station that is off the bus route or to a place far enough outside of town where they can start hitchhiking.

 

Living in community

  • Living with people different than me.  I believe this is the natural fear of entering the living in community aspect of this year.  Granted some of my closest relationships have come out of living in community but that doesn’t mean it’s still not hard.  Especially when it comes to expectations and trying to meet each others.  Even with a house covenant it’s been hard trying meet other people’s expectations for community but also try to understand that other people aren’t always going to meet mine.
  • Living with people similar to me.  The other side of the coin.  This isn’t always easy either.  I think this also comes back to expectations.  When you meet someone who’s gonna be in your community and think, “Oh, with them? This is gonna be easy!”  In my experience it doesn’t always work out this way.  I think that just because I got along with someone initally, I thougth that we would agree on most things and have similar goals for our year of service but that hasn’t always been the case.  But in both of these scenarios I have created close friendships that I hope will last for years to come.  But just like in ANY relationship, it’s not always gonna be easy
  • Food! To any of y’all out there who have lived in community before you will understand this one.  Last year in DC, we had separate food budgets which in retrospect wasn’t the greatest idea because we spent more money on food than if we had gone in on it together. On yop of that, we just had SO much food that it took up a lot of space.  This year we do a communal food budget which as a whole worked out better but is still hard because if one person wants something, you’re less likely to get it.  In my reality it’s seltzer water and nuts, they are my JAM!  But this year I either sacrifice the cravings or spend a little extra out of my own food budget to keep me happy.  

This last one requires a reference 

Notice anything about the top 3 fastest gentrifying cities?  That’s right! The past three years I have worked my way from number four right up to number 2 (I’m so grateful I’m not moving to Charleston in a month.)  There’s something about living in quickly gentrifying cities that I’m just tired of.  I feel like theses cities lose their sense of who they are.  Town like Portland and Asheville create a really unique, interesting feel and then everyone else discovers it and wants to be apart of it(myself included) which then prices everyone who made the town what it was, not able to live there anymore.  Not to mention tourists, God love ‘em.  I get it, they’re good for the economy and it’s fun seeing new parts of the world.  But I haven’t been able to feel like a town is really a place where I can sink my teeth into when it’s own sense of identity seems to be in flux and it’s full of so many transients.  Not to mention the effect of gentrification on locals in these towns.  Folks who have lived in these places their entire lives are being forced out of their homes because a place becomes trendy overnight.  I personally can’t justify living in a place that I have the privilege to choose to live in when people who can’t afford to move are being forced to do just that.  I can’t help but feel guilty that I’m unfairly taking up the space of someone who can’t afford to be in a town when I’m just somewhere because I want to be.

I want to end on a high note.  I feel like I just dropped a lot of whiney realness but I wanna validate the positive aspects of my experience as a YAV with a nice story.

So in Asheville, churches do their Vacation Bible School altogether, at the same time.  It makes the week an interfaith experience and kids get to meet new people AND you have more people to help run VBS.   So during the week of VBS API did a Poverty Walk with a group of emerging 6th graders and the next day they came to the Cafe to help us open the Cafe.  For the walk, they were one of the perceptive and engaged groups we EVER had and at the Cafe they all legitimately wanted to be there and help out and talk to our guests.  They were fantastic.  My favorite thing that came out of this week was a post I saw on Facebook.  At the Cafe we have this sign that embodies our spirit of Hospitality.

 

20170703_111912.jpg

 

When these kids were at the Cafe they obviously saw this sign.  Well, one of my friends on facebook is a mother of one of these kids and she posted that her son had recreated this sign and put it on his door.

 

Screenshot_20170704-184434.png

He was so moved by the work that we do that he needed to see it everyday and incorporate our message into the very day life at his house.

Despite all my struggles and frustrations, great things are still happening in the spaces that I have had the pleasure of being in.  I’m grateful for these two years and everything I’ve experienced, all the work I’ve done and all the connections I’ve been able to make.  The outcome of my time as a YAV I honestly can’t put a price on but I’m so thankful to all of you who helped to get me here.  And it all wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t take the leap of trying something completely new.

He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

John 21: 6

Grace and Peace

Kairos

One of the podcasts I listen to is “On Being with Krista Tippett”–I strongly suggest it.  Recently, I heard her interview Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest, teacher and writer and he said a lot of things in this interview that I want to share with y’all.  Now when I say a lot, I mean A LOT so my next few blogs will be leaning on a lot what Rohr said in this interview.  In this first post, I’ll be focusing on some ideas he expressed in ways I had never thought of before.

Richard Rohr is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.  I was introduced to the act of Contemplation last year in DC by Rev. Roger Gench, the Head Pastor at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.  The act of contemplative prayer was something that played a big role in my life for a few months.  Contemplative prayer as I learned it was a practice similar to meditation.  The act of reflecting inwardly on yourself and your actions as a way of finding clarity.  Since then I’ve gotten out of the habit but I still fall back on this practice every now and again.  One thing I loved about practicing contemplation is summed up by Rohr when he says, “the word ‘prayer,’ can be so trivialized, so cheapened by misuse. Prayer was sort of a functional thing you do to make announcements to God or tell God things, which God already knew, of course.”  Prayer isn’t something I’m good at.  Unless it’s in a group, it very often feels detached and predictable to me. Whereas contemplation was more the act of trying to live in a place when time comes to it’s fullness.  

Rohr says that there are two words for “time” in the New Testament.  The first is chronos referring to chronological time, and the other is kairos which in Greek means “deep time.”  Rohr interprets kairos as, “those moments where you go oh my God, this is it. Those moments where you get it, it doesn’t get any better than this, this moment is summing up the last few years of my life, where time comes to a fullness and where dots connect.”  Rohr says that’s what the tradition means by the word “contemplation,” that to be a contemplative is to learn to trust deep time and to learn how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time.

Over the past two years I’ve had many of the kairos-like moments of clarity.  A few that come to mind are things like experiencing Crater Lake on my drive from Portland to Tucson the summer before my first YAV year started, being annoyed by DC tourists during Cherry Blossom season and realizing that if I’m a beloved child of God so is everyone else no matter how improbable that may seem, my last worship service at Pilgrims, the last worship service at the Transition retreat this summer, walking in the Women’s march on Washington in January.

There is actually another kairos in my life, one that I interact with every day at work.  12 Baskets operates in Kairos West Community Center which is a ministry of All Souls Episcopal Cathedral.  Nearly every day of my time spent in Asheville I have existed in a place that is named after this concept of “deep time.”  During my time working with 12 Baskets I have been trying to create moments of kairos in other people’s lives.  Moments of humanity, friendship, safety or even just rest.  I have found some of my moments of clarity in those places and I hope to allow others to find there kairos moments there as well.  

Despite my efforts, these moments of clarity and coming together don’t always come in a prettily wrapped box that I can easily point to and say “here it is!”  This past Sunday at Grace Covenant (the church I’ve been going to) Rev. Marcia Mount-Shoop preached about the church’s exploration into becoming a Sanctuary Church.  Marcia was saying how a lot of us just want the easy yes or no solutions in our life.  But she told the congregation, maybe the path God is trying to lead us down is one of discernment, processing and sitting with the uncomfortable.  During my time as a YAV it has become abundantly clear that in my life, this is where God grants me moments of clarity.  I have been uncomfortable through simple living and intentional community and often times at my work placement.  And as for discernment and processing? Girl Please!  That is what my YAV life has been all about!  

Now I’m gonna try to take the pressure off of trying to find these kairos moments or moments of clarity in our lives.  I heard a Joseph Campbell quote on this same podcast that really stuck with me.  It comes from his book where he talks about the archetypes of heroes in mythology.  In this quote, I hear him saying, just trust the journey.  This path has been trod before, and it will be worth your while.  Which at this point in my YAV journey is just what I need to hear:

“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; and where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

Speaking of heroes, since I wrote my last blog the world has lost a significant hero.  The former head pastor of Church of the Pilgrims, my friend and teacher, Jeff Krehbiel passed away a little more than two weeks ago after his battle with pancreatic cancer.  A man of few words but tremendous wisdom, I learned so much from Jeff in the year that I knew him.  From community organizing, to worship planning, to faith formation and how to write a sermon, to his knowledge from things like beer to church history and everything in between.  He knew so well how to challenge me and support me at the same time.  The impact that Jeff had on this world is truly immeasurable.  I’m so grateful to have known Jeff as long as I did and my love and prayers continue to go out to his family.

Here is a beautiful remembrance of Jeff with a clip of another thing he taught me, biblical storytelling.

Grace and Peace Y’all

Another Sermon

Hey y’all!

Hope you’ve been surviving out there.  I am posting today for a couple reasons.  The first is to say a huge Thank You to all of you out there who have been keeping me in your prayers.  I did get accepted in Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program!  I’ll be starting classes in the fall and it is a HUGE relief to know not only what I’ll be doing when my time as a YAV is over but also that I’ll be doing something that I’m passionate about.

The second is that I gave another sermon today!  At Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, the church that I’ve been attending in town, they highlighted API in their early service so I gave a little Sermon about API”s mission and my experience working with API.  So here it is!

Thanks again to everyone one of you for all of your support and prayers and happy spring!

According to Mark,

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. So they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.  As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.”

But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass.

So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.  And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand people

 

One of the things I love about this scripture is the dynamic of the relationship between Jesus and the disciples has been similar to my relationship with God over the past few years.  They said that they want a break.  Jesus said, Ok.. we’ll see about that…  Disciples said, make them go get dinner somewhere else.  Jesus, said Nah…. Y’all can figure this one out.  Disciples said, this is all the food we have. Jesus said, Oh really?  Come see me in a couple hours.

I graduated from college almost 3 years ago with a degree in Political Science and with little to no sense of vocational direction.  So I moved from Arizona to Portland, OR because that’s what I wanted to do and there I tried to make adult life happen.  Long story short, it didn’t.  I was working 60 hours a week between two different restaurants and I could barely afford rent for a basement.  After more than a year of trying to make this work I was tired,  I was jaded and had less idea of what I wanted to do with my life than before I had made this big move from Arizona.  It was around this  time my Mom encouraged me for the fourth or fifth time in my life to apply for the Young Adult Volunteer or YAV Program.  The YAV program is a year of service program through the Presbyterian Church.  The YAV program has about 30 site placements nationally and internationally where the participants commit to working at a local church or nonprofit, living simply in intentional Christian community, and reflecting on vocational discernment for a year.  I served my first YAV year in Washington, DC working at a social justice oriented church and a short term mission-based hostel.  It was hands down one of the best and most formative years of my life.  I learned about church and community organizing, systemic racism, sexism, elitism and how all of those tie into my faith and what I’m being called to do with my life.  After that experience I just had to do one more year of this which is what brought me to Asheville and my work placement with Shannon at the Asheville Poverty Initiative.  

The main goal of Asheville Poverty Initiative or API is to end poverty by building mutual relationships.  At API, we realize that we live in world that believes in the myth of scarcity.  Our society and culture tells us that there isn’t enough to go around but the Gospel tries to teach us this isn’t true!  The fear that there is not enough to go around is what led the disciples to doubt their own abilities and to discount the crowd’s resources.  They believed that the only way that everyone’s needs will be met is if each person fends for themself.  Jesus tries to teach us that our reality is the complete opposite, Jesus shows us that there is an abundance!  An abundance of people, an abundance of faith, an abundance of grace and an abundance of love  

This Liturgy of Abundance cannot be fully realized until we know our neighbors and are in community with each other.  Jesus pushes the disciples to make this happen.  He had the disciples split up the crowd into smaller groups and feed them.  Once all the people who came to hear Jesus could see their neighbors face,    they cared more about each others well being.  They wanted each other to be satisfied.

I started working with API this past September, a month before 12 Baskets Cafe opened.  12 Baskets is one of API’s ministry that helps us to live out our goal of ending poverty through mutual relationships. 12 Baskets is a Volunteer Run, nonprofit Cafe in West Asheville that serves rescued food,  but it is so much more than that.  As I like to say, food is what we have but it’s not who we are.  Food is what gets people in the door but from there we want to build relationships and community.  Volunteers, or as we like to call them Companions,  and guests alike are committed to 12 Baskets and look forward to going whenever they are able to.

Some of you might have noticed this already but 12 Baskets Cafe gets its name from this scripture which we like to describe as less of a God miracle and more of a people miracle.  Once everyone knew their neighbors, they wanted to give what they had to make sure their neighbors would be satisfied and didn’t have to want for food.  And once everyone had given up what they had, there were 12 Baskets leftover, one for every disciple who had just been perpetuating the myth of scarcity.  In my opinion, this was one of Jesus’ underrated skills, those figurative smacks of reality.  I definitely think the disciples got tired of Jesus sitting in the corner with his I told you so smile on.

12 Baskets is appropriately named for many reasons but it was especially clear to me in the process of opening the Cafe.  Shannon and I did a lot of going around town, telling people who we are, this is what we do, can you give us anything?  Once people met us, and heard our passion and goals for this Cafe, people were more than happy to give their time, energy, resources and skills in whatever way they were able.  That is what helped 12 Baskets to become what we are today.  100% of our food and Coffee is donated from 10 different restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals and coffee roasters from all around Asheville.  All of our food and drinks are served on handmade pottery from the village potters in the river arts district and with the exception of Shannon and myself, the Cafe has been run and would not be running without all of our companions and guests who believe in what the Cafe’s message and want to see it thrive.  

Another one of our ministries at API is our Poverty Scholars program.  This is where different church, college and youth groups take a day to learn from our neighbors who are either living or have lived in Poverty.  We do a variety of programming, things like tours of downtown, discussion panels and sometimes even Bible Studies.  This past Advent we were doing a bible study at a church with a few of our Poverty Scholars.  The third week of advent,  one of our Poverty Scholars came into the cafe the day of our bible study and we could tell from his body language that something devastating had happened.  We came to find out that when he want back to his campsite the night before that his tent and everything in it had been stolen.  His clothes, sleeping bag, pillow, books, everything but the welcome mat, were all gone.  Needless to say, he wasn’t feeling up to going to the bible study that day.  At the bible study, we shared with the group what had happened to Dave and we held him in the light.  Afterwards, a woman came up to us and told us that she had a basement full of camping supplies and clothes that she wasn’t using and she wanted to give them to Dave.  This is what we’re talking about when we say that our goal is to end poverty through mutual relationships.  Once we know our neighbors, we are more likely to look out for them, give what we have away to help someone else.  There is an abundance!  We just need get out of heads and embrace it.

At the end of this story, it says that they gathered up the broken pieces of food and that’s what fed the disciples.  When all the broken pieces come together, it makes the disciples whole.  Another one of our Poverty Scholars always ends a session with a certain ritual.  During this time, TJ explains that she has a friend who has a beach house and a couple times every year, she gets invited out to stay at the beach house.  She used to walk along the beach and only collect the perfect shells like most of us do… until she started to realize allllll of the broken shells on the beach.  She started to collect the broken shells because in the brokenness, TJ saw humanity.  So at the end of every walk, she gives every participant a broken shell.  And while she does this, TJ reminds us that none of us in this room, in this town, in this country, or even this world, are perfect–no one.  We are all broken in one way or another and just like the shells, we don’t get to choose our brokenness, but we are all broken nonetheless.  And when we come together, aware of our own and each others brokenness, we start to make one another whole.

A lot of times when people hear our main goal at API, it’s easy to think, you want to end poverty,,, with relationships??  What about housing? What about living wage jobs? What about transportation? What about education?  And I completely understand where they’re coming from.  And we know that relationships themselves aren’t an all inclusive solution. But they are a step along the way.

Archbishop Oscar Romero’s prayer is what I always keep in mind:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Amen

The Importance of Relationships

Hey y’all,

Sorry it’s been a while since my last blog post.  Life’s been busy between 12 Baskets, community life, attempts at self-care and prepping for my interview with Louisville Seminary.  It’ll be the first weekend of March and I’ll take all the prayers and positive energy that I can get!  I just had a really great day at work today and I wanted to share it with you all.

So it started as a pretty average day at 12 Baskets.  I arrive around 9 AM, turn on the oven, put some food in the oven and start to organize the food that we received over the weekend.  Some of our guests start to make the coffee, our Companions (or volunteers) for the day start to come in around 10:30 and we have a nearly full house by the time we start to serve at 11:30.  Everyday before we start serving I say a few words of Welcome and Thanks.  I explain what 12 Baskets is, how food will be served and where the food comes from.  I also explain that we live in a world that tells us that there is not enough to go around and that at 12 Baskets, we say that is not true.  We have an abundance of food, we have an abundance of people, we have an abundance of grace and we have an abundance of love.  I go onto say that we are a Christian organization but we don’t require anyone else to be and that we are all on our own journeys and they are all important and with that in mind I ask if anyone would like to say a few words of thanks for the abundance this morning because everyone’s voice matters.  Usually at this point someone says a little prayer or a few words of thanks and peace.  But today, one of our newer guests just said Thank You and it echoed throughout the room from our guests to our Companions, myself included.  In that moment, I felt how strong our community really is.

We encourage our Companions to sit down and eat with our guests everyday partly because we have so much food that it needs to, as my supervisor Shannon would say, “get gone” and partly because we know the best way to get to know someone is by sitting down and breaking bread with them.  Today I sat down with one of our guests who has been with us since the beginning who I’ve always struggled to connect with.  I’m going to call this guest Frank.  Today I sat down with Frank and he started telling me about his current situation.  He lives in a tent that he calls home out in the woods around Asheville.  He’s been living out there since April.  Frank has a ton of experience working as a plumber, an engineer and a chiropractor but he always suffered from massive depression. Every year or so he would be sucked into the hole of depression where he boarded himself up in his house for months at a time and he just couldn’t pull himself out of it.  Ever since he started living in a tent, he gave up his worldly possessions, started biking more, started to become more of a social being, starting to get more in tune with nature and since then, he hasn’t clipped back in to depression.  He recently got offered to stay in the house of an older woman that he’s friends with.  He helps her out around the house and with her health thanks to all of his skills.  Now this woman’s memory is starting to go so she offered him a place to stay so he can help her out even more and so he can have place to stay in doors.  Frank is really struggling with this decision.  If he moves in with this woman, he’d be inside and living in a very nice part of town.  But if he moves inside, he is all too aware that his depression could sneak it’s way back into his life.  This story shows me a few things.  One is the lesson I keep on learning: everyone has a different story and different reasons for where they are in life, especially if you are living on the streets or in a tent or in a car.  The other is that mental illness and care for mental illness is so different for each and every person!  I’m so happy to have connected with Frank today and to have heard some of his story.  I’ve had so many great lunch dates like this one over the past four months and I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to help create a space where conversations like this one can happen.

The second conversation was with a guest who I’m going to call Tom.  I’ve been getting to know Tom over the past couple weeks and whenever I sit down and talk to him he speaks very softly so I have to do a lot of leaning forward and lip reading.  It seems to be a part of his life that he has come to accept and even jokes about.  Today I ran into Tom on his way out of the Cafe and we were just catching up.  I noticed that I could hear him a lot better today.  He was surprised to hear this and he reflected back to me that ever since he’s been coming to 12 Baskets, he’s been talking to other people instead of just himself.  Tom has been engaging in conversations with people who care about what he has to say and want to hear him say it.  Just by coming to 12 Baskets and getting a delicious warm meal, Tom has become apart of the 12 Baskets community and he is becoming a socially active person again.  This is a HUGE part of life that we privileged people take advantage of.  Human contact.  Talking to people.  Living in poverty can be such a dehumanizing experience and at 12 Baskets we just want to restore humanity back to people’s lives.

Four months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to guess that we would have created a space that stories like these can come out of.  I’m proud of our Companions for helping to create a space where things like this can happen and I appreciate every single guest that walks through our doors.

Thank you all for your support and please continue to keep everyone at 12 Baskets in your prayers.

Andy

Merry Relationship-mas!

Greetings and Happy Holidays to you all!

As you might know, this year I have been serving at the nonprofit Asheville Poverty Initiative.  The goal of Asheville Poverty Initiative, or API, is to eradicate poverty through relationships.  This is a theme in all of our programs but it is perhaps most visible when it comes to 12 Baskets Cafe.  12 Baskets is our non-profit, volunteer-run Cafe that serves rescued food from a variety of restaurants around Asheville.  As we like to say, at 12 Baskets we have food but it’s not who we are.  At 12 Baskets we try to build relationships and create a community with people on all ends of the poverty spectrum.

One of the most impactful relationships that I’ve built up at the Cafe is with a guest who I’ll call Sam.  Sam comes into the Cafe for lunch everyday and regularly stays after we close to help us clean up.  One of the things that I love about our friendship is not only do we come from different ends of the poverty spectrum but we also have completely different political beliefs.  Despite that we still share a meal together at least once a week and consider each other friends.

Last week, Sam came into the Cafe and shared with Shannon, my supervisor, that yesterday when he returned to his camp site in the woods outside of Asheville, his tent and everything except for his Welcome mat was gone.  This is where Sam sleeps, keeps all of his clothes and a number of his belongings, all of which are now gone.  That same afternoon Shannon and I led a Bible Study at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Asheville.  The theme of the Bible Study has been looking at our Advent scripture alongside people who are experiencing poverty with the hope of looking at these texts through a different lense.  Sam had been attending these Bible Studies with us but he understandably wasn’t feeling up to it on this particular day.  Before we started we held a time for Prayer Concerns and we lifted up Sam and told the group what happened to his tent.  Once the Bible Study was over, a member of the church came up to us and said that she had a basement full of camping gear that she wasn’t using and wanted to pass it onto Sam.  Another member said they had some clothes they wanted to give to him.  Another offered to take him to Walmart to stock him up on any other supplies he might need.  The members of the church wanted to do this because they had gotten to know Sam and feel like he’s a part of their community.  When you spend time getting know someone, you are more likely to care about them despite all of your differences.  This is an example I can point to of how API is living out it’s goal.  We did not eradicate the poverty that Sam is living in.  But we helped him out in his time of need because we know his story and we genuinely care that he has enough resources to help him get through this impossibly difficult time in his life.

It is through the act of breaking bread and having conversations that I have been able to get to know people like Sam.  We have our differences and we acknowledge them, but we are still able to treat each other as the beloved Children of God that we truly are.  We are at a point in our country where huge groups of people hold a lot of fear or even hate towards other people who have different beliefs than our own.  But by creating a space of respect and open dialogue, like 12 Baskets, we are able to get to know people who are different from us, find something we have in common and maybe even learn something from each other.  Once we know each other, it is a lot harder to be afraid of each other.

12 Baskets update

Hey Y’all!

Sorry for not posting in awhile.  The reason being I’ve been pouring a lot of my free time into my application for Louisville Seminary’s Marriage and Family Therapy program!  I’m really hoping that will be my next step once my time as a YAV is over so prayers would be appreciated.  Now about 12 Baskets!

12 Baskets Cafe was recently featured on a local news station which you can see HERE.  It was great publicity for us and we have been getting so much positive feedback from the Asheville Community.

One thing that has been overwhelming to me is seeing just how much food we save from the trash.  The same food that we serve at the cafe to build relationships.  It’s been amazing to see our community at 12 Baskets growing and coming together.  On any day we serve between 35 and 60 people.  Not all of them are living in poverty, not all of them can donate time or money to the space, but every single one of them is a beloved child of God and is welcomed into the Cafe with a smile.  Everyday we serve something different and every day our menu changes multiple times.  That’s the thing about serving rescued food, the popular items go fast and we don’t always have enough of one thing to serve it all day long.  The four things that we ALWAYS have enough of is Chicken Tikka Masala, rice, Naan and bread.  

The reason we have so much of these first three items is easy to explain; we pick up from two Indian buffets in town and those three items are very popular.  However when it comes to bread, we usually get 4-6 big boxes from a grocery store that are full of different kinds of bread. Baguettes, bagels, muffins, walnut bread, cinnamon swirl bread, sourdough, wheat, 12 grain, hawaiian, peasant bread, you name it.  We have learned that the industry over produces bread because consumers are picky when it comes to bread. We want fresh, we want new, we want soft, we don’t want leftovers.  

After growing up in the church I’ve come to see bread as the body of Christ.  We have boxes of the body just sitting in the cafe for our guests to go through.  What I can’t stand is the contrast of the industry making an excessive amount of the body of Christ and how little Jesus we see on a daily basis. I’m not talking literal depictions of Jesus.  I’m talking how little we see of what Jesus stood for.  Being counter-cultural, hanging out with the people who are outside of society, and showing love to EVERYONE no exceptions!  We try to embrace this Jesus narrative at 12 Baskets and I am trying to embrace this narrative throughout my year in Asheville.  It’s easier said than done but at least trying to live with that sort of intentionality is a step along the way.

20161102_11432420161031_120836

At 12 Baskets, one of our challenges has been figuring out what to do with our leftover food.  We don’t want to cool it a second time and heat it up a third time because it hurts the integrity of the food.  We have built a relationship with a Boys & Girls Club down the street from us and we give them our leftovers because they can use it that same day.  But one day I was joking with Shannon, my boss, about how we shouldn’t be surprised that we have leftovers because we are named after leftovers! (Mark 6:43)

20161031_120845

Grace and Peace y’all.  Thank you all so much for your support!

Andy

12 Baskets Cafe

Hey Folks!

So sorry I haven’t posted in a month but I’m about to break that streak!

I’ve been loving Asheville, my community here and my work placement.  This year I am working as the Donation and Volunteer Coordinator at 12 Baskets Cafe.  12 Baskets is a volunteer-run, non-profit cafe serving rescued food from around town which opens this Monday the 10th! Our goal is to not just give out food but build community and relationships through the food we serve.  Building community through food that would otherwise be in the trash, you know God is in a ministry like that. Since we serve rescued food, this means that we save food from buffets and restaurants around town that has already been made that they would throw away if it wasn’t for us.  This means we do absolutely NO cooking in the cafe!  We have a lot of freezers, one amazing oven, one fridge and a dishwasher!  You could compare it to a soup kitchen but at 12 Baskets we are really trying to flip the service dynamic on it’s head.  For example, our volunteers will be playing the role of host/hostess, server, kitchen attendant and dishwasher.  

The other aspect of 12 Baskets which I love, we are proud to be faith based! 12 Baskets is named after the feeding of the 5000 when there were 12 Baskets left over.  I love how my boss, Shannon Spencer, describes this miracle as less of a God miracle and more of a people miracle.  When everyone offers up what they have there’s more than enough left over.  That’s what I’ve seen in the actions of others leading up to the opening of 12 Baskets.  We have had gorgeous handmade pottery donated, a local carpenter has made so many awesome things for us and all the donations of time, food and resources is just overwhelming in the best possible way.  I am so happy to be working here this year and I look forward to seeing how God lives and breathes in this space.  

If you want to see some pictures of 12 Baskets, we will be putting a lot of them on our Facebook so be sure to give that a like!

Thank you all so much for your support and stay tuned for more updates on the life of 12 Baskets!

Good-bye DC blog (Finally)

Hey folks!

Sorry for the delay, I can’t believe it’s been a month since I left DC!  I’m so grateful for the experience and everyone who made my year the profound, amazing experience that it was.  After I left, I went home to Tucson to recharge my batteries, see the famil, check in with my mentors and do some fundraising (thank you SO much to ALL that have supported me in my fundraising so far, I’m super close to meeting my goal!).  THEN I drove out to Asheville with my sister!  We went from Albuquerque to Fort Smith, Arkansas to Nashville.  We had a great time and experienced some lovely southern hospitality along the way.  I finished the last leg to Asheville all by myself and I’ve been here for a week now with my new community!  I have a great feeling about the town, my placement and my community and details on all will follow in my next blog but for now, I’m going to post my final blog from my time in DC.  This post is a conglomeration of pictures of my bike ride to and from work so you can all see what I saw almost everyday!

20160728_102243

First and foremost, this is the view looking out our front door!  Don’t mind the weeds…

20160728_102613 (1)

This was a thing I loved seeing in people’s yards in DC which I had never seen before.  It was a car tire turned inside out and used as a pot for a plant.

20160728_102636

This was just a couple blocks down from our house!  Just showing some love in the heat of the summer

20160728_103020

Don’t mind my finger in the way but this was one of the houses I passed everyday and I just loved it’s unique positioning on the corner.

20160728_103710

This was a common thing that always annoyed me, but what can you do?  Overgrown tree roots messing with the sidewalk.

20160728_104258

These trucks always made me laugh.  DC Water was our water supplier in the District and their motto was “Drink Tap”, although we heard from many people throughout the year that women of child bearing age in DC shouldn’t drink the tap water….

20160728_105028

This was a fun intersection, Georgia and New Hampshire.  Behind me is a hill where I nearly got hit by people opening their car doors on multiple occasions.  As I always used to say biking in DC was always a practice in faith!

20160728_110541

I always loved this view.  This was after I turned onto 11th Street.

20160728_110740

I just love the architecture of some original homes in DC.

20160728_110858

So these heritage trails were all over the town in DC, nearly every neighborhood had one.  I didn’t do as many as I wanted to at the time but if you’re ever in town I strongly suggest it.

20160728_111357

See the Washington Monument in the distance?? That’s already one thing I miss.  Just being able to look around town and randomly see the White House or The Capitol building or this lovely monument.

20160728_111758

If you look close this is a good example of gentrification in DC.  On the right you can see the traditional brick house and just behind it is a new apartment building and it just doesn’t look like it belongs there.

20160728_112440

I don’t remember what intersection this was but it was Florida Ave and something.  I always pushed past this intersection as fast as I could because the intersection after this one had a bike traffic light and I nearly always had to wait around what seemed like forever for my green bike light

20160728_112519

This is looking left from the intersection above.  The cathedral is St. Augustine Catholic Church which is a historic black church which started by a group of dedicated emancipated black Catholics.  Amazing architecture and a fantastic story with members dedicated to social justice.

20160728_112823

Here’s another heritage trail board only this one is for U Street.

20160728_113152

and another finger!

20160728_11333820160728_113739

These next few pictures are of embassies within Dupont Circle where Church of the Pilgrims is located!

20160728_11375120160728_11375520160728_11375820160728_11401120160728_11405320160728_11410220160728_11414620160728_11424920160728_114338

In the distance is the fountain within Dupont Circle park which the Dupont Circle neighborhood is named after.  This was a great place relax in the grass, do some street outreach or attend a vigil or a rally.

20160728_114340

This is the western half of Dupont Circle

20160728_114722

Portuguese Embassy’s rear entrance!

20160728_114923

Bagels….and stuff!  One of my favorite restaurants in Dupont Circle, they have a killer Turkey Avocado sandwhich, the workers are sweethearts and they sold day old bagels for a bargain!  Miss this place.

20160728_115017

Soho Tea and Coffee!  Right across the street from the church.  This is where we always went to work when wifi was down at the church and where we went for our monthly goal and intention setting and even a great place to catch a 1 on 1 with someone from church or the community!  The usual barista Sammy and I were good friends.  He always called me Little Red Riding Hood because I have red hair and rode a bike which is sweet but not a very clever nickname if we’re being honest with ourselves….

20160728_115121

And here’s my church!  I miss this place and the people within it but I WILL be back to visit sometime this year.

And NOW, here’s the way home!

20160721_140651

This is the inside of Church of the Pilgrims.  We never preached from that main pulpit beneath the Pride Flag, there is a smaller one that is pushed off to the side for some reason.  This congregation felt a call to social justice and this is how we chose to embody it.

20160721_16411320160721_164115

There were lots of these statues around Dupont Circle probably because it was so close to embassy row.  But I walked past this guy everyday and I know nothing about him.

20160721_164258

I know this guy!  He was fittingly across the street from the Indian Embassy.

20160721_164554

Kramerbooks!  This was a great little bookstore with the BEST pie in town.

20160721_164643

Diego’s was where I always got my hair cut.  It was cheap and it’s where all the foreign dignitaries got there hair done too!

20160721_164812

Argentina’s Embassy!

20160721_165024

Pretty architecture in Dupont Circle.

20160721_16531820160721_165520

Yet another Heritage Trail sign!  This time in Logan Circle.

20160721_165744

Just loved this port-o-potty’s name!

20160721_17010920160721_17023420160721_17025320160721_170822

I just loved so much of DC’s original architecture.

20160721_170951 (1)

And one more heritage trail sign!

20160721_17140620160721_171553

These pictures above and below are just examples of DC pride.  Lots of local companies incorporated the District’s flag into their signage.

20160721_17162620160721_171659

Here’s a Capital Bikeshare stop!  This is usually the one I docked at between work and home.  You can only have a bike out for 30 minutes at a time without being charged so I checked in at this one then took it back out again because a bike ride home was usually about 35 minutes.

20160721_171805

This is what gentrification looks like.

20160721_171827

A rare vacant lot!  There aren’t many of these in DC.

20160721_17203120160721_172148

That’s Howard University in the distance!

20160721_172450

This broken TV was just sitting here for at least 2 months

20160721_17263720160721_17280220160721_172916

I just think it’s interesting to see how the home structures change as you get further away from the National Mall and downtown DC.

20160721_173457 (1)20160721_174520

This is looking north up Georgia and New Hampshire, the hill that I mentioned above.

20160721_18061920160721_180619 (1)

This was my favorite hill coming home!  If I got a green light at the intersection ahead I wouldn’t have to pedal for the whole ride home.

20160721_181139

Hamilton, anyone?

20160721_181356

This was our neighborhood cat!  I forget her name but she was so friendly and we always left water out for her

20160721_181410

Home Sweet Home!

20160721_181412

Kitty followed me home!

 

That’s my commute!  I hope you enjoyed the tour, I really miss this town and thanks again to all who supported me and made this possible for me.  As for next year, I start my new job in Asheville on Tuesday and I’ll be posting a blog later in the week to tell you all about it!

In the meantime, thanks again and God Bless

4th Sermon in a Year

So I meant to do a closing blog to mark the end of my year in DC which is STILL coming, I promise!  But in the mean time I hope this gets you all by.  I gave a Sermon a my home church today, Holy Way Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ.  I tried to make a parallel between the scripture and my YAV year, I hope you enjoy it!

According to John, Jesus appeared again to the disciples, this time at the Tiberias Sea.

This is how he did it:

Simon Peter, Thomas , Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the brothers Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

Simon Peter announced, “I’m going fishing.”

The rest of them replied, “We’re going with you.”

They went out and got in the boat. They caught nothing that night.

When the sun came up, Jesus was standing on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him.

Jesus spoke to them: “Good morning! Did you catch anything for breakfast?”

They answered, “No.”

He said, “Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens.”

They did what he said.

All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren’t strong enough to pull it in.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Master!”

When Simon Peter realized that it was the Master, he threw on some clothes, for he was stripped for work, and dove into the sea.

The other disciples came in by boat for they weren’t far from land, a hundred yards or so, pulling along the net full of fish.

When they got out of the boat, they saw a fire laid, with fish and bread cooking on it.

Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter joined them and pulled the net to shore—153 big fish! And even with all those fish, the net didn’t rip.

Jesus said, “Breakfast is ready.” Not one of the disciples dared ask, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Master.

Jesus then took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish.

This was now the third time Jesus had shown himself alive to the disciples since being raised from the dead.

The word of God, for the people of God, Thanks be to God

 

Would you pray with me?

God, If you don’t speak, it won’t get said.  Speak Lord now, to me and to all of us.  Amen

(Prayer Cred goes to the PC(USA) co-moderator Denise Anderson at the NEXT Church Conference (I didn’t say this at the time))

I’d like to preface this Sermon with a few important details if I could.  Many of you know me, I’ve been attending this church for the past 21 years, which means I can now legally drink in the church.  I just spent the last year in Washington, DC as a Young Adult Volunteer which I like to describe as Americorps but through the Presbyterian Church and I’m about to start my second year of being a Young Adult Volunteer in Asheville, NC a week from tomorrow.  I also think it’s important to note that I will not be going to seminary to pursue parish ministry even though this is the 4th sermon I’ve given in the past year, which is something I would not have believed if you told me a year ago, but that’s one of the themes of my Sermon this morning: Things change.

Starting with a bit of biblical background, this chapter in John is considered to be the epilogue of this Gospel.  If it wasn’t for this chapter, John would have ended with Jesus appearing to doubting Thomas and giving them one last teaching.  Instead of ending with the disciples seeing Jesus as they knew and loved him, it takes a turn, with the disciples seeing Jesus in a brand new way and they knew it was him even though it wasn’t.  Just think about how far these smelly stubborn fishermen have come.

Their lives had changed.  Something happened after this profound, phenomenal experience of being one of Jesus’ disciples.  Not only has their willingness to believe changed but even their ability to fish isn’t what it used to be.   As my good friend and fellow YAV Emily Wilkes pointed out to me, as fisherman this is what they are supposed to be able to do, Fish!  But after being a disciple of Jesus, they don’t know how to fish anymore.  Things change.  

A recurring theme in the gospel of John is that Peter is often wrong.  Let’s go fishing he says! No fish. He tells Jesus, You won’t wash my feet!  Jesus says Yes I am.  Peter says, I will lay down my life for you! He denies Jesus 3 times.  I don’t want it to seem like I’m coming down on Peter here, in fact quite the opposite.  I feel like Peter’s tendency to be wrong shows how beautifully human he is.  Being wrong is a part of life.  It’s never fun to admit it especially in a public setting or to a teacher or mentor in your life but as humans we are bound to be wrong from time to time.  Jesus provides the forgiveness and grace to Peter when he’s wrong so why aren’t we able to provide that grace and forgiveness to each other?

One of my favorite books I read this past year is “Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People” by a Lutheran pastor in Denver, Nadia Bolz-Weber.  She says, “The thing about real grace is that it stings.  Receiving grace is the best terrible feeling in the world.  I don’t want to need it.  Preferably I could just do it all and never mess up, which may be what I prefer but not what I need.  I need to be broken apart and put back together into a different shape by that merging of things human and divine, which is really screwing up and receiving Grace and Love and Forgiveness.”  I heard at one point this year that If you either need to pray and don’t know what to say or if you haven’t prayed in a long time and you’re trying to get back into it, just start off with Thanksgivings and asking for forgiveness.  Which for me was HARD.  I didn’t pray often before this year and even when I did all I did was ask  and ask and ask for things and after a while it seemed like a one sided relationship of me asking God for things and not really doing anything in return.  

What I came across in my research is that despite how easy it sounds in this reading, it is not easy moving a fish net from one side of a boat to the other.  So the fact that these fishermen, who I like to think of as a group of teamsters who know their trade and don’t need advice, the fact that they just did what this random guy asked them to requires them to take a leap of faith and Surprise! It paid off.

Deciding to be a YAV was my leap of faith.  I didn’t want to leave Portland a year ago but I realized that my life at the time wasn’t what I wanted it to be.  So I took this leap of faith with the hope of it leading to a job that wasn’t in a hospitality industry.  Well I didn’t get exactly that, but I did get a lot more gear that I didn’t ask for.  I honed my skills that I already had and picked up new ones, I made fantastic new relationships with friends and mentors, I gained new ways of looking at the world around me and my faith.  

One of my favorite stories about my faith this year has to do with one of my least favorite things, tourists.  One half of my work placement this year was at a Presbyterian church in DC, Church of the Pilgrims and during the season of epiphany we focused on embracing our own belovedness, truly seeing ourselves as beloved children of God.  Not only that but realizing that it doesn’t end there,  if I am a beloved child of God then everyone else has to be to.  It was around this time that it was Cherry Blossom season in the District which is the first week that starts the season of tourists in DC.  I was down on the National Mall one afternoon admiring the Cherry  Blossoms, getting some pictures and there were SO many people down there with their hats and strollers and I love DC shirts getting in my way and in my pictures. SO in that moment, instead of getting grumpy and angry toward these well intentioned strangers I chose to take up the mantra, “They are a beloved child of God, they are a beloved child of God” and it got to a point where I said to myself, There are SO many people down here, I really don’t think God really loves ALL of them!  It was in that moment that I still felt like such a child in my faith.  Which I am.  I am a beloved Child of God, just like everyone else.  

Another change of perspective this year became clear to me in my last week in DC.  I was at my favorite museum, the Hirschhorn museum of modern art, with my roommate Angela.  There was one piece that was called Venus of the Rags which depicts the your traditional Grecian statue of a woman standing in front of a pile of rags with sort of a thoughtful stance (you can google it if you’re really curious).  One family walked by and I heard them joke, “That looks like our laundry room”, I later saw this statue used in the context of “what should I wear?”  But when Angela and I saw this, we thought of the many situations that we had been in this past year when we are serving at soup kitchen or something of the sort.  Sometimes you end up working in the closet trying to get clothes out to the guests who need socks or shoes or a new jacket or some pants that fit.  The reality in those situations is that the chances are incredibly good that what they are looking for either isn’t in the right size or isn’t on hand at the moment and even if it is there and it is in the right size, it most likely would not be in a condition that you would want someone to wear.  Our Venus of the Rags was different from most people who saw it.  It was a beloved child of God who has to decide which rag is good enough to get them through the night or the winter, or the next time they might be lucky enough to receive something better than a rag in their life.

There were times of spontaneous moments of prayer throughout my year.  My favorite one happened when I participated in a memorial service and marched throughout the streets of Washington for the citizens of DC who died on the streets in the past year.  I helped make the 80 some signs writing the names of these beloved children of God on white picket signs, marched through the streets with these signs, then participated in a vigil for them outside the building for DC’s local government.  The last part, which I chose not to do, was stay out overnight in solidarity with people who didn’t have a bed to go home to, and they had one of those big tents and heaters so it wouldn’t have been terrible but it just wasn’t something I was willing to do.  But my roommate Lynette chose to do this.  Even though I knew she would be fine and wouldn’t be alone, it was still hard for me to just leave her.  So as I got on the bus to go back to my safe home and warm bed, I just felt this overwhelming feeling that I should pray.  I prayed for Lynette’s safety and for the safety and well-being of everyone who sleeps on the streets on a regular basis, for everyone that doesn’t have a safe home and warm bed to come home to and I quickly became that person crying on the bus.  Not sobbing mind you but I had tears coming down on my face and for the first time in my life I had this undeniable feeling that the Holy Spirit was with me.  I still have a lot of questions in my own faith journey but one of my certainties is that the Holy Spirit is like the Force in Star Wars.  This strong spirit that binds us altogether and which amazing things come from.  I don’t know if that feeling was a call to service or maybe it was all in my head, but I’m so grateful that I was able to feel it.  And I wouldn’t have felt it if I didn’t try tossing my net off the other side of the boat.

To make room in my life for all these and more new ways of looking at the world and looking at my own life I had to die to how I knew and looked at things before this.  I had to die to a way of doing things that weren’t serving me anymore to make room for new things that would better serve me.  The disciples had to die to what they knew about being fishermen in order to become fishers of men.  What do you need to die to, in order to make room for something new?  It’s not meant to be a self critique, it’s about allowing yourself enough grace to take an honest look at your life and figure out what isn’t serving you anymore?

At this time in my life, I can’t exactly see Jesus as the disciples did, I can’t see how he is calling me or what he is calling me to do.  But that’s partly why I signed up for another YAV year.  I need more intentional time of service, simple living and living in community to figure that out.  Despite everything that I don’t know, I know my new community and I are going to Asheville in a week and I know God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will be there.  There will be bread, there will be fish, there will be a fire and we will be fed.  Amen.

Thank you all for your support!  You’ll be able to find all the blogs for my upcoming year in Asheville right HERE so stay tuned!