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.