Lessons from the House on Park Street

Lessons from the “Soon to Be” House on Park Street

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Some of you have asked about the house I am building this summer.  Well, not me exactly… but the house I am helping our local Habitat affiliate build as a way to celebrate my 70th year.  This, of course, is not “my house” or “my build.”  Soon, some deserving neighbor will call it home — after putting in hundreds of hours of “sweat equity,” they too will have the joy of a home with a manageable mortgage!  Still, I am grateful for those of you who have made a gift so that this work could go forward this summer.  Thank you!

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IT IS GOING WELL!  So much is happening so quickly.  The construction manager Keith Hite is a marvelous teacher.  (Keith teaches building trades at New Prairie High School.)  And thanks to groups like the folks from Alcoa Howmet Corporation in La Porte, the decking was in place and so much more was ready for those of us who were volunteering.  As a result, we are further along than we anticipated at this point.  We are ready for the dozens of volunteers coming over the next several weeks.  (Yes, you can come and help — just contact us at: LaPorte County Habitat website.)

It will surprise no one who has ever been a “Habitat Build” that there is always a great deal of laughter and lessons to be learned.  My great joy was to work with Bill, Jim, Sharon, Carter, Mike and Suzie.  Dozens more will help this summer.  It was Bill who offered me two lessons on my first day as a volunteer.

IMG_1461Lesson #1:  As we were beginning to put together the frames for windows in the walls, Bill looked over and asked “Did you pay for the whole hammer or just part of it?”  I immediately started to laugh because I knew the old joke.  I knew that it would be a good day.  My teacher had arrived.  “Hold the hammer lower and let it swing,” Bill said.  “Use it like you own the whole thing!”  That got us started talking and laughing.  Bill was a marvel to watch and joy with whom to work.

I discovered that Bill had been a volunteer on over TWO HUNDRED HABITAT FOR HUMANITY BUILDS!  He knew both Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, and Clarence Jordan, Fuller’s co-conspirator at Koinonia Farm in Georgia.  As it turned out I had known both Millard and Clarence as well, and so the morning was filled with stories of how they taught that the gospel should be viewed as a radical document — especially when it comes to how we live our every day lives. We spoke of the “theology of the hammer,” and how Christian action spoke louder than all our words.

Bill told me of his church in Michigan.  He said Millard Fuller had challenged them to build ten houses in one of the early Habitat builds in Africa.  The churches in town were asked to stretch, dream big, and raise $15,000 so that ten (10) houses could be built in Africa.  It took a few months Bill said, but before long they did better than ten houses “We gave Habitat a check for $150,000 so that one hundred (100) houses might be built,” Bill said!  Yes, the gospel should challenge us to think radically and big about our resources and how we use them.

IMG_1468Lesson #2: As lunch time approached and we were expressing gratitude for the volunteers who were by this time raising the front wall together, Bill looked at me and said, “You know, there is only one time I have seen any volunteer asked to leave a build site.”  “When?” I asked.  He said, “there was once a fellow who when asked to clean up a small mistake in a wall being built responded with the words ‘Why? this will be good enough for the type folks who will be living in this house.'”  Bill said it didn’t take long for the construction manager to tell the fella to gather up his tools and not to return.

As to the fuller meaning of Lesson #2, I couldn’t help but consider the comparison with a leading political candidate who engages in racist statements, refuses to apologize and is still “on the scene” as a leader.  Why doesn’t Donald Trump’s political party have the courage to say, “Leave and don’t return until you are able to apologize.”   The morning paper today carries the powerful statement by Thomas Friedman entitled “Dump the G.O.P. for a Grand New Party.” (See: Thomas Friedman, June 8, 2016, NYTimes).  Here it is, the “Party of Lincoln” saying, “Well, yes, Trump is a racist but we will support him anyway.”  Amazing.  I want to ask, “Are you going to use all of the courage and moral legacy you claim or just a small part of it?”

Thanks to Bill — for his life given to gospel realities.  For me, these will always be treasured as my “Lessons from the ‘Soon to Be’ House on Park Street.”  Let’s keep Building!

 

 

Harvesting Weeds

Harvesting Weeds

 

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Allium in Bloom, Walstead Farm 2016

Early June – daffodils and tulips have dropped their blooms.  Now the purple allium flowers, gorgeous, stand proudly over the “weeds.”

Funny how I can miss the beauty by seeing only the weeds.  Beauty — this year I saw it all around our home in the flower or vegetable beds.  The allium amidst the weeds remind me of wisdom of a friend long ago — the Rev. Esther Angel.

I first met Esther in 1992 in Louisville.  We were both clergy delegates to the United Methodist General Conference working in the same legislative group.  That year Esther’s quiet and deeply spiritual presence made a difference.  During a break in our legislative group, Esther, speaking softly, asked if she should say something to the entire group.  Several of us encouraged her and then she said something that has lingered with me since.  She simply and calmly said, “I fear the United Methodist Church is in a time of self-loathing.  It is diminishing and replacing the joy of our work.”  She went on “we are forgetting to celebrate the harvest, focusing too much on the weeds.

That day, in the next hour, Esther rose and moved to the middle of the circle in which our legislative group was sitting.  The topic was the denomination’s support for a woman’s right to have a choice when facing the tragedy of abortion.  Up to this point, it was mainly men who had spoken.  Raising her hand, moving to the center, turning and continuing to slowing circle, she began, “I would sing you my heart…” 

She spoke of the women she had counseled facing difficult, almost impossible pregnancies and life situations.  Saying she had never counseled a woman or her partner to proceed with an abortion — she could still understand how in some cases this would be a tragic yet appropriate choice.  Esther spoke in a beautiful way of other ways we sought to be a denomination that brought healing and hope.   She rehearsed the ways United Methodists had led over the years in civil rights struggles.  She spoke on the behalf of a woman’s right to choose and wondering why none of the men, who had spoken with such strong views that week, had asked to hear from women in the room. 

I thought of Esther this year when the 2016 General Conference voted to abandon our denomination’s long term support for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.   In 1992, Esther spoke about the importance of welcoming gay and lesbian persons in our churches.  She ended her solilloquy, her word-dance with the words, “Let’s stop harvesting the weeds.”  In 1992, Esther’s quiet, yet prophetic, spirit made a difference.  We missed her in 2016 — but her spirit remains.

The 2016 General Conference of the church “spent a lot of time harvesting weeds.”  Esther, who died, too young several years ago, had a capacity for quiet communication. In 1992 Esther passed out a poem printed on a 4 X 6 note card.  Here is a link to a copy: Re-Imagining — Esther Angel, 1992.

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To my mind she captured something in speaking of our “denominational self-loathing.” She perceived then that we were forgetting to celebrate the good harvest related to who we are as Wesleyans as United Methodists.  In too many places we forget our great legacy and are literally getting lost in the weeds. 

Often when I hear of congreations who try to hide their United Methodist identity on signage or websites, I think of Esther.  When I learn of congregations who ignore our theology of baptism or communion, who offer meager financial support to the denomination and prefer to identify themselves “post-denominational” or “community” churches rather than United Methodists, I think of Esther’s witness.  When I see the stong waves of the so called New Room Calvinism seeking to capture the future theological direction of our denomination, I think of Esther.

In her poem Esther spoke of the energy expended on attacking and defending and then wrote:  “Meanwhile, The poor hear bad news, Captives stay in prisons, The blind remain unsighted.  Satan laughs.  Wouldn’t you in his/her shoes?  “Left”; “Right, both the same, in tactics and in what remains — Undone.”

At our house we are now harvesting vegetables.  What joy!  Still, it’s difficult not to focus on the weeds, no matter our best intentions.  The same is true, I fear, in the church. 

My own bishop writes compellingly that United Methodists are about so much more than dealing with issues of sexuality.  Sadly, he then spends nearly every communication, every month, talking about the church and homosexuality.  He may be trying to do penance for the years he has quietly aided and abetted our bigotry.  Perhaps.  Still, until we hear of the beauty of faithful, loving homosexual relationships or about the gift of the witness of congregations that are courageously focusing on welcome and reconciliation and rituals of support for all people, it all stays in the weeds.

We all have a responsibility.  Will we speak of the beauty all around?  Will we speak of the delights of the harvest?  Will we speak about our denomination’s commitments to addressing poverty?  Addressing racism?  Our ongoing commitments to threatened immigrants in our nation and world?  Will we have a constructive word about addressing the dilemmas of climate change?  Will we hear about the ways the lives of persons in our communities are being changed through the love of Christ?

Esther had it right, let’s stop harvesting weeds!

Phil A