Tree of Life

Saturday morning I attended a board meeting in Pittsburgh, for a public health ministry in Nicaragua.  We chose Pittsburgh because of civil unrest in Nicaragua,  It wasn’t safe for us to travel.   Our board’s focus was on how to provide access to health care, in the midst of growing violence and uncertainty in that country.  We chose Pittsburgh because it was easy to get to and considered safe.

As we met, several miles down the road, a man with an assault rifle entered Tree of Life Synagogue and murdered eleven Jews gathered for worship.   They were the ‘minyans’ mainly older faithful Jews, who gather early, to begin the Saturday morning Shabbat services.   Others, such as busy parents, would  join them as their schedules allowed.  The role of the minyan is to hold the sacred space, for others to join them.

It was a typical Shabbat, until a white male with a history of anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant rhetoric, broke in and murdered eleven…wounded several others, including four police officers.

We all thought Pittsburgh was safe.

The reality is we live in a volatile time.  Barack Obama as the first African-American elected president, led to a dramatic increase in white supremacist organizations.  Donald Trump’s political ascendency and presidency is based in part, on  promoting an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.  A focus on division rather than unity.

This week that division was evident:  Pipe bombs mailed to over 14 leaders within the Democratic Party; two African-Americans murdered at a grocery store, after the assailant was turned away from an African-American Church; eleven Jews murdered while worshiping.  Each act of violence by a white supremacist.  An ideology which finds encouragement (intentional or not), in the freewheeling rhetoric of our highest elected official.

So what is the antidote to hate and division?

The answer is simple yet profound:  Building relationships.  It’s hard to label a person or be indifferent to their plight, once you know their name, their story.

Sunday night, we gathered as a community at Temple B’nai Abraham.  My friend Rabbi Alison Adler, on only several hours of notice, gathered together 300 neighbors, from ten different faith communities, to grieve the atrocity visited upon Tree of Life Synagogue. We gathered too, in response to the nationwide increase in anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant violence.

Passover at the home of Rabbi Alison.

We came together to remember that we belong to one another.  At the Temple I said: ” I am here tonight because Rabbi Alison is my friend.  Her family and my family have been in each other’s home.  We have broken bread, played and prayed together.  And, because we are friends, when someone messes with my friend (anti-Semitism) they are messing with me.  I am responsible to and accountable for the well-being of my friend (s).”

The antidote to hate and violence is found in relationship building.  I challenge myself and you, to get to know those who are different from you. Get to know neighbors of different religions, ethnicities, race, nation of origin, sexual orientation, political perspective, languages.  Listen to one another’s story.  Let the other get to know you.

If you don’t have enough diversity in your life, then get out of your zip code.  Reach out. Find ways to rub elbows.  Break bread, sip wine, play games, talk with… someone who is different than you.

As relationships are built, prejudices based on ignorance, melt away.  The rhetoric of fear and the house of cards it is built upon, collapses.

The poet William Stafford, writes ‘the real enemy, is the one who whispers in your ear, telling you who to hate’.  As citizens, as neighbors, may we be wary of those who sow division.

On Sunday night, Temple B’nai Abraham was a beautiful mosaic of faiths and backgrounds.  We gathered to grieve with and draw strength from the company of one another.

Jesus said, ‘perfect love, casts out fear’.  May it be so.  For all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

Rise Up in Love

In my tradition Lent begins today. A six week season leading up to Easter.  A time to slow down and listen for the ways in which that great mystery we call ‘Spirit’ is speaking into our lives.  Sometimes the Spirit guides with a nudge, sometimes a slap upside the head.  Even so, we often miss the cues.

Many of us are over stimulated and over scheduled.  Certain politicians foster anxiety and division by telling us whom to fear.  In the wake of such busyness and noise…how do we tune in to the ways in which God speaks?  Is there a way to get in sync with God’s eternal rhythm?

Last week I went on a spiritual pilgrimage to Nicaragua.  Our team of ten spent ten days living in Apontillo, a rural, isolated village in the District of Matagalpa.  Our team worked alongside local leaders installing 40 water filters and staffing a health fair where we screened for anemia in children.   We fell in love with the people.

We were hosted by AMOS: Health and Hope  http://www.amoshealth.org/ a faith-based mission that empowers communities to develop best practices to ensure basic health care for all.  Ada Luz serves as AMOS’ Health Promoter for her community. She is the only accessible health provider for her community of 1300.

On Mondays and Fridays she sees up to 40 patients who may walk three hours to see her.  The other days she walks the mountainous terrain to visit those pregnant, newborns or those in poor health.  She’s always on call for an emergency.

It was humbling and inspiring to see how Ada Luz with the support of her community take care of each other.  A sense that ‘we are in this together’.

Such a witness is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22: 34 – 40, in response to a question: “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus responds: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’.  This is the first and greatest commandment, And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In Apontillo we had fewer distractions…no cell reception, no WiFi, no politicians and  cable news chumming the waters of fear.  Rather, we had time to listen, pray, reflect on Scripture and be inspired by the humble service of people like Ada Luz.

Now back in the ‘real world’,  I want to hold onto what I learned and the neighborly rhythm we experienced in Nicaragua.  I want to spend less time being fearful and more time being generous.  Less time excluding and more time including. To hold onto the eternal truth that what  truly matters is ‘love’.

photo-nica-team-2017
Nicaragua Mission Team with village friends and Ada Luz (in center wearing white).

Maybe like me, you are a follower of Christ.  Maybe not.  But we all need time to slow down.  To look around and know that we’re not really all that different.

For me the Season of Lent reminds us to be mindful, to focus on what truly matters.  To put into practice that which Jesus says is foundational for how to live and be.

Breaking Bread

A common denominator for the human condition is eating. Everybody has to eat and the act of breaking bread creates space for relationships to be formed. Some recent memorable meals include: Enjoying home-made potato soup with neighbors of the church I serve. Three times each week volunteers provide simple, delicious food for neighbors with tight budgets or living on the streets. I’ve gotten to know neighbors by name and those new friendships go beyond the dinner table. We bemoan another slow start by the Red Sox and sometimes go deeper by sharing our struggles. While the circumstances of life may differ we find that we have so much in common.

photo of shared meal

This past week I enjoyed gayo pinto and fried plantain in Nicaragua. I serve on the board of an organization called AMOS which empowers rural communities to improve their health care practices. Board meetings by definition are intensive and include looking at important but mundane topics like budgets and personnel policies. It is over a lunch that we renew, refuel and build relationships so essential for a healthy functioning organization.

This Friday my wife and I are invited to a table for Passover. Alison is a rabbi and our friend. Her husband Chuck is an amazing chef. Their son Leo is a wonderfully creative little boy. Rabbi Alison and family will host an eclectic group of 21 in their home. Over the Seder Meal we will tell the ancient story of Israel’s journey from slavery to freedom. In the breaking of the bread we remember our shared need and the opportunity it provides for the common good.

In my Christian tradition the Eucharist is a ritual for communing with God and with each other. When we ‘break bread’ together we remember who we are as we remember ‘the One and the ones’ to whom we each belong.

Breaking bread reminds us that too often people are excluded intentionally or unintentionally from the table by prejudice. Prejudice means we ‘pre-judge’ others without getting to know their story, learn their name and let them know who we are. Some in our political climate seek to build walls of fear and intolerance. They would have us judge and fear those we don’t know.

phot of table

The antidote to fear and prejudice is simple. All we need do is invite those we don’t yet know, to sit at our table or to look for an unfamiliar table and draw up a chair. It’s amazing what happens when we choose to break bread with others.

Public Health as a Human Right

We live in a world with a profound discrepancy between those with enough and those with little. AMOS is a faith based public health ministry that believes that access to good health care is a fundamental human right. We serve in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. AMOS has a dual meaning, it means A Ministry of Sharing and refers to Amos the Biblical prophet who said:

‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.’

AMOS serves in 22 rural communities and one urban clinic. Collectively we walk alongside 11,069 individuals. AMOS uses a community empowering model where each community commits to electing a health committee and a health promoter. They work with their local community to ensure basic health care and sanitation practices. The health promoter is trained in basic care of wounds and illnesses and with the health committee walk alongside community members to teach disease prevention and promote overall health. During the week they dispense a pharmacy in a clinic and make house calls, providing prenatal care and follow-up care.

AMOS photo

Health Committees and Promoters assist people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, anemia. Anemic children if left untreated after age two can result in permanent damage to the brain. By screening and treating children for anemia we ensure that each child can grow to their full potential.

Since 2010 1,121 water filters have been installed in 19 communities. As a result the dysentery rate has dropped dramatically resulting in fewer childhood deaths and healthier children spending more time in school.

AMOS simply provides a community based health model, training and ongoing support. This model empowers communities to work collaboratively for the common good. AMOS also looks for ways to collaborate with the Nicaraguan government and NGO’s to maximize efforts to improve health care.

I recently attended a board meeting and learned of efforts to respond to the Zika virus. Soon the rainy season will come and the mosquitoes will spread with the disease. AMOS is working with community leaders to educate people about this complex and devastating disease.

The needs are great and sometimes the challenges seem overwhelming. AMOS knows that heath and hope are found when ordinary people like us work together for the common good. If you’d like to know more about AMOS go to http://www.amoshealth.org If you’d like to donate online: amoshealth.org/donate

Leaving Your Comfort Zone

DSC_3384For ten days in January, 15 people from McMinnville, Oregon travelled to La Pimienta, an isolated village in Nicaragua.  Our age range was 13 – 77.  We  partnered with an amazing health ministry called AMOS (A Ministry of Sharing).  AMOS works with 32 isolated communities to provide basic, sustainable  health care.

AMOS only helps if  requested by the community and only after the community elects a health committee and health promoter to work with the staff.   The model is intended to build upon the capacity of the local community to improve their own health.

The church I serve and travelled with (First Baptist McMinnville), has made a financial commitment to provide the essential capital necessary for the local leaders to do their work.  For $6800 for each of four years, we provide the community with a dependable revenue stream sufficient to provide: a basic pharmacy for 400 people, a stipend for the health promoter and funding to bring in AMOS medical staff each month to supplement the work of the community

For the  past five years we’ve sent a team from the church to work under the guidance of local leaders.  This year we built and installed 39 bio-sand water filters and did health screenings and home visits.  Dr. Marcy a pediatrician, has visited the village four times and has seen a significant improvement in the health of the children.

It is amazing how God leverages the humble efforts of village leaders, with AMOS staff and a modest size church in Oregon, to bring about a synergy that saves lives and offers hope.

I go for selfish reasons.  Yes, my/our efforts help some.  But we who go are inspired by the hope of the villagers who work towards a better tomorrow for the sake of their children.  If they can do so much with so little, how can we not return to our relatively affluent communities and work for the common good?

It is amazing what happens when we leave our comfort zone and make new friends and face new challenges in a place like La Pimienta.  God has a way of expanding our hearts and imaginations as to what is possible.