Thursday, March 27, 2014

An Experiment with Silence (Part II of II)

For the first week of Lent I practiced silence. That means I didn’t talk for a week! (Well, at least not with my Mission Year team, but that is pretty much my whole life.) In Part I of this post, I wrote about why I chose silence. In Part II I will explore what I learned.

I had hoped that my silence would create moments of reflection. Instead of speaking, I would pause to consider the words that I wanted to speak. In this way, I would learn from my silence. I even hoped to create more space for prayer in the midst of interaction. I thought, “Silence will leave so much room in my brain for other activity!”

In actuality, that extra room in my brain was devoted to finding other ways to communicate. It takes a lot of work to be silent! There are constantly questions of how to engage with what’s going on without speaking. In fact, my first reaction was to be somber and non-participatory. But I quickly realized that silent doesn't mean non-existent! I was still present, and I still had to engage.

How did I engage? For starters, I found myself laughing a lot more. I consider myself a fairly active listener, verbally affirming what people say as they share with me. Laughter is a great way to do that without words. It wasn’t a conscious choice on my part; I wasn’t wracking my brain to figure out how to affirm people. It just happened. I laughed more.

Similarly, I smiled more often. My somber approach to silence quickly got old, and I embraced my usual warmth and felt a need to share in some way that I was enjoying what was going on. Again, not with much thought or intention behind it, I smiled more.

I also touched more. In some ways this was just practical. Bereft of my ability to call someone’s name or refer to them using their name, I had to tap them to get their attention or grasp their arm to show of whom I “spoke.” But touch communicates much more than information, and my touches, like my smiles, became a way to connect with people without words. Instead of showing that I cared by asking, “How was your day?” I would pat a teammate on the back or gently hold their shoulder for a moment to connect with them.

By removing my voice, I remembered that there are many more ways to communicate. We often choose what’s easiest and forget that some of the more meaningful ways to “speak” actually don’t involve words.

Silence also taught me trust. With words we say so many little things: “God bless you” when some sneezes. “Thank you” when someone blesses you. “Yes” when someone inquires if you’re finished with your plate. “Okay” when someone reassures that they’ll do the dishes later.

Without the ability to say those simple things, I had to trust my teammates in simple ways: that they knew I gave them my blessing when they sneezed, that I was thankful their blessing, that I heard their inquiries and would make my objections known if I had any.

But when I had objections, I usually had to extend grace. Conflict resolution, something my teammates and I value and practice, becomes incredibly difficult without words. When I was annoyed or hurt or misunderstood, I just had to let it go. Sometimes I was tempted to record the transgressions to share at the end of my experiment, but I took those times as opportunities to extend grace and forgive.

Something else that happened: I got lonely. I didn't spend any less time with my team during the week. But after a while, even laughter, smiles, and touch could not sustain me. I needed interaction! On the last night of my fast I did some incredibly silly things with a few of my housemates that stayed up later. While they tried to read or write or text friends, I kept doing ridiculous things to get their attention because I had gotten so little of it over the past few days. It wasn’t as though they had been ignoring me. Without words I drew less attention, so I was making up for it that night. My silliness was an expression of an isolation that I often felt during the week.

At certain times others joined in solidarity with my silence, sometimes with intention and sometimes with no other option. A few moments with others that I deeply appreciated during my silence:
  • Denise sat with my at the table while I finished up my meal after everyone else had finished eating.
  • Sophie and I walked to church together on Wednesday night and worshiped together at the service.
  • On our long commute home from our weekly citywide gathering on Thursday night, Walter sat in silence beside me on the trolley…without music. He always listens to music on the trolley, so his simple act showed solidarity with my silence.
  • Matt, from the Kensington team, came to our house on our Sabbath to watch Star Wars with me. All we did was sit and watch the movie.

There were moments when it was much more difficult than others to keep my mouth shut. Those moments usually came when I knew something that no one else knew. It killed me to not share. It was so painful sometimes that I had to leave the room to keep quiet. Those moments were not unexpected. In fact, you may remember from my first blog about this that I hoped this experiment would expose my pride and humble me.

Those moments became opportunities to practice submission. On one level I submitted to silence, restraining myself from sharing knowledge. On another level I submitted to what was agreed upon or decided by my team. I had to abide by a decision that was made without my special knowledge, a painful yet useful practice.

New ways of communicating, trust, appreciation, humility: these things I learned. So what now? 

Well, silence was just the beginning of my Lenten journey this year. There are still several more weeks until Easter, and my team and I continue to withhold negative comments about others or ourselves. My silence was impactful indeed, but I can't continue in life without speaking. Speech is powerful, as James wrote in the Bible, "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell" (3:6). I've heard of Christian communities who live forever in silence to keep from unleashing the potential evil of the tongue.

But I don't want to live in fear of my potential sin. I'm striving toward the perfection of my whole being, including my tongue. Silence was impactful as an experiment, but ultimately the goal is not silence but refined speech. I'll continue to say hurtful things, I'm sure, but little by little I hope my words sound like those of Christ.

Want to read Part I? Click here

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Allan and Rasheen

Allan is on the left and Rasheen the right

Today's post is special because I got one of my friends to write with me. He lives down the street from me and sometimes we play together in the street or in my house. I invited him to write somehting to post here so you could meet him. We spend time together on Satureday afternoons, when my housemates and I make sure to spend time with our neighbors. His name is Allan Erwin, but I'll let him introduce himself:

"Hey my name is Allan Erwin. I like to play football. I play for a team also I play mosly on my block. I love to play with my friends there name is Preston Hogue and the other ones name Zamir Feilds also my brother play football with me. that is my life time storey."

These words are from Allan's brother Rasheen. I play with him often when I play with Allan. We always ahve fun together, and wehn we see each other on the street we wave and say hello. Today while they were at our house they helped my housemate Priscillia make muffins for another neighbor, too. Although Allan wrote his "life time storey," Rasheen decided to write a fictional story about him and me:

"Once upon a time there was a boy named rasheen he had no were to stay ntoher to eat or nothing to Drink one year later a Guy named preston came and said hello do you need a place to stay someting to eat or something to Drink He brang me to a shelter where i can have anything and rasheen and preston lived happyley ever after."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An Experiment with Silence (Part I)

This year I started off Lent in silence. I don’t just mean I took some time on the morning of Ash Wednesday to quietly pray by myself. I mean that for the first week of Lent I didn’t speak—at least not very much. For several reasons, I decided that experimenting with silence would be helpful. This post will explore some of those reasons.

I first considered practicing silence several months ago. You may remember early on in my Mission Year experience a post about solitude and new prayer practices I had enjoyed at a retreat one weekend. In the extended time of silence, I had the opportunity to explore prayer, scripture reading, meditation, and contemplation in ways that I longed to for a while. Excited by my experiences, I continued to read about solitude and silence and found Richard Foster’s suggestion to try it out for a day. I wanted to learn more about myself and God through silence, and I casually tossed around the idea of prolonged silence with my Mission Year team who supported the idea.

Time went on, and the experiment and excitement was filed away. Now I'm reading through Foster’s classic book on spiritual disciplines, Celebration of Discipline. When I reached the chapter on solitude, I decided to take up the idea of silence once more. The timing was perfect. The week after I read the chapter, Lent started. And silence aligned well with the fast that my church is practicing this Lenten season: no negative words about people (others or self). I figured silence would be a perfect way to launch into this fast.


I was excited about silence for several reasons:

The Lord has been convicting me about my speech for several years now. I have realized that sarcasm, playful jokes at the expense of others, and flippant responses like “Your mom!” may seem harmless but actually can be deeply damaging, especially over time. The way we talk to one another is so ingrained in us that I haven’t yet found a good approach to changing it. Silence seemed simple—and drastic—enough to make some dent.

I’ve also become more aware over the past few months of the ways that I use speech to manipulate and convince people. I enjoy ideas, words, and communication. That’s why I write so much. My strong grasp of how to use language can be a tool for my selfish desires. What is a good thing can be used toward a not good end. I've noticed I use language as a way to control conversation and steer it where I would have it go, especially in a conversation over some disagreement. Living in community, we have many discussions where we make group decisions, and in those times have I realized this trend.

I fear the way I use language. My skill in communication gives me power, and I don’t want to use it take advantage of others. So I silenced myself. As an act of submission, as a tool to expose my speech patterns, as a reminder to listen, I silenced myself.

Well, not totally. Mostly just within my house was I silent. I still had to talk at work and church, and when neighbors came over I would entertain them just the same. You may be able to imagine that it’s kind of difficult to explain to someone why you won’t speak to them…without using words. But whenever possible, and always when I was with my team, I was silent. I participated normally in our weekly schedule—morning devotions, team meetings, family dinner, grocery list-making, even curriculum discussions!—silently.

And I learned so much. But I’ll save those thoughts for another blog. Watch for part II, and if you want an email notification when it’s posted, use the form box in the top right corner of this page.

UPDATE: Read Part II by clicking here!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thanks to Supporters!

Recently I reached an incredibly important milestone in my Mission Year journey: I met my fundraising goal of $12,000! There are many components to my experience this year, as I hope my blog reflects, and this is one that can be easy to forget about while I'm busy with all the others. So it's important to me that I take a moment to recognize this element of my journey that you are most directly involved with--financial support. 

Honestly, it has never been something that I have worried too much about. I have fundraised this way before, and I have seen God's faithfulness to provide in such situations. But I have never seen such a large outpouring of support so quickly. I met this goal much quicker than I expected, and each month people continue to make gifts after I've met my goal, fulfilling commitments to give all the way through the year. 

Fundraising has helped me to see even more that God desires to equip those he calls. And when he calls us to something longer-term (and therefore more expensive), he still equips us.

It is also encouraging each week when my fundraising totals go up a little bit. When I see it I know that I have people who trust me, who believe in me, and who love me. And more importantly, it excites me that God has given them a little bit of the same vision that he has given me: to to love God and love people. It's one thing for a friend to tell me that they are excited about what I'm doing in Mission Year. It's another for them to show me their excitement by supporting me financially. So thank you!

Meeting my fundraising goal does indeed demonstrate that God is faithful to those he calls. But I would be distorting reality if I didn't recognize that, in some ways, it also highlights my privilege. Several factors contribute to my ability to fundraise $12,000 this early in my year: how much time I've had (several months more than most), how much I could personally contribute, the timing of my graduation (and the cultural value of giving large financial gifts upon the completion of a degree), having a large network of people from several middle-class churches, attending a university that sent my friends straight into well-paying jobs...there are probably more, but you get the picture.

Imagine if someone from my neighborhood was called to Mission Year. S/he wouldn't have those privileges. Only one small church with few middle-class congregants. Fewer graduation gifts. No friends with well-paying jobs. 

...If they struggled to raise funds would that mean that God didn't want to equip them like he has equipped me? I don't think so. I think it reflects more the privilege that they don't have.

But I believe that God would still equip them, regardless of their privilege or networks or degrees. And I believe he would probably use people like me with those privileges and connections to help make it happen.

The truth is, there are people like that in Mission Year right now! Not all Mission Year team members have the same privileges at their disposal to reach their fundraising goal, but you can help to equip them to do what God has called them to do just as you did for me. I challenge you to keep giving to support not just me but also my team and everyone who is doing Mission Year. For a few ideas of who to give to, use these links:
Sophilia Hubbarb
Nicole Roberts
Walter-Levi Wawra
Bella Fout

In the meantime, there are some special folks to whom I would like to extend more thanks. The following people have made three or more donations to my Mission Year fund. These 11 supporters have given 61 times over the past year, some giving 12 times! Their contributions alone have accounted for 46% of the funds I've raised so far. Extra thanks go to:
John Carter
Sherry Cauthen
Valentin Lazar
Densie Kootin-Sanwu
Haji Nishikori
Karen Im
Peter Habib
Ashleigh and Jeffrey Watterworth
Chip and Rosemarie Green
Fred and Susan Worthy
Ote Beshears

And the top prizes for care packages and letters go to:
Marilyn and Dorrell Benefield
Carol and Marty Hogue
Lawrence Wilson

Thanks also to friends at First Baptist Church Ravenel for supplying my team with kids' books and art supplies!

Finally, I got so excited about reaching my goal that I made this nifty info graphic! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Give to Everyone Who Begs from You

There are certain aspects of the Sunday worship service at my church that are the same each week, down to the exact phrasing that my pastor uses. For that reason I’ve described it as “liturgical” before, although it’s not a liturgy that we use, necessarily.

One of those phrases that we hear each week as the service ends is an instruction that goes something like this: “The Bible reminds us to be careful of how we entertain strangers, for some of us have entertained angels unaware.” My pastor is referencing Hebrews 13:2 each week, and that reminder has often resonated in my head as I’ve encountered people on the street asking for something—change, food, a SEPTA token. As I walk away with my money still in my wallet, I have thought a couple of times, “What if that was an angel?” Jesus himself said that when we feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, or clothe the naked we are actually doing those things to him as well. So I’ve thought before, “I just denied Jesus a couple of dollars!”

I bring up these thoughts because of a discussion we had at our Wednesday night Bible study this week. In a conversation about living your faith out in works, the topic of giving money to panhandlers came up as such an opportunity to “prove” your faith. The discussion went all over the place, with many people having stories to tell about how they’ve handled the situation so familiar to all of us. Some had given out $20 bills and others advice such as “Get as job” (a response to which I have not the time to deliver here). The clearest answer I came out with was “Do as you feel led in the moment, considering the Bible’s strong bend toward generosity.” It was a reasonable answer that left room for “discernment,” a word that came up several times during the discussion.

But this morning I was reminded of a striking instruction from Jesus during his famous Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Luke: “Give to everyone who begs from you…” So simple. If someone begs from you, give them something. This was such a freeing command. Just give.

Of course there is the consideration of what to give, which Jesus does not address. And I agree with Jesus that it doesn’t need addressing. We are to give. To everyone who begs from us.

So as I learn about how to practice simplicity, I’ve decided that I’ll not be caught unprepared any more. I will have things on hand to give, mainly granola bars and SEPTA tokens since I’m usually asked for food or “money for the bus.” I’m commanded to give and I’m confronted with opportunities all the time, so I’ll not leave any more angels with empty hands, and I’ll certainly not leave Jesus with an empty belly. I’ll give.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Kind of Folk (Guest Blogger)

by guest blogger Sophilia Hubbard of the Southwest Philly Mission Year team:

Why do I need to spend time with folk who are already saved? They already know what they know. I love spending time with people who are rebels. People who don't understand their potential and true value in Christ. I love hanging out with nobodies, people who have no sense of direction. Ordinary people, human beings, with character good or bad that society has written off. Yeah those are my kind of folk. 

Today I met a real cool cat. His name is Lawrence. Lawrence, like everyone else has a past. His past is one of a lot of hardship. An attribute that struck me in a momentary state of shock was the stories in which he shared with me. Lawrence has a passion for helping people that is rare in today's American culture. The stories he shared with me a total complete and utter stranger; if I was Lawrence I wouldn't trust anyone nor talk to anyone. If I went through half the situations he went through I would be muted.... permanently. Lawrence thank you for the encouragement. 

God thank you for all of the rich opportunities and encounters that I have daily to smile and listen to others. I pray for the nobodies of the world like me. I pray as well for the folk who are already saved who know what they know. Thank you Jesus for who you are! Thank you Jesus for constantly molding and influencing me to positively impact communities. 

"I am constantly blown away by the opportunities that God lays in front of us to learn how to love and to be loved."  -William Owen 

Contact Guest Blogger

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mission Year Meals: Thursday

Thursday is the last day of our grocery week! Sophie and I made taco pie. Although normally we take food to our weekly Thursday night citywide gathering, this weekend was actually “Come and See,” a time when family and friends were invited to visit our home and taste the Mission Year life. But this week we had Thursday night to welcome our guests arriving into town. The taco pie recipe is one shared with me by my sister, a source of many of my recipes. Here it is:

Taco Pie
1 lb. ground beef
1 ½ c. chopped onion
1 pkg taco seasoning
4 oz can chopped green chiles, drained
½ c. Bisquick mix
½ c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Brown the beef and onions together; drain. Stir in taco seasoning; place in sprayed 9” pie pan and top with chilies. Blend Bisquick, milk, and egg together and pour over beef slowly. Bake 25 min at 400, or until done. Sprinkle with cheese and continue baking until cheese is melted.

We are also serving it with salad and sour cream on the side. Those ingredients:
1 head of lettuce
A few tomatoes
Carrot shavings
Sour cream

We usually doctor meals a little bit to our liking. In this meal, we used more than one pound of beef (to feed more mouths) and increased the amount of bread topping and cheese. Although you can’t tell from this week’s menu, we don’t usually eat much cheese, so when we do eat cheese we indulge ourselves. So instead of just sprinkling cheese on top, I also sprinkled a layer between the beef and bisquick topping.

Ground beef is actually one of our staple meat ingredients. We usually buy the 5 lb. tube and use it for several meals. We don’t usually buy it for just one meal as we did this week, but it was on sale, so we snatched it up in anticipation of meals next week. We don’t always have room in the budget to plan ahead, but when we do, we take advantage of it!

Ground Beef $9.95 (An investment for next week too!)
Jalapenos (instead of chilles) $0.14
Baking Mix (off-brand bisquick) $2.49
Block of Sharp Cheddar Cheese $1.99
Sour Cream $1.49

Other Ingredients on hand: onion, taco seasoning, and veggies from the general/lunch/breakfast budget

TOTAL: $10.00

So there you have it! Six meals, all under $10.00! It can be done, and it is done every week in my house.