Monday, October 6, 2014

Wherever you are, be all there.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   Maya Angelou

I used to work for an experiential education company—creating teambuilding experiences for corporate groups and sports teams. There was often times talk of a particular and very successful sports psychologist who worked closely within our company. He trained with some of the best college and professional athletes; spending long hours coaching them, exercising their psychological framework, getting to the root of their psyche and uncovering how it affects (good or bad) their ‘game.’ He would oftentimes be quoted with saying: “Right now-in this very moment, you are the most important person in the world to me.”  How intense, right? This man, Coach demonstrated that value by the way he lived, and how he did the work he did. His legacy of how he was with people remained ignited long after he left.
With this same company, one of the experiential education practices we facilitated was through guided high ropes course experiences. Have you ever been 30+ feet above the ground? Let me paint the picture of a ropes course—you are harnessed into some ropes and straps that have you “safely” treading between obstacles in the tree line, 30 or more feet above terra firma. Below is a new friend, coworker or teammate—belaying you (pulling in the slack of rope as you make your way through the obstacles). During these still and serious moments, you want to know you’re pretty dang important to the person who is holding your ropes and really your life down on the ground, don’t you?  What if they decided to send a quick text on their phone while you leaped for the next obstacle—generating a few feet of slack in your rope? What if they took their attention off of you--valuing something else entirely in that moment? How would that action make a person feel?
On the contrary, what if that person was completely focused and centered on your wellbeing? Attentive to your success of moving through the ropes course obstacles? (Any life connections, yet?) How doesthis action make a person feel?
So, on being a better neighbor; What kind of safety, what kind of security, what kind of value, what kind of dignity and honor does that give a person, when their simple humanness is what makes them important?

“Wherever you are, be all there.” –Jim Elliot
All of this makes me think of the ways that my ultimate Teacher, Jesus has demonstrated wherever you are, be all there. For example;
  •          Jesus visiting with a shameful woman at the town watering hole (John 4:4-30, 39-42)
  •          Jesus touching a diseased, outcast person (Mark 1:40-45)
  •          Jesus spending time with the money swindlers (Matthew 9:9-13)
  •          Jesus calling out and discipling the lowly, day laborers (Luke 5:1-11)
  •          Jesus speaking to an adulterous woman (Mark 8:1-11)
And because Jesus is my ultimate teacher, he is calling me to learn from his 33 human years on earth, to be with people. To look above the shame, the sin, the mistakes, regrets or the vast differences that can disconnect—to look beyond ‘those things’ to the core humanness as an image bearer; created in God’s Image.
So, I challenge you: Set your heart and mind to be where you are, wherever that is; fully, attentively, and simply. It might take only 3 minutes out of your day to say hello to a neighbor, follow up with them about something you knew they had coming up, and just focus in on the person in front you, making them the most important thing in the world.
Because when we are really being with the person in front of us, fully, we help restore people back to themselves. And that’s what the world needs; whole people.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Scary. What is it?

“Are you scared?” he asked.

“Of you? No, I’m not scared of you.” I responded in a calm, almost friendly way like we’d known each other for some time. He was a youth sitting on the curb corner, near my house.

I wasn't afraid of him, but I think he thought I would be. To the media, to the authorities there is much reason to be afraid of one another, nowadays. There was a fatal shooting this weekend, just a few blocks from my house.

This interaction got me thinking. What is it that makes people afraid of each other? What characteristic or action makes someone scary? 

Well, I don’t think God creates anyone that is scary. Quite the opposite really—I believe we are all made in the image of God; all of us, each one.

But I do know for a fact that society creates scary people, by labeling them scary. I think it’s the afraid people that label the ‘scary’, scary. When in turn, the ‘scary’ people are just scared and afraid, too.

So, what makes someone afraid?

Some initial thoughts: A person feels scared or afraid…

  •  If they feel threatened; their life, their loved ones, their property, their resources. 
  •  If they feel alone, singled out, picked on or picked out. 
  •  If they feel trapped or obstructed in some way. 
The list could continue...

With some of the recent events in our news, in our neighborhoods, even in our homes…I think it is cause for us to really examine how we view, how we treat, how we relate to one another—especially those that are “so different” from us. To identify the ways in which we have been consuming the labels society has been selling to us, about each other. And to re-orient our lives in such a way that we determine for ourselves; one person at a time, one name at a time, and one relationship at a time how we want to be towards each other.

I don't believe people like being afraid. But I do believe people like being known.
Maybe we should start there.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Under Lavender Canopies

If you are in Southern California right now, you have seen the beautiful Jacaranda trees in full bloom this month. I am always met with pleasantry as I walk outside to find the sidewalks, streets and cars littered with these lavender blossoms. The only kind of litter I like seeing in my neighborhood. Lavender canopies above, and below my feet. Days like today, I am so glad to be embedded in Long Beach. I say embedded because I am a self-proclaimed socio-cultural anthropologist; living among and alongside the diverse cultures of Long Beach. This morning, I chose to work from a newly opened coffee shop, about a mile away from my doorstep. I made the trek on foot, with my backpack on. I ordered an iced coffee from corner coffee shop, Roasted Notz (pronounced “notes”) on the corner of 4th and Freeman. I sat down at the community table and got into conversation with Long Beach progressives and urban farmers. We worked silently for a while, each on our own tasks. We talked about cooperatives, culture shifts and hierarchy within organizations in Long Beach, and the struggle for sustainable transformation. A refill in my cup, I begin the meandered walk back—down streets I have never traversed in my 10 years in Long Beach. Always new architecture and landscapes to see. At this pace of life, I experience something invaluable. I experience Peace. I wonder at the level of ‘accepted’ stress of the inhabitants around me. I have chosen to build my life like this, today. But each day, I strive to enact a core value I hold close; the enjoyment of simplicity. Operating on minimal stimulus. I could reach for more, I could exhaust myself in the pursuit of more; but if I’m honest, the more I spend time with the peaceful Becca, the less I want to hang out with the chaotic Becca— that one who is traipsing from one event to the next, one social conversation to the next, one meeting after another, feeling the “love” by the full calendar I keep. Days like today, I’m reminded why I’d rather be in quiet contemplation with my Maker. As we walk, we talk. I’m reminded whose I am. And that is the simple peace I seek.

Weeknight Walks along 10th Street. [Repost from April 21, 2014]

Pretty litter forming molds around the parked vehicles. Jacaranda trees dropping their purple blossoms, the early bloomers started today. Smells of plumeria mixed with carne asada as I turn the corner to 8th street. Headed home. I pass by night blooming jasmine, rosemary, and delicious smelling speckled roses. I’m drinking deeply of my environment, in this space and time. The concerns of the day slowly, step after step drift away. I feel peace, calm. Acutely aware of the smells, the sounds, the sights. Not a passive, sleepy, calm. But an alert, awake, ALIVE. I reflect on my friend Jeff in Chicago, who is publishing his first book; a novel for teens. I think of how bravely he's sought after this gift, all these years. I think of how comical, fun and well spoken he is. What good words he uses and how artfully he puts them together. I feel proud to know him. I reflect on my friend Jeanette, who is smart and witty and a rapid responder. She’s devout and directed, smelling of a strong and beautiful scent—her shampoo fragrance even shares in that strength. Her spirit is honest, claims the truth. Her heart is genuine and beautifully postured. I reflect on my future years. Perhaps even in this very neighborhood. I would seriously consider purchasing this 1913 Craftsman bungalow, if it should ever go up for sale. Two years I’ve been here now. I love my neighbors, the things I’ve learned (the value of presence; just being with) and the skills I’ve honed like speaking Spanish and the art of reciprocity, hospitality and storytelling. I dream about the gardens I could plant here, the food I could cultivate. I dream about the reconciliation that could come forth. I reflect on that scripture in the bible that says “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29 I want to be rooted. I want to be well nourished, so I can nourish others well. I want to seek the peace and prosperity of my city--because its fate and my fate are intertwined. I reach my porch. I sit on the step for a few minutes. Breathing in and out. The sun has set. I’m wondering what will be; for my friends in faraway cities, for me, for this neighborhood, for Long Beach. And I feel at peace. I’m reminded whose I AM.

Thursday, June 14, 2012 It's a present progressive.

Me and three lovely ladies moved into a neighborhood in central Long Beach about a month ago. It's a neighborhood in the "in-between." In between downtown and North Long Beach, in between Belmont Heights and Signal Hill. In between statistically crime infused districts and safe, single family homes. And in between resources and services for underserved populations. Last weekend, a couple of my roommates hosted a small yard sale in our front yard. It was a great means to introducing ourselves to our neighbors, getting to know them and the history of our home a little better. Aside from the monetary benefits that a yard sale provides, it allowed our neighbors to contribute to our new presence in the community. We felt welcomed by their purchases. And we got an earful, when asked, what the history of our home held. As humans, I think we live in an in between place, almost always. In between teenage and adulthood, in between college and the workforce, in between current position and the 'dream' position, in between relationships. We feel we are hanging in the balance. But maybe that's where we are exactly meant to be.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Preserving food. And the end of the world.

Ok maybe not the end, but a natural disaster, an earthquake, hurricane or violent terrorist attack. What would we do? How would we survive? What if all the land lines, cell phone towers and wifi connections were disabled? What would we, consumer and technology dependent humans do? What if the dollar within our economy became so inflated that buying a piece of gum would be astronomical. What would come of us?

We would barter and trade. "You make clothes, well I can fix cars..."

I've been to too many independent-homemade craft fairs to think otherwise.
There is a resurgence of homemaking.
Of resourcing what you already have. Repurposing. And to my enthusiasm, returning to our ancestral roots of preserving our own food; to be enjoyed at a later time or to give as nourishing gifts on special occasions. Crocheting cute beanies and blankets for our loved ones. Making our own cheese, growing a small vegetable garden, even brewing our own beer. These are all natural inclinations of our humanity that have started to become trendy and hip yet necessary and right. I like to think that the spirit of man is perceiving the importance of such preparation. The need to 'stock up.' Just as a squirrel gathers acorns for the winter, sometimes more than other years; because something in that creature tells him so. Like the penguins of Antarctica, making their first multi-week trek to find food, yet knowing exactly where to go. There are so many animals that do this sort of thing, and it is awe-inspiring to us humans. The salmon swimming upriver to spawn in almost the exact location they were born. Or the monarch butterflies resting in the same location each migratory generation. Or the swallows that migrate through southern California, making the same pit stop each time.
We are shifting as well. Maybe it's harder to recognize what our natural inclinations are telling us, maybe because we have considerably longer life spans than most animals. But I believe we are just as inclined and intune.
We are preserving, stocking up, hunkering down. We are preparing for something. And while canning apples and pickles with your friends is social and fun, it is also good!

Be informed and prepared!
Check out these links for more information:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Veteran "Snoop" and his new abode.

"In two years, since our 2009 Homeless Vulnerability Survey, 80 individuals have been housed. In 2009, there were 76 reported veterans living on the streets of Long Beach. Today, there are 46 reported veterans living on our streets. What an interesting time to note that as the rise in homelessness and unemployment grow in our country, it is valuable to recognize that our efforts are stronger and more effective than ever to end homelessness in Long Beach. Services are becoming more efficiently and methodically resourced to people who need them the most."

I heard these statistics and heartfelt stories of encouragement and illuminated optimism at the 'Reveal' on September 28th of the 2011 Homeless Vulnerability survey results. All at 11am, outside the offices to the gatekeepers of our city: Long Beach City Hall. A press conference type briefing revealed the recent finds of the three day count back in July. As I jotted names and stats down on my notepad I felt a fresh and lively connection to this cause, for I had just helped house a homeless veteran the day prior.

His name is "Snoop". He was a prize boxer back in his day. And a former military veteran. I met the team of fellow movers; all four of us from different churches in Long Beach, at the Kingdom Causes warehouse where we picked the perfect pieces of furniture and home goods to accompany Snoop in his new studio abode. We efficiently packed up the vehicles and pushed off to the apartment on Chestnut Avenue. We began pulling things inside, and assembling the big furniture pieces in a warm and welcoming way. Snoop wasn't far behind us when he walked in with his set of keys in hand, to a place all his own. His case manager snapped a picture of him entering. All eyes on him. You could tell Snoop liked all the attention but didn't know what to do with it.
After some of the movers parted, a few of us remained with Snoop for a little while.
A "goodbye, be good" was just around the corner. We all felt it. Snoop got right in to an apology: "I slept in this morning at the motel I was staying at. I was meaning to get here before you guys. You know, the most normal and simple things become abnormal and difficult once you been out here like me. Like you forget or something."
"Well Snoop," someone chimed in, "This is your new normal."

As the few of us began saying our goodbyes to Snoop; hugs, handshakes and kind words, he walked all of us down the stairs and out front to where our cars were parked. I could only imagine that for Snoop, four walls and a door was something of an alternate reality, a paradigm shift. He now had an address, a place, a space all his own...and it wasn't comfortable. Yet. How could we expect it to soon? It will take time. It will take follow-ups and check-ins and "Should we come over next week for pizza at your new place Snoop?" It will take a community. It will take support for Snoop to call his new place Home.

I feel this pretty much sums up the shift that takes place in transitioning individuals, like Snoop and so many others that will get into housing this year:
"Changing the identity, means a change in the mentality, means a change in the destiny." -anonymous