Monday, December 20, 2010

Core tenets and practices, on the ground.

In the spirit of my dreams last night, in which I was no longer working for two churches but instead had two schools to teach at for Teach For America (AAHHHHHH), here is a vocabulary lesson.

Intentional Community - in this situation, your housemates aren't just people that you share a house and bills with, but people whose feelings you are concerned about, who you miss seeing when they're not at home, who you check in on to see if they're doing okay; friends who you trust and get to know well and who get to know you well. In intentional community, it just seems to happen that one always makes time for the community, no matter what else is going on in one's life, because, like breathing,  it seems natural to do so and it seems like life won't go on if you don't.

Simplicity - challenging yourself not to use the Internet at home. Or wait. Is it more simple to use technology when it can help us, even with all the distractions the World Wide Web can bring? Is it simpler to use or not to use the Internet?

Sustainability - a) reaching into the smelly, full of old food garbage can to pull out plastic bottles and soda cans that have been thrown in it, to recycle them. b) reminding yourself to do something so that there is a recycling bin next to the garbage can, along with clear signs about what can and cannot be recycled, next time.

Social Justice - What are we doing? What are we working for? What do I live for? What do you live for? What do we live for? When will all people have access to safe food and water, physical and mental health care, shelter, education, and love? What systems, attitudes, and beliefs are going to be transformed?

Anti-Racism Training - a personal examination of my attitudes and beliefs and the systems at work around me and for me.

Journey to an Inclusive Community (JIC) - It's not easy. School wasn't easy, following Jesus wasn't easy, hiking up a mountain isn't the same thing as walking around a track isn't the same thing as taking those first steps. Writing a check might help LVC volunteers and others on it, but it might not help the check-writer that much. Same thing with government actions and actors.

There is nothing else I want to do but walk it.

Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC) - I think it's working.

"Our church is moving..." - sign outside of Fontenelle Community Church in North O that does not mean that the congregation is finding a new location for worship.

Undocumented immigrant - a person who has come to a new country, perhaps with the promise of a job or a safe home free from persecution, who does not have government papers that say why that person has come.

Merry Christmas
Happy Holidays
and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Human beans are not illegal aliens.

"Undocumented immigrant" seems to be a much less terrifying, less offensive term.

I haven't watched all of 9500 Liberty yet, but man, it doesn't take much.

Definitely more on this later. Now is not the time to be silent.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

December newsletter articles

I'm pretty happy with my articles for St. Luke's and Grace's December newsletters. St. Luke's has already been mailed, I think, and Grace's will be mailed sometime this week, but I decided I would post my articles here. I think they illuminate my challenges.

I'll post these in the order that I wrote them.

St. Luke's:

From Your Community Outreach Associate

I love Advent calendars. Sure, it’s nice to get a piece of chocolate every day (those were
the years my brother and I got really lucky, I guess), but it’s also nice to just see a pretty
picture, or a verse of “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. I always get really excited
about Christmas, and it was especially hard to wait when I was little, because I knew the
closer we got to 25, the closer Santa Claus was to coming to town with lots of presents.
But with Advent calendars, I got a little treat every day.

Since I began my year of service with Lutheran Volunteer Corps in August, there have
been some days where I have had to look really hard, sometimes within myself, to find
a treat. Some days I really have no idea what I am doing or why I am doing it. I love
spending time in fellowship with St. Luke’s congregation and am glad I am getting to
know everyone better, but as Community Outreach Associate, shouldn’t I be spending
my time talking to the neighbors? Then I do go out and go get lunch at one of the nearby
restaurants, walking past South High on busy 24th Street, and think about all the possible
people I could be connecting with, serving, that I’m passing by. Hundreds of high school
students, the other congregations within a block of St. Luke’s, all the people patronizing
businesses…my head literally spins with possibilities. “But will the people of St. Luke’s
like my ideas?” I ask myself. “Am I doing the right thing?” On those days, I feel lost, and
as hard as I try to find the chocolate in the calendar, I can’t even find a crumb.

However, when I find that treat, no matter its size, it goes a long way. For example, last
Thursday, St. Luke’s council approved a motion to have me present mine and Pastor
Patti’s idea for a Wednesday Evening Community Meal to the congregation. Having this
idea recognized and approved by others made me very happy. I have been so grateful for
every conversation I have had with a St. Luke’s member that has indicated a desire to let
people know about the wonderful ministries of St. Luke’s and to involve more people in
these ministries. Every one of these conversations is a treat.

And these treats do remind me that something even greater is coming. Every Advent
we remember that Mary was scared out of her mind when an angel of the Lord came to
her and said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall
overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called
the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) Talk about responsibility! It may be scary to think about
devoting time and energy to cleaning up the church building, fundraising, making music,
interacting with people who don’t look like you or speak the same first language you do,
serving on Council…but learning that you’re going to be a mom to the Son of God???

Lucky for us, Mary took on the job, even though she was afraid. That’s the best any
of us can do, I guess. I am afraid many days that I will do something that some of you
will think is silly or won’t be happy about, but I feel called, and so I continue my work,
savoring the treats that nourish me and keep me going. I pray that this Advent, you will
find treats that nourish you and remind you that something really great is coming.


My favorite album to listen to at this time of year is the soundtrack to the television
special “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, which mostly consists of jazzy, beautiful,
comfortable versions of Christmas tunes by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The chances are
likely that if you catch me working at the computer in the church library this month, I’ll
have it playing. I especially like the idea of listening to it at church/work because of the
way I described the music – comfortable. It turns out that “comfortable” is a good word
to describe how I feel whenever I walk through the doors of Grace.

It seems that a lot of other people feel that way, too. For example -

- while we may not host the biggest after-school program around, the neighborhood kids
that come really know and love it. They know they can get a snack, a good run-around in,
help with their homework, and the chance to be creative by working on a fun art project.
(Last week we painted our jeans!) The kids also know that they are welcome at Grace by
the affection and concern for their well-being that is shown for them – “Grandma” Eva
always gets plenty of hugs whenever she stays for the program!

- the annual Halloween party brought in somewhere around 100 people –friends and
family of congregation members, regular attendees of our after-school program and their
friends and family, and families from the exercise groups that Grace hosts. It seemed as
though everyone had a really great time! Many thanks to all the volunteers who donated
money, treats, and/or time decorating or running games at the party – LaVonne, Bob,
Gerry, Gloria, Arlone, David, Larry, Joe, Ernie, Andrew, Mary, Sarah, and last but
certainly not least, Greg and Janet, who emptied their basement to bring as many cool
decorations as possible and know exactly what to do to make the party happen. Thanks
also and apologies to anyone I may have accidentally left off the list!

-the first Friday night “fun night” was a success! The kids from our after-school program
enjoyed eating pizza, pretzels, popcorn and pink lemonade, playing circle games and the
card game UNO, and snuggling up on the floor with pillows and blankets in front of the
projector watching The Jungle Book. I want to thank Ernie, Andrew, Brenda, and my
housemate Sarah for their help and support with the event.

Also, recently, I attended the Sudanese fellowship worship service for the first time,
met the organizer of the Round Dancers, and have spent more time with the leaders of
Mujeres Activas and Latinas en Acción. I continue to be amazed by all of the groups who
have found a comfortable place at Grace Lutheran.

But I’ve been wondering (as I wander) during this volunteer year – does everyone feel
as comfortable as I do at Grace these days, or as comfortable as I think they are? What
is the best way to address discomforts that come up as a result of different groups of
people using the building for different activities? Who else, especially in our immediate
neighborhood, can find comfort at Grace, and how do we reach them? Can we pursue any
of the following ideas that have been floating around in my head for the past few months?

-More family-friendly coffeehouse/movie nights

-A bigger after-school program, with more volunteers and more kids
-More advertising of the Saturday ESL class
-An expanded women’s group for Bible study open and advertised particularly to women
in the neighborhood
-Sunday School, homework and employment assistance for Sudanese fellowship

I will continue to ask myself these and other questions. I appreciate beyond words
everyone’s prayers, support and kindness shown to me so far this year. One way you
could continue that would be to ask yourself these questions and share your answers with
me. And whatever your answers may be, I hope you find comfort in serving God, who is
all about pushing people out of their comfort zones, this Advent season. AMEN.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The day-to-day.

So, this is pretty much my base.

Monday - Grace (Pastor Patti day off)
9 am - Staff Meeting - me, Pastor Laaker and Benhi (Grace's secretary) gather in the library for devotions (text study and prayer) and going over schedules/tasks for the week.
10 am - Coffee Break with the Quilters and their husbands, who are working during our staff meeting and a little before and after. (The husbands do odd jobs around the church.)
3:30 pm - Get ready for After-School
4 - 5:30 After-School
5:30 - 6 - Clean-up

Tuesday - Grace
3:30 pm - get ready for After-School
4 - 5:30 After-School
5:30 - 6 - Clean-up

Wednesday - St. Luke's

Thursday - St. Luke's/Grace

3:30 pm - get ready for After-School
4 - 5:30 After-School
5:30 - 6 - Clean-up (sometimes on Thursdays this goes a little later, since I usually leave some stuff out during the week)

Fridays - St. Luke's (Pastor Laaker day off)

Your initial observations might be something along the lines of:
-there are many gaps in this schedule
-there are 7 days on this schedule

Good observations! You have come to the same conclusions I have - my job is very flexible, and every day could be a work day. This is why I have been talking a lot about self-care.

So, what do I do with all those gaps? Well, let me give you an example of what part of one of my weeks might look like.

Tuesday - Grace
somewhere between 9 and 10 am - drive to Grace, with no idea what my day is going to be like, forgetting my lunch.
10:14 am - Arrive at Grace. Drink some coffee and talk with Benhi about ideas for community outreach programs, current community outreach programs, and life, for approximately 68 minutes. This is called "relationship building" with your co-workers and counts as work time. Who knew???
11:22 am - Check email/calendar, write an announcement for the bulletin, make a phone call to someone else who works in community ministry or in a school or in some non-profit organization who it would probably be a good idea for me to be in touch with, maybe.
12:17 pm - Walk to the Pupuseria to get lunch. I have only been to the restaurant twice, but it is about a 6 minute walk away, and the waitress who has been there both times is awesome and  from El Salvador and there is a key-hanger wooden map of El Salvador on the wall like the one Emma and her mom have and we used it to show each other where we'd lived/visited. Oh yeah, and the pupusas are delicious, and pretty cheap, which especially at this moment in life is a good thing. Ryan, I think they might have the place by your house beat...
12:34 pm - Bring my lunch back to church and eat it.
1 - 3:30 pm - Re-organize cabinets downstairs with after-school crafts and games. Talk to Virginia, director of Latinas in Action, the exercise class that meets on Friday evenings at Grace, and Elyse, my community organizing mentor, on the phone for at least 15 minutes each. Spend some time journalling my ideas for community outreach programs/making contacts in the neighborhood.
3:34 - Quickly figure out what I'm going to do for snack, game and craft for After-School and get it together. Ideally, this will start happening earlier and earlier, but it doesn't really matter since the game plan changes depending on how many kids show up.
4 - 5:30 - After-School. A family with 3 kids across the street just moved to a different neighborhood, so now I've got a regular crowd of 1-4 kids. They come in and we eat a snack, run around for a while (they really have to do that), get some homework done if they've brought it/it's a good day and they can focus, and do some art (painting was fun the other week, and they liked bracelet-making too) or play a game like Bingo or Charades.
5:33 - Clean up.

Wednesday - St. Luke's
9 am - Text study with my two commanders and a fine group of 3 other pastors, so they get moral support as they prepare their sermons for the upcoming Sunday. I don't go every week, but I went pretty regularly my first month. Coffee and something sweet is generally consumed, and each pastor takes turns hosting it at their church.
11ish am - Get to St. Luke's office. Catch up with Rose, secretary, and Sarah, treasurer, who pays the bills etc. on Wednedays. (Her regular job is VNA nurse, and she's going to be offering a free pre-natal care class taught in Spanish at St. Luke's in December, which is really great, especially because of changes in Medicaid coverage for prenatal care. Read more here.)
around 12:30 pm - eat lunch from home, usually PB sandwich/apple/chips.
ongoing throughout day - talking with Pastor Patti about plans for beginning a weekly Community meal at St. Luke's, and learning about history of congregation.
2 pm - Omaha 360 at the Home for Boys, up in North O. Representatives from non-profits, churches, police, school, government come together to discuss violence/events of the past week, talk about what events extra police will be sent to (high school football games, concerts), share upcoming events, discuss role of media in covering violence, etc., etc. etc. Networking.
3:30 pm - Back to church, continue working on a poster for something. Through the end of October I was staying for confirmation - dinner at 6:30 pm, class at 7. I will probably continue to do that occasionally, but not every week.

I hope this helps give an idea of what my work life is like! I have been glad to get to know the people, buildings, neighborhoods, and partners of where I work. Now, I hope I can really branch out and get to know the people in the immediate neighborhoods of my churches - continuing to learn about how the congregations might best serve nearby schools, members of other nearby churches, and people who live right in the immediate neighborhoods of the church buildings. Some of this happens already, and some of it needs to happen more, and to do this, I am going to need to do a few cold calls, and it's going to be a little scary. But I think I have a good backbone of relationships and trust to support me as I go from here.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Truths, and my daily schedule!

a) Here are some things that I thought about today, that I consider truths.

-People are all people.
-At least 90% is showing up.
-"The heart wants what it wants." - Woody Allen (thanks Elyse)

b) I was made aware that it is hard to get a sense of my daily schedule from this blog, so, coming before Thanksgiving....

the "Anna's daily schedule" entry!

That is's trashy TV self-care night at Hillstrom House.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

#1 again, because I'm going to do my best to never forget it, and #2.

Retreat was absolutely wonderful. And now we're back, and back to work.

If you watch this 1:00 commercial for the premiere of A Time For Burning on TV, it should illustrate the challenge that I feel every day now, particularly when I go into work. A challenge that we are all facing.

The 2:01 clip that you can find somewhere on the right-hand side is a longer speech in Ernie Chambers' barber shop that is also important. Ernie Chambers was a state senator for Nebraska, representing North Omaha (where I'm sleeping these days) from 1971-2009. I think he would still be in office if the term limits bill hadn't been passed in 2000.

At anti-racism training this weekend, our trainer used the phrase "deeply annoying", which I later dove deeper into by thinking out loud about it in discussion, to describe white people who make a show of showing that they "get it" with regards to white privilege (particularly around people of color).  Probably relatedly, training also got me thinking more about the idea of "positive whiteness."

I have absolutely no desire to be deeply annoying and will try my hardest not to be. However, I'm not going to be silent anymore.

Jesus was a radical leader for social justice because he said "Love your neighbor." That was it. Not just my white neighbors with whom I navigate Whole Foods (and by the way, I think part of positive whiteness for me is that I like shopping at Whole Foods). As Alexie Torres-Fleming put it at theological conference a few weeks ago, "Some of (the children of God) have their pants hanging off their butts, and some of them do not." Some of our neighbors today don't speak English as fluently as they do in their first language, just like neighbors 90 years ago who were coming from all over Europe to get jobs. Some of our neighbors are struggling with fears that they are not voicing because of shame or because they don't think it's a big deal and they can take care of themselves.

These are neighbors to you and me and Christians are called to love them, and that's why Jesus works for me, not because of the words and actions of my Christian neighbors that don't seem to compare to what he taught.

And love does not mean dominate, laugh off, or trivialize. Love means respect, so that when peace comes, it comes with justice. (Thanks, LVC.)

So, onward, taking time for self-care, even when we have to be transplanted to the middle of Iowa to give it to ourselves. I promise to take that time here on the eastern edge of Nebraska, too.

In that spirit, this link will take you to a beautiful song. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

1) Anti-racism. 2) Pro-love and peace...and, for me, Jesus.

But first, a public service announcement:

In the last 7 days, thanks to the generosity of parents, grandparents, Lutheran Service Corps board members, boyfriends, and Jackie wanting to make something with pumpkin for our dinner party last night, we have had the option of consuming, in this house, the following items:

Candied apples, Mexican sweet breads, popcorn/M+M mix, pumpkin-carrot-cheese bars, gourmet cheese and crackers, beverages (we'll leave it at that), cinnamon rolls, pumpkin whoopie pies, and cupcakes.

So, to anyone who was worried about us not being able to survive solely on our stipends...I leave you with that.

We now return to our irregularly scheduled blog post.

A few nights ago, I was sitting in a room with two other white people, and one of them made a joke about black people. I think I laughed, or at least made some kind of snicker or sarcastic utterance. I don't even remember what the joke was, exactly...I can probably safely say the joke was disparaging towards black people.

The person who made the joke or comment or whatever has been through anti-racism training, and I know that this person thinks a LOT about anti-racism in the person's daily life, and is committed to social justice.

Is it ever okay to make that joke? Can you lay off the PC-ness for once, you Oberlin graduate hippie, you may want to ask me? (Did I just perpetuate a stereotype about my college?) I think I have been in situations with my black friends who have told, or seemed okay when hearing, jokes related to race.  Do you need to relax, Anna? I know you're working on the self-care, but just had a nice's Halloween...maybe you need to chill out. Everybody needs to let steam out.

Well, voice in my some extent, I agree with you. But I do want to share the other feelings too.

This upcoming weekend, LVCers all over the country are going on retreat and doing more anti-racism training, like we did at orientation. I was working on an assignment tonight (yeah, some in my house are calling retreat "fall training" since it's kind of stressful having homework again) for which we are asked to fill out a matrix with examples of racism in our placements. I really want to show you exactly what it looks like, but I'm not sure Crossroads, the organization that LVC collaborates with for anti-racism training, would appreciate me posting the exact words of the assignment in public for all to see.

But I can paraphrase, I guess. I am learning that it is so important to constantly remember and recognize every day the overarching invisible spiderweb of white privilege, also referred to as the enormous elephant in the room that everybody sees, hears, feels, and maybe even smells, but doesn't talk about. And I don't think we can talk about it all day every day, as important as I feel it is, because it is SO exhausting.

One of the main points I got from anti-racism training and am reminded of from this exercise is that racism is ultimately going to screw everyone over if we don't recognize it, talk about it, and do something about it. (I remind myself at this point that talking about it is definitely included in "doing something about it"...I maintain that talking about it is not the end of it.) The part of the assignment that I am currently struggling over is remembering what we must have talked about at orientation - how exactly it is going to do that.

I can talk a lot about people who must have hearts that are hurting or hungering for more interaction with people different from them. But I get frustrated when I realize that, theoretically, people could leave their churches and go back to their houses in the suburbs, and I can even come home tonight to my house in what people tell me is a "bad part of town", and sit here with my computer, and lead my comfy life, and not push myself/themselves into thinking about the root causes of how I/we got where I/we are today. And you know what? It is important to do that sometimes, because self-care is important, as I am trying to remind myself every day.

But I just have this feeling that life will feel better if I let my guard down a little and speak honestly with people who are different from me about my life. And, as my previous blog post emphasized, listen with an open, attentive soul to those people in return.

And here I could go off on a tangent about how this isn't just about race, how in the past two months I've benefited deeply from spending lots of work time with people who are substantially older than me, for the first time. I knew I loved working with kids, but I didn't know that working with "real grown-ups" could be so much fun, too.

So, there's my thoughts on anti-racism for now. Though, at times, I am quick to profess my desire for action over words, based on my work over the past two months, I believe that I have learned, and would most strongly encourage everyone to recognize, the importance of talking and listening about difference. I don't think it's just about political correctness - I think it's about fundamentally transforming how to shape a society where everyone really does feel comfortable, safe, respected, and like they have an opportunity to do something. And this society is not going to magically appear when I wake up in the morning is going to take Work. And Love. Don't forget the love, because without that, it doesn't make any sense to Work.

I'll save 2) for next time because, but leave the title that I started with, because it might give you an idea of another idea that I've been turning around in my head for a while now.

Last things:
I have wanted to recommend The Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol, written in 2005, to all my loved ones for quite some time now. You are hereby recommended. It's about the U.S. public school system, and the last chapter features moving words from John Lewis that resounded very deeply within me when I read them.
Also, Mom and anyone else who knows about this documentary, you will be pleased to know that Austin checked out "A Time for Burning" from the public library so we'll watch it soon. (Race issues in churches and other places in Omaha in the 60s.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Listening. To other people.

The following was written on Sunday afternoon, when our interwebs were not functioning, in a Microsoft Word document. 

Well, it’s been a few weeks, the leaves are beginning to do what they’re supposed to do this season, and I am sittin.

The only sound at the instant that I am typing this sentence is the ticking of the clock in our living/dining room. The cars and trucks that rush down the main thoroughfare that goes by our front yard will make some noise every once in a while, but probably not as much on a Sunday afternoon. It’s pretty cloudy outside and drizzling a little bit, and I may be going south again today to go to a pumpkin patch with the youth and families of St. Luke’s. We’ll see how the weather is, I guess.

I have been richly blessed this week with the opportunity to go to the 2010 Theological Conference for the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA in Kearney, NE, somewhere around 2 hours west of Omaha. The big speakers were Shane Claiborne, a really tall skinny thirty-something-year-old with realllllly long dreadlocks and a passion for God’s love that I wish I had seen more of in church today, and Alexie Torres-Fleming, a puertorriqueña from the South Bronx who is on a break from running Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice over there so she can give speeches about all the work she’s been inspired to do since a co-leading a significant protest march against crack in the early 90s. There was also ample time for socializing with Lutheran pastors, including LVC alums, synod staff that I befriended on a work weekend in North O at the end of September, and my present “co-workers” in the inner-city cluster. (It feels weird to call them that, but I think they would be okay with it – Pastor Patti laughs when I call her my boss.) Kayleigh was there too,

But the very first part of my time at the conference was spent in Spiritual Retreat from 8:30-11:30 am on Monday morning. During that time

Stop. That's where I stopped. But during that time, I was listening to other people.

I am RESTLESS tonight. We have our first LVC Twin Cities/Omaha retreat in Iowa in a little more than a week, and each community is supposed to have something of a covenant ready to share by then. Our community decided last night, based on a conversation from the night before, that we would come up with an idea of our covenant on our own, and begin the process of smushing them together tomorrow. So I was writing for a while tonight, and then I stopped, and then I went and played some music, and now I am back on the couch, writing something different.

I want to play music with other people. I need to listen to other people so I can learn what their passions are.

We really need to listen to other people. Really. Listen. Open up our souls to receive something from someone else's.

And then, talk about what we hear.

Yes, self-care is essential to working for peace with justice. But other people of all kinds are why I love life.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Turns out William Deressiewicz, quoted in my previous post, was advisor at Yale to the gorgeous Emma I. V. It really is a small world, after all.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Quote night.

"Wow, you went to Oberlin, and you'd never heard of the UTNE Reader..." - Dad, paraphrased

Better late than never. One of the things that LVC does is give us a free subscription to a social justice-y magazine, and luckily my house picked one that we want to read cover-to-cover. I finished it last night, and wanted to share some of it with you.

"Prisons are madly violent places...that part of the developed world least altered by civilization, by modernity, by the growth of any consciousness of peaceful interaction. In here, the old scourges hold sway in epidemic proportions. Racism, tribalism, all the old "isms" are still vital and dominant, still driving behavior and ruining lives. In a sense, prisons are society's dustbins, the dumps into which are swept...the various felonious ideas no longer acceptable in polite company." 
-Kenneth E. Hartman, reflecting on life in prison - he has a website.

"The corporatization of something as basic and intimate as eating is, for many of us today, a good place to draw the line." - Michael Pollan

"Nostalgia is not what we need. What we need is an ethos that comes to terms with contemporary, industrialized food, not one that dismisses it" - Rachel Laudan

"Inequity and politics, not food shortages, were at the root of almost all famines in the 20th century...It can be hard to grasp the degree to which the Western lifestyle is implicated. We don't realize that when we buy imported shrimp or coffee we are often literally taking food from poor people. We don't realize that our economic system is doing harm; in fact, the system conspires to make it nearly impossible to figure out whether what we're doing is destructive or regenerative." - Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton

"Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that's heading toward the cliff."
"Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is talking to another person you can trust, to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things-to acknowledge things to yourself-that you otherwise can't. Doubts you aren't supposed to have, questions that you aren't supposed to ask. Feelings or opinions that would get you laughed at by the group or reprimanded by the authorities."
- William Deresiewicz

"...sometimes the people who are living on the resource are in the best position to figure out how to manage it as a commons...I'm not against government. I'm just against the idea that it's got to be some bureaucracy that figures out everything for people."
"We need to get people away from the notion that you need to have a fancy car and a huge house...Some of our mentality about what it means to have a good life is, I think, not going to help us in the next 50 years. We have to think through how to choose a meaningful life in which we help one another in ways that also help the earth."
-Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, interviewed by Fran Korten

"In the truest sense of the word, the commons is a conservative as well as progressive virtue because it aims to conserve and nurture all those things that are necessary for sustaining a healthy society." - Jay Walljasper

Another time I'll put some quotes up from my current "homework assignment" - the book Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other and the Spirit of Transformation by Stephanie Spellers.

Books on my reading list:
Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril - Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson, eds.
Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx - Heidi B. Neumark

Books I have read since August:
Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky
Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

Music will be a whole other post. Speaking of which, I'm going to Oberlin this weekend for the memorial concert for Professor Wendell Logan on Saturday October 9th. I was nowhere near as close to him as many, many other people, but he was such an inspiration to me, and I miss him.

It is always good to walk into that hug that is Oberlin, though. I imagine it will feel rather different this time, but I'm okay with that. :-)

No blogging for a while because of my upcoming Ohio weekend - but I also wanted to tell you that tomorrow I am leading community night discussion. This month we are focusing on social justice, and tomorrow night I want to lead a discussion on how to practice self-care and the importance of good relationships when working for peace with justice. I have been thinking about this a lot lately.

Enjoy your October!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


You can't escape the sun in Omaha. Hmm, back up - you can't escape the sun anywhere, but DEFINITELY not when you're driving into downtown Omaha in the morning or out to the rest of Nebraska in the afternoon. My commute takes me south in the morning and north in the afternoon, so the sun is shining directly on me both ways, but a few excursions have taken me west at sunset, and let's just say that sunglasses don't really help much.

I think I've already mentioned Omaha being a pretty easy city to navigate, and the sun reminds me of that. Just like Oberlin (by the way, I just realized recently that I must have a thing for cities that begin with "O"), there's a north campus and south campus, except that in Omaha these campuses are two distinct parts of the city - North Omaha and South Omaha.

I've been wanting to write about that for a while. And I'm writing it today because today is one of those days where I don't really know entirely what to do. After-school starts next Monday, so things are about to get busier - but I may have done just about everything I can do to get ready for that, for now, and what?

Well, at 5:30, 2 of my housemates and I are going to go to a North Omaha community meeting called "A New Vision for North Omaha" which is being hosted by Empower Omaha, whose meeting I attended a few Saturdays ago (instead of holding up a sign saying "I am a Christian and I don't want to burn a Quran today"). I want to be there not really to say anything, though maybe we will get the chance to introduce ourselves, but just to represent LVC/LSC as a presence in North Omaha, even though not all of us are working on that side of the city. (I'm a case in point.) Even though my housemates and I may only be in Omaha for a year, there have been volunteers before us and there will be more volunteers after us, who will be working for peace with justice, and I think it's important that we make our presence I'm excited.

And right now, even with a case of the mid-afternoon sleepies, there are so many ideas to dream up, there is so much reading to be done and so much to be grateful for.

Hey - what are you doing right now?

PS. Jackie and Kayleigh updated their blogs on Friday, too - Jackie's entry is complete with more Old Market pictures and a cool comparison regarding the pioneers that came through Omaha, and Kayleigh's sentiments, especially in her middle paragraph, are rather similar to mine.
I'll let you figure out which one is which:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Food, thought and just sittin.

I started writing this post a few nights ago....and I'm going to finish it now! :-)

A few nights ago, for our community night, we watched Food, Inc., a very hard-to-watch, important documentary which I would encourage everyone to watch. (If you were moved by An Inconvenient Truth, which now I want to re-watch, this movie was made by some of the same people who made that movie as well.)

Afterwards we had a long conversation about changing the world. The "take-away" message that I was still thinking about a lot the morning after is that it is important to think about how we got to be doing why we're doing. What systems are the organizations, corporations or agencies that we work for built on? In non-profit land, is it a good thing when the numbers of people we're helping eat or pay their bills or get clothes are going up? (Think about it...)

I think education, empowerment and respect are as important as charity.

So that was last week, and today I had a wonderful day at work, planning for the after-school program that I'm going to start running at Grace 3 days a week (starting in October). It was cold and misty and rainy and foggy all weekend, so naturally today it was sunny and hot and then VERY nice tonight. I took a piece of cake, a glass of water and my journal to our porch steps and spent some time just sitting.

I want my still-at-Oberlin Obies to know that life after the madness does exist. Someone who graduated in 2009 told me in May that he felt like he had a fifth year in his head, and I'm feeling that. I had plenty on my mind as I was just sittin'...but still, I was able to BE in the sit. And it didn't feel bad. For once, the "I should be doing something" feeling was under control...because I was doing something. I was sitting on my porch eating cake.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Figuring out a few things, maybe?

Hello dear readers. Thank you for reading - it means a lot to me!

Tomorrow it will have been a month since I got to LVC orientation in St. Paul, and what a full and wonderful month it has been. I am incredibly lucky and think about how blessed I am every day.

I think I might actually be on the way to establishing some kind of a schedule, maybe! St. Luke's pastor takes Monday off and Grace's takes Friday off, so I know that Monday is a better day for me to be at Grace and Friday is a better day for me to be at St. Luke's. I've known that since day 1, but now that I'm starting to understand a little bit better than I did before what the rhythm of a pastor's life is like (and, specifically, I guess, the lives of my two bosses) I know a little better how to plan my time. As I see it now, it feels good to me to know that I'll think about Grace stuff on Monday and St. Luke's stuff on Friday.

But of won't always be as simple as that. Some days it might be better for me to meet with someone from Grace on Friday. In mid-October my other housemate who is working at a church and I will be attending the Nebraska ELCA Synod annual theological conference on a Monday-Wednesday.

So there's schedule, and it's important to remember why. Why am I in Omaha? Why am I doing what I am doing? In the community night that I wrote about earlier, my housemate who led it suggested that we take time to stop on a daily basis and ask ourselves, "What am I doing right now?" This has helped immensely.

As a pastor reminded me, God knows why I'm here, and I do put my trust in that. I do feel driven because in the past week or so I think I have gotten some clues as to at least one reason why, and they are troubling clues, indicative of the power of negative prejudices (racial, classist, age-ist). I definitely don't think I have the solutions - in fact, I would rather not use that word, maybe another one like "actions" or phrase like "next steps" (because I have learned that conflict of all kinds is not something that is ever going to go away). I think we at Grace do have whatever we have, and we at St. Luke's do, and we in Omaha do, and we at Oberlin do, and we in Chevy Chase, MD, do, and...

PS. Two fun facts about Omaha you may not have known:
a) There are hills here! Some parts of neighborhoods have reminded me of San Francisco.
b) The grasshoppers are big and they jump high!! Maybe they do in MD and OH, too, but NE is the first place I've noticed them - their bodies are almost as wide and long as my thumb.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sowing seeds! (Or, maybe, part 2 of "simply being")

Yesterday I had a great meeting with a community organizer who has really taken me under her wing since I got here, which has helped me immensely and for which I am very grateful. She got back from Peace Corps in Guatemala 10 months ago, and she told me what someone told her during a tough time there - that you're "either sowing seeds or harvesting fruit."

I am hopeful that there will be some fruit to harvest this year. However, this week I have realized how important it is to not harvest until the fruit is ripe, and that sowing seeds will still be very exciting and rewarding.

This weekend is pretty busy but in a great way! I'm excited that I want to do the same things for my life at home that I do for work. Tomorrow morning at 9 am I'm going to go to an Empower Omaha breakfast and meeting for networking and getting myself educated about the current scene in North O, where I live (I work in South O). Then in the afternoon I'll come down to St. Luke's for youth group, and afterwards probably stick around for the Bicentennial celebration of Mexican independence which is going on this weekend right down the street from St. Luke's, in the heart of South O where many of the businesses are Latin@ owned and operated. There's Spanish everywhere and it's pretty sweet. I think there is going to be food and music and fireworks.

On Sunday, my five LVC housemates and I are being honored at a commissioning service at Trinity Lutheran Church, where one of my housemates works, two blocks away from our house. I think there's going to be a picnic afterwards, and then later that afternoon at least some of us will go to our neighborhood association meeting and picnic. This Sunday is apparently national Rally, Block Party and Eat A Lot of Food Day.

And it also feels like a big weekend because of the anniversary of 9/11 and the strong feelings that are flaring.  I was reminded yesterday, in talking with a friend, that the pastor who wants to burn the Quran (Koran? if someone could help me with the spelling I'd greatly appreciate it) leads a very small church and yet is getting a very very large amount of attention. Thanks, media sensationalism? And a non-sarcastic thank you, everyone who is speaking out publicly in support of being nice to each other. I had a huge impulse all week to write out a sign that said "I am a Christian and I don't want to burn a Koran today" and going downtown with it tomorrow, but I was so happy to find out about the meeting that I'm going to in the morning because that feels more productive to me.

Life is so exciting, my friends! Get out there and enjoy it!

PS. Mad mad props to Oberlin College Religious Life people for the work they are doing this weekend....Heather, Allie, Duane, Hammonds, Greg and I know there are plenty of others!!! I am so proud of you!!!!! Just about a month until I visit :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The joys and struggles of simply being.

Yesterday I did not leave the house. Well - I take that back. I took a picnic blanket out of my car and sat on our front lawn under a tree for two hours - reading, dozing and talking to one of my best friends from college on the phone. Also, I sat on our back steps with my housemates and our guests for our Labor Day-attempt-to-cook-out (grilling just took a while, but all was still delicious), and then talked to our 5-year old neighbor for a few minutes.

Last Tuesday, we had our first community night. LVC strongly encourages/requires (we commit to it when we sign our letter of commitment which isn't the same thing as our contract but is not wholly unrelated) all of the houses to have a community night once a week, in accordance with the whole "intentional community" thing. Tonight we're having another one, and we'll just go out to dinner and hang out, probably, with maybe some focused discussion. Last week, though, we had dinner and then a focused conversation about focusing on simply being. One of my housemates read a passage from a book, about two people savoring a walk in the countryside, sitting on a wall and talking, and then asked - What makes you busy? What do you not have time to do? and one other question which escapes me at the moment.

Simply being is a tough concept for me, and it's great that I'm being challenged to try it out at work as well as at home. My job right now is to get to know people, and specifically, to LISTEN. And not even necessarily do anything about it - at least, not in the way that I am used to doing things. My goal in the past has been to accomplish - to get this club started, this letter written, this paper written, this action to take.

Apparently, simply being yourself in the universe is a way to accomplish.

My thoughts are with my friends who begin classes at Oberlin today. Being themselves will involve doing tough homework this year (long papers), responsibility in student organizations, and confronting the terrible, awful, horrible, no-good, very bad question, "So, what next?"

I hope they will remember that simply being themselves is a wonderful thing. And that they can email me if they want help remembering that :-) and thinking about what that means. I think I (at least, kind of) get it now.

Pictures! Because I promised!
Our first Friday night on the town - these are my fabulous housemates! Outdoor concert in the parking lot of a popular bar called Slowdown - sponsored by Toyota. Oh, indie music, how thou hast changed...I guess...(not like I'm an expert or anything...)

Downtown farmers' market


Monday, August 30, 2010

"Many the miles."

Greetings loved ones!

I am writing from Grace Lutheran Church on S 26th Street. Today is technically my first full day of work here, but pastor aka my boss is not in today, so I thought I would take a little bit of time to blog. I think it helps me to reflect on what I'm doing and learning, and I also feel that it is important to share what I can with you all.

This morning, the secretary and I had coffee and talked for at least an hour and a half  - he is from Namibia, studied ethnomusicology there and in Cape Town during apartheid, and is generally awesome. We have plenty to talk about, especially as we are just getting to know each other. This is true at St. Luke's at well. I can't believe that part of my job as Community Outreach Advocate, or Associate, or Community Organizer, or whatever you want to call it, is to spend time getting to know people and that that counts as work time...but it is, and it does.

Then one of the lay leaders of the Sudanese congregation that meets at Grace at 12:30 pm on Sundays to get some help with job application. At noon I went to lunch at the Bohemian Cafe (advertising sign - "Czech Us Out") with one of three organizers employed by OTOC (Omaha Together One Community) who grew up on a farm in mid-Nebraska and got back from Peace Corps in Guatemala last fall. OTOC's member congregations are very active in social justice work. 

I guess I should back up a little bit, too...on my first day of work last Tuesday, I met with Grace's Pastor Laaker first, then went over to meet with him and Pastor Patti at St. Luke's, then we went out to Thai lunch in the heavily Latin@ area of South Omaha, then I came back and continued talking with Pastor Laaker until 5:00. Wednesday-Friday I worked at St. Luke's - went to a Mexican restaurant with Pastor Patti on Wednesday and met the Women of the ELCA ladies (WELCA) on Thursday. I introduced myself at worship at St. Luke's yesterday and one of the awesome Sunday School ladies had made me a beautiful "Welcome" sign which was on display at coffee hour/reception. The whole congregation was so welcoming.

It's crazy, cause I feel like I haven't really done anything yet, and my job right now is to brainstorm. I do fully intend on implementing programs and getting out in the community, but I just haven't done anything yet. My housemates and I are getting taken such good care of already - there's a welcome potluck for us tomorrow at our house, hosted by the board.  I kind of feel like I don't deserve it. But the wonderfully warm welcome is really inspiring me. I feel so lucky to have my job and to be in this beautiful, open city which has been pretty easy to navigate and has so much to offer. 

Here are some thoughts I have had so far in my brainstorming time, that I would like to keep in my mind:
-"The church is not a is a people." (Might help sing the song at a children's message at St. Luke's.)
-Church can be other times besides Sunday morning. 
-On Sunday morning Christians hear Bible to inspire us to go out and do good works. 

My dear friend Ben Perdue is hitting the air to Hawaii tomorrow to begin two years as a Peace Corps volunteer eventually in Micronesia, so I am thinking about him a lot today. I stole the title of his blog to use in my blog, so it's probably fair that I give him a shoutout:, 
especially since some of you might be interested in reading what he has to say. 

Oh yeah, and we had some fun this weekend - went out with the housemates
to a free outdoor concert held in the parking lot of a bar/music place
called Slowdown - gorgeous night, fun music, goofy times, again made me
happy to be where I am. Saturday morning we went to the Old Market
farmers market which provided us with much delicious samples, produce
and happy musical and people out enjoying the beautiful day atmosphere.
(I promise pictures next post!) Yesterday afternoon I went to a
community forum on immigration at the Jewish Community Center of Omaha
(a really big nice building) - it's an important issue here. Perhaps you
have heard about the Fremont ordinance: here is a recent
article I found about it.

So, there is just a lot! 

The title of this blog entry is the title of a song by Sara Bareilles that
came on Pandora when I started writing. The chorus goes "How far do I
have to go to get to you?/Many the miles," and for the purposes of this
blog post/generally, life, I think of "you" as wherever I'm going and
whatever I'm going to do. I went about 1600 miles away from the home
life in the DC area to get to Omaha, and I have a feeling that, this
year in particular, I got to and I'm going to go a few more. Physically
in the Matrix, hopefully some on the old bikes chilling in our garage
that I helped my housemate fix up this weekend and on my feet - but
those mental miles are gonna get some covering, too. 
Other songs that got me pumped up for Omaha: 
"Wide Open Spaces" by the Dixie Chicks
"Going On" by Gnarls Barkley.

Until next time!

PS. Sorry the formatting is messed up on some of this post.

Monday, August 23, 2010

First post!

Hello everyone!

Before I start, I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to read, skim or glance at this blog in support of my year with Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC). I am highly indebted to and eternally grateful for everyone's support in getting me here.

So, where's here, exactly?

(from Wikimedia)
I am living on the north side of Omaha, NE, in an old convent with five other lovely LVC volunteers. Yes, this means our rooms are a little smaller than what we've probably been used to, but my bed is extremely comfortable, and we all have sinks in our rooms, not to mention three bathrooms and a ton of common space.

We met at orientation at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN last Sunday, with about 140 other volunteers who will be working in cities all over the country from DC to Atlanta to San Francisco and more. Most volunteers are just out of college, but some have been out for a few years or even more than a few. (You have to be at least 21 to apply to LVC, but beyond that there's not a ton of restrictions, though you do need willingness and willpower to fill out a substantially long application.)

I'll post links to the LVC website and Facebook page on the side of this blog, but since we all were asked to recite the LVC mission statement a few times together at orientation, I now know it by heart and will just go ahead and write it here:

"LVC is a community of faith united to work for peace with justice."

The three LVC core practices or tenets are intentional community, living simply and sustainably and social justice. LVC volunteers live together in houses or apartments for a year (August-August) and are all working at non-profit organizations whose mission statements are aligned with LVC's. We get a stipend which is enough to live on, but not too much more. See how those core practices work??

At orientation, we had lots of time to get to know our housemates, sometimes using some guided questions about, for example, our preferences with regards to spirituality or sustainable practices. We also had a day of self-defense or personal safety training; a day with sessions about raising money for LVC, ways to have community discussions, and city-specific information; and two days of anti-racism training which profoundly affected me and which I am so grateful to have had.

The most important realization that I had from anti-racism training, which I really wanted to share, is that in order to work towards anti-racism and the "journey to an inclusive community" (as LVC calls it), I have to acknowledge and confront the racism that has shaped me and is present in me. The training, which was led by two trainers from Crossroads, took our group through the history of racist actions in the United States, challenged our definitions and conceptions of race and institutions, and more, including watching this video.

I would strongly recommend anti-racism training to anyone, because it gives you a way to talk about something that is really hard to talk about. I am very glad to have had it before I go into my first day of work, which is tomorrow!

I will be working with the pastors and staff at Grace and St. Luke's Lutheran Church on community outreach and program development. Today we (myself, my housemates, and our awesome city coordinator Janelle) drove all over Omaha to see everyone's placement, so I met one of the pastors and tomorrow morning I will meet with both of them to figure out the details of what exactly I will be doing. My housemates are working at Trinity Lutheran Church, Together, INC. (a huge food and clothing distribution center), Hospice House, Eastern Nebraska Community Action Partnership (ENCAP), and Voices for Children. I feel like this sounds a little cliché, but I am really looking forward to our dinner conversations.

I'd say we're feeling pretty comfortable here. We have done some exploring of our neighborhood and the park right across the street from us, and we also enjoyed our first taste of beautiful and fun "downtown" Omaha on Saturday night. We still have a few chores to take care of this week, but I am really looking forward to more settling in and getting to know the city.

Also, I feel terrific. Many of you know that I was working very hard (rather ridiculously so, I guess) this past year, and it is very comforting to know that I cannot work more than 40 hours a week so that I have time for spirituality, community time, and personal growth. I'm going to read for pleasure, practice violin and piano more than I did last year, do some crafts, cook, write and explore the city!

That is plenty for now. Later I will post some pictures. I'm going to try to write fairly regularly (maybe twice a month, approximately?) specifically with updates on my work but maybe with some other stuff I find relevant. I'm maintaining another blog, but this one here is specifically for my LVC year.

Again, thank you all so much for your support!