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.