Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mind the Gap

I’ve spent time in places with great economic disparity. In Haiti, I’ve been approached by children with bloated bellies begging on the streets of Port-au-Prince, only moments after arriving on a flight with Haitians who had traveled to Miami to go shopping for the day. 
In South Africa, I stayed in a nice home in a gated neighborhood while only a half-mile away, people huddled in blankets on the open veld in the bitter cold.
In Indianapolis, I serve a church where you never know who will walk through the door -- a multimillionaire in business attire or a gentleman who sleeps in the park and uses the church shower to clean up for the day. 
But India rattled me again with its economic gap. In a season where most of the world is struggling economically, India’s economy increased nine-fold in the past year, mostly due to technology, call centers, and software development. While that boom has offered incredible technological advances, it hasn’t transformed Indian lives in the ways the world had hoped. The United Nations reports that more Indians now have cell phones than toilets.  There were 670 million cell phone connections in India at the end of the summer, but only 366 million Indians have access to a private toilet or latrine. 

While we did not spend time in the slums of Mumbai or Calcutta, we saw plenty of tenement  housing in Amdavad and rural poverty along the gut-churning mountain roads of Kerala. The ragged streets of major cities are piled high with trash and reek of a nauseous combination of raw sewage, rotting food, exhaust, and curry. These poor conditions permeate the Indian landscape because development and infrastructure are impeded by government corruption and internal security threats from a Maoist insurgency. 
In the midst of this struggle, we met faithful people striving to bridge the economic gap. The Swaminarayan Hindu women at the BAPS temple in Amdavad work diligently on empowerment issues and have donated time and money to rebuild areas of the country afflicted by natural disasters like earthquakes and flooding. In Kerala, the Anglican  archbishop heads a church where 30 percent of the members are former dalits (Untouchables).  Even though the caste system was allegedly overturned in the 1950s, the dalits still struggle to meet their basic needs.  The Anglican church reaches out to these precious children of God through education, job training, and employment assistance. 
If you’ve ever ridden the London Tube, you’ll notice a lovely British voice telling you to “mind the gap” as you step on the train.  That’s what I believe these Hindu women and Anglicans are inviting us to do -- to mind the gap between us, whether in India or our own neck of the woods. As we gather throughout the next few days to feast and give thanks, I hope we'll remember that gap and be inspired to a greater generosity, a deeper passion for justice, and a longing to see the world flushed with compassion -- one toilet at a time. 

Friday, November 12, 2010


I come from strong women. Before I could hold up my head, my mom and her friend were dressing me in a “Ms.” onesie to mark me as an ardent feminist.  Their empowerment left indelible marks on my life. At church, I still sip tea from a mug that says, “God is not a boy’s name.” 
A recent trip to India reminded me how much I have taken these roots for granted. We spent time with two different sects of Swaminarayan Hinduism, where I felt the confines of female disempowerment in ways I’ve never experienced before. Women in the main temples are totally separate from men. They remain behind a rail and cannot perform darshan, gazing on the deities, with the men.  They cannot serve as leaders, speak in assemblies where men are present, or hold positions on committees. 
While these restrictions are present in many Christian groups as well, there is an added twist for the Swaminarayans: Women do not receive the same religious instruction as men. They are forbidden from approaching male religious leaders, who hold the knowledge and power, and are only allowed to receive the highest spiritual blessings as an afterthought. 
Women worship among themselves in the haveli, a separate part of the temple where nuns live. It was there we spent time with our hostess Moto Gadiwala, the retired female religious leader who received her position 40 years ago through an arranged marriage to the acharya, the male leader of this sect.  Through marriage, Gadiwala is also considered divine, and so her female followers constantly try to touch her, receive a blessing, kiss her feet, or sweep up the dust from the ground where she walks. 
While we were asked to keep the details of our time together confidential, it is common knowledge that Gadiwala lives in purdah, meaning that she cannot be seen by males outside of her home, a sprawling compound surrounded by a high wall topped with barbed wire. She cannot go shopping at the mall or strolling down the street. Her main outing is to the temple each day, where she travels in an SUV with tinted windows lined with a curtain. When she leaves the vehicle to perform darshan, she is covered by a huge Mary-Poppins style umbrella and a flowered sheet. The women push and shove their way through the crowd to try to get near her, to receive the blessing that flows from her touch. 
This is the only life Gadiwala has ever known, and she faces it with remarkable dignity and grace.  She offers impeccable hospitality and genuine warmth to her guests. Yet after a week of being around her, I would sense my chest tighten every time I walked in the home or the temple. I couldn’t breathe. I felt suffocated by the powerlessness of Gadiwala and these women. 
Their powerlessness is deeply ironic, especially when you consider that Swaminarayan himself was a 19th-century reformer who actually helped the status of women by forbidding widow suicide and female infanticide. Currently India has gone beyond the United States by swearing in their first female president in 2007.  The Indian parliament also has guaranteed seats for women. 
I’m not sure what to do with this irony, other than to live with it and to recognize the irony of gender gaps around me in my own community. But there remains a part of me that wishes I had enough money to buy a half-billion “Ms.” T-shirts. I'd send them all to India for the women to wear as tops under their saris. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vanity of vanities

The first time I laid mulch, I ended up in the hospital.  I was a grumbling 8-year-old assisting my mother with yard work. My mom threw down a handful of mulch with too much gusto, and some of it flew back in my eyes. We couldn't get out all of the splinters ourselves, so I wound up in the emergency room, tearful as the doctor flushed my eyes clean with saline. 

From that moment, I pronounced that laying mulch was the biggest waste of time known to humankind.  Still, I conform to the cultural expectation that my flower beds will look more beautiful with it.  Almost every year I find myself fighting heat and mosquitoes to weed and mulch the yard. This year, however, I had a new nemesis: My puppy, Obadiah. 

As I tried to lay mulch yesterday, he simply wasn't having it. To him, the landscape fabric was a toy chest. The mulch itself was a gold mine to dig for treasure. Our friends Claude and Holly stopped by, and they laughed at my efforts. They knew it would be in vain. Defiant, I pressed on. I crated Obadiah so I could finish the job. When I let him out, he actually respected the mulch until sunset. I bragged about it to Holly. But the moment it got dark, his witching hour came. He tore at the fabric and plowed through the mulch with his puppy exuberance. 

This morning when I awoke, I saw the path of destruction. "Vanity of vanities!" I cried with the author of Ecclesiastes. "All is vanity! What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?" 

I'm not sure. But I do know this much: We keep toiling. We keep working in the dirt and muck of this world to make our corner of the planet just a little more beautiful. Every now and again, our effort is rewarded. Much of the time, it's in vain. But we press on, doing the best we can, even when our work is upturned more quickly than we can say, "Obadiah."

Sunday, August 8, 2010


We broke ground on a major deferred maintenance project at the church in early June. In order to replace the sewer lines, we had to dig up the beautiful courtyard. Not a tree or plant or bush or flower was left standing ... or so we thought. 

Yesterday as I was preparing for a funeral, I was studying the dirt. Suddenly I noticed not one, but two flowers, poking up from the demolition. They looked to be some type of lily, although I'm terrible at identifying flowers. (I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong.) They were probably still buried in the ground when the project began. Somehow, they were able to bloom and grow in spite of the chaos that surrounded them. When every other plant was uprooted, they flowered despite the odds. They are survivors. 

I've been blessed by these types of surprises all summer long. In tragic places where I've expected to see nothing but an uprooted mess, I've witnessed something blooming. In tough situations where I've wondered if I've made the right decision, a shoot of grace has sprung up.  During exhausting weeks, I've been touched by laughter, friendship, and joy. 

My favorite expression in Hebrew is tohu va-bohu. (The French just shorten it to tohu-bohu.) It's the expression in Genesis 1 for "formless and empty," which was the condition of the earth before God said, "Let there be light." It's a time of confusion and commotion. It's a time of uncertainty. But it's also a time of potential, promise, and creation. 

Kind of like two flowers popping up in the dirt of the church. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Welcoming Obadiah

There are many ways to grieve the loss of a pet. Some people choose to grieve until they’re ready for another one. I prefer to cry on the fur of a new puppy. 
I knew it was time when I woke up Sunday morning to an eerily quiet house with an Isaiah-sized vacuum. It was too much for my soul to bear. After experiencing the grace of worship, I broke down when I returned to an empty home. I had spotted a puppy on the Humane Society website with that certain look in his eyes. Hours later, he was in my arms. 
I’ve named him Obadiah after the minor prophet whose name means “servant or worshiper of the Lord.” He’s a four-month-old Labrador/Hound mix who weighs about 25 pounds, but he will quickly grow into his name. In the meantime, he’s all puppy. He runs with an awkward gate and trips over his long tail. He tumbles about the yard and chews on everything in sight and tries so hard to be a good boy, especially when I scold him for peeing in my house again. 
Last night I scooped up Obadiah on my lap because pretty soon he will be too big to fit. As I cuddled him, I started telling stories about his big brother Isaiah and the tears flowed freely. Obadiah nuzzled under my neck, burrowed his head under my chin, and started to lick the tears off my cheeks.  
I think I will take the risk of love again. 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Isaiah Thomas Schubert, 8 July 2005 - 19 June 2010

A piece of my heart shattered this morning when my beloved dog, Isaiah, dashed across Kessler Boulevard and was struck by a car. He died on the way to the animal hospital.
With a larger-than-life presence, Isaiah lit up my world with his joy and energy. He lived each moment with eagerness and openness. He enjoyed running on the towpath; romping with his cousins and friends; praying for a Greenie; getting loved on by church people; snuggling with his best bud, Claude; and trash-talking his “Mama” Holly. He would do anything for peanut butter, bread, rawhide bones, and carrots, never recognizing when he reached his limit. 
Isaiah was the life of any party and always strove to be the center of attention. Many times we had to remind him that it was not all about him, especially as he chased squirrels and peed on hostas. He spent many family gatherings and friends’ parties tethered to a leash because he could not control his excitement. 
That excitement was accompanied by an ornery gleam in his eye.  You’ve heard before about his antics, which included swallowing rat poison, chewing rugs, tearing screens, peeing on laundry, decimating eight leashes, ruining electrical cords, pouncing on doors, and receiving months of behavior therapy.  
For as much as Isaiah was hard-headed, he was loving, especially to young children and older adults. For as much as he frustrated me, he provided a listening ear, a comforting nudge, and a reassuring presence that I will treasure for the rest of my days. 
I’ve cried more today than I can remember in a long time. I’ve also been more thankful than ever that when God fashioned creation, God saw to it to put these crazy creatures called dogs in our lives to love us, to stretch us, to care for us, and sometimes even to break our hearts. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Opening pitch

While the movies proclaim there’s no crying in baseball, there might be a few tears at Victory Field next Thursday night. The crowds will gather for a celebrity softball game to remember and celebrate a little girl whose life ended much too soon. 
Caroline Symmes was just 5 years old when she died last December from a Wilms’ Tumor. In her brief life, she captured the hearts of many, including those who cared for her at Riley Hospital for Children and the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund. Caroline was precious to me because she was the first baby I ever had the privilege of baptizing.
My heart has broken for those closest to Caroline as they’ve wandered the devastating chasm of grief.  Although I believe God will comfort all who mourn and give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit, those promises seem empty in the wake of a tragic loss like the death of a child. 
Yet I’ve seen ripples of grace spread from a tragedy like this one. Family and friends have created networks of support. Faith communities have connected in new ways. Funds are being raised to benefit organizations like the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund, which creates memories and builds hope for other families with children who are ill. 
And perhaps those same ripples of grace will flow from the baseball diamond next week, as God gives Cracker Jacks instead of ashes, the oil for a softball glove instead of mourning, the mantle of celebration instead of exhaustion, all from the opening pitch. 
The Caroline Symmes Memorial Softball Challenge begins at 5 p.m. next Thursday, June 3 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. Tickets are $5, available at Ticketmaster. All proceeds benefit the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In Control

I woke up Monday morning expecting to feel different in my new interim senior pastor role.  I was certain that I would command a new sense of respect, power, and authority. 
My dog Isaiah, of course, was my first test. When I told him this was my first day in my new position, he rolled over on his back to have his belly scratched. Later on, he refused to come inside when I called him.  I gave up and left him outside all day.
As I walked into the church building, one parishioner called me the Grand Poobah. I offered him to kiss my ring, but he said that’s reserved for popes.  Another person said I looked a foot taller, but I was a foot taller than she is before I assumed the church’s helm. 
Others have been scheming with me on the best ways to maximize my newfound authority. My mentor reminded me that when the president of South Africa took leave a few years ago, the deputy president invaded Lesotho. 
The senior pastor himself joked that I might be the next Al Haig. For those of you who missed or slept through that era of American history, Haig served in many government positions, including Secretary of State under Reagan. When Reagan was hospitalized after his assassination attempt, Haig reportedly said, “As of now, I am in control here, in the White House.” The irony is that Haig was really fourth in line to inherit the presidency. 
As I contemplate the humble reality of the position I’ve temporarily inherited, I wonder about the adventures the next four months have in store. I pray for an extra dose of patience and grace. I hope for new experiences and challenges.  And every time I’m tempted to quote Haig, I’m reminded that we are never, ever really in control. 

Saturday, April 3, 2010


In the wee hours of Good Friday, two more teenagers in our city were gunned down as violence ripped again through a Westside neighborhood. One of the young men died; the other is in critical condition after surgery.
According to news reports, it was the second shooting at the home in a 24-hour period.  The night before, 12 shots ripped through the house, almost hitting a 9-year-old boy sleeping on the couch.  
The alleged perpetrator remains at large.
To many, these teenage boys are nameless and faceless, just one more example of teenage violence, just one more adolescent life with a tragic end.
To one of the child care providers at North Church, these young men are precious children in her family. Her stepson was the one killed; her son remains in critical condition. She knows their faces, stories, and lives with deep intimacy. 
I can’t even begin to imagine her nightmare. I’ve wondered today, of all days, why Jesus is still in the tomb.
And I wonder how in the face of such despair, we can be a community that believes he still moves stones.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A "Christian Thing"

It started out as a “Christian thing.” David Brian Stone would take his family to church. They would pray. They would read Scripture, particularly Revelation, and believe they knew how the world would end.  
But then something happened. According to David’s ex-wife, he began to take it too far. He started talking about taking on the government. He joined the Hutaree, an extremist Christian militia group based in Michigan.  He became the group’s leader. He went from hand guns to automatic weapons to improvised explosive devices. 
On the second day of Holy Week, David, three of his family members, and five of his fellow militia members were indicted on an alleged plot to kill a police officer and then bomb the funeral procession.  “Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment,” the Hutaree web site says. “The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield if so God wills it.”
What started out as a “Christian thing” had gone terribly awry. 
We’ll never know what snapped in David, or why he was allegedly leading others to commit heinous acts in the name of Jesus. 
What we do know is this: On the sixth day of Holy Week, they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:50a-52a).
Jesus was beaten and mocked, ridiculed and whipped. He never retaliated. He died later that day, when violent hands nailed him to a cross. He forgave his killers and traitors. Three days later, he rose from the dead and triumphed over all of the violence and hatred and suffering, leaving an unsurpassed peace for those who love and follow him. 
That, my friends, is a “Christian thing.” 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Have you seen Raven?

Raven is a 70-lb black Lab who's been missing since the late afternoon of Tuesday, March 23. She escaped from a yard near 71st and Michigan Roads. She was last seen headed north toward 79th Street. If you see her, please call Holly at 317-517-2070. 


Standing with her in the rain

Samantha approached me outside the church on Thanksgiving morning with her hair disheveled and her coat covered with dirt smudges and rain drops.  She demanded to borrow my cell phone to find if the Thanksgiving dinner she had requested from a charitable organization would be ready for pick-up in an hour.  I was in a hurry. I needed to be inside preparing to lead worship. I begrudgingly let her borrow my phone, but I insisted on dialing the number myself and standing with her in the gentle rain.
Samantha issued commands to the person on the other end of line. When she hung up, the rant continued against our church, our staff, the weather, and this meal that would serve as her Thanksgiving dinner.  I had to let her go mid-rant, but not before reminding her that I would keep her in my prayers. 
My encounters with Samantha have continued over the past few months. She’s almost always confused, angry, and paranoid. She tells stories about growing up with another member of our staff, who never met her until recently.  It’s hard to know how to respond to Samantha. 
A friend called me recently to ask if our church had any resources for helping congregations to welcome those who struggle with mental illness. I pointed her in a few directions, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Even as I offered her the information, I felt uneasy. Connecting with those who have mental illnesses is a complex, difficult journey. 
It was raining again on Monday when I saw Samantha. She was sitting in the front lobby of the church. She shouted at me as I walked out the door, “Be careful out there! Two guys tried to kidnap me, and I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.” Unwilling to believe her, I replied, “Samantha, I’m sorry you had a rough morning. I’ll be thinking of you. Hope your day gets better.” I continued out the church doors and opened my umbrella.
I later discovered that Samantha was mugged that morning. Thankfully, the police believed her while I blew her off. They arrested the alleged perpetrators that afternoon. 
I’m embarrassed by my lack of gentleness and compassion toward Samantha, and I know I’m not alone. I wonder what it means for the Church to embrace, accept, and listen to those who have mental illnesses. I wonder how church leaders like myself can grow and help others to deepen their care for people like Samantha.  
There are no simple answers, but I think the answer starts in a simple place: We stand with them in the rain. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

When William Grows Up

When I look into William’s deep brown eyes, I see a window to our souls. William is only a week old. He lives next door. The moment I spot him, I want to tussle his curly black hair and poke his pudgy brown cheeks.  He’s beautiful.
Like most babies his age, he sleeps and eats and burps and potties and then repeats the cycle.  What separates William from some of his fellow infants is that he is a brown baby adopted by white parents.  And both of his parents are mommies.  
As I cradle him in my arms, I stare deeply into his eyes, praying and hoping that just maybe the world will be different for him. 
Maybe when William grows up, his mommies will have their union recognized by the state of Indiana. 
Maybe when William grows up, The United Methodist church will openly affirm people who are gay and lesbian instead of declaring their lifestyle to be incompatible with Christian teaching.  
Maybe when Williams grows up, I will be able to perform marriage and commitment ceremonies for my friends in same-sex relationships. 
Maybe when Williams grows up, my clergy colleague who is a lesbian will believe she has a future in The United Methodist Church. 
Maybe when William grows up, I will no longer counsel parents and children who are haunted by their sexual identity because all people will be accepted just as God created them to be. 
William will be grown up before we know it.  As I gaze into his eyes, I’m certain that we are the only ones who can change his world. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Let the Good Times Roll!

I am the queen of inserting my foot in my mouth. Perhaps the best example occurred when I was 12 years old. My friend’s mother was pregnant with her little sister. One night at dinner, the family was sharing suggestions for naming their new little girl. “How about Gladys?” my friend’s father suggested. 
“Gladys?” I said. “You can’t name the baby Gladys. That sounds like a cow’s name!”
“That’s my mother’s name,” he replied. 
At first I didn’t believe him, but then I recognized the embarrassing truth: Open mouth, insert foot. 
I will put my foot in my mouth again tomorrow as I reap the consequences of a comment I made 10 years ago as a naive college student. My friends and I were discussing different ages and stages in life. I made the offhand suggestion that by age 25, I would consider myself old. By 30, I expected to be wise. 
I will reach that age of alleged wisdom tomorrow when my birthday and Mardi Gras collide. Other wise ones in my life have had different responses to this new decade. One of my friends was depressed for months after she turned 30. My cousin, however, felt she commanded more respect at 30 than she did at 29. 
I imagine experiencing some combination of all those -- a dash of wisdom, a shadow of age-related depression, the hope of greater respect. And of course, plenty more opportunities to insert foot in mouth. 
Let the good times roll!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Let the Children Come Unto Us

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.” -- Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in physics
The plight of 10 American Southern Baptists detained in a Haitian prison for human trafficking has caught the world’s attention. Earlier this month, they were arrested while trying to sneak 33 Haitian children over the border to the Dominican Republic.  The Baptists say they were simply trying to help and planned to return the next day for the children’s papers. 
Charlot with a seminary classmate

The children, ranging from 2 months to 12 years, had their names taped to the front of their shirts. They had been taken from a children’s home, where they were waiting to be reunited with their parents. One little girl with tears in her eyes said her parents were still alive. Haitian officials claim they were attempting to find their families, and the Baptists acted with blatant disregard to international adoption law. 
It’s hard to know whom to believe. On the one hand, I can understand the Baptists’ longing to rescue Haitian children. There were 380,000 orphans in Haiti before the earthquake, one of whom was a 4-year-old named Charlot. I met him at the hospital in Léogane, where he sat like a little Buddha on his hospital bed. His distended belly cried for protein and nutrients. The woman caring for him begged me to take him to the United States. I later discovered she was his aunt, but she loved him enough to let him go, hoping for a better life.  I could not adopt Charlot because I was a seminary student. I later learned Haiti has very strict adoption laws that would have prevented me. It didn’t matter. Leaving that little boy, weak and starving, haunted my dreams for months to come. Why couldn’t I save him?
On the other hand, I can understand the Haitian government’s response: You may not violate international law to “save” children we are trying to reunite with their families. The Haitian prime minister says the Baptists knew what they were doing was wrong. He wants them to be tried in the U.S. because the Haitian courts have been crippled by the earthquake.  Even so, the State Department has placed the onus of the Baptists’ fate back on the Haitian system.  
The full consequences of the Baptists’ actions remain to be seen. Will their example deter human trafficking by other groups? Or will their behavior make much-needed adoptions of other Haitian children more stringent and complicated? Either way, the Baptists give us pause to reflect on why we attempt to save in the name of religion.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Darlene Etienne, a 16-year-old Haitian, was found alive Wednesday after 15 days of being buried under the rubble of her school in Port-au-Prince. Her entire community cheered as her weak body was pulled from the wreckage and whisked away for medical care. 

Jerome Sales, AP

One of her rescuers called it a miracle. 
While Darlene’s amazing and courageous rescue brings tears to my eyes, I’ve always struggled with the word “miracle.”  It’s a term we throw out liberally to describe any event we can’t explain, secular or sacred. People of faith often attribute such incredible happenings to God. 
The trouble with that, I find, is that it creates an image of God as a divine Magic Eight Ball. If properly shaken, God bestows miracles on some while others discover “outlook not so good.” In this case, Darlene and the 130 other Haitians who’ve been found alive in the rubble received a miracle. But we estimate there were 200,000 other Haitians who did not survive. Was it simply not their turn for God’s favor?
We need to dig more deeply to find a new understanding of "miracle," especially as it relates to Darlene's story. I believe the greatest miracle of all is the reassurance of presence -- the presence of God and the presence of others -- in spite of all the odds. In this case, French rescuers left their country and put their lives on the line to search for her. Her community never gave up. Her mother and brother never stopped praying, always believing she was alive.  Her mother trusted God was with them the entire time. 

Perhaps the true miracle here is God's faithful promise to be with us, so that even if the rescuers had come up empty-handed, everyone still would’ve known that Darlene was in God’s hands. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Stealing or surviving?

Most of us have no idea what it means to be so desperate for food and clean water that we would do absolutely anything to provide for ourselves and our families. That’s why I have trouble with media images that describe Haitian women and children as looting and pillaging from devastated stores and markets. While I would never condone violence, I can understand that such desperation could lead men to join machete-armed mobs to demand relief supplies. Until we’re in that situation, I don’t believe we can judge them.

Damon Winter, New York Times

Nor can we label them the villains of their own disaster. Take, for example, this New York Times photo of a red-shirted boy running through the streets of Port-au-Prince clutching a plastic bag. The caption underneath attempts to be objective: “Haitians fled gunshots that rang out in downtown Port-au-Prince Saturday. Tons of relief supplies had arrived for delivery.” But the headline further down the page says: “Looting Flares Where Order Breaks Down.”

“So was the kid looting?” asks Natalie Hopkinson on The Root. Who are we to judge? She proceeds to describe media coverage from Hurricane Katrina where hungry, desperate white survivors were “finding” food, while hungry, desperate black survivors were “looting” for food. How long will our coverage continue to exploit and discriminate against people, simply because they are black and poor?

Dany Laferrière, a Canadian author with Haitian roots, survived the earthquake at a hotel in Port-au-Prince. He wanted out of the country immediately, not simply to escape disaster, but also to flee from the racist conversation embedded in it. He has grown weary of the language of a “Haitian curse,” a “pact with the devil,” “refugees” in their own country, and “pillaging” for survival.

“It would be better to speak of the incredible energy I saw,” Laferrière told Le Monde, “from women and men who, with courage and dignity, help each other. Even though their town is partially destroyed and their state is without leadership, the people remain, work and live.”

These people cling to the hope of survival in the most desperate times. Who are we to condemn?

Sunday, January 17, 2010


And some kind of help is the kind of help
That helping’s all about.
And some kind of help is the kind of help
We all can do without.
-- Shel Silverstein, “Helping”

The world has rushed to help Haiti after the Haitians’ world collapsed. While I’m thankful that Haiti is receiving much-needed support and aid, I worry that it is too much, too late for that devastated nation. I’m concerned about it reaching the right hands in a way that is culturally relevant and beneficial to the incredibly long rebuilding process that the Haitians face.

For too long, more powerful countries have assumed they know what’s best for Haiti. To be sure, their resources have been given in a spirit of harmless generosity. When I visited Lopital (Hospital) Ste Croix in Léogane, we received a tour through the basement of the hospital. The hallways were piled high with cardboard boxes of medical supplies. When we asked our tour guide about them, he laughed. “Those are all of the supplies that the Americans have sent us that we can’t use,” he explained. “Our equipment isn’t sophisticated enough. Our landfills are overflowing, so we stack the boxes here. I wish Americans would ask us what we need.”

It’s not only nations, but also individuals. A Mississippi senator believes we should send FEMA trailers to Port-au-Prince. Really? What about the health problems they caused in New Orleans, where someone nicknamed them “toxic tin cans”? Other Americans, untrained in disaster relief, are hoping to rush off to Haiti, not realizing that their presence will draw important resources like food and water away from the people who need them most.

I don’t pretend to have any answers to the Haitian disaster. The solutions to Haiti’s problems are incredibly complicated and will require a long-term commitment to create political infrastructure, develop health care, protect the environment, produce food, offer jobs, educate children, rebuild houses and roads, and heal their broken lives.

The Haitian people are incredibly resilient and resourceful. Most have abiding faith in God’s provision and goodness, despite the odds. One of their common phrases is degaje, which means making do with what you have. When it comes to creating something out of nothing, the Haitians are experts.  We need to listen to them -- their needs, abilities, aspirations, and ideas. If substantial foreign aid combined with good listening and political empowerment over the long haul, the Haitians could know a brighter future.

In the meantime, however, there is much work to be done. The suffering continues. We can pray, listen, and give our resources. We can commit to walking this entire road to Haiti's recovery. And most of all, we can promise to offer the kind of help that helping is all about.

Trustworthy places to give support:
Family Health Ministries
United Methodist Committee on Relief
Red Cross

Friday, January 15, 2010


We received the tragic news today that Jude, a toddler in Fondwa, didn’t survive the earthquake. He was killed with Sister Oudel, we assume as the guest house collapsed.
This photo was taken of him in November with Marjory from Greensburg UMC.

Precious Little Jude,

I wonder how life would’ve been different for you under other circumstances. You were born in the poorest country in our hemisphere, and you quickly became an economic orphan. Your parents were still alive, but they couldn’t afford to care for you. Instead, you were entrusted to a larger family – the Church. You were embraced by a circle of love from the Catholic sisters in Fondwa. Your cries and laughter echoed in the guest house halls as they took turns caring for you.

I met you once when you were four months old. Your pudgy cheeks and bright eyes captured our attention. I understand that you grew up to be an active toddler who was timid around strangers, especially those funny-looking Americans who stayed in your home.

Your namesake, the Jude of Holy Scriptures, is one of the shortest books of the Bible. It has only one chapter, much like your life. But it contains some very powerful words, including the blessing that God will keep us from falling.

Of course, it appears your life was one of falling – into poverty, distress, and eventually the trembling earth. One place you never fell, however, was into the abyss of loneliness or abandonment. You always had the sisters, the other children from the orphanage, and the community of Fondwa surrounding you. While we’ve yet to learn the exact circumstances of your death, we know that you had Sister Oudel watching over you, to remind you that you are a beloved child of God.

Rest in peace, sweet boy. You are never, ever alone.


Jezula making pates

My heart has throbbed for the past two days. A piece of it collapsed when the earthquake devastated Haiti. I’ve been consumed by worry for my Haitian friends and my friends in Haiti. My friend Jamalyn is leading a group of eight Hoosier United Methodists to Fondwa, a mountain village located 25 miles from the epicenter. Last night we received the wonderful news that an eye witness reported all nine of them safe and sound.  While we celebrate that good news, they still have a long journey home. The rest of that country has a long journey to recovery.

As I’ve watched bodies pile up like empty coconut shells along the Port-au-Prince roads, I’ve wondered about the lives closest to me. Were Jed and Remy playing on the orphanage path when the earth shook? Was Jezula cooking in her outside kitchen? Was Mme Chery calling for her great-granddaughter, Bervencia? Was the American team relaxing at the guest house, which collapsed soon after?

We’re still waiting for answers, just like the thousands who are hoping to hear news of loved ones. Meanwhile the media continue to bombard us with the horrific images, body count estimates, and the struggle for aid to reach the people’s dusty hands. How much can one battered nation possibly take?
My heart cries out for the Haitian people, for the world to lend a helping hand, and for that help to reach the hands that need it most. And with the ache of uncertainty, I sing again the ancient psalmist’s words:

“For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from God comes my salvation.
God alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken.”
– Psalm 62:1-2

Want to support relief effort? Visit the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Slice of Life

Happy Epiphany!

On this 12th day of Christmas, we celebrate the arrival of the magi to offer their gifts and their worship to the toddling little Jesus. “Epiphany” literally means to “show” or “manifest,” for the Christ child was first revealed to the rest of the world on this special day. It’s a time to sing “We Three Kings,” to reflect on the gifts we have to share, and most importantly, to eat king cake.

In France, this type of cake is known as a galette des rois. It consists of a flaky pastry crust stuffed with a sweet apple filling. Hidden in the pastry crust is the fève, which is a ceramic figurine, most often of a saint. The person who receives the fève dons a gold paper crown and becomes king or queen for the day.

I love this tradition so much that I could not wait until Epiphany to celebrate this year. When I was in New Orleans, we stumbled on an authentic French boulangerie, where we bought a king cake in honor of the new year. My friend Anne-Lise found the fève, which happened to be a Betty Boop doll, and proudly sported the crown.

What I treasure most about this tradition is the joyful surprise of discovering that hidden fève. When you assume your piece of cake is as ordinary as everyone else’s, suddenly you uncover something extraordinary in the midst of it. Joy in the monotony of our days. Hope in the midst of despair. Peace in the depths of grief. Love in the wake of brokenness. Perhaps that’s the most that any of us can hope in the new year – that our slice of life will contain an extra dose of joy, hope, peace, or love to surprise us today.