Durham CAN

It has been brought to my attention that what I have written about politicians in this summer’s Sunday school quarterly could leave some folks with the impression that I don’t believe it is possible for elected officials to act in the public interest.

I could make the excuse that Amos and Micah both are occupied with oracles against the leaders of Judah and Israel. However, their own words are not intended to be a condemnation of any who would govern. Instead, they objected to how these leaders governed. I had not by any means meant to suggest that “politician” and “public servant” are necessarily mutually exclusive terms. Neither do Amos and Micah seem to support the idea that those who would lead are necessarily unjust and self-serving.

So in the midst of the more readily found stories of malfeasance, I would like to share a hopeful example of what community leadership can be: Durham CAN. (“Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods.”)

Last night, my husband joined folks from all over Durham for a meeting convened by Durham CAN. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss plans to make Durham a better place for everyone. Not vague plans, but concrete policy suggestions – specific proposals for affordable housing (including proposed building sites and blueprints), specific proposals for fair paying jobs, and specific proposals for improving police-community relations. Government officials came to the meeting, having already been briefed by Durham CAN (so that they wouldn’t be blind-sided by any of the proposals). They came prepared to share their own commitments with the assembled body. Among those who spoke were Bill Bell (the mayor), Ellen Reckhow (a County Supervisor) and Steve Schewel and Cora Cole-McFadden (members of the City Council.)

My husband came home from the meeting feeling glad that we live in Durham, and feeling actually excited about certain of our elected officials. Excited on the level of, “I can’t wait to vote for that person again. They really do care about _____.”

There are some politicians who do indeed work for “justice for all.” Some of them do it once in awhile, some of them do it more often than not. Praise God! Let us pray that there would be even more of them.

A dresser of sycamore trees

Tonight, people from hundreds of churches across the United States are brushing up on the prophet Amos, whose eponymous Biblical book is the subject of a series of Sunday school lessons for the month of June. Amos describes himself: “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees.” (Amos 7:14, NRSV) But how could a person’s job be tending sycamore trees?

“Sycamore tree” means something very different in Africa and the Arabian peninsula than it does in the United States! People living in the U.S. probably think of the American Sycamore when they hear the word “Sycamore” – but the sycamore tree of the Bible is a fruit tree!

If you want to know more about the sort of tree that Amos tended, click here for a brief article about the Sycamore Fig, which includes some lovely photographs and a (short) embedded YouTube video. Many thanks to Woody Davis, a Sunday school teacher in Mississippi, who found this article when preparing for tomorrow’s class, and shared it with me.

If you are studying the UMC Adult Bible Studies series this summer, and you find something you’d like to share, let me know! Maybe (with your permission) it will end up being shared in this space.

My life after I (mostly, kinda, maybe temporarily) gave up Facebook

Dear Facebook friends,

I am sorry if I alarmed any of you with the status I posted on Monday, May 20th, about “shutting off social media before it shuts me down utterly.” In retrospect, that was pretty dramatic sounding. I guess I was feeling pretty dramatic at the time.

It can just be hard sometimes, living in a rich and powerful nation, when the richest and most powerful people keep making incredibly selfish decisions. It can be hard to vacillate between feeling like a rich and powerful person who is also being selfish and thoughtless, and feeling like a person who has been working for justice and trying to move the rich and the powerful in one way or another for decades to no avail – a powerless person with delusions of power. And my Facebook and Twitter feeds had become a constant flow of “CHECK OUT HOW MUCH THIS STINKS!” “AND THIS TOO!” “AND ALSO THIS!!!!”

Not the best time to be reading Amos chapter 2: “People of Israel – you are thoughtless, selfish, unjust covenant breakers! Don’t think you don’t have it coming!!”

Oh! Had I not mentioned that it is pretty much my job at the moment to be reading Amos and writing about it? *sigh*

I am just compulsive enough to need to read my entire feed. Everything I missed. And friends, you read such interesting things, and share them! So when I would sit down at the kitchen table to work, I would first check my e-mail, and see that someone had commented on something or tagged me on Facebook, and I would click over to see what was going on, and next thing you know I would have spent two hours reading one article after another about how racism is as bad as ever, sexism is as bad as ever, Congress is more selfish than usual, and more than half our family income taxes are going to kill various mostly non-terrorist people overseas… but wait – let’s all stop talking about all of that awfulness as we all try to process the new awfulness of someone (or some storm) having killed a bunch of children all at once. Here, look at some kittens.

And having “reached the end of the internets,” I would look up from my screen and see that it was lunchtime, and I would eat because it was the right thing to do, but I didn’t really feel hungry anymore. And then I would re-read Amos chapter 2, and stare at the blank screen for about 30 minutes. Again, le sigh.

So it is true that right up through the moment that I wrote that dramatic status that my mental state was… concern worthy. But if you have been at all concerned, rest assured that everything is ok now. Well, probably not everything – I wouldn’t know since I am no longer reading all of those articles about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I am sure the world is still FUBAR in all sorts of ways, and so it is unfair to just stop reading about it and then assert that everything is ok.

Please allow me to rephrase: since (mostly, kinda, maybe temporarily) giving up Facebook, I am ok now. Actually, I am better than ok. I have totally disassembled my KitchenAid mixer and repaired the switch. (The part only cost $10, including shipping!) I have taken my daughter swimming, and bike riding, and made cookies with her. I have not once checked my feeds or even my e-mail on my phone while half-attentively interacting with her. I have done lots and lots of laundry, even folding it fresh out of the dryer! I have mostly overcome my fear of chickens. I wrote long e-mails to friends that I might otherwise have only communicated with via broadcast status updates.

I prayed. I prayed and prayed for so many people that I hadn’t had the time or energy to pray for when their problems were collected in with literally hundreds of millions of other people with also big problems. I prayed that God would call other people to pray for the hundreds of millions of people that I missed, and would inspire me to pray the prayers I most needed to pray.

I scrubbed my shower. And my bathroom counter. And as I was scrubbing the counter, I had an insight about Amos. But it wasn’t ready yet. So I read a book, and I talked with my husband, and I didn’t check Facebook first thing in the morning and last thing before bed. I called my mother and my sister in the same day. I listened to one news story on the radio, and then turned it off to think about it instead of listening to the next one, too. I cleaned 1500 messages out of my inbox. And then I knew what I wanted to write, and I wrote and wrote until time to pick up my daughter from school, and get ready for the chickens who are living in our garage over the weekend. Chickens. I can’t believe it.

Now it is my intention to pop on over to Facebook and post this and set the hearts of all of you, my loving friends and family, at ease.  Pray for me, that I make it in and out of the Kingdom of Zuckerberg before finding something so interesting that I get stuck catching up on my feed.  It is late, and I do not have the six hours that it would take to make headway on the backlog of your interesting thoughts and beautiful photographs and very important articles. Ugh. That sounded condescending and awful. I hope that you all understand that I meant all of that completely un-ironically.  I love you guys and all your posts, or I would have hidden you from my feed, easy peasey.  You’re just so darn thought-provoking!  And funny!  And your kids are growing like weeds and doing interesting stuff, and I haven’t even met them in person yet!!!

OK, I almost talked myself into getting back in there.  But here’s the thing:  I have challah french toast to make in the morning, and then I go to the Farmer’s Market, and then we are letting a bunch of chickens and children loose in the back yard.  After lunch, I am hoping to put my mixer back together.  I have dozens of cookies to bake, a house to clean, and a Sunday school lesson on the 2nd chapter of Amos to finish writing before I can move on to writing the next 3 Amos lessons after that.  And I would like to get around to calling my mother again.  So… I think I am going to stay away a bit longer – at least until I can figure out how to manage my “complete feed-reading” compulsion.  I hope you guys understand.

Grace and Peace, Sarah