Thursday, January 17, 2013

Three Strikes, Two Options, One God

Brittany Browne visits the famous Geneva Flower Clock.
Credit: Christine Housel

By: Brittany L. Browne

   No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, said the Lord. -Isaiah 54:17

Do you know that you choose to channel or reject certain energies into your life? Isaiah 54:17 echoes that belief for me and furthermore provides revelation that it is a part of my heritage to prosper against any weapons that are formed against me. The term challenge is no longer a suitable word in my personal life to describe how immensely unyielding it is at times to operate in a world full of colonized history that reflects in everything we do, say and how we think, or where religion has contributed significantly to the divide in which we stand on and where people’s boxes of individuals by titles, categories and stereotypes predict the way we see one another.

Allow me to give a description of myself according to worldly standards in effort to set the context. I am African-American. I am a female. I am a part of the Millennial Generation. These three things describe how people immediately categorize me and sum up who I am. These three things are what I call three strikes. “Strikes” are categories, stereotypes, or titles which people assign to you before getting to know the depths of who you are--it is a box and an assumption that is somehow all encompassing for who you are, such as your religion or spiritual beliefs, your age, your sex, etc. If that is all I am limited to throughout my life, I thank God that my citizenship is in heaven!

My point is this, the three strikes mindset is what is damaging our Churches, the ecumenical movement and spiritual beings worldwide, affecting our relationships with one another and ultimately our success at being one body. It is no longer enough to shun what you don’t understand. What you feel is not relevant should not be dressed up as an issue that has already been resolved or that is in perfect progress. It is good to be optimistic but it is wise to be realistic. I say this only because when a “touchy” area such as diversity, racism, stereotypes, or branching out of boxes is spoken about it sometimes appears like an abomination to the environment in the non-verbal expressions of others.

In essence it is fruit that needs to be bared. If we only keep putting the seeds in the ground and refuse to water it, then we will continue to walk over the ground that has bared no fruit, unconscious that the seed is even in the ground. We walk over it in tolerance daily, boldly claiming diversity but possessing three strikes for one another.

Too often, believers give two options, telling each other to either choose to be angry or choose life. The two options become limited when there is no in between to express authentically the hurt behind it all. You are supposed to either be angry or be happy. But, there is a creator that does not turn a blind eye to expressing healthy anger and dealing maturely with our circumstances, so that out of it we come before the throne bolder and wiser. Then we can talk about choosing life!

I choose to reject the three strikes; I refuse to accept only two options and limitations of expressing my authentic self. I move beyond mediocrity, false frameworks of diversity and tolerance. I internally run and confide in one God that rejects stereotypes, ageism, racism, new forms of colonialism and embodies all things according to my heritage. I can’t go in the box, because I don’t fit! I’m too wide in my open mind, I’m too stretched in my spiritual discipline, and I am too filled with grace. Where can you step outside of your boxes or encourage others to do the same?

Brittany L. Browne is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, initially serving with the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Reflections: My time in Mindanao

Adam marches in solidarity with workers in the Philippines.
Photo courtesy of Adam Shaw

By Adam Shaw

When I first arrived, fresh off the plane, I arrived with very few expectations. I had no idea what to expect. The Philippines was such a faraway tropical dream nation from my homeland that I just didn’t have any notion what was in store for me. From reading the placement site application I was aware in a very holistic form what sort of work InPeace did, so I knew it would have something to do with promoting peace. I didn’t really know anything about peace actually; I always just thought it was the absence of war.

My first impression of the staff was that everyone was really focused about who they were as people, and what they cared about. That was something I was envious about because even though I had chosen to become a missionary I didn’t have the purpose and focus that the InPeace staff had. All I had was passion and ideals.

I remember missionary training. Everyone else had expectations for their placement sites, everyone else had specific reasons they had applied to be Mission Interns with Global Ministries. I just wanted to start my degree in life and not spend the next 3 years in grad school working on an advanced degree.

I knew that a lot could happen in three years, but I didn’t realize how much could happen in 18 months. How so many different exposures, experiences and people could change the life of a college boy and make him a more mature Christian man, a passionate advocate for justice and change.

I’ve changed a lot in the past 16 months that I’ve been at InPeace. I’ve discovered what is important in life to me, I have found purpose, a purpose given to me by the hopes of the communities that I was exposed to, a purpose fueled by the plights of the individuals and the communities in Mindanao and a purpose that is impassioned by a desire for justice and the social transformative gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you had asked me 2 years ago what my opinion of politics was, I would have told you I hated it. I hate election years, all the mudslinging, bigotry, racism, Christian intolerance, American exceptionalism, bipartisan fights. I hate it.

After having been involved in polarizing political action campaigns during the past 15 months, it is correct to say that my political poles have been charged and magnetized towards justice for the people, tolerance for the discriminated, fair labor rights for the working classes, and quality education for all. I read the news a lot more, comment on forums; have political discussions with my friends. I have been interviewed by major TV networks and guested on political radio shows. In the Philippines, it has become impossible for me not to be involved in politics. The plight of the people gives me purpose in the grind of ‘western democracy.’

I value everything that I have been taught and shown during my stay. I know that I have become more focused, mature, flexible, and understanding during my time in Mindanao. I always had passion and ideals, but now I know how to organize communities around issues, and how to manifest the ideals that are within me.

InPeace taught me things that I didn’t know I wanted to learn, until after I learned them. My experience here has been excellent. I will not ever forget how I was changed by the people of Mindanao, by the volunteers and organizers who serve them or by the church workers and lay leaders that live their spiritual calling serving the people of God’s Kingdom.

I came to the Philippines willing and ready to be broken and I was. I came ready to be molded, and I was. I came ready to be transformed by people, ideas, and experiences and I was. I believe that God spoke to me through everyone I met in Mindanao and said: “Adam, This is who is important to me, let them be important to you also.”

My transformation wasn’t done overnight…or even in 6 months. It wasn’t pain free or always happy. I’ve had fears and doubts, sickness and depression. But I’ve also had joys, happiness, and the tired satisfaction of helping one person tell their story. God shaped me from the earth that I was and put me into the fire, making me into a tool for the Kingdom of God.

Adam Shaw is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, serving initially with Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao in the Philippines. The full text of this reflection can be found on Adam’s blog.

Monday, January 7, 2013

When Our Big, Lazy Butts Get In the Way of the Holy Spirit...

by Whitney Peters

I received a wonderful invitation from my former roommate to go with her to a local hospital for woman and children. Alysha explained we would visit different patients, talk and pray with them, and then give a small packet of needed toiletries. At first, I jumped right on her invitation. "Of course, Alysha, I would love to do that!"

As the day went on I began praying and praying for the next day. However, at the same time, I began having a million doubts. Maybe, this isn't the best idea... I don't want to impose on other people... I already feel uncomfortable... my Spanish is horrible... this is silly. The excuses grew in my brain, yet, I continued praying for strength and the great awareness of the Holy Spirit for the next day.

We entered the first room where eight cribs lined the small room and the moms sitting in hard chairs. I handed out a few of the hygiene packets and I spoke with the mother and precious child right next to me and then prayed with them. Suddenly, I became overwhelmingly aware of God's presence in the room. Despite my discomforts, my laziness, my fear, I suddenly felt I was in the right place.

We each had an opportunity to pray for each patient and I began thinking less about my Spanish and instead feeling more of the Holy Spirit.

We went room to room praying, meeting, and giving to different people. Each room we entered was a difficult sight to see, considering the poor, poor conditions of the hospital. I also thought about how these kids and families have nothing to do while they are here and sometimes they wait days just to see the doctor. Yet, I know God is right there with them whether they realize it or not.

Finally, one of the fellow volunteers asked if I would share a word with the next room of patients. At first I said, "No, gracias". However, as we neared the door I was reminded it's not about my ability to speak- it's all about sharing God's love with these wonderful children of God I am only able to know for a split second. To share that they are special and God is with them through each moment.

I share this story of my fear, judgments, doubts, laziness, discomfort, because I think we have all allowed these thoughts and feelings to get in the way of living a life like Christ. I'm not sharing this visit to the hospital to share a righteous act I accomplished but for us to remember those moments we didn't follow through with something on our hearts because it was outside of our comfort zone.

May God help move YOUR big, lazy butt, too! :)

Whitney Peters is a United Methodist Mission Intern serving in Managua, Nicaragua with Accion Medíca Cristiana, which is an ecumenical organization implementing community development initiatives regarding public health. This blog post is adapted from Whitney’s blog: