Thursday, July 28, 2011

Some Photos From the Week

FUI Director Todd teaching our last Urban Ministry class on "A Sustainable
 Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life" on Tuesday. If you want to hear
 more about it I'm happy to share!

Another day with the kids: Co-Staff Dylan with kids at Fresno Street Saints
 doing what they loved to do most: play Monopoly

Fresno Street Saints staff Sean with kids playing their other favorite
game: Uno

50 kids sitting at Fresno Street Saints to hear a panel of FUI interns
and other Street Saints staff talk about their path to college. It was great to
have a wide range of backgrounds for the kids to hear from, and I think it was
helpful for them!

Staff with July birthdays- definitely the majority! From left:
Dylan, Matt, Krystal, co-director Carrie, and Lawrence.
Taking a break from our weekly Wednesday Leadership Development
Track led by Carrie.

Late night hang outs at the Pink House- a purple man shirt massage train!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Good Old Conflict

Everyone knows that the 3rd week of a missions trip is conflict week. Everyone has gotten to know each other just enough that the real personalities come out- warts and all. Even though this FUI group has had no major conflict like there usually is at FUI (probably because this group is pretty introverted, so maybe they're just keeping it in) but there have been situations here and there where conversations have had to happen. And I have definitely noticed times when students have "pushed my buttons," and I have had to check myself.
Last Wednesday our Leadership Development track meeting of FUI staff that meets once a week spent the whole 3 and 1/2 hours talking about conflict- Biblical references, styles of conflict, and cultural influences. It was all really enlightening and helpful, but one thing stuck out to me thatI think I can take with me from here on. Carrie, the leader of the track, showed us the Biblical answer to the question: "Who takes the initiative on a conflict?"
-Matt. 18:15-17- the process of addressing conflict. Who takes initiative?: The one who was offended.
-Matt. 5:23-24- Who takes initiative?: The one who has hurt someone else.
-Gal. 6:1- Who takes initiative?: Someone spiritual who sees another believer caught in sin.
*Therefore, the ball is always in your court!

I had never really thought about it that way before. The students are learning a lot through FUI, but I am learning a whole lot also- maybe even more than when I was a student! But both the students and myself get to struggle together over buying groceries and shower time, as well as city questions like what to do with the homeless woman who wants to sleep at the Pink House, but most likely has mental issues. Conflict happens.
InterVarsity is really big on the "Approaching Differences Diagram", (which looks like this and you want to avoid the bottom red arrows, and remain on the top green arrows, which requires checking yourself when you experience dissonance. I'm learning to train myself to do this, but I'm also learning how Jesus is in each experience of conflict or dissonance I experience, and if I watch for it, He always has something for me in it. Every week at our Leadership Development track we take time to think through each student in our process group and ask a few questions, one of them being "Has the student in any way been "pushing your buttons?" What's going on there for you? How is Jesus inviting you to go deeper with Him in this?"
Process group members Colby & Judith in "conflict" over Frank,
the random giant stuffed dog we found in the Pink House 
Yesterday when I was praying and struggling with one student in particular, I caught myself wanting to do my default when there is conflict- stay away from the person. As I prayed and asked Jesus what He had for me in it, I really heard Him say- keep pressing in to the relationships. I need reminders and wake up calls like that as I seek to love students as Jesus did, conflicts and all. I'm also learning that conflicts tend to be a gateway to deeper relationships anyway, so they probably shouldn't be avoided.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Centering Prayer Guide

I have been very drawn to Catholic writers and traditions lately. I think it's something about their depth and understanding of suffering that is very life giving and refreshing for me. Todd, the FUI director, always teaches students and staff the practice of Centering Prayer, which comes from the Desert Fathers. I have been doing it daily and have found it to be what I have needed in connecting with God at a level that is beyond my comprehension. Here is a guide that Todd wrote about Centering Prayer.

Ps. 46:10- “Be still and know that I am God” (NIV) “Calm down, and learn that I am God!” (CEV)

Western Christianity has contributed much to the spread of the Gospel and our modern emphasis on theology and Scripture study. One of the consequences of this emphasis for us is that our faith in God can be primarily thought based and cognitive and de-emphasize God’s presence and work in the rest of our being (our emotions, spirit, body). One response to this has been the reintroduction of a form of prayer that is not word based, but designed to open us up to experience God’s presence at the very center of our being and God’s “peace that surpasses all understanding”. The term used for this is “Centering Prayer”.

Centering prayer as a spiritual practice or discipline can contribute greatly to our spiritual growth and development, but in ways that may be new and unfamiliar to us as we receive them through entry points other than our minds and our thoughts.

It is my hope and prayer that more of us will adopt centering prayer as a means to further our growth and development in our relationship with Jesus as a supplement to regular scripture study and other word-based forms of prayer. We still need the cognitive forms of spiritual development, but can find centering prayer to be a great complement to them and a refreshing way to “experience” more of God’s presence with us and in us.

An important spiritual concept on which centering prayer is based is that God’s spirit is present with us and in us and that at the very core of our being is God’s presence, nearer to us than our breath. We don’t need to invite God to be present with us so much as to discover God’s presence within us, opening our hearths and minds to the very real reality of God’s indwelling us.

Others have written guides and books, even, on centering prayer. My desire here is to give you a helpful introduction to the practice that is easily accessible to those who would be most comfortable describing themselves as “evangelical”.

The benefits of centering prayer are most often received over time and through regular practice of the discipline than through any one profound spiritual “encounter” or “breakthrough” in a centering prayer time. One helpful recommendation has been to practice centering prayer twice a day, morning and evening, for 20 minutes, though I have found it difficult to maintain this rhythm and have still found benefit in practicing centering prayer once a day (sometimes for only 10 minutes) as often as I am able. However, the more we are able to practice it, obviously, the more we will be able to receive from it.

Getting started:

To get started, find a quiet place where you are most likely to be undisturbed and undistracted for a 20+ minute period; bring a watch or other time keeper, so you don’t have to be mindful of how long you are praying, with as mild an alarm as you can find (you want to exit your centering prayer time gently rather than being jarred from it by a highly intrusive alarm); use a basic chair that allows you to sit upright with your feet flat and comfortably on the floor beneath you, or sit on the floor or on a pillow on the floor against a back support. It is generally helpful to sit so that your back will be straight and you are not slumped over or slouched down.

It is typically helpful to choose a “sacred” word that you will use while praying to help you focus and draw you back into prayer when your mind starts to wander or you find yourself engaged with your thoughts. You may want to ask God to help bring a sacred word to mind. Examples are: God, Jesus, Father, Mother, Abba, Amen, Love, Peace, Mercy, Listen, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Yes. Or, instead of a sacred word, you may find that noticing the rhythm of your breathing may be more helpful.

As you sit and get settled, close your eyes (we close our eyes as a symbol of letting go of what is going on within and around us). Introduce your sacred word inwardly and as gently as laying a feather on a piece of cotton.

“Centering prayer familiarizes us with God’s first language, which is silence”. (Thomas Keating, “The Method of Centering Prayer: The Prayer of Consent”, Our desire is to be connected with the indwelling presence of our being but this is not something we accomplish by our thoughts or effort, it comes through letting go of our thoughts and effort and letting God open our hearts and minds to the presence of God at the core of our being.

During this prayer (and even afterwards) we want to avoid analyzing our experience, harboring expectations, or aiming at some specific goal such as:
a. Repeating the sacred word continuously.
b. Having no thoughts.
c. Making the mind a blank.
d. Feeling peaceful or consoled.
e. Achieving a spiritual experience. (Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton, pg. 34)

It is normal to have distracting thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, whether from an internal or external source. These distractions are not bad and should be considered a part of the prayer experience. When you find yourself engaged with your thoughts or a distraction, return ever so gently to your sacred word.
1. Thoughts are inevitable, integral and normal part of Centering Prayer
2. “Thoughts” is an umbrella term for every perception, including sense perceptions, feelings,
     images, memories, plans, reflections, concepts, commentaries, and spiritual experiences.
3. By “returning ever so gently to the sacred word” a minimum of effort is required. This is the only
    activity we initiate during the time of Centering Prayer.
4. During the course of Centering Prayer, the sacred word may become vague or disappear.
     (Creating Christian Community, Richard Rohr,

It can be helpful to remain in silence and with your eyes closed for another minute or 2 after the centering prayer time ends as we slowly re-engage our inner and outer worlds and bring the atmosphere and experience of silence with us into our everyday life.

There is no right way to practice centering prayer. Don’t get hung up on whether you are doing it right or not. Keep practicing and remember that Centering Prayer is an exercise in “letting go” of our thoughts, again and again. And also remember that “the principle fruits of (centering) prayer are experienced in daily life and not during the prayer period.” (Thomas Keating)

If silence and solitude are new to you, or if you are someone who is used to constant sensory stimulation or mental activity you may find the practice of centering prayer challenging for a while. I encourage you to stick with it as it is such a countercultural practice (often even in evangelical Christian circles), but something that, when developed over time, can be such a source of life-giving connection with God’s presence within us. We so often long to “experience” more of God’s presence and work in our lives and centering prayer offers a very helpful means of opening our minds and hearts so that we may, over time, cultivate our relationship with God and experiencing God’s transforming presence and work in us.

“In solitude (and silence) God begins to free us from our bondage to human expectations, for there we experience God as our ultimate reality- the One in whom we live and move and have our being. In solitude (and silence) our thoughts and our mind, our will and our desires are reoriented Godward so we become less and less attracted by external forces and can be more deeply responsive to God’s desire and prayer in us.” (Ruth Haley Barton)

“The pattern of the universe is that we are one and that it is radically ok. God is on our side. So we can be at rest. We realize that life is a school. And I want to give myself to that school so that my soul can be formed.” (Richard Rohr)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Figuring Out Ethnic Identity

FUI always brings up questions of ethnic identity. Always. Generally at FUI it is the first time many of the white students have thought about the importance and significance of ethnic identity in general and in relation to their faith and witness, and the minority students are challenged to press in to who they are and all the complications and joys that come along with that. Here in the inner city where the majority are minorities and the discrepancy between those with wealth and power and those without generally correlate along ethnic lines, it is bound to bring up tension. And at FUI not only are there a mix of ethnicities amongst the students, which brings up cultural differences and tensions, but issues of ethnicity come up in every single one of our urban ministry classes, because here in the inner city it just cannot be avoided. Pretty much every single day I have a conversation with a student that has to do with their wrestling with their own ethnic identity, or with the idea of ethnic identity in general.

And funny enough, last week Nancy Donat, a family friend who is a missionary with youth here in inner city Fresno asked me to come speak to her youth group last Friday about ethnic identity. It was quite a fun challenge to figure out how to convey such a complicated but important topic to a bunch of 12-18 year olds, the majority of whom were Latino, especially when I'm used to working with college students. But I think what I shared is a pretty good taste of the conundrum of ethnic identity and faith. Its a good conundrum. I'll share a synopsis of what I spoke on.
-How many of you have heard that your faith and your ethnicity can connect? That ethnicity matters to God?
-We know the ethnicity of every single person in the Bible! Obviously, God's not afraid to talk about it, so why should we?
-Think about Moses from the Bible. Born a Hebrew, but raised after age 8 in the dominant Egyptian culture. He comes to an ethnic crises and wants to hang out with his people. He sees how they are mistreated, gets carried away, and kills an Egyptian. Then he gets scared and runs off to a whole other culture- Midian.
-Then God confronts Moses in the burning bush that he needs to go back to his Hebrew people. Moses doesn't want to because he's afraid he'll be shunned and he'll fail. God tells him he needs to go anyways, and that He will be with Moses.
-God used a Hebrew man who knew his way around Egyptian culture to free God's people! Ethnicity is all over Moses' story, and God uses it in big ways.
-Acts 17:26-27: "From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us."
-God put you in your family, your neighborhood, your skin color, and your ethnicity on purpose, and for a reason. Why? So that we would reach for Him! Ethnic identity is a complicated and confusion thing, and that means we have to seek out the God who made ethnicity about it!
-Being a biracial person who grew up in the dominant culture, but pretty much forced by God to confront my ethnic identity, has meant that I need to keep seeking out God about it. There are times where I feel that I'm not white, but I'm not really black either, so I say "just forget them both, I'm going to go hang out with Latinos." But God has to call me back to the fact that He made me white, and I can't ignore that, and He made me black, and I can't ignore that, because then I would not be acting out of the beautiful biracial person He made me to be! I can't ignore or try to downplay God's workmanship. He made each ethnicity, and He called them all good.

For minority students, rarely does it need to be explained to them the importance of ethnic identity, since they live in a world where their ethnicity is made obvious to them and those around them. For white students, they are often shocked to learn that they have an ethnic identity, and struggle with why it is so important. My favorite is to talk to bi and multi-racial students, because I understand the tension and the confusion of figuring out not just one ethnicity, but 2 or more, and all the fun complications that come with that. Last weekend I hung out with Lani, a biracial white and Latina, who came up to me after our urban ministry class on ethnicity and said, "I'm confused about myself! Can we talk?" What we ended up talking about was a lot of what I had shared with the youth on Friday, but also that as biracial people, our ethnic identity journey tends to be a spiral, not a straight line. We go back and forth between being comfortable with who we are, to leaning more towards one ethnicity, then the other, to being confused, to being comfortable again. We kind of have a one up on other people because the confusion pushes us to God. I encouraged her to keep pressing in to the tension, because it is there that we find more of God and of life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Process of Process Group

Once a week myself and Claire, another student staff, lead a process group of 4 students to help them sort through all that God is doing in them at FUI. We couldn't have asked for 4 students more different from each other. There's Rachel, a generally quiet, fairly nerdy white student from Cal Poly who is majoring in computer science. And there's Christina, a calm and level headed artsy black student from Las Vegas, who generally doesn't like to talk to much in groups (she told me the only way she likes to process is through art, not talking). Then there's Colby, an Asian-American business student from Cal Poly who just became a Christian this year, and so is nervous about being the only guy, the only Asian, and a new Christian in our process group. And then there's Judith, the happy, fun loving Guatemalan who never stops talking.
Our first process group was an interesting one, as the students' differences were definitely felt, and Judith was doing a great job of waiting to speak, but since nobody else wanted to talk, that meant a lot of silence. But on Sunday we could see them beginning to get used to each other, probably helped by a weeks' worth of interesting stories from their sites. I have been blown away by their insight and ability to see Jesus at work in the city, and how perfect they are for the sites they are at- even if they might disagree. Judith talked about how crazy its been to see humanity and beauty behind the often harsh exteriors of the kids she works with, and
Christina and Colby at process group
Rachel talked about how fun its been to see that she actually likes working with kids- and they like her too! Christina talked about the challenges as well as the excitement of working with mostly Hmong refugees, and Colby talked about listening to the Holy Spirit to direct him to which homeless men he should talk to and hear their stories. It is so great to think that these students get to live in and experience being in the places that I'm pretty sure Jesus would have made a bee-line for- where there is the most hopelessness and poverty.

Unexpected Jesus

Every Tuesday and Thursday night we have urban ministry classes (which actually could count for seminary credit if we wanted it!) and we began with talking about what exactly the Kingdom of God is. Phil Skei, the director of the Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership (FIFUL) and his wife Rici helped us to see that the Kingdom of God is not just something that we experience when we reach heaven, but is something that we are to be a part of bringing to earth as it is in heaven. We learned that the Kingdom of God coming to earth means that Jesus brings Shalom, which we often think of as just peace, but in reality is so much deeper than that. It is the way things ought to be in us, between us, and for us. The Kingdom of God's Shalom is desperately needed in impoverished and inner city communities. We were challenged by Rici to take our "5 loaves and 2 fish" of the things that we individually are talented or inclined towards, and use them among those in need.
The second class was on urban revitalization, which I actually wasn't too excited about, because it seemed so dry and academic, especially compared to talking about the Kingdom of God. Craig Scharton, the director of urban revitalization for the city of Fresno who isn't a Christian came to speak. He spoke of factors and situations (such as the building of a freeway through the Lowell neighborhood) that have contributed to the neighborhoods decline that no one would know with out digging deeper behind the face value of poverty and decay in inner city Fresno. He spoke of how much he loved seeing new life come to broken down neighborhoods, and how he gets to be a part of that process. As he was speaking, I was hit by the idea that he was explaining exactly what Jesus does with people. He sees behind their harsh exterior to places of deep need, and he brings new life. I couldn't help but think about how similar Craig and my jobs were- that I get to be on the front lines and sometimes be a part of the process of seeing new life come to people. I left that class much more encouraged than I expected to be coming in.

Goals Reviewed

Another week in downtown Fresno, and it has been a full one! Weekly summaries are difficult, because I find it hard to know where to begin- if only I had time for daily ones! So I'll try to break it down in sections:
At my site: The past week has generally been only 2 kids while I'm at Fresno Street Saints in the mornings, and although I had a great time with those 2 kids and saw Jesus in them in the joy and fun they had, I struggled with feeling that a government funded enrichment program should probably have more kids involved, and the planned "structured recreation" didn't seem so structured. I'm pretty good at going with the flow of things, but because the site director was rarely around, and the other 2 volunteers were unclear on the protocol, I wanted more structure. On Friday we had staff training with all the interns and staff from the 3 Fresno Street Saints sites, and it was there that I was hoping to get some answers. I did not want to come in, however, thinking that I knew how an inner city youth program was supposed to be run, but I was hoping to at least find out what the goal of the program was and if there were any rules, and many of the interns had similar questions. At the training, the director, John, asked us what we thought these kids would be doing were they not spending the day at Fresno Street Saints. I hadn't thought of that. They would probably be bored and at home in their unstable environments, and would probably be getting into trouble. He also said that a lot of these kids haven't learned social skills, and the general response that they have learned in their environments is to fight back instead of talk. Fresno Street Saints wanted to provide another option. We did talk about having more structure and actually following the schedule, but I had an enlarged view of the program, and wasn't in so much need of structure. But getting the kids to stick around would be nice. Today we definitely improved in that area, and we had 5 kids instead of 2!