Friday, January 22, 2010

Homelessness in Wallingford

A few days back, a neighbor of Keystone posted a concern on the neighborhood blog "Wallyhood."

He said that he has seen homeless people sleeping in cars in the neighborhood and wondered if Keystone was attracting them.

Below is the response I sent in.
Not only am I the pastor of Keystone Church but I live one block away from the church, so I spend most of my time in the neighborhood. I have lived in the neighborhood for over 9 years. Long before Nickelsville stayed at Keystone, there have been homeless people sleeping in cars, vans and R.V.s in the area. Maybe the particular car you are talking about wasn’t here but homeless people have been in the neighborhood as long as I’ve lived here.

I agree that people shouldn’t take up residence on the streets or under bushes. People should have homes that they can afford. But thirty years ago the federal government slashed funds for building low income housing and spent the money in other ways (like tax breaks for the wealthy). Since then large scale homelessness has been a reality for cities like Seattle.

One way of dealing with homeless people in a neighborhood is to try to drive them away to some other neighborhood. Another way to deal with homeless people is to criminalize homelessness with a variety of laws and thereby incarcerate them.

Apart from lacking compassion, these strategies are not very effective. Ultimately, you cannot force people to obtain what they cannot afford. So we can pay a lot of money to provide affordable housing and support services or we can pay much more money to harass and incarcerate homeless people. It was in response to Mayor Nickels’ policy of harassment and criminalization that Nickelsville was born.

Right now the current policy seems to be a confused mixture of compassion and harassment. With homeless shelters largely full, and low income housing programs carrying long waiting lists there are no quick and simple answers.

One of the guys who used to sleep in his van in this neighborhood is now happily residing in an apartment which charges him 30% of his limited disability check. If we had more such apartments we would have fewer people living in their cars.

Currently, Keystone does not have any direct service programs for homeless people on church premises. Yet, we continually support local efforts to care for and house homeless people.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Party On, Sermon

Party On
Second Sunday after Epiphany
By Rich Gamble

This is a strange little story there in John’s Gospel. Jesus is at a wedding feast with his mom and disciples. The party must have been going on for a while because the wine which was supposed to last for the entire length of the celebration was gone.

Jesus’ mom comes in to pointedly point out this fact to JC. Why does she do this? The story does not make that clear. Perhaps she is worrying out loud in Jesus’ presence. Perhaps she expects him to fix the problem miraculously. Perhaps there is an edge in her voice, that sort of tone that says, see what happens when you bring your buddies (instead of a nice girl) to a wedding reception, they drink up all the wine. We don’t know from the story what Mary had in mind. But JC is touchy about the subject saying in effect, back off Ma, this isn’t my problem.

Mary shows that she is paying absolutely no attention to what her son is saying to her by telling the servants to obey his wishes. So there we are in the kitchen, with Mary and the servants standing around and staring a JC and he buckles under the pressure. He tells the servants to go fill up these big ceremonial jars, six of them (each holding twenty to thirty gallons with water) with water.

How much can we read into John here? What does it mean that the jars which were set aside for purification rituals were used instead as containers of wine? Perhaps John is pointing to a transformation of faith. No longer will the relationship with God be measured by purity laws. Such laws became tools of domination. Serving to justify why power and benefits went to one group and not to another. Was John making a comparison between the vision of God who separated clean and unclean, and the vision of God who simply flooded blessings on all.

Presto-chango the water is turned into wine, and not just any wine but the best wine the party has seen. This serving of the best wine last is the reverse of the custom because by the end of the celebration after folks have been drinking for a long time, they are less able to make subtle distinctions in the flavors of the wine.

Six jars holding on average 25 gallons, that is 150 gallons of wine that flows like a tidal wave through a party of people who have already been doing some serious drinking. Ever been to a party where the host rolled out 150 gallons of wine late into the celebration? It is an image of giddy, ridiculous abundance.

The sign reveals the nature of the one who has sent the envoy. Jesus’ act is a sign of the giddy, ridiculous abundance that God wants for creation. The God of Jesus is no piker, no tight-fisted scrooge. The God of Jesus wants to do it up big when handing out blessings. One hundred and fifty gallons of wine for a party that has been going on for a long time already, this is a God who is not into moderation.

And remember that the wine is flowing out of jars used to hold the water for the rites of purification. Those rites served as the means to move impure people back to purity. But this wine is nothing like those old rites. This wine isn’t for separating the ritually pure and impure, this wine is for everyone, a flood of grace for all.

Paul in the passage read today in Corinthians is trying to get that church from playing spiritual one-upmanship. Paul says to the flock: Guys, God has dealt you all gifts, everyone has gifts and they are all important.

And the purpose of these gifts is not to win fame and fortune. That is the American myth not the Gospel of Jesus. The purpose of our gifts is to proclaim that Jesus is Lord.

In the time of Caesar, to say that Jesus was Lord was to say that Caesar was not. To say that Jesus was Lord was to say that orientation of the world towards greed and violence was wrong, and to say that you were dedicating your life to live out the truth that an executed enemy of the empire was actually the one who got it right.

We all have gifts and the purpose of those gifts is to proclaim the radical alternative truth that God is seeking to bring into our world.

We are gifted people. And our gifts can change the world.

In the church I served in Iowa, Helen was renowned for her angel food cakes. Helen wasn’t likely to preach a sermon, or lead a choir but Helen could bake wonderful angel food cakes. She put great care into baking those cakes and you could taste it. Helen used her cakes as a way of expressing her concern for someone. You may get one on your birthday or when you were sick, or when you were feeling down about something. Helen’s cakes helped knit together that community because they were an expression of her concern and God’s love. For all my 3 years of seminary and 2 years of internships, I could never express the love of God any more meaningfully than a cake from Helen could.

The empire wants us to believe that we are powerless beings; that our job is merely to salute our superiors and allow them to control our lives. We are allowed to sit in the stands and cheer but we must let the professionals take the field and run the world.

We are gifted people. We have power that we cannot imagine. There was a special on PBS this past week which talked about human happiness.

Psychologist James H. Fowler studied the data of 5,000 people over 20 years and found that happiness benefits other people through three degrees of separation and that the effects last for a year. He says: “We found a statistical relationship not just between your happiness and your friends' happiness, but between your happiness and your friends’ friends’ friends’ happiness.”

If your friend is happy your chance for happiness increases 15% and if your friend’s friend is happy, even though you don’t know the person your chance for happiness increases by 10%. And if your friend’s friend’s friend is happy you will have an increased chance of being happy.

Fowler says his research shows that we should think of happiness as a collective phenomenon. Researchers are increasingly turning their attention to happiness in communities and institutions. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson says that “by creating chains of events that carry positive meaning for others, positive emotions can trigger upward spirals that transform communities into more cohesive, moral and harmonious social organizations.”

I didn’t hear them specifically say that kindness and compassion are likewise contagious but it might be inferred from Dr. Fredrickson’s use of the term “positive emotions.”

Just by being happy we increase the chance for people we don’t even know to be happy. By being actively kind we increase the odds that people we don’t even know will be positively effected by our actions. We have powers that we don’t even know, to make the world a better place and it is time to start cultivating and using the powers we have.

This week I challenge you to go out of your way to do at least one random act of kindness. This is the heart of John’s story of the wine. Wine is a symbol of joy, and God in the story provides joy in abundance. Not limited to pure, the worthy but overflowing onto all.

Church communities are called to be places where we share and celebrate God’s truth and our gifts with a hurting and deceived world. We are called to be engines of a sustaining vision and positive emotions which will transform the world around us.

If we but claim the giddy, ridiculous abundance of the world changing power God has entrusted to us in our gifts and God’s vision for the world, miracles will happen, and lives will be changed and in ways we may not even be able to see, the world will change Thanks be to God.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Looking for a way to help the people in Haiti? The United Church of Christ has some ways to help. Check out

Monday, January 11, 2010

Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Today I attended the Human Trafficking Engagement Day at the Capitol Building in Olympia. I heard of the event through a friend at Operation Nightwatch and decided that I definitely wanted to know more about human trafficking and what could be done to break these modern day chains of slavery. The event was sponsored by Seattle Against Slavery (SAS). According to their website, SAS "is a grassroots coalition of nonprofit service and awareness organizations, government agencies and a thriving community of modern day abolitionists" committed to raising awareness and finding solutions to the growing issue of human trafficking.

Upon entering the Columbia room in the legislative building I was impressed at the attendance of the event. The schedule divided the morning into two parts: education & action.

We began the morning with 6 speakers each sharing about their connection to and understanding of the crime of human trafficking. I could rattle off the names of the speakers and their list of credentials but really, I'd rather highlight a few comments that stood out for me from their presentations.

I appreciated the details shared by state Senators Fraser & Kohl-Welles concerning how the WA legislature has been addressing the issue (e.g. WA state was the first to criminalize human trafficking on a state level, WA requires international match making agencies ["mail order brides"] to notify foreign clients about their right to request a background check on the WA resident employing the agency).

I appreciated the clarity of Shared Hope International's policies regarding they addressed the issue. One of Shared Hope's policies is to create protective safe houses where former prostituted girls can hopefully begin to find healing amongst other women who have come through the process of restoration.

After the education portion of the morning we moved on the action phase. Unfortunately, at this stage, the event's organization seemed to unravel a bit as the distribution of information packets destined for state legislators didn't quite seem to go as planned. While I wasn't able to take their action step this morning I did send my legislator a message this afternoon asking them to support legislation opposing human trafficking.

Overall it was great to learn more about what non-profits, churches (although not as many as I would have liked to see), and state officials are doing to address this issue. There's plenty more to be done before human trafficking is a thing of the past.

Learn more about the organizations and legislation mentioned above at:

Seattle Against Slavery

Washington State Task Force Against the Trafficking of Persons

Shared Hope International

posted by Brandon

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Relational Tithe

An introductory video to a group called "Relational Tithe" that seeks to live in God's economy of abundance. This clip was found at