The sound of silence

This week has me thinking about how we are doing as a church right now in terms of existing together as a learning community. Some people are expressing dissatisfaction with how they are being “fed”. I feel some degree of tension between wanting the church to give people what they need to grow, and wanting people to put their “I need” checklists away and give themselves to the church and trust Father, Son and Spirit for the rest. I am weary of programmatic, structural solutions that promise to spit out shiny A+ believers, yet I do long to see real change in people’s lives as they encounter a living God in the midst of our church family and our community.

Doug has been playing his guitar lately, singing some of the great songs he has written over the last few years. When I first met Doug he was in somewhat of a songwriting sprint and many of the songs he has been singing lately come from that time in his life. I remember that a weekly bible study many of us were involved in was particularly inspiring to Doug and his songs of that era reflect that.

Doug has not been writing a lot of music since we moved here. A new wife, too many jobs, and of course two under two are perfectly justifiable reasons for that, but I wonder if it isn’t something else: perhaps he, like those discontent among my congregation, is feeling removed from biblical narratives with the power to inspire.

Is it not the artists of a community who sometimes give us the best read on how we are doing?

What a box of Quaker Oat Squares can teach you…

I came to a frightening realization recently. I have always thought of myself as a generous person. I have been known for freely giving of what I have. There was a brief time in my life when I made more than enough money to live on and it was with great ease that I gave what I had to those in need around me.

Something has changed.

Perhaps it is simply this: living with need. Just plain not having enough to buy and pay for basic provisions.

We recently had the blessing of dear friends and family sharing our home with us for the weekend of Aaron’s baptism. I went to the grocery store in preparation, WIC checks in hand, and loaded up on food to have around. There are a few key grocery items that WIC covers for us, like cereal (for Doug, Mercy and me) and peanut butter. There are specific cereal brands we can buy, and one of them in particular serves as both a breakfast food as well as a snack on the run for our little girl. The monthly allocation is just enough to usually get us through each month.

The first night that our loved ones were here, Doug’s mom asked me if she could take some of the cereal I had over to my sister’s house where they were staying so she could have it to snack on in the evening. Of course I said yes and I encouraged her to take the whole box. As she left that evening, cereal box in hand, I realized that I was filled with anxiety over giving up that cereal. How ridiculous, I told myself! Yet I could not shake this deep desire I had NOT to share what we had, as I was haunted by the awareness that I had blown all my WIC checks for their visit and the month ahead stretched out before us yet.

Two of our big grocery expenses NOT covered by WIC are water (the non-rocket fuel laced variety) and soy milk (due to Mercy’s milk allergy). We go through a LOT of both of these items, due to Mercy’s love for her milk and my neverending need for hydration, which any nursing mom can identify with! The entire weekend, my heart would sink as I would watch our guests go through glass after glass of water, or opt for the soy milk instead of the regular (which CAN be purchased with WIC).

Needless to say, by the end of the weekend I was exhausted by this new and very ugly miserly side of myself I had not before encountered. I don’t want to be this way. I don’t think I realized before how hard it is for those accustomed to comfort to be generous when they find themselves suddenly without. I do not seem to encounter this behavior among those used to having little–they are usually the MOST generous, the most free to give of what they do have. My neighbors next door who continue to amaze me with their thoughtful gifts are an excellent example of this.

I have so much to learn, so much to die to, when it comes to trusting God and truly placing the needs of others above my own. Will I ever know Christ in me to the point of freely loving my neighbor as myself, in times of want as well as times of plenty?

Juxtaposition

Mercy has started potty training recently which translates to frequent visits to the bathroom for Mercy, Aaron and me. Aaron sits in his swing next to the potty, Mercy sits perched on her “throne”, and I sit in front of both of them, squeezed into a small piece of floor between the sink and the toilet.

Sometimes Mercy needs to sit for a little while before she does her business, so we read books, sing, or I do silly things to amuse her. This morning we were sitting there when I heard a bunch of noise outside our window. A police helicopter had been circling our house for five minutes or so, and it was one of those times you know whoever they are looking for is very close because the whole house is shaking and it feels like the helicopter is coming in through your window. So I peered out the window and immediately saw four young men running frantically into a little shed in my neighbor’s backyard. Two of the guys I recognized as young men who have been involved in a fair amount of trouble we have had on our street recently; the other two I did not know. I am pretty sure they were laughing as they scrambled into their hiding place.

I called the police to tell them what I saw and the operator told me she had no information on a helicopter at my address. I wasn’t going to argue with her, so I left my name and phone number so that I could be contacted if need be.

I have been edgy all morning. We have gone back twice to sit on the potty and both times I have held my breath and held back tears as we sit beneath that window. Just a few weeks ago our good friends had bullets pierce a piece of furniture in their daughter’s room of their second floor house. Since then I have struggled with being sincerely afraid for my kids’ safety.

I am delighted that Mercy is potty training. I am sad that she is doing it in front of a window that opens out to so much danger and fear.

thank you God

This has been a week of blessings for the Haub household.

Doug and I were given two really great tickets for the L.A. Philharmonic–I have been dying to get inside the Walt Disney concert hall since moving here! We actually ended up not being able to go but the gift meant the world to us.

A friend dropped by last night unannounced to drop off dinner for us–the food was enough to take care of us for two days!

Last night I called our dear friend who baby-sits Mercy for us to ask her if she could come over for a couple of hours this morning so that I could clean my house for my company that arrives tonight. After giving Mercy two wonderful hours at the park, she refused to let me pay her for her time and told me she was “helping out.”

This week I have had three good friends come over to the house to spend time with me. With each of these women I have shared honestly about my struggles and questions around being here.

Today Doug finally placed the order for his new guitar, something made possible by financial gifts from three unrelated sources. Only ninety days before our third “baby” arrives!
Our good friends brought their first child, a beautiful baby boy, home last night after a few days in the NICU.

And tonight we welcome dear family and friends who are here from Oregon for the weekend to help us celebrate Aaron’s baptism.

At night Mercy and I have a ritual where we “thank God”. I go through the day and we thank God for all the different things we did that day, the people we encountered, food we ate, toys we enjoyed, places we went, etc. We also thank God for the special people in our lives. It’s funny but I don’t think of it as praying, though as I write this I realize that it is pretty obvious that that’s what it is. It has always felt more like this fun recap of our day’s adventures. I hope that it teaches her to live with gratitude. I think it is teaching me to stop more often and examine my days and weeks like I have done here tonight.

Thank you God.

Let the little children come

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Mercy picked up her pink guitar today and started singing. It was impressive not because of the volume (though I must say the girl’s got some lungs), nor her little performer’s stance, nor the dramatic facial expressions she was making which could have landed her a spot on Idol for sure. What grabbed me were her “lyrics”. As she sang, a not-so-simple word continued emerging: “alleluia”. Over and over again, her little mouth formed that word as she strummed her guitar with passion.

You might think we must be a really holy household to have our eighteen-month-old daughter singing her “alleluias” already; but I have to confess that there are a lot of other words she hears with much greater frequency. At first I thought, well, she hears her daddy planning worship every week, or she must have picked that up in church, but she spends most Sundays in the nursery (as do I lately) and Doug rarely practices through the worship set until after she is in bed. Was it the four weeks of intensive Hebrew I got through while she was in utero???

We have had a little bit of drama in our household the past few weeks over our decision to have our son, Aaron, baptized. In our multi-cultural church context, the issue of infant baptism is a hot one and our Latino pastor is more than aware of the potential cost of celebrating this as part of our church life. Mercy was baptized almost a year ago and our pastor got a lot of flak–one new family even left the church.

Doug and I are clearly in the minority in our congregation, even among the Anglos, and so many of our peers here don’t at all understand our position on this. As a lifelong (and current) member of the Evangelical Covenant church, I never thought I would be in a place where I had to explain myself so many times over, or fight for a theological freedom I have grown to assume. It is not her baptism that saves her; only Christ can do that. That is true at nine months, nine years, or ninety years of age! And like Israel she will be saved not because she is strong or mighty or good or beautiful, not because of her righteousness or faithfulness, but simply because God, in his goodness and grace, chooses her.

I guess this morning watching a little girl strum a pink guitar, it all seemed so very simple. God’s grace in my little girl’s life is pure gift, as it is for all of us. And part of God’s grace to her is the provision of parents, Godparents, and a church family who are committed to helping her learn the language of worship, in word and in deed. I do not believe that she understands the meaning of her song yet. But it is my job, and the church’s job, to help her do just that.

Happy Day

Dear Mom,

So I bet this is your first ever “blog” Mother’s Day card. I thought it fitting since you are one of the greatest supporters of my desire to write and share my heart and faith with others. So I realize it’s a bit public, but oh well, so is a billboard!

The last time I published something about you, I got quoted for the first time ever by another publication. That was a stroke to my ego, but more importantly it was a testimony to the kind of woman and mother you are–someone who makes people feel inspired or convicted or just plain grateful that someone like you exists.

Tonight Doug and I are sharing our home with a fellow classmate from Fuller. She needed to spend the night with someone involved in “incarnational ministry” and visit the ministry and ask questions. Earlier today I was anxious about the Hebrew test I will have Monday and my desparate need to study and prepare. Having a houseguest interrupted my ability to do that, but I am reminded of how you and Dad always had a bed or a couch or a floor somewhere for just about anyone who needed a place to stay–need I mention accordians?–and it was never about your convenience or ease. I hope that Mercy will grow up seeing her mom and dad do the same thing.

Tonight I was at Ralph’s trying to exchange the formula I purchased last night with my WIC coupons. I had accidentally picked out the wrong kind and the checkout lady noticed so she sent the bag boy back to the shelves to get the right kind. He bagged my things and I left, only to discover when I got home that he had again given us the incorrect kind. Tonight the store manager gave me a hard time. As soon as it was apparent that I was a WIC customer, his demeanor changed and he told me that they were out of the kind I needed and that he couldn’t help me. I told him that my baby can’t drink milk and this is a milk based formula and that he would give me a different kind–I would happily take a different brand if that was my only choice. He finally relented and gave me the larger size can in exchange for two of the four cans I brought to return. He told me repeatedly that they weren’t supposed to do this and that I needed to be more careful next time. Then he turned with a smile to the USC student waiting to order a keg of beer beside me. I was reminded of all the ways you would stand up and fight for me when I was young–getting me into the best programs at school; getting bus service for me when they told you they couldn’t help you. And it wasn’t just stuff for me or Anna, or now for David. Anywhere you encountered a system working against people, you would stand up and fight and you would not stop until right prevailed. I hope that Mercy will grow up seeing her mom bravely tackle obstacles and injustices, not just for her, but for many.

Tonight I sat in the green rocker holding my sweet Mercy asleep in my arms. I remembered all those nights that you would come and sit on my bed and rub my back or give me an arm scratch and listen to all the stories from my day, and you would often sit there patiently until I drifted off to sleep (often nodding off yourself). I realize that since marrying Doug, that precious ritual is gone (though it was alive and kicking up until that point) but I do my best to make up for it now with cuddles on the couch whenever I am home–though Mercy is stiff competition. Tonight as I gazed down at my sleeping baby, I almost suffocated with love for her. I hope that she will know many nights of ending her day with a mom beside her who will listen and talk and rub, and falling asleep knowing well how very much she is loved.

At our wedding, Pastor Mike said something about how Doug and I were made for each other. I feel the same way about you–that God gave me the mom God knew that I would need. Thanks for loving me. Thanks for making my life so very rich. And thank you for showing me what kind of mom I want Mercy to have. I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.

Erika

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P.S. Talk to Debbie Wilkins–she has something for you!

cartoon houses

A friend of mine has owned a home here in our community for many years. Recently, she and her husband painted their exterior in rich earth tones and enhanced their landscaping. When you drive by, you immediately notice how nice their home looks. This past month, their neighbor also decided to beautify his home. He worked for weeks on a complete makeover of the exterior. And then came the paint…

Neon orange and lime green are the best I can do to describe the colors–the house is vibrant, electric, and probably glows at night. In the words of my friend’s husband, “It looks like a cartoon house! “ And he’s right. If you drive down the street this is certainly the one house you will not miss!

I heard last week that my friend who lives next to this house had said: “I just don’t want to leave the house anymore, because when I come back home I have to see it.”

I was thinking about how this feels a lot like what Bonhoeffer calls, “Life Together.” There are people who are like that house: bright, bold, foreign—ultimately, different than us. But we like OUR color scheme; OUR style; OUR way of looking at the world. And sometimes people’s colors can clash so badly with our own carefully chosen palette that we choose to stay inside so as not to be reminded that they exist.

Maybe this is why so many housing developments have restrictions and a carefully chosen menu of what colors homeowners can choose from. Maybe this is why so many people are attracted to living in those kinds of places–and abandoning those where you can’t legislate your neighbor’s taste. Maybe this is why churches struggle so hard to bring together people of different cultural backgrounds; or why they don’t.

Yoda and the Passover

Dick Staub has written a new book, Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters, that explores the question of how my generation has (or in most cases, has not) been mentored by those who have gone before us. He uses the clever comparison of Jedi in desperate need of Yodas who will instruct and guide and enflesh what it is we hope for in our Christian lives.

Sunday night I attended a Seder dinner with my husband and the messianic Jewish congregation he helps lead music for at a synagogue in Beverly Hills. The irony of the evening was that I should have been home studying for my Hebrew exam on Monday morning, but instead I spent the night participating in something very beautiful and strange.

The Seder dinner celebrates Passover: the occasion in the history of the Jewish people where God brought judgment upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians for enslaving the Hebrews, and “passed over” the homes of the Jews in his slaughter of the firstborns, both children and animals, throughout all the land. It is this gruesome event that causes Pharaoh to finally release the Jews and “let them go”: following the Passover, the people of Israel are slaves in Egypt no more.

As I was reminded frequently throughout the Seder meal, celebrating Passover is about celebrating redemption: redemption from bondage and slavery, and extinction. For Messianic Jews, this dinner also celebrates the life and death of Yeshua, the messiah, who shared this very same meal with his disciples hours before his passion began.

So what does this have to do with Staub’s book?

It is said that the Passover is celebrated for the sake of the children, that they would hear the stories of their people. At the beginning of the Seder, there is a ritual where the youngest child asks four questions:

“On all other nights we eat either leavened or unleavened bread. Why on this night do we eat only unleavened bread?

On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables. Why on this night do we eat only bitter herbs?

On all other nights we don’t dip even once. Why on this night do we dip twice?

On all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining. Why on this night do we recline?”

As a gathered people on Sunday evening we read, together, the answers to these four questions. And over the course of the evening we read, sang, and listened to the stories of a people who were once enslaved and who are now redeemed. And through eating and dipping and washing and hiding, we answered, as a body: “why is this night different from all other nights?”

Sunday night, I sat in a room filled with Yodas. Sunday night I ate and drank with young and old who gather on this night with the express purpose of shaping the next generation. Sunday night I shared a meal with a people who would probably not understand the need for Dick Staub’s book. Sunday night I shared life with a community that regularly speaks to what Staub describes as the hunger “to discover your true destiny and your place in the cosmic story.” For my Jewish sisters and brothers, faith has never been something that one has to go out and get a hold of by oneself. Faith does not exist apart from ones family; one’s people. Faith is always something corporate: or as my husband likes to say, for our Jewish friends, “belonging” comes before “believing.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but in my church people get annoyed if they are not spoon-fed their worship experience by people up front. I don’t mean to be critical, but in the name of being “welcoming” and “sensitive” to visitors, there is a dangerous trend toward making the Sunday morning service a fun “experience”; something that can be “enjoyed” as a spectator, with actual participation and responsibility left at a minimum. The long hours and high level of participation that the Seder supper demanded would, in the language of my church, be “inaccessible”, “uncomfortable”, and a “turn-off.”

I wonder what it must be like for the children on the night of the Seder. As they look around they see their parents, elders and friends practicing a strange, inaccessible ritual with flat bread, parsley dipped in salt water, and hard boiled eggs:inaccessible, that is, unless one knows the story. As I sat there and shared in these rituals I thought of my own little girl. What in her life and experience in our home and in our church will teach her about who she is and who her people are? How will she learn the story of salvation as something bigger than a private romance between her and Jesus?

Maybe what Staub’s “Jedi Christians” need are not more conferences, seminaries, books and workshops. Maybe what we need is not another new, more “fashionable” way of doing church. Maybe what we need are not more opportunities to be “performed” to. Maybe what we need are simply more places where we gather to encourage our children to ask questions; where we eat and dip and wash and hide; where we, together, retell and reenact our story.

I do

I remember being single and really struggling with the idea of marrying someone and giving up my freedom to follow God wherever and however God would call me. I didn’t like the idea of giving up the “I” for the “We” because I felt like I would be held back somehow—no longer able to pack my bags and head for Africa or Chicago or anywhere else God might call me at any notice.

A wise friend told me to wait: to not marry until there was someone with whom I experienced MORE of life; MORE of God’s initiative and calling and direction than I had on my own.

So I waited. And waited some more. And then there he was. The one I tried to not want. The one I tried to tell myself I could live without.

My wise friend got it exactly right. Life with Doug is richer and more full than anything I ever could have imagined. There is more of God, not less.

Last week we had the pleasure of four friends from Seattle invading out little apartment and making their home with us. On Saturday they left to return to their own lives and callings back home, and while our apartment once again feels roomy and quiet, I miss them terribly. And it is not the morning Starbucks runs that Dick would make or the groceries that would just appear in the refrigerator or the extra hands that were quick to hold the baby that I miss. It is that being with them made life richer and more filled with God’s presence and grace.

I think this is what being the family of God is exactly about. It is that move away from singleness; from independence, self-reliance and “freedom” to a place where life is better together than it ever could be alone. It’s a lot like marriage and I understand why many are skeptical or afraid. Being yoked to one another is a lot of work. It can hurt. It is sacrificial. But just like life in our apartment last week, in all of the chaos and compromise, it is a treasure I don’t want to live without.

my burden is light

I love my baby. I love holding her, playing with her, talking to her, bathing her. I am one of those moms who simply cannot get enough of her little one.

With that said, when someone asks to hold her and I pass her into the arms of another, there is that moment where I straighten my back and shoulders and stretch my torso a bit. There is that feeling of release, relief, and the easing of a weight or burden, even if for only a few minutes. There is that sudden freedom to go to the bathroom by myself, or sit down and eat a plate of food unencumbered, or sit at the computer and read an email without her little hands grabbing at the mouse and shoving bills and papers onto the floor.

This week our church is hosting a group of kids and adults from my home church in Seattle, Washington. They are here this week to serve our church and our community through morning service projects at our tutoring center and at homes of church members, and through afternoon sports and dance camps for neighborhood children. It is an amazing group of people who chose to spend their spring break, many of them as families, not in Cancun or at Disneyland, but in the gritty streets of South Central.

I have been close to tears many times this week:

leaving the home of one of our church members who is widowed, wheelchair bound, and the primary caregiver for her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s disease where four members of the mission team were scrubbing walls, priming rooms for painting, scouring behind toilets, picking dropped pills up off the floor, and helping to organize the contents of a kitchen so that things could be accessed from a wheelchair;

standing in the middle of the street talking to a neighborhood woman and her son who had nothing to do with any of our camps or events but who had driven by our gathering time of singing with the kids in the park and had stopped their minivan to find out who we were and why we were doing what we were doing;

sitting in the auditorium of our local grade school watching a beautiful high school senior who is an accomplished dancer in Seattle teach dance to more than forty little girls—and remembering holding that young woman when she was the same age that my own little girl is now;

walking into the back classroom of the tutoring center I have directed for the past three years and having someone flip the light switch to reveal a brand new ceiling filled with new recessed light fixtures that fill the room with bright, warm light–no longer will young children and their tutors squint to learn new words on book pages that are barely illumined by a lone fluorescent light.

I love my life here in South Central. I love my church and the people I call neighbor and friend. I love the opportunities I have daily to wrestle with Jesus’ call to love mercy and to walk justly. There is nothing else that I would rather be doing.

But it is not always easy. And it can sometimes feel lonely. And so this week I am feeling that deep sense of a weight lifted, of responsibility shared; of partnership, companionship, and relief. I have stood on the sidelines of camp programs, free to chat with the watching moms. I have stood in the back of the group of kids singing, free to engage stopped minivans and curious neighbors in conversation. I have stood in the middle of a newly painted tutoring center, and watched others bend and sweat and cover themselves with paint so that children I love can be welcomed by cleanliness and beauty.

This week, twenty-nine people have come into our life here and humbly asked: “Can we hold your baby?”

Erika Carney Haub’s musings on life and God from South Central, L.A.