Monday, August 29, 2005

Bringing a little joy to an IRS agent

Several months ago with the help of my attorney friend, Mitch Kinglsey, and dozens of hours of work, I completed a 20+ page form to apply for 501(c)(3) status for Evergreen Leaders--such status makes it clear that people who make gifts to EGL can take tax deductions.

Six weeks ago I received a phone message from a Miss Johnson. I couldn't understand what company she was with and when I returned the phone call it turned out she was from the IRS.

She needed another document for our application. I faxed it to her.

A CPA friend had warned me to expect such a call, that the IRS often calls several times to ask for more information. I waited for another call.

Two weeks ago we received our letter declaring us a 501(c)(3) organization. I e-mailed Mitch to thank him and shared the good news with the EGL board. I thought: I should thank Miss Johnson too. A few minutes ago I did.

When I first told her who I was I could sense the coolness in her voice as she wondered what I wanted. "Filling out that form was a lot of work for me and I'm sure it was a lot of work for you too," I said, "So I wanted to thank you for all your work."

"Did you get your letter?" she asked.

"Yes, we received it and we were really happy. Thank you for your work."

Her voice warmed right up. She expressed her appreciation for my thanks, we chatted for a few moments, and then hung up.

It's a great day when you can bring a little joy to an IRS agent.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Refusing to join the career club

As I dressed after swimming this afternoon I glanced at a brand emblem on the inside of my shirt collar: Career Club.

When I finished graduate school in 1977 I decided not to join the career club. Something seemed amiss with the pattern in our culture that leads us to forsake people and place to follow a career where ever it may lead.

Instead I moved to Illinois and joined a commune.

Now it's 28 years later and I'm still part of the commune. When I Sarah and I moved to Plow Creek it was was an idea, a vision, a call. Like a seed that I could hold in my hand, the idea of joining a commune was something I could play with, maybe even kiss it, or not.

But once we joined and started living at Plow Creek it was like a seed disappearing into the earth and taking on a life of its own.

Sarah had moved 21 times by the time she was 18. When her mother first visited Plow Creek, Sarah, in her middle 20's, gave her a tour and when they passed the cemetary she said to her mother, "This where I will be buried."

She was done moving.

I have spent countless hours over the years listening and praying with our farmers, supporting them through draught and flood and bountiful crops. One fall I sat in my wheelchair next to a poorly producing pumpkin patch and wrote a poem about Autuckee, the chief of the last of the Potawatmi to live on this part of the earth that is now Plow Creek:

Perhaps this year a tiny piece of America is mourning
the memory of warm footprints from the brothers and sisters
of the First Nations.

I have learned that to be part of this place is ache for the people who have gone before. To be part of a people is to be part of death and birth.

Our son was born in a room in the upstairs of the Alpha House, Plow Creek's first house. He was born during a members meeting and when someone called over to the common building with the news, David Gale, who took the call, returned to the meeting and said, "Plow Creek has another son."

Each of our children grew up knowing they were part of a place and a people.

I don't know where the Career Club shirt came from. Sarah loves to shop at used clothing stores and shirts and pants simply show up in my closet.

After 28 years in a commune I have a people, a place, and a Career Club shirt.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The new president gets tears in his eyes

Blogging SMC festival 5

Two years ago Anali Gatlin of Hope Fellowship was one of two people who were members of the Baylor Students for Social Justice.
What can two people do for social justice?

They decided to start a campaign to urge the University to provide a living wage for their employees. Soon other students joined the group and the campaign.

All year long the president of Baylor ignored their e-mails and refused to talk to the Baylor Students for Social Justice.

Then this summer the Baylor hired a new president who asked to meet with the group. Two weeks ago they went to his office and made their presentation urging him to lead the university in providing its workers with a living wage.

He listened to them and with tears in his eyes, and said, “It’s not right that we the world’s most beautiful parking garage and we are not paying our workers a living wage. We need you.”

Two shy people from Camden House

Blogging SMC festival 4

The two shyest members of Camden House, Elissa and Melissa, have been sent by their community to tell the SMC festival about their two-year old community.

“We are the shy people in our community. We like being in the background. The rest of our community told us we would do well but we’re a little nervous,” Elissa said as they stood at the microphone.

For seven years a Catholic priest in Camden, New Jersey held on to an abandoned house in his parish, waiting for a religious community to come looking for a place to locate. Perhaps a group of Jesuits or maybe a Catholic worker house.

A handful of 20-something Protestants (and one Catholic) showed up looking for a house to start a community. The priest handed them the keys.

In May they dropped off their gear at the house and went back home with plans to gather in July to launch the community. When they arrived in July all their belongings had been stolen.

Welcome to the neighborhood.

The house across the street openly sells drugs and does prostitution as a service to people who drive in from the suburbs.

Camden House works with the environmental and social degradation of our neighborhood. “We are committed to Christ and committed to each other…it’s a beautiful time together…as we stumble through together,” says Melissa.

Currently the eight people of Camden House all work at jobs outside the house, paid and unpaid.

“Andrea and I do community gardening during the summer…it’s so much fun to introduce people to organic gardening…,” says Melissa. “We have the neighbors do a lot of the work so the rows are a little uneven but it’s beautiful.”

In the sweet understatement of people who follow Jesus, Melissa says, “We live in a culture of mistrust and alienation. Our neighborhood is a dangerous place. Opening up our house and trying to be trusting is important.”

Thus Camden House welcomes the prostitutes and crack addicts who wander over to visit.

Friday, August 05, 2005

A conversation with a young radical

Blogging the SMC festival

After lunch this old radical invited young radical Shane Claiborne of the Simple Way over for a visit. One of the founders of the Simple Way, next February Shane is publishing with Zondervan a book called The Irresistible Revolution.

Shane is an interesting character. He’s evangelical to the core and a radical living among the poor in Philadelphia. He’s had a goods time working with a group of young editor’s at Zondervan.

Zondervan is committed to publishing the book but they’ve put together a team of lawyers in case they get sued for what Shane says in the book.

Shane says there is a whole group of young evangelicals who are looking for models of how to live out their faith.

I’m glad to hear that not all my evangelical brothers and sisters are enamored of right wing politics.

What does a young radical do when he publishes a book. He makes sure the book is copyrighted by the Simple Way, a nonprofit, that will give away all the money that he makes on the book.

Zondervan couldn’t believe it. When they finally did believe it they decide to give away some of the money they make on the book.

This world needs more evangelical radicals. Young and old.

A healer of machines

Blogging the SMC festival

Rose, a tiny young woman from The Simple Way, an eight-year-old community planted in a poor section of Philadelphia gave a brief history of the community.

A decade ago there was a big housing crisis in Philadelphia. (Still is). Thirty homeless families squatted in an abandoned Catholic church in a neighborhood called Kensington. The bishop wanted to kick them out. A group of Eastern College students began to befriend the squatters, rallying to their support although eventually they were evicted.

Ten of the Eastern students formed a community and decided to settle in Kensington. They now own two houses.

All of them come from evangelical backgrounds but as one of their founders, Shane, says, ‘It’s really been our neighbors who are teaching the kingdom.”

A handful of people with lots of visitors, “The Simple Way believes in living authentically small in a way that is visible,” says Shane.

For instance, one of their members, Justin, tells the story of their car mechanic telling them about Adrian, a mother with three children who had just become homeless. The Simple Way folks contacted Adrian and took her and her children in. ”It’s cool to provide some hospitality,” says Justin.

One day while they were driving Adrian around to look at houses for her to rent, a city bus clipped the door of their car, driving the door forward and ruining it.

When they brought it to their mechanic they told him what had happened and told him the progress Adrian was making.

“I’m going to fix your car door for free,” he said. “You guys are healers and I’m a healer of machines.”

Bringing our praise and longings

Blogging SMC festival 1

Reba Place is leading the worship this morning. David Janzen, 60-something, and a group of 20-something folks serves as singers, drummers, and guitarists as we pour out our praise and longings.

Paul Rhode and Heather Munn are sitting next to me. Yesterday morning as I sat in my chair, keeping my leg up, writing on my laptop, I saw them moving hither and yon, gentle servants, preparing this place for the festival.


“Thank you, Lord for the beauty of creation, for the purple and red sunrise this morning.”

“Put your loving healing hands upon us…”

“Enrich everyone one here.

“We pray for this broken and warring world…”

“Let us continue to exalt you with righteous fellowship, Father.”

Thursday, August 04, 2005

It looks like heaven

Tonight Plow Creek began hosting the annual Shalom Mission Communities festival. We have 70 guests from communities around the USA and Canada.

To accomodate everyone for all group meetings we rented a big tent and put it up in the middle of the meadow--that piece of earth in the center of the Plow Creek houses.

Tonight as I rolled home in my wheelchair I looked at the tent in the meadow lit by interior lights. The striped roof glowed in the dark and the light through the open sides was bright.

Plow Creek has no outdoor lights so when it is dark it is dark.

In the middle of the darkness the tent glowed beautifully and I thought, "It looks like heaven."

Because of my blood clot I am going to have to keep my leg up six hours a day during the festival, missiong out on the fun.

So I've decided to blog the festival. With my laptop I can do that in my chair with my leg up.

The theme of the conference is discerning the times. That led me to suggest a variation of the Chicago Bulls shout during their championship years. The players gathered in the tunnel before the game, put their hands together, and one of them shouted, "What time is it?" And the rest of the team responded, "Game time. Huh."

What time is it? Kingdom time. Huh.